Satima Flavell, my writing and critting buddy in the Egoboo WA group, has a new short story ‘La Belle Dame’ published in the anthology Mythic Resonance by the Specusphere. She joins me here to talk about the anthology, its origins, and her work and play as a fantasy writer and professional editor.
Hi Satima, it’s lovely to have you here! Could you tell us a bit about the Specusphere? What is it, how did it come about, and what is your role in the Spec team?
The Specusphere came into being in about 2004. It grew out of Visions, the newsletter of a Queensland spec-fic group. Editor Stephen Thompson had a bold new idea for a site that would deal not just with writers and writing but with all aspects of speculative fiction – gaming, film and poetry as well as written stories. I’d done a bit of work for Visions so when Stephen was looking for a Reviews Editor for the new venture I put my hand up. Most of the time we’ve been a team of three – Stephen as Editor-in-Chief, with Amanda Greenslade as Webmistress and me as Reviews Editor, although we’ve been joined by others for a few months or years from time to time – notably Astrid Cooper who ran the ‘Up and Coming’ section for quite some time. However, it has proved difficult to enlist the amount of help we’ve really needed, so now we are looking for new directions. One exploration of possibilities was the production of our recent anthology, Mythic Resonance. It’s easier, perhaps, to recruit helpers for a one-off project than for an ongoing one, because we had no trouble gathering up a team of seven to help with the various aspects of producing the anthology.
What sparked the idea for an anthology themed on re-imagining myths, legends and fairy tales, and what are your thoughts on the collection of stories in Mythic Resonance?
It was a kind of default position, really, since we each made a list of what interested us and mythology was the only thing that appeared on all our lists. There was a broad range of skills and interests among the team members, but mythology was, strangely enough, our only true common ground.
I know your story is based on John Keats’ poem ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’. What inspired you to ‘re-imagine’ this particular poem?
I do not, by and large, get ideas for short stories. Every time an idea strikes me, I start to write it, only to discover that the unfolding tale always has a novel-length plot. Back in 2006 I decided one day that I would read some poetry in the hope of getting briefer ideas. ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci’ had been one of my favourite poems ever since studying it in Grade Five, but I hadn’t re-read it for some years. When I did, I was immediately smitten by the idea that it would be a good idea to re-tell the story from the woman’s point of view, and so the story came into being.
What are you working on currently, and does it also have a basis in myths or legends (directly or indirectly)?
I’ve been working on a fantasy trilogy for some years. It’s mostly Lee Battersby’s fault. At Swancon 2003, he set a workshop group the task of thinking about a familiar building and imagining its having a different use. I immediately thought of an ancient hotel I’d worked at in the UK – a huge old gothic-looking place atop a hill, with a cobblestoned road leading up to it. I re-imagined it as a castle and myself as a magician, leading his horse up the slippery road in a thunderstorm to warn a young widowed princess that an enemy was on his way to lay siege to the castle with a view to gaining custody of her infant son, the rightful King. I read it out in the next morning’s workshop and afterwards, the two guests of honour, Lynn Flewelling and Fiona McIntosh, both came up to me and told me I had to write that story. What was more, they came to me again at lunch time and repeated their advice! Well, that was nine years ago and I’m still writing it, because of course once I started to think about the story I quickly realised that it was a trilogy-in-the-making! And it’s taken me a long time because I’d never really thought of myself as a fiction writer. I’d been writing poetry and non-fiction of various kinds for many years and had even got paid for doing it, so writing fiction, and a trilogy at that, has proved a bit of a tall order!
You’ve been a professional editor in the fantasy, humour and memoir fields for a number of years. Has the advent of self-publishing had an effect on your work, and the type and volume of manuscripts you’re seeing?
It’s made a huge difference! In fact, it has cause my focus to change from at least 50% non-fiction (I used to edit a lot of theses and other non-fiction works) to specialising in what I call ‘mini-assessments’ for first-time writers who need mentorship. I read their first few pages and a synopsis (Lesson One – how to write a decent synopsis!) and comment on what are almost always the same problems – not knowing where to start the story, not being fully familiar with the intricacies of point-of-view and not being fully aware of the difference between showing and telling. (To learn more, go to www.satimaflavell.com.au).
Ea, master of Apsu, the great water beneath the earth; Gelert, the faithful hound; Medusa and Herakles; sirens, valkyries, fairies; Leonardo Da Vinci and Snow White — these are just some of the legendary characters that resonate within this thought-provoking garland of short stories from Australia.
Archetypes from ancient mythology, lurking in the depths of our psyches, peer at us through the haze of history; cautionary tales from our nursery years remind us of what can happen when we disobey The Rules; well known themes of obsession, betrayal and exploitation, love and loss and renewal are skillfully manipulated into new and compelling forms.
From the lighthearted and tongue-in-cheek to the sad and the sinister, this selection of tales, with their clever mythic echoes, is sure to entertain, enlighten and challenge readers of all ages.
Check out the atmospheric book trailer for Mythic Resonance here on YouTube.
If Amanda Greenslade’s lovely trailer work whets your appetite, you can check out the story excerpts here.
Mythic Resonance is available for purchase from the Specusphere, or for Apple devices you can visit the iTunes store and search for ‘Mythic Resonance’ in books. (It’s just $3.99). It is also available for Amazon Kindle.