10 Years of Haute Macabre: Realms Forged Within A Vast Imagination: Adrienne Rozzi Of Poison Apple Print Shop

by on Jan.16, 2019, under Syndicated from the Web

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Witches' Night

I met Adrienne Rozzi,  proprietress of Poison Apple Printshop,  this past Autumn at the bloodmilk Night Market event in Salem. It was one of those moments when, a bit alarmed, you suddenly spy relatively close by someone you’ve admired from afar for ever so long, and to whom you desperately want to say hello. You imagine yourself bolstering the courage to confidently close the distance that divides you, and offer a hearty introduction; you envision how impressed they’ll be with your friendliness and how they’ll laugh at your witticisms and you’ll witness in triumph the dawning realization on their face that wow, this person is pretty amazing! You take a swig from a flask of rose petal-flavored gin…you gather a deep breath and square your shoulders….and then you squeak out a pitiful “i cant do it!” and scurry away to hide in a corner with several shelves of tee shirts and a heap of handbags. You sip more gin. You sigh.

But sometimes, fate intervenes, and somehow, the crowd pushes you together, anyway.  You end up in front of her vendor table, and your nervousness dissipates like a dream as you marvel, wide eyed and wondering, at all of the bewitching art and beautiful screen prints with which she has mindfully, ritualistically, even, draped and embellished her small area. You remember the artistry that drew forth from you that ardent admiration to begin with, the sacred fever it evoked and awoke in you, and when your eyes light on the human who created it, it becomes so easy. You love art. You want to know the people who create the art you love. It really is that simple. You say hello. The world doesn’t end. In fact, it opens to you, anew.

Adrienne Rozzi 2

Worlds of awareness, are, I believe, at the heart of Adrienne Rozzi’s work. The natural world beneath our feet, invisibly churning, breathing, blossoming, dying; the amorphous otherworlds, liminal spaces of transition and transformation; the realms of discovery found in immersive study on subjects both celestial and corporeal; unlocked by curiosity and questioning, always questioning–and the unquenchable desire to share this knowledge, these worlds-within-worlds, with others. In our interview below, Adrienne and I tackle these ideas and so many more. Make yourself comfortable, pour a cup of tea, and settle in; perhaps reach for a pad and paper with which to scribble some notes and questions of your own. For, I believe, that along the course of our conversation today, you will find much to ponder upon and many rare and wonderful new worlds to discover for yourself.

One of a kind altar cloth

Adrienne Rozzi by Leia Churchel 6

Haute Macabre: One thing that strikes me in perusing your instagram and tumblr and various social medias (man, I sound so stalkery,) is this audacious sense of genuineness, openness, and authenticity that just effuses from your every word. It is apparent to me that if you love something, you want to tell everyone about it–which I applaud on two levels. One, that something has moved you so much that you are compelled to talk about it with whomever is listening, and two, you don’t seem the precious type to hoard your treasures (like, you know, people who won’t share their recipes or tell you what is that wonderful perfume they are wearing.) What drives this impulse to share of yourself, and to share with others?

Adrienne Rozzi: I’m so glad to hear that aspect of my personality shines through my profiles! I’d say this urge comes from three distinct places, all stemming from my overwhelming curiosity and wonderment, as well as a yearning for revealed truths. First, that I have always had a somewhat obsessive nature when it comes to subjects that interest me. I strive to know the full scope of a topic through finding a true intimacy between it and my own thoughts— and the more multi-faceted the subject, the better, because the more there is to know, the more excited I become! This connection acts as a basis for me, as it indicates my genuine affinity for the subject and creates an honest foundation for my knowledge base in that area of study. I often feel more confident in sharing my interests once this level of relation is made, for I know my affinity is genuine and therefore can not be threatened. I think for a lot of people, they feel threatened when they see someone post something about an area of interest they share. Some feel the need to prove that they also like this subject, and oftentimes they try to out-do you, as if it’s a competition, and they need to show that they know more than you. This kind of behavior is very frivolous to me, and often speaks more of the person’s insecurity rather than their genuine attraction to the subject at hand. If you really like something, no one can take that away! And don’t be afraid to share that recipe because, if you make it with love, that’s your own secret ingredient that can not be mimicked. For me, I love sharing topics I’m passionate about in hopes that I can find others who share my enthusiasm and, through our mutual interests, we can introduce each other to new topics that feed our insatiable appetite to learn and to know.

The second place of origin pertaining to my urge to share comes from a more exterior realm and the notions of the patriarchal society from which we are unfortunately conditioned. I often observe, especially in areas of the arts, that female artists have to substantiate their knowledge in order to claim their own niche, whereas males merely need to hold their own place. A female artist using magical or occult symbolism is continuously questioned as to the validity of her work and perceived with a more harsh, skeptical eye, whereas her male counterpart is rarely questioned about his familiarity with the same subjects. The most unfortunate aspect of this kind of inequality is that many of the critics are often women trying to tear down other women— an anti-progressive byproduct of our society. Although conceived in a negative place, this kind of pressure elicited a fierce determination within me when I first started sharing my artwork. Fortunately, I was able to overcome such judgements and turn a once negative element into something positive that greatly fed my skills and confidence.

Thirdly, I often come across esoteric artwork in which the artist wants to be perceived as magically enlightened, yet the symbols they use do not relate to each other, or are incorrectly made up all together. I see it, also, in the rash of generic witchy tumblrs and instagrams that tag every magical-looking photo with the same, inaccurate hashtags. This kind of recognition to the magical aesthetic without accurate knowledge to back it up is something that really gets to me. The moderators of such generic feeds seem to long for recognition but their blanketed approach to magic and witchcraft speaks more to their ignorance than their knowledge. If you want to embrace magic work, take the time to learn about it, practice, and educate yourself. The naivety is rampant and remains one of the catalysts that causes me to share the symbolism in my own work. I often hope that my knowledge of these subjects, and willingness to illuminate, will urge others to learn and share, eventually leading to a more enlightened collective consciousness and educated community within which we can all progress.

 

Mayday's Magic Circle

Adrienne Rozzi by Leia Churchel 2

Nature is very present in your art, from the flora and fauna that populate your prints, to the change of the seasons and the turning of the wheel of the year that certainly must inspire your various projects. Can you talk about your relationship with nature and how it informs your work?

Nature has always been a touchstone in my life that facilitates deep thought, catharsis, safety, and offers an arena in which I can find comfort in being honest with myself. Growing up in western Pennsylvania, there was little talk of religion in our home, but nature was held in high regard as a spiritual realm. My two brothers and I were raised on nature walks and frequent visits to the creek that ran through the woods behind our house. One poignant memory I hold dear is when my mom caught a frog in the creek and gently rubbed its belly until it fell asleep. She then placed it in the water and the frog leisurely floated downstream in a state of relaxation. To this day, my mother still possess the ability to charm toads and snakes, and she has the greenest thumb of anyone I know! When I tell her she is a natural witch she just laughs, but I know much of my magical abilities stem from her nurturing. Preceding the woods behind our home were a series of trails riddled amongst a vast field of brush. I can remember running through those paths in delight, picking blackberries and unknowingly finding security in that magical space of transition— the hedge. Although those trails don’t exist anymore, whenever I have dreams of being chased I find my way back there and feel an immediate sense of familiarity and safety.

Today, I continue to find comfort among the flora and fauna of my Pennsylvanian landscape and turn to nature for meditation, communion, and guidance. I swear the smell of earth, especially in the springtime, awakens something ancient in my psyche and, upon emerging from the woods, I feel more grounded with a deeper sense of my Self in relation to the universe. My connection to nature is so much a part of who I am that it pervades almost every drawing I create. The essential, rhythmic cycle of the seasons— birth, life, death, decay, and rebirth— are inherent in my being as I am so deeply connected to the natural world. I have always had a great attraction to the wheel and its symbolism. Through fortune and misfortune, I know better than to step off that wheel. I am a part of it as it is a part of nature. I find my art and life to be much more fulfilling when I embrace the turning and these ever-changing cycles, for they facilitate progress and offer an endless well of inspiration in lightness as well as shadow.

“I believe in god, only I spell it Nature.” – Frank Lloyd Wright

Adrienne Rozzi by Leia Churchel 3

The Familiars Totem

Screen printing is a very hands-on technique, with a long, rich, history. How did you come to employ this process in your art? What is it that appeals to you about the process and the tradition of screen printing? As opposed to say, just offering digitally produced/computer generated prints of your art? 

I was first introduced to screen printing in high school and was instantly enthralled with the technique and the potential it offered. Perhaps it’s the archivist in me, but I always wanted to keep my original drawings and felt guilty if I gave them away— as if they were my children or something! A versatile medium with the capacity to produce multiples of the same image, screen printing provided a solution in which I could still share meaningful, handmade pieces while preserving the original artwork. My knowledge of printmaking grew exponentially in college at the University of Pittsburgh, where I learned Intaglio and alternative printing methods, in addition to expanding my area of focus, screen printing. With encouraging professors, I was able to hone my skills and really experiment with the medium, carrying it into other art forms such as bookmaking and sculpture. A pinnacle of my learning at the time was when I visited Florence, Italy to study Experimental Printmaking and the Artists’ Book. I was able to supplement my printmaking skills with paper marbling and inventive forms of bookmaking. The union of these mediums is something I am still very much interested in today and hope to continue exploring in the future.

I’ve always believed a particularly moving aspect of art is the trace of the human hand— that undeniable evidence of the artist’s corporeal connection to their chosen canvas. The brush stroke, the fingerprint in clay, the subtle variation from one screen print to the next— to me, these are the little facets that carry the artist’s true expression and energy, ultimately eliciting more emotion in the viewer. Digital printing offers many opportunities for interesting artwork, but I’ve always found the immediate inclusion of a human element to be much more provoking and intimate.

Golden Earth

Your art is described as “bewitching as it is informative”; a great deal of research must precede the creation of these illuminating pieces– no doubt you enjoy a great love of history! Please talk to us about where this love stems from, and how you’ve nurtured it over the years. What are the sorts of historical tales that resonate with you the most, and which are those you like to tell best through the medium of your work?

History gives us the building blocks from which we create our current world and, although we live in an age of technology, it allows us access to explore the past through a vast array of information that would have otherwise remained obscure. A great deal of my artwork is informed not only by the knowledge given to us from our ancestors, but from the overarching attitudes and atmospheres of eras long past. Perhaps these periods in time get romanticized from our modern perspective, but even that romanticization lends itself, wholeheartedly, to inspiration through nostalgia. In addition to studying printmaking in school, I majored in Art History with a minor in Film Studies and worked for years in our university’s art library. Diving into the past on a daily basis, I found a better understanding of my place in the world against the backdrop of a historical timeline. I learned that the highest virtue of an artwork is its ability to transcend time, remaining relevant for centuries and only growing more sacred as it inspires generation after generation. There is great power in this attribute and too often art is mistaken as extravagant and excessive when it is actually very vital to society. And although it’s been eight years since I graduated from college, I continue to immerse myself in learning and rigorous study of the arts.

The art periods that resonate with me the most are those that possess an affinity for preceding time periods. A good example of this is seen in the Pre-Raphaelite art of the mid-1800s and its reoccurring themes of medieval sorcery and courtship. Another being the psychedelic artwork of the 1960s that harkens back to the Art Nouveau period of the 1890s. This kind of multi-layered aspect appeals to me because my own artwork is inspired by such periods and the emotional atmospheres I gather from them today. In addition to the art of the aforementioned eras, I find great inspiration in the engravings of artists such as Claude Paradin, Albrecht Dürer, Gustave Doré, Alastair, William Morris, Koloman Moser, HJ Ford, and John William Waterhouse.

I love to learn about historical tales through art, because oftentimes it shows a much more honest retelling, maybe not aesthetically, but where societal perspectives are concerned. There is an unwritten history that can only be accessed through the creations of an era. For instance, the Baroque master Gian Lorenzo Bernini found ways to hide his own little “fuck you”s in his sculpture, right under the noses of his patrons. Although I don’t harbor feelings like this in my own artwork, I certainly admire his audacity.This sly incorporation of Bernini’s personality makes his work all the more fascinating to me, because what has survived through history is not only his vision, but his opinions— far better preserved and much more crystalized than the critics writings.

In terms of the history of witchcraft, specifically, creating is my avenue to juxtapose my own thoughts and understandings with those of historical value and in no area has this been more relevant than through the exploration of the witch archetype and iconography. I have a great many works informed by Sabbatic Witchcraft, exemplifying the modern witch stereotype that came to prominence in the 15th-century and has endured in our society’s imagination to this day— the witch as merciless, dark, and cruel, indulging in poisonous plants, eating babies, and supping with the devil. However, this is just one face of the multi-faceted, proverbial Witch. Through my artwork, I enjoy illuminating her many faces— the wild woman, the seductress, the maiden, the mother, the crone, the healer, the creator, and the destroyer— for she is nurturing and that is awesome, yet she is terrible and that is also awesome— she is all. This embracement of the all-encompassing qualities of femininity through the guise of the witch is a concept I find more relevant with each passing day in our horrid world and I will continue to strive for enlightenment, paying homage to her through my creations.

Lastly, building off of my love of magic, history, and keen atmospheric nostalgia for by-gone eras, I strive for an air of escapism amongst my illustrations. Escaping to a different time in history, but also escaping to an enchanting otherworld that exists in bringing elements of history and the delights of magical living together in a realm forged within the vast confines of my imagination. I seek to bring my viewers access into the fantastical worlds of my mind as an artist while maintaining magical and historical accuracy and significance. This, to me, is what adds depth, sincerity, and meaning to my artwork and how I’ve learned to connect with my viewers— to always remain bewitching AND informative.

Witches' Night on Hexenkopf Rock

With regard to conveying historical information and the lessons and wisdom that comes part and parcel along with those stories and lore, there’s the opportunity to express much in the way of “secret knowledge” through your art–that of the American witchcraft, alchemy, and folk magic that I believe are your focus. I’d love to hear your thoughts on sharing the sacred and the arcane via your illustrations.

As is evident by now, art is often my gateway to uncovering more about a particular era, style, or culture, and when it comes to magical artwork, its history is rich and vast. There is a great deal of esoteric knowledge that, for the sake of concealment and survival, was passed on through images and artwork, only put into writing within the last century or so. Like the persevering art I mentioned previously, the endurance of such secret knowledge is fascinating to me, oftentimes instilling an unwavering sense of hope where the longevity of my own artwork is concerned. I used to battle with the fact that I wanted to share such information of which I also believed should remain obscure, only offering itself to those who sought it out. However, kind of like my recipe analogy (pertaining to success through the incorporation of a secret ingredient), occult knowledge is no different— the information will resonate with the ones who are meant to understand it. I could shout about magic work from the roof tops but only those who are intuitively tuned will grasp it. This kind of attitude is perhaps yet another reason I like to share such information, because it brings like-minded practitioners out of the woodwork.

I have always had an interest in a broad range of magical practices including Hermeticism, traditional Cornish witchcraft, Egyptian sorcery and the cult of the dead, Celtic magic and Druidism, Renaissance magic, Gnosticism, and Roman magic. However, not long ago I yearned for a closer kinship with a magical tradition based on a more regional level. Around this time, I visited my grandfather’s grave in Raubsville, PA. After paying my respects, I strolled through the graveyard to visit a tombstone of which I always made a point to stop and admire. Later that day, and unaware of my magical longing, my grandmother gifted me a rare book written by a local scholar about the nearby Hexenkopf Rock, a cursed summit known as the gathering place of witches as far back as the 1700s. Upon devouring the book with relentless enthusiasm, I came across mention of the very grave I had long admired in Raubsville cemetery. It was that of Johann Peter Seiler, a noted 18th-century healer and Braucher who helped develop the practice of Braucherei in the area and was famed for curing hundreds of people in his lifetime. To me, it was no coincidence, for I’m well acquainted with this kind of serendipitous fortune, and in that moment I was nearly reduced to tears— my longing had been heard. A new path had revealed itself that not only paid homage to my wishes, but involved the guidance of my loved ones, both living and beyond the veil.

I grew up near a populated Amish community, where I saw hex signs on a daily basis and they became a welcome sight, as I’ve always possessed a fondness for Pennsylvania Dutch folk art and fraktur. This adoration, in conjunction with my newly revealed path, caused me to take a deeper look at Braucherei, or the Pow-wow magic of the Pennsylvania Dutch and subsequently led to the creation of one of my most in-depth works— Witches’ Night on Hexenkopf Rock. Heavily influenced by Pennsylvania folk art and rich in associated symbolism, this work remains a powerful example of the union between history and my own experience and emotions— a marriage that has come to exemplify the most meaningful of my drawings.

This intense study set a new precedent, as far as fulfilling my own potential, and since, I have put a lot more of my personal study into my illustrations. I am forever enthralled with folk magic practices, for I believe they possess the true, creative and magical breadth of the people and culture from which they emerge. Along with this affinity, I often approach witchcraft through Herbalism, for it feels very natural to me and carries a somewhat more scientific and substantial foundation. This interest in herbalism and a wide range of folk magic finds harmony in my own creative practice, for I often draw with directed intention, and the act of drawing has become my personal and preferred form of folk magic.

More recently, I’ve delved deeper into the study of alchemy and, consequently, my artwork has taken a more intimate turn (no doubt spurred by my Saturns return, as well!). Made a mockery in our modern society, Alchemy is not merely an attempt at turning base metals into gold, but the philosophical approach to the illuminated life and the idea that all humans can ripen towards enlightenment and spiritual purity. This is a journey that involves a great deal of introspection and, through studying this path, my artwork has come to reveal the inner truths I am exploring within myself. Some of my more recent works speak to unconditional self-love, letting go, and the exploration of my shadow self, in which I find much comfort and healing. Although somewhat less historical-based than my previous artwork, it is through these more transcendental works that I have found a greater intimacy with my cherished audience.

Adrienne Rozzi 3

Adrienne Rozzi by Nina Sainato

Adrienne Rozzi by Jeff LeBlanc

You don’t just create altar cloths, and patches and tee shirts– I believe that you have illustrated/are illustrating album covers as well! What role does music play for you in the art of creation? Is there anything you are listening to now that you are finding particularly inspirational? As a further to that, what about cinema? Fashion? Literature? What roles do these artforms play in influencing your own work?

Similar to my feelings towards old-world nostalgia, my close rapport with the arts is carried by my recognition and intimacy with the atmospheres created therein. Much of my listening habits, movie watching, and fashion choices are governed by my mood, so you will often find me listening to an eclectic mix of music genres or wearing drastically different outfits (although always magical) from day to day. For me, my connection to the arts is yet another extension of my personality and expression, so I use music, movies, books, and fashion to induce different mental atmospheres within me and carry me to specific states of mind. I’ve always respected the arts as a medium where laws do not govern us so closely and I think this limitless arena is what makes artistic creation so attractive and relatable. One of my favorite quotes pertains to this. It is emblazoned on the facade of the Secession building in Vienna and I believe in it so strongly that I also have it as a tattoo:

“Der Zeit ihre Kunst. Der Kunst ihre Freiheit.”

translated in english:

“To every age its art. To every art its freedom.”

When it comes down to it, I see music as one of the most influential of the arts, for it possesses the ability to physically make us move and dance, and that is a powerful thing. Most of the time I sway between psychedelic rock, many varieties of punk, goth rock, doom metal, acid rock, traditional folk, psychedelic rock, straight up rock n’ roll, and the undeniable enthrall of good pop music. And when I am forced to listen to the radio, the only channel I actually like is the classical station. So, I’m pretty all over the place when it comes to my musical taste. I like it that way because it has instilled in me a more well-rounded appreciation for the art and its many genres as well as given me a smorgasbord of moods and atmospheres to choose from. A lot of my friends are in bands so our music conversations are always fulfilling, as they can get pretty diverse. Right now, I’m listening to a lot of Coven, Blood Ceremony, and Flower Travelin’ Band with some more mellow tunes thrown in there by way of Howlin’ Wolf and my favorite folk singers, the Kossoy Sisters. I’ve also recently been listening to and enjoying the debut EP from my friends in Sisters of Shaddowwe, titled Demo ’81. When I heard the song that is also their namesake, I was instantly up out of my chair, dancing, and singing into my hairbrush. Although I don’t make custom artwork any longer, their music is so infectious that I had to make an exception and I am currently working on artwork for their band!

As for books, where do I even start? I’ve always had a very soft spot for Transcendentalism and the writings of the Romantics and the Victorian era. I was first introduced to these periods in high school and their words have found an enduring home in my heart and mind. Three of my favorite poems of all time are ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci’ and ‘The Eve of St. Agnes’, both by John Keats, as well as ‘The Lady of Shalott’ by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Although I love poetry and novels, I spend most of my free time reading non-fiction and informative books about art, witchcraft, and occult studies. I think I own almost every book published by Three Hands Press and I am currently reading Thirteen Pathways of Occult Herbalism by Daniel Schulke. It is a very fascinating read that is striking a lot of chords with me, where my own magical practice is concerned. He gives beautifully elaborate descriptions of conceptional gardens of energy and thought in which I’ve drawn much inspiration for new illustrations. Reading about the history of magic, witchcraft, and the occult, and implementing the knowledge gained therein, has provided me with a more solid foundation of historical knowledge from which many of my drawings are derived. I read and utilized Schulke’s book Veneficium, as well as The Witches’ Ointment by Thomas Hatsis and By Moonlight and Spirit Flight by Michael Howard to lay the groundwork for my in-depth illustration Lamiarum Unguenta which pertains to the ideas of flying ointments, Sabbatic Witchcraft, and the 15th-century modern witch archetype, and also references the elusive cult of Diana. It has always seemed humorous to me that I should be most influenced by art forms that differ from the medium of drawing and illustration in which I primarily work. There is a pre-set visual language when it comes to witchcraft— the hag, the broom, the pointy hat, — so I think turning to other art forms for inspiration has allowed me to create much more inventive ways of portraying my usual subject matters instead of relying on the common iconography. A fun fact is that I’ve only ever drawn a pointy hatted witch once in my entire career. That type of imagery just seems contrived and doesn’t really do it for me. I will make an exception for the Wicked Witch of the West— she is perfect.

In terms of fashion, this is where I have some real fun. I’ve always had an eccentric style of dress, even when I try to “tone it down.” For me, there is no reason why you shouldn’t wear what you really want to wear every day. Most of the time people think I’m wearing a costume but, luckily, I have a good sense of humor and continue to display my individualism unabashedly. I’m a quadruple Leo so there is really no subduing my flare for expression and, at this point, when I say I have to accessorize, my friends understand this means it will be another 15 minutes before I’m ready to go out the door. Early on in my magical studies, my mentor taught me about glamour magic and capturing gazes as a way of strengthening personal power. In the current book I’m reading, Shculke writes, “Cosmetics, seldom considered a worthy topic of occult discourse, is nevertheless placed historically at the very beginning of magical time, when it was taught by the fallen angel Azazel to human women, one of many such ‘forbidden’ arts that served as the primordial foundation of occult sciences.” I think my heart swelled when I read this, because, on a broader scale, the act of adornment has become a highly ritualistic and spiritual tool for me. This is one reason I strive to collect only handmade jewelry— there is a much deeper energy contained within it that can be accessed and made sacred. I was very lucky, last year, to see the retrospective exhibit of cutting-edge fashion designer Iris Van Herpen and I can sincerely say her work changed my world. It was yet another instance where a medium other than my own highly inspired me to create more inventive and imaginative drawings.

And now for cinema. The very word conjures feelings of happiness and excitement within me. It could be argued that my true heart lies in film. With an overactive imagination and a talent for empathy, movies really alter my mindset above anything else and I usually have to spend a long while afterwards putting my emotions back in order. I’ve often thought, if I didn’t choose drawing and printmaking as an occupation, I would have loved to try my hand at cinematography, set design, or costume making. One goal on my bucket list is to make a prop spell book for a legit movie or television show. I chronically screenshot movies as I watch them and have a whole folder on my computer dedicated solely to spell books in film and tv! Cinema is truly where all of the arts come together and that is what makes for the most immersive atmospheres, in my opinion. There are certain movies I watch over and over just to indulge in their ambiance and nourish my insatiable appetite for escapism. This habit started when I was a young child and would watch The Wizard of Oz on a daily basis. As I mentioned earlier, I have a minor in Film Studies and was fortunate, in school, to have taken some really amazing classes that included Experimental Cinema and American Independent Film, where I was introduced to a lot of filmmakers that remain my favorites to this day. There were a handful of classes that, although not solely film classes, used cinema to supplement the teachings and explore varying perspectives of the subjects at hand, namely Vampire: Blood & Empire, Russian Fairytales, and Madness & Madmen in Russian Culture. Needless to say, this is when my study of film became more in-depth and I developed a much deeper appreciation for the medium and its many components. I am fortunate that Pittsburgh has a rich history in film and a number of years ago I had the pleasure of meeting one of my film heroes, Kenneth Anger, and hearing him speak about his career during the Pittsburgh Film Festival. It was a truly meaningful experience that catapulted my interest in cinema to a new level. Today, I find that I am mostly drawn to cinematography and I swear I get starry-eyed when I see a well executed composition on the screen. Costumes are another aspect that just makes me melt. Some of my favorite movies that possess both of these qualities are The Piano (1993), To Walk Invisible (2016), Jane Eyre (2011), The Witch (2015), and Marie Antoinette (2006). In fact, now might be a good time to mention that I am an avid list maker and movie lists happen to be my favorite. The nerd that I am, I have kept track of every movie I’ve watched for many years now. So I’ll conclude this section with a list of some of my most loved, must-see films. Enjoy!

In no particular order:

The Piano (1993)

Black Sunday (1960)

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970)

Black Narcissus (1947)

Harold and Maude (1971)

Days of Heaven (1978)

Agora (2009)

The Love Witch (2016)

The Wicker Man (1973)

Mary Pickford: The Muse of the Movies (2008)

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

Cronos (1993)

Pirate Radio, a.k.a. The Boat that Rocked (2009)

Danse Macabre (1922)

The Red Violin (1998)

The Witch (2015)

The Young Victoria (2009)

Possession (2002) (my guilty pleasure chick flick)

The Blood of a Poet (1932)

Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)

Mothlight (1963)

Morgiana (1972)

– Pretty much any film by Kenneth Anger from 1940-1980

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Lamiarum Unguenta

I’ve seen video footage of your studio–what an utterly magical, immersive space! What is life like in your studio? In what sort of atmosphere do you best create?

Thank you for saying so! My studio is the one place where I can allow my imagination to run rampant and I usually have multiple projects going on all at once. I often have to tip-toe around freshly dyed, drying linens on the floor or work around a tediously constructed still-life, all while little bits of gold leaf can be found clinging to just about everything. It is my personal sacred space that has come to house some of my most inspiration treasures, including my revered collection of antique photography and an array of dried flowers, oddities, and curiosities. For me, time stops when I cross the threshold and I have successfully mastered leaving “reality” at the door. I am a creature of solitude, so it is vital for me to have a space where I can work uninterrupted. Even as a child, I would lock myself in my room and work on a single art project for hours or days, only to emerge looking like a mad scientist who comes out of the lab, hair tousled and haggard but with the crazed look of achievement in her eyes. This habit has only grown within the walls of my creative space and sometimes I lose track of time because I’m so enthralled with my artistic experiments. Prior to my current studio, I was working in the basement of my home, where natural light was scarce and the air was frigid and damp. It was far from my ideal work conditions and eventually I had to seek out another space to save myself from the mental confines of cabin fever. When I began my search, my space of choice was spoken for already but the owner called me the next day to inform me that negotiations had fallen through and my dream space was available once more. I rushed over with my security deposit and, as we hashed out the deal, he said “The question is, are you a good witch or a bad witch? Do you know what that’s from?” I laughed and replied, “Only my favorite movie of all time, The Wizard of Oz!” This may seem coincidental but I knew, at the time, it was a sign that I was on the right path and this was the studio for me, as The Wizard of Oz was such a major part of my childhood. So that is how I came to acquire my studio, of which I’ve been in for three years now. It is situated in the corner of a 130-year-old building and is bright and airy, with windows spanning from floor to ceiling on two entire walls. It is quite the drastic change from my days of basement printing and I’d say the change has done me right. Now, seemingly an entity of it’s own, it has grown and evolved alongside me to encapsulate my artistic energy and treasured inspirations, becoming a safe haven and sacred space integral to my creative mind, process, and aspirations.

Ergot

Adrienne Rozzi

I’d love to hear about future projects or collaborations that you may be excited about! What wonderment is in store for us from Poison Apple Printshop in 2018?
In addition to my aforementioned band artwork for Sisters of Shaddowwe, I plan to start pushing my altar cloths to new levels and hopefully create some larger, major works for a future gallery show. More in-depth illustrations are always at the forefront of my mind and I hope to create a number of these to add to my body of work. Always the life-long learner, I am also taking a metalsmithing class with my friend Leia of Lunation Leathers. We are hoping to one day collaborate on a line of jewelry. Realistically, it will be a while until our skills are sharp enough to undertake such an endeavor, but the prospect has gotten both of us very excited. This year, so far, seems to be the year in which I am finally bringing to fruition a myriad of creations I have long had locked away in my mind. The first of these is my most recent creation, the Bright Star Puzzle Purse love note, and the next will hopefully be a retrospective book of my smaller drawings. I am also in the beginning stages of planning a long-overdue, immersive project that I can’t reveal quite yet. Let’s just say it’s something that will make The High Priestess proud, and I’ll leave it at that!

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10 Years of Haute Macabre: Realms Forged Within A Vast Imagination: Adrienne Rozzi Of Poison Apple Print Shop

by on Jan.16, 2019, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from | Go to Original Post

Witches' Night

I met Adrienne Rozzi,  proprietress of Poison Apple Printshop,  this past Autumn at the bloodmilk Night Market event in Salem. It was one of those moments when, a bit alarmed, you suddenly spy relatively close by someone you’ve admired from afar for ever so long, and to whom you desperately want to say hello. You imagine yourself bolstering the courage to confidently close the distance that divides you, and offer a hearty introduction; you envision how impressed they’ll be with your friendliness and how they’ll laugh at your witticisms and you’ll witness in triumph the dawning realization on their face that wow, this person is pretty amazing! You take a swig from a flask of rose petal-flavored gin…you gather a deep breath and square your shoulders….and then you squeak out a pitiful “i cant do it!” and scurry away to hide in a corner with several shelves of tee shirts and a heap of handbags. You sip more gin. You sigh.

But sometimes, fate intervenes, and somehow, the crowd pushes you together, anyway.  You end up in front of her vendor table, and your nervousness dissipates like a dream as you marvel, wide eyed and wondering, at all of the bewitching art and beautiful screen prints with which she has mindfully, ritualistically, even, draped and embellished her small area. You remember the artistry that drew forth from you that ardent admiration to begin with, the sacred fever it evoked and awoke in you, and when your eyes light on the human who created it, it becomes so easy. You love art. You want to know the people who create the art you love. It really is that simple. You say hello. The world doesn’t end. In fact, it opens to you, anew.

Adrienne Rozzi 2

Worlds of awareness, are, I believe, at the heart of Adrienne Rozzi’s work. The natural world beneath our feet, invisibly churning, breathing, blossoming, dying; the amorphous otherworlds, liminal spaces of transition and transformation; the realms of discovery found in immersive study on subjects both celestial and corporeal; unlocked by curiosity and questioning, always questioning–and the unquenchable desire to share this knowledge, these worlds-within-worlds, with others. In our interview below, Adrienne and I tackle these ideas and so many more. Make yourself comfortable, pour a cup of tea, and settle in; perhaps reach for a pad and paper with which to scribble some notes and questions of your own. For, I believe, that along the course of our conversation today, you will find much to ponder upon and many rare and wonderful new worlds to discover for yourself.

One of a kind altar cloth

Adrienne Rozzi by Leia Churchel 6

Haute Macabre: One thing that strikes me in perusing your instagram and tumblr and various social medias (man, I sound so stalkery,) is this audacious sense of genuineness, openness, and authenticity that just effuses from your every word. It is apparent to me that if you love something, you want to tell everyone about it–which I applaud on two levels. One, that something has moved you so much that you are compelled to talk about it with whomever is listening, and two, you don’t seem the precious type to hoard your treasures (like, you know, people who won’t share their recipes or tell you what is that wonderful perfume they are wearing.) What drives this impulse to share of yourself, and to share with others?

Adrienne Rozzi: I’m so glad to hear that aspect of my personality shines through my profiles! I’d say this urge comes from three distinct places, all stemming from my overwhelming curiosity and wonderment, as well as a yearning for revealed truths. First, that I have always had a somewhat obsessive nature when it comes to subjects that interest me. I strive to know the full scope of a topic through finding a true intimacy between it and my own thoughts— and the more multi-faceted the subject, the better, because the more there is to know, the more excited I become! This connection acts as a basis for me, as it indicates my genuine affinity for the subject and creates an honest foundation for my knowledge base in that area of study. I often feel more confident in sharing my interests once this level of relation is made, for I know my affinity is genuine and therefore can not be threatened. I think for a lot of people, they feel threatened when they see someone post something about an area of interest they share. Some feel the need to prove that they also like this subject, and oftentimes they try to out-do you, as if it’s a competition, and they need to show that they know more than you. This kind of behavior is very frivolous to me, and often speaks more of the person’s insecurity rather than their genuine attraction to the subject at hand. If you really like something, no one can take that away! And don’t be afraid to share that recipe because, if you make it with love, that’s your own secret ingredient that can not be mimicked. For me, I love sharing topics I’m passionate about in hopes that I can find others who share my enthusiasm and, through our mutual interests, we can introduce each other to new topics that feed our insatiable appetite to learn and to know.

The second place of origin pertaining to my urge to share comes from a more exterior realm and the notions of the patriarchal society from which we are unfortunately conditioned. I often observe, especially in areas of the arts, that female artists have to substantiate their knowledge in order to claim their own niche, whereas males merely need to hold their own place. A female artist using magical or occult symbolism is continuously questioned as to the validity of her work and perceived with a more harsh, skeptical eye, whereas her male counterpart is rarely questioned about his familiarity with the same subjects. The most unfortunate aspect of this kind of inequality is that many of the critics are often women trying to tear down other women— an anti-progressive byproduct of our society. Although conceived in a negative place, this kind of pressure elicited a fierce determination within me when I first started sharing my artwork. Fortunately, I was able to overcome such judgements and turn a once negative element into something positive that greatly fed my skills and confidence.

Thirdly, I often come across esoteric artwork in which the artist wants to be perceived as magically enlightened, yet the symbols they use do not relate to each other, or are incorrectly made up all together. I see it, also, in the rash of generic witchy tumblrs and instagrams that tag every magical-looking photo with the same, inaccurate hashtags. This kind of recognition to the magical aesthetic without accurate knowledge to back it up is something that really gets to me. The moderators of such generic feeds seem to long for recognition but their blanketed approach to magic and witchcraft speaks more to their ignorance than their knowledge. If you want to embrace magic work, take the time to learn about it, practice, and educate yourself. The naivety is rampant and remains one of the catalysts that causes me to share the symbolism in my own work. I often hope that my knowledge of these subjects, and willingness to illuminate, will urge others to learn and share, eventually leading to a more enlightened collective consciousness and educated community within which we can all progress.

 

Mayday's Magic Circle

Adrienne Rozzi by Leia Churchel 2

Nature is very present in your art, from the flora and fauna that populate your prints, to the change of the seasons and the turning of the wheel of the year that certainly must inspire your various projects. Can you talk about your relationship with nature and how it informs your work?

Nature has always been a touchstone in my life that facilitates deep thought, catharsis, safety, and offers an arena in which I can find comfort in being honest with myself. Growing up in western Pennsylvania, there was little talk of religion in our home, but nature was held in high regard as a spiritual realm. My two brothers and I were raised on nature walks and frequent visits to the creek that ran through the woods behind our house. One poignant memory I hold dear is when my mom caught a frog in the creek and gently rubbed its belly until it fell asleep. She then placed it in the water and the frog leisurely floated downstream in a state of relaxation. To this day, my mother still possess the ability to charm toads and snakes, and she has the greenest thumb of anyone I know! When I tell her she is a natural witch she just laughs, but I know much of my magical abilities stem from her nurturing. Preceding the woods behind our home were a series of trails riddled amongst a vast field of brush. I can remember running through those paths in delight, picking blackberries and unknowingly finding security in that magical space of transition— the hedge. Although those trails don’t exist anymore, whenever I have dreams of being chased I find my way back there and feel an immediate sense of familiarity and safety.

Today, I continue to find comfort among the flora and fauna of my Pennsylvanian landscape and turn to nature for meditation, communion, and guidance. I swear the smell of earth, especially in the springtime, awakens something ancient in my psyche and, upon emerging from the woods, I feel more grounded with a deeper sense of my Self in relation to the universe. My connection to nature is so much a part of who I am that it pervades almost every drawing I create. The essential, rhythmic cycle of the seasons— birth, life, death, decay, and rebirth— are inherent in my being as I am so deeply connected to the natural world. I have always had a great attraction to the wheel and its symbolism. Through fortune and misfortune, I know better than to step off that wheel. I am a part of it as it is a part of nature. I find my art and life to be much more fulfilling when I embrace the turning and these ever-changing cycles, for they facilitate progress and offer an endless well of inspiration in lightness as well as shadow.

“I believe in god, only I spell it Nature.” – Frank Lloyd Wright

Adrienne Rozzi by Leia Churchel 3

The Familiars Totem

Screen printing is a very hands-on technique, with a long, rich, history. How did you come to employ this process in your art? What is it that appeals to you about the process and the tradition of screen printing? As opposed to say, just offering digitally produced/computer generated prints of your art? 

I was first introduced to screen printing in high school and was instantly enthralled with the technique and the potential it offered. Perhaps it’s the archivist in me, but I always wanted to keep my original drawings and felt guilty if I gave them away— as if they were my children or something! A versatile medium with the capacity to produce multiples of the same image, screen printing provided a solution in which I could still share meaningful, handmade pieces while preserving the original artwork. My knowledge of printmaking grew exponentially in college at the University of Pittsburgh, where I learned Intaglio and alternative printing methods, in addition to expanding my area of focus, screen printing. With encouraging professors, I was able to hone my skills and really experiment with the medium, carrying it into other art forms such as bookmaking and sculpture. A pinnacle of my learning at the time was when I visited Florence, Italy to study Experimental Printmaking and the Artists’ Book. I was able to supplement my printmaking skills with paper marbling and inventive forms of bookmaking. The union of these mediums is something I am still very much interested in today and hope to continue exploring in the future.

I’ve always believed a particularly moving aspect of art is the trace of the human hand— that undeniable evidence of the artist’s corporeal connection to their chosen canvas. The brush stroke, the fingerprint in clay, the subtle variation from one screen print to the next— to me, these are the little facets that carry the artist’s true expression and energy, ultimately eliciting more emotion in the viewer. Digital printing offers many opportunities for interesting artwork, but I’ve always found the immediate inclusion of a human element to be much more provoking and intimate.

Golden Earth

Your art is described as “bewitching as it is informative”; a great deal of research must precede the creation of these illuminating pieces– no doubt you enjoy a great love of history! Please talk to us about where this love stems from, and how you’ve nurtured it over the years. What are the sorts of historical tales that resonate with you the most, and which are those you like to tell best through the medium of your work?

History gives us the building blocks from which we create our current world and, although we live in an age of technology, it allows us access to explore the past through a vast array of information that would have otherwise remained obscure. A great deal of my artwork is informed not only by the knowledge given to us from our ancestors, but from the overarching attitudes and atmospheres of eras long past. Perhaps these periods in time get romanticized from our modern perspective, but even that romanticization lends itself, wholeheartedly, to inspiration through nostalgia. In addition to studying printmaking in school, I majored in Art History with a minor in Film Studies and worked for years in our university’s art library. Diving into the past on a daily basis, I found a better understanding of my place in the world against the backdrop of a historical timeline. I learned that the highest virtue of an artwork is its ability to transcend time, remaining relevant for centuries and only growing more sacred as it inspires generation after generation. There is great power in this attribute and too often art is mistaken as extravagant and excessive when it is actually very vital to society. And although it’s been eight years since I graduated from college, I continue to immerse myself in learning and rigorous study of the arts.

The art periods that resonate with me the most are those that possess an affinity for preceding time periods. A good example of this is seen in the Pre-Raphaelite art of the mid-1800s and its reoccurring themes of medieval sorcery and courtship. Another being the psychedelic artwork of the 1960s that harkens back to the Art Nouveau period of the 1890s. This kind of multi-layered aspect appeals to me because my own artwork is inspired by such periods and the emotional atmospheres I gather from them today. In addition to the art of the aforementioned eras, I find great inspiration in the engravings of artists such as Claude Paradin, Albrecht Dürer, Gustave Doré, Alastair, William Morris, Koloman Moser, HJ Ford, and John William Waterhouse.

I love to learn about historical tales through art, because oftentimes it shows a much more honest retelling, maybe not aesthetically, but where societal perspectives are concerned. There is an unwritten history that can only be accessed through the creations of an era. For instance, the Baroque master Gian Lorenzo Bernini found ways to hide his own little “fuck you”s in his sculpture, right under the noses of his patrons. Although I don’t harbor feelings like this in my own artwork, I certainly admire his audacity.This sly incorporation of Bernini’s personality makes his work all the more fascinating to me, because what has survived through history is not only his vision, but his opinions— far better preserved and much more crystalized than the critics writings.

In terms of the history of witchcraft, specifically, creating is my avenue to juxtapose my own thoughts and understandings with those of historical value and in no area has this been more relevant than through the exploration of the witch archetype and iconography. I have a great many works informed by Sabbatic Witchcraft, exemplifying the modern witch stereotype that came to prominence in the 15th-century and has endured in our society’s imagination to this day— the witch as merciless, dark, and cruel, indulging in poisonous plants, eating babies, and supping with the devil. However, this is just one face of the multi-faceted, proverbial Witch. Through my artwork, I enjoy illuminating her many faces— the wild woman, the seductress, the maiden, the mother, the crone, the healer, the creator, and the destroyer— for she is nurturing and that is awesome, yet she is terrible and that is also awesome— she is all. This embracement of the all-encompassing qualities of femininity through the guise of the witch is a concept I find more relevant with each passing day in our horrid world and I will continue to strive for enlightenment, paying homage to her through my creations.

Lastly, building off of my love of magic, history, and keen atmospheric nostalgia for by-gone eras, I strive for an air of escapism amongst my illustrations. Escaping to a different time in history, but also escaping to an enchanting otherworld that exists in bringing elements of history and the delights of magical living together in a realm forged within the vast confines of my imagination. I seek to bring my viewers access into the fantastical worlds of my mind as an artist while maintaining magical and historical accuracy and significance. This, to me, is what adds depth, sincerity, and meaning to my artwork and how I’ve learned to connect with my viewers— to always remain bewitching AND informative.

Witches' Night on Hexenkopf Rock

With regard to conveying historical information and the lessons and wisdom that comes part and parcel along with those stories and lore, there’s the opportunity to express much in the way of “secret knowledge” through your art–that of the American witchcraft, alchemy, and folk magic that I believe are your focus. I’d love to hear your thoughts on sharing the sacred and the arcane via your illustrations.

As is evident by now, art is often my gateway to uncovering more about a particular era, style, or culture, and when it comes to magical artwork, its history is rich and vast. There is a great deal of esoteric knowledge that, for the sake of concealment and survival, was passed on through images and artwork, only put into writing within the last century or so. Like the persevering art I mentioned previously, the endurance of such secret knowledge is fascinating to me, oftentimes instilling an unwavering sense of hope where the longevity of my own artwork is concerned. I used to battle with the fact that I wanted to share such information of which I also believed should remain obscure, only offering itself to those who sought it out. However, kind of like my recipe analogy (pertaining to success through the incorporation of a secret ingredient), occult knowledge is no different— the information will resonate with the ones who are meant to understand it. I could shout about magic work from the roof tops but only those who are intuitively tuned will grasp it. This kind of attitude is perhaps yet another reason I like to share such information, because it brings like-minded practitioners out of the woodwork.

I have always had an interest in a broad range of magical practices including Hermeticism, traditional Cornish witchcraft, Egyptian sorcery and the cult of the dead, Celtic magic and Druidism, Renaissance magic, Gnosticism, and Roman magic. However, not long ago I yearned for a closer kinship with a magical tradition based on a more regional level. Around this time, I visited my grandfather’s grave in Raubsville, PA. After paying my respects, I strolled through the graveyard to visit a tombstone of which I always made a point to stop and admire. Later that day, and unaware of my magical longing, my grandmother gifted me a rare book written by a local scholar about the nearby Hexenkopf Rock, a cursed summit known as the gathering place of witches as far back as the 1700s. Upon devouring the book with relentless enthusiasm, I came across mention of the very grave I had long admired in Raubsville cemetery. It was that of Johann Peter Seiler, a noted 18th-century healer and Braucher who helped develop the practice of Braucherei in the area and was famed for curing hundreds of people in his lifetime. To me, it was no coincidence, for I’m well acquainted with this kind of serendipitous fortune, and in that moment I was nearly reduced to tears— my longing had been heard. A new path had revealed itself that not only paid homage to my wishes, but involved the guidance of my loved ones, both living and beyond the veil.

I grew up near a populated Amish community, where I saw hex signs on a daily basis and they became a welcome sight, as I’ve always possessed a fondness for Pennsylvania Dutch folk art and fraktur. This adoration, in conjunction with my newly revealed path, caused me to take a deeper look at Braucherei, or the Pow-wow magic of the Pennsylvania Dutch and subsequently led to the creation of one of my most in-depth works— Witches’ Night on Hexenkopf Rock. Heavily influenced by Pennsylvania folk art and rich in associated symbolism, this work remains a powerful example of the union between history and my own experience and emotions— a marriage that has come to exemplify the most meaningful of my drawings.

This intense study set a new precedent, as far as fulfilling my own potential, and since, I have put a lot more of my personal study into my illustrations. I am forever enthralled with folk magic practices, for I believe they possess the true, creative and magical breadth of the people and culture from which they emerge. Along with this affinity, I often approach witchcraft through Herbalism, for it feels very natural to me and carries a somewhat more scientific and substantial foundation. This interest in herbalism and a wide range of folk magic finds harmony in my own creative practice, for I often draw with directed intention, and the act of drawing has become my personal and preferred form of folk magic.

More recently, I’ve delved deeper into the study of alchemy and, consequently, my artwork has taken a more intimate turn (no doubt spurred by my Saturns return, as well!). Made a mockery in our modern society, Alchemy is not merely an attempt at turning base metals into gold, but the philosophical approach to the illuminated life and the idea that all humans can ripen towards enlightenment and spiritual purity. This is a journey that involves a great deal of introspection and, through studying this path, my artwork has come to reveal the inner truths I am exploring within myself. Some of my more recent works speak to unconditional self-love, letting go, and the exploration of my shadow self, in which I find much comfort and healing. Although somewhat less historical-based than my previous artwork, it is through these more transcendental works that I have found a greater intimacy with my cherished audience.

Adrienne Rozzi 3

Adrienne Rozzi by Nina Sainato

Adrienne Rozzi by Jeff LeBlanc

You don’t just create altar cloths, and patches and tee shirts– I believe that you have illustrated/are illustrating album covers as well! What role does music play for you in the art of creation? Is there anything you are listening to now that you are finding particularly inspirational? As a further to that, what about cinema? Fashion? Literature? What roles do these artforms play in influencing your own work?

Similar to my feelings towards old-world nostalgia, my close rapport with the arts is carried by my recognition and intimacy with the atmospheres created therein. Much of my listening habits, movie watching, and fashion choices are governed by my mood, so you will often find me listening to an eclectic mix of music genres or wearing drastically different outfits (although always magical) from day to day. For me, my connection to the arts is yet another extension of my personality and expression, so I use music, movies, books, and fashion to induce different mental atmospheres within me and carry me to specific states of mind. I’ve always respected the arts as a medium where laws do not govern us so closely and I think this limitless arena is what makes artistic creation so attractive and relatable. One of my favorite quotes pertains to this. It is emblazoned on the facade of the Secession building in Vienna and I believe in it so strongly that I also have it as a tattoo:

“Der Zeit ihre Kunst. Der Kunst ihre Freiheit.”

translated in english:

“To every age its art. To every art its freedom.”

When it comes down to it, I see music as one of the most influential of the arts, for it possesses the ability to physically make us move and dance, and that is a powerful thing. Most of the time I sway between psychedelic rock, many varieties of punk, goth rock, doom metal, acid rock, traditional folk, psychedelic rock, straight up rock n’ roll, and the undeniable enthrall of good pop music. And when I am forced to listen to the radio, the only channel I actually like is the classical station. So, I’m pretty all over the place when it comes to my musical taste. I like it that way because it has instilled in me a more well-rounded appreciation for the art and its many genres as well as given me a smorgasbord of moods and atmospheres to choose from. A lot of my friends are in bands so our music conversations are always fulfilling, as they can get pretty diverse. Right now, I’m listening to a lot of Coven, Blood Ceremony, and Flower Travelin’ Band with some more mellow tunes thrown in there by way of Howlin’ Wolf and my favorite folk singers, the Kossoy Sisters. I’ve also recently been listening to and enjoying the debut EP from my friends in Sisters of Shaddowwe, titled Demo ’81. When I heard the song that is also their namesake, I was instantly up out of my chair, dancing, and singing into my hairbrush. Although I don’t make custom artwork any longer, their music is so infectious that I had to make an exception and I am currently working on artwork for their band!

As for books, where do I even start? I’ve always had a very soft spot for Transcendentalism and the writings of the Romantics and the Victorian era. I was first introduced to these periods in high school and their words have found an enduring home in my heart and mind. Three of my favorite poems of all time are ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci’ and ‘The Eve of St. Agnes’, both by John Keats, as well as ‘The Lady of Shalott’ by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Although I love poetry and novels, I spend most of my free time reading non-fiction and informative books about art, witchcraft, and occult studies. I think I own almost every book published by Three Hands Press and I am currently reading Thirteen Pathways of Occult Herbalism by Daniel Schulke. It is a very fascinating read that is striking a lot of chords with me, where my own magical practice is concerned. He gives beautifully elaborate descriptions of conceptional gardens of energy and thought in which I’ve drawn much inspiration for new illustrations. Reading about the history of magic, witchcraft, and the occult, and implementing the knowledge gained therein, has provided me with a more solid foundation of historical knowledge from which many of my drawings are derived. I read and utilized Schulke’s book Veneficium, as well as The Witches’ Ointment by Thomas Hatsis and By Moonlight and Spirit Flight by Michael Howard to lay the groundwork for my in-depth illustration Lamiarum Unguenta which pertains to the ideas of flying ointments, Sabbatic Witchcraft, and the 15th-century modern witch archetype, and also references the elusive cult of Diana. It has always seemed humorous to me that I should be most influenced by art forms that differ from the medium of drawing and illustration in which I primarily work. There is a pre-set visual language when it comes to witchcraft— the hag, the broom, the pointy hat, — so I think turning to other art forms for inspiration has allowed me to create much more inventive ways of portraying my usual subject matters instead of relying on the common iconography. A fun fact is that I’ve only ever drawn a pointy hatted witch once in my entire career. That type of imagery just seems contrived and doesn’t really do it for me. I will make an exception for the Wicked Witch of the West— she is perfect.

In terms of fashion, this is where I have some real fun. I’ve always had an eccentric style of dress, even when I try to “tone it down.” For me, there is no reason why you shouldn’t wear what you really want to wear every day. Most of the time people think I’m wearing a costume but, luckily, I have a good sense of humor and continue to display my individualism unabashedly. I’m a quadruple Leo so there is really no subduing my flare for expression and, at this point, when I say I have to accessorize, my friends understand this means it will be another 15 minutes before I’m ready to go out the door. Early on in my magical studies, my mentor taught me about glamour magic and capturing gazes as a way of strengthening personal power. In the current book I’m reading, Shculke writes, “Cosmetics, seldom considered a worthy topic of occult discourse, is nevertheless placed historically at the very beginning of magical time, when it was taught by the fallen angel Azazel to human women, one of many such ‘forbidden’ arts that served as the primordial foundation of occult sciences.” I think my heart swelled when I read this, because, on a broader scale, the act of adornment has become a highly ritualistic and spiritual tool for me. This is one reason I strive to collect only handmade jewelry— there is a much deeper energy contained within it that can be accessed and made sacred. I was very lucky, last year, to see the retrospective exhibit of cutting-edge fashion designer Iris Van Herpen and I can sincerely say her work changed my world. It was yet another instance where a medium other than my own highly inspired me to create more inventive and imaginative drawings.

And now for cinema. The very word conjures feelings of happiness and excitement within me. It could be argued that my true heart lies in film. With an overactive imagination and a talent for empathy, movies really alter my mindset above anything else and I usually have to spend a long while afterwards putting my emotions back in order. I’ve often thought, if I didn’t choose drawing and printmaking as an occupation, I would have loved to try my hand at cinematography, set design, or costume making. One goal on my bucket list is to make a prop spell book for a legit movie or television show. I chronically screenshot movies as I watch them and have a whole folder on my computer dedicated solely to spell books in film and tv! Cinema is truly where all of the arts come together and that is what makes for the most immersive atmospheres, in my opinion. There are certain movies I watch over and over just to indulge in their ambiance and nourish my insatiable appetite for escapism. This habit started when I was a young child and would watch The Wizard of Oz on a daily basis. As I mentioned earlier, I have a minor in Film Studies and was fortunate, in school, to have taken some really amazing classes that included Experimental Cinema and American Independent Film, where I was introduced to a lot of filmmakers that remain my favorites to this day. There were a handful of classes that, although not solely film classes, used cinema to supplement the teachings and explore varying perspectives of the subjects at hand, namely Vampire: Blood & Empire, Russian Fairytales, and Madness & Madmen in Russian Culture. Needless to say, this is when my study of film became more in-depth and I developed a much deeper appreciation for the medium and its many components. I am fortunate that Pittsburgh has a rich history in film and a number of years ago I had the pleasure of meeting one of my film heroes, Kenneth Anger, and hearing him speak about his career during the Pittsburgh Film Festival. It was a truly meaningful experience that catapulted my interest in cinema to a new level. Today, I find that I am mostly drawn to cinematography and I swear I get starry-eyed when I see a well executed composition on the screen. Costumes are another aspect that just makes me melt. Some of my favorite movies that possess both of these qualities are The Piano (1993), To Walk Invisible (2016), Jane Eyre (2011), The Witch (2015), and Marie Antoinette (2006). In fact, now might be a good time to mention that I am an avid list maker and movie lists happen to be my favorite. The nerd that I am, I have kept track of every movie I’ve watched for many years now. So I’ll conclude this section with a list of some of my most loved, must-see films. Enjoy!

In no particular order:

The Piano (1993)

Black Sunday (1960)

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970)

Black Narcissus (1947)

Harold and Maude (1971)

Days of Heaven (1978)

Agora (2009)

The Love Witch (2016)

The Wicker Man (1973)

Mary Pickford: The Muse of the Movies (2008)

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

Cronos (1993)

Pirate Radio, a.k.a. The Boat that Rocked (2009)

Danse Macabre (1922)

The Red Violin (1998)

The Witch (2015)

The Young Victoria (2009)

Possession (2002) (my guilty pleasure chick flick)

The Blood of a Poet (1932)

Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)

Mothlight (1963)

Morgiana (1972)

– Pretty much any film by Kenneth Anger from 1940-1980

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Lamiarum Unguenta

I’ve seen video footage of your studio–what an utterly magical, immersive space! What is life like in your studio? In what sort of atmosphere do you best create?

Thank you for saying so! My studio is the one place where I can allow my imagination to run rampant and I usually have multiple projects going on all at once. I often have to tip-toe around freshly dyed, drying linens on the floor or work around a tediously constructed still-life, all while little bits of gold leaf can be found clinging to just about everything. It is my personal sacred space that has come to house some of my most inspiration treasures, including my revered collection of antique photography and an array of dried flowers, oddities, and curiosities. For me, time stops when I cross the threshold and I have successfully mastered leaving “reality” at the door. I am a creature of solitude, so it is vital for me to have a space where I can work uninterrupted. Even as a child, I would lock myself in my room and work on a single art project for hours or days, only to emerge looking like a mad scientist who comes out of the lab, hair tousled and haggard but with the crazed look of achievement in her eyes. This habit has only grown within the walls of my creative space and sometimes I lose track of time because I’m so enthralled with my artistic experiments. Prior to my current studio, I was working in the basement of my home, where natural light was scarce and the air was frigid and damp. It was far from my ideal work conditions and eventually I had to seek out another space to save myself from the mental confines of cabin fever. When I began my search, my space of choice was spoken for already but the owner called me the next day to inform me that negotiations had fallen through and my dream space was available once more. I rushed over with my security deposit and, as we hashed out the deal, he said “The question is, are you a good witch or a bad witch? Do you know what that’s from?” I laughed and replied, “Only my favorite movie of all time, The Wizard of Oz!” This may seem coincidental but I knew, at the time, it was a sign that I was on the right path and this was the studio for me, as The Wizard of Oz was such a major part of my childhood. So that is how I came to acquire my studio, of which I’ve been in for three years now. It is situated in the corner of a 130-year-old building and is bright and airy, with windows spanning from floor to ceiling on two entire walls. It is quite the drastic change from my days of basement printing and I’d say the change has done me right. Now, seemingly an entity of it’s own, it has grown and evolved alongside me to encapsulate my artistic energy and treasured inspirations, becoming a safe haven and sacred space integral to my creative mind, process, and aspirations.

Ergot

Adrienne Rozzi

I’d love to hear about future projects or collaborations that you may be excited about! What wonderment is in store for us from Poison Apple Printshop in 2018?
In addition to my aforementioned band artwork for Sisters of Shaddowwe, I plan to start pushing my altar cloths to new levels and hopefully create some larger, major works for a future gallery show. More in-depth illustrations are always at the forefront of my mind and I hope to create a number of these to add to my body of work. Always the life-long learner, I am also taking a metalsmithing class with my friend Leia of Lunation Leathers. We are hoping to one day collaborate on a line of jewelry. Realistically, it will be a while until our skills are sharp enough to undertake such an endeavor, but the prospect has gotten both of us very excited. This year, so far, seems to be the year in which I am finally bringing to fruition a myriad of creations I have long had locked away in my mind. The first of these is my most recent creation, the Bright Star Puzzle Purse love note, and the next will hopefully be a retrospective book of my smaller drawings. I am also in the beginning stages of planning a long-overdue, immersive project that I can’t reveal quite yet. Let’s just say it’s something that will make The High Priestess proud, and I’ll leave it at that!

Find Poison Apple Printshop: website // instagram // tumblr


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10 Years of Haute Macabre: Christina Mrozik: Metamorphosis, Quietus, and In-betweens

by on Jan.15, 2019, under Syndicated from the Web

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Maika: I’m every bit as enamored of and profoundly moved by Christina Mrozik’s artwork as I was when I wrote about it in the summer of 2017. Late last year Mrozik launched a Kickstarter campaign for a book of her drawings and writings, entitled Haunted Bodies. It was overwhelmingly successful – fully funded almost immediately – and I’m delighted to report that one of the copies of this gorgeous book is now in my possession.

Haunted Bodies is a collection of drawings and writings created while moving through and beyond a year of depression. At their core, they are about the essentials of what it is to be a human who hurts, one who wrestles in the dark and stares down pain in a fierce struggle to mend. The poems were written concurrent with my daily wrestling; they were an attempt to name my experience and find a landing pad amid the fog. The drawings were created while coming out of the miasma and were my approach to capture the “haunted” feeling of inaccessibility. Merging pieces of organ, flora, and animal, these faceless drawings focus on the body and were an exercise in reclaiming my own.”

For anyone who missed out on the Kickstarter, a second run of Haunted Bodies is currently available for pre-order via Christina Mrozik’s online shop.


Although I can’t remember when I first discovered the work of Midwest-born, Portland, OR-based artist Christina Mrozik, I know I was already aware of her the first time I got to see some of it in person, right here in Portland at a group exhibition at the Antler Gallery in 2016. That was where I met a marvelously surreal piece, rendered in ballpoint pen, entitled Beheld:

Christina Mrozik - My Beheld

There was a moment of revulsion upon first noticing that this grass-haired woman’s eyes had become bird eggs, each cozy in a nest, an expression of awe upon her face. But that moment quickly gave way to wonder as I considered the symbolic significance of having nests for eye sockets and eggs for eyes. Eggs are symbols of new life, of beginnings, of the universe; they’re full of potential, representing both nascency and transformation. To me this piece depicts a moment of tremendous realization and the symbolism is breathtakingly beautiful.

I left the gallery that afternoon with my first Christina Mrozik print, a collaborative piece entitled Root And Marrow that she created with another wonderful Portland-based artist named Zoe Keller:

Christina Mrozik and Zoe Keller - Root and Marrow

Depicting the skeletal remains of a cat curled inside a ring of gold leaf, numerous butterflies emerge in sequence from cocoons along its tail and spine and a morning glory vine grows around its neck. Root and Marrow is as much a work of memento mori as it is a reminder that death nourishes new life and nature always finds a way.

Christina Mrozik My Apology

In-between states and transformations are often part of Mrozik’s work, incorporating flora and dissected fauna into her visual explorations of the human condition, which she creates using graphite, ink, marker, watercolor, and high pigmented acrylics as her media. As conveyed by her art, Mrozik is keenly aware of our mortality, of our inherent fragility and resilience both physically and emotionally, of how we’re often in states of flux or transition, struggling with conflicting aspects of ourselves or each other, seeking balance, seeking connection.

Christina Mrozik - THE HEART KEEPS LOOKING FOR ITSELF

Christina Mrozik - TEACH US TO CARE AND NOT TO CARE

Animals partially dissected, their flesh, muscle, and bone separated yet intertwined, serve as visceral representations of the struggles of living with pain and illness, the continuous dance of awareness of body and mind. While animal bodies made partially or entirely of grass, “the only plant that can be taken down to its roots repeatedly and with intense frequency and still thrive,” symbolize our own endurance and resilience.

Christina Mrozik - OUR EMBRACE

Cristina Mrozik - THE WEIGHT OF BEINGS

Mrozik creates marvelously surreal combinations of flora and fauna, predators and prey, that symbolize our ongoing efforts, both conscious and unconscious, to grow and change and become.

Christina Mrozik - ANTHESIS

“There is a name for every season, for every connection and moment. It’s buried deep, often unspeakable, but a knowledge we carry nonetheless. ‘Anthesis’ is the name for the time period in which a bud blooms, and while it is a technical term, I can’t help but apply it to all of the short bursting moments in my own life and something long cultivated came forth. There is surprise and mystery even within ourselves, and we are connected to it by invisible words; tied to it by invisible threads.”

Christina Mrozik - Bloom

Christina Mrozik - Epoch

One of my personal favorites of Mrozik’s recent work (and another print I’m proud to own) is the Keeper of Malady, a snow-white corvid whose body is abloom in white anemones and oriental poppies. Spiderwebs and strands of spider silk stream from between its petals as a single white spider extends a leg to tenderly touch one of the bird’s claws.

Christina Mrozik - THE KEEPER OF MALADY

 

Existing in the shadow world, this extraordinary creature is a caretaker, a keeper, a gentle friend:

“It knows every sickness in every body and it holds the memory of hurt. It is commonly believed that this creature is dark, a monster of ill spirit and malice, but according to the Ancient Wisdoms it is rather made of light and blossoms. It is a tender thing, with the embodied knowledge that pain does not separate us from beauty but rather binds us to it. It whispers reminders of self grace when things are just too hard, and sweetly reminds us how to bloom again from the darkness of the dirt.”

Christina Mrozik Enfold

Christina Mrozik’s artwork is of that magical sort that makes the world around me go very still and quiet. Even those pieces which convey pain and distress also contain a singular, reassuring peace. Here the myriad processes of growth and becoming are vital experiences, growing pains, scars, and all, and death is very much a part of life, not something to be feared.

Find Christina Mrozik: Website // Shop // Instagram // Facebook // Twitter // Tumblr


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Ten Years Of Haute Macabre: The Art of Darla Teagarden

by on Jan.13, 2019, under Syndicated from the Web

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The Gift

S. Elizabeth: This Q&A with multimedia artist, conceptual photographer, and all around darling human Darla Teagarden was my first interview written for Haute Macabre, and holds a deeply special place in my heart.

Please welcome S. Elizabeth to our growing team of staff writers! Sarah is no stranger to Haute Macabre, having contributed as a guest blogger many times over the years. She was a contributing writer for our friends at CoilHouse Magazine, on the BloodMilk Blog, Death and the Maiden, and was the creative force behind Skeletor Is Love. View her previous contributions to Haute Macabre here, and visit her personal blog at UnquietThings.com.

The discovery of Darla Teagarden’s mixed media photography and conceptual self-portraiture was a thoroughly unexpected pleasure and a bit of a revelation to me when I initially became introduced to her work a few years back.

First, I suppose, because the image I chanced upon was a portrait of a friend, Angeliska Polachek–small world!–and secondly, although I knew my friend to be quite beautiful, Darla had transformed her into an otherworldly enchantress, a shimmering, splendid, utterly sublime creature. I’m not even the slightest bit embarrassed to admit that this was the very same way I pictured her, when I conjured the lovely Angeliska’s reflection in the mirror of my imagination!

As a fantasist who doesn’t quite always see things as they are, I view our world through a splinter of glass in my eye, a feverish vision of of circumstances and scenarios, slightly distorted and different. Darla Teagarden’s surreal photographic narratives, which walk that delicate line between fable and reality, resonated very deeply with this dreamer in me.

Angeliska Polachek as Titania

For the richly detailed imagery that comprises the highly atmospheric vignettes that she photographs, Darla draws on an intriguingly varied background consisting of experiences as a stylist, model, production designer, vintage clothes buyer and cabaret dancer. Through these myriad lenses, her projects are deeply imbued with fragile secrets and intense emotion, and I’ll confess, I have been following her subsequent work quite closely since the beauty of that first tremulous photo captured my heart.

Read further for this extraordinary artist’s insights and inspirations regarding her creations, as shared with Haute Macabre.

Poem for the Unnamed Witches
Haute Macabre: You provide the viewer with a narrative through photography; it shares a story, tells a tale. While I understand that you don’t wish to convey utter reality, I would also hesitate to call your work fiction or fable. Would you say that your photos then inhabit the space in between? And why do you think that space is such fertile ground for your work?

We all sort of live between fable and reality, anyway. There’s that side of us which walks into a misty forest, let’s say, and in an instant we make the moment richer in relation to our own experience. Connecting our inner lives to day-to-day situations is a way we can better understand ourselves. Cinema has allowed us new emotional access, and photography is related. I guess what I’m saying is, photography helps me understand myself and my issues.

Widow
…and as a visual story-teller, what are the kinds of stories you like best to share?

I love sharing symbolic insight and abstraction. I’ve always maintained that when I go into a concept it has to be succinct, like a poem. I love the challenge of being succinct while conveying something that could, if given the opportunity, fill a an entire film. I guess I like stories about survival most. We are all going to die, yet we still have to make choices.

she

I have enjoyed reading about your perspective on failure. Fail big and often, you seem to say–don’t be a giant, fragile weenie, just go out there and do the thing! I’d love to hear about your inspirations and influences in terms of Doers of Things and Fabulous Failures.

I have always surrounded myself with people who seemed to care less about the perceived consequences of failure and more about the need ‘to do’. The need to do should outweigh fear or else you’re going to be paralyzed. Of course, this is a goal and not always the case, but I try to accept possibility either way before I try something new. When I first began doing my photo projects, I knew I would suck. I did, and the proof is floating forever in the ethers of the web. However, I knew I had something to say. I knew I had to do something that made me less miserable, something that could alleviate injury… and, If i get better at it along the way, great. My inspirations have always been friends who need, not want, to express themselves because, I need it too. I guess it’s a tribe.

Ghosts
“Altars” was a collection of self portraits about living with mental illness, inspired both by your own life, as well as the lives of friends and family members. Was your intent to educate or advocate, or perhaps to confront and work through some of your own struggles?

I would like to say my intention was to educate and advocate, but in the end, it was really just therapy for me. Yet, by coming from a singular place, it becomes broad and easily shared. It feels good when someone says, oh! I know this ! It’s a feeling of unity.

Mr. Goff

Mr. Goff, Guru of Grief, is a series that appears to be dealing with themes of mourning and loss. Can you speak to how this series came about, and who Mr. Goff is to you?That series was in two parts, Mr. Goff and The Lamentation of Mrs. Fly. (one of him alone and one with both of us).Mr. Goff is among the very few people I’d known in my youth, which is a big deal for me because I’ve lost so many friends to drugs, suicide, AIDS, mental illness, and the pure need to distance myself for survival. Anyway, he and I share the love and experience of one person named Nick Bohn- a visionary young man who died from a drug overdose after years of severe, poorly treated schizophrenia. He got me to move to New York were he was working with Kembra Pfahler, Little Annie and other like New York artists as a filmmaker. His life was frightening and chaotic but amazing, and inspired me to grab my own piece of New York. Mr. Goff and I reconnected recently and I felt to need to be with him in a piece of art to mourn Nick, but to also celebrate our survival in a simple visual poem. It’s in the shape of a fable but it’s all about mourning people who are gone , people who shaped you. Friendship.

Vesper (White Bat)

And most recently, your Noble Creatures series, can you tell us about this collection of works?Noble creatures is about being misunderstood. For whatever reason I find it difficult to express what I’m about and what I need from people in real life. I just suck at it, but I keep trying nevertheless. These creatures are saying, “give me a chance or leave me alone.” It’s just a simple nod to people doing their best to be who they are without beating themselves up to fit somebody else’s ideas. I don’t mean to be precious–I am saying with a certain amount of humor, I’m pretty OK with myself these days, “Here’s my wings, here’s my many eyes, here’s my shell, my burdens, my dangerous bits… deal.”

Refuge
Much of your work, though certainly abstract and surreal, is considered self portraiture. I’m curious as to where you see such your art as it relates to the “selfie society” that we’re thought of as living in today?

It’s the same in that the ‘selfie generation” is merely looking back at themselves to see themselves and hope others see them too. I am here! See me! But, there are rather significant differences in self portraiture, generally. Conceptual self portraitures are deliberate stories in relation to space that may or may not require the focus to be on the performer. My body and those of my collaborators are catalysts for story telling. I don’t require my ‘image’ to be the story but that of the environment created around the body. Selfies say, ”see me, I’m REAL !” Conceptual portraiture says, ”Feel this ghost”.

Linnneage

Any fantastical ideas percolating that may manifest soon? Any future projects on the horizon?I want to explore the idea of being saved. We’ve all been saved and maybe even saved somebody. I like the idea that we have the capacity to save someone, from death, from despair, from going down the wrong path, from being blind, loneliness, obscurity, from illness, others, from ourselves. I like how vulnerable we really are. I love that, even with all the casual cynicism, we are still unreasonable romantics.

Thank you kindly, Darla, for giving your time to answer our questions.
See more of Darla Teagarden’s work on her website or follow her on Instagram for news and updates.

Burial Ground In Post

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Ten Years Of Haute Macabre: 24 Hours In NYC, Sleep No More, And The Heavenly Bodies Exhibit

by on Jan.12, 2019, under Syndicated from the Web

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S. Elizabeth: While this is technically some writing in our “Haute Haunts” category about a visit to see my Best Good Friend after she moved away to a new city, and the interesting things we did in the span of 24 hours in our whirlwind trip to NYC — I received some unexpectedly wonderful feedback from readers who had been interested in doing something I specifically mention in this essay, but were too scared and anxious to give it a try, until they read my thoughts about it here. Henceforth I’ve always thought of this piece as “Sleep No More For Nervous Nellies”. Enjoy! (And if you take a trip to Sleep No More in NYC, I want to hear all about it in the comments!)

It’s funny, I lived less than an hour from New York City for almost eight years and in all that time, I only traveled into the city once or twice. To be honest, I have always found NYC massively intimidating. There’s so much–too much!– going on at any one time; everything is too loud, too close, too big! It’s a little overwhelming for my anxious, suburban heart. Ugh, what an admission! But there it is. However, earlier this month an opportunity presented itself that was I in no way going to pass up…

My beloved Best Good Friend moved to the Philadelphia-ish area last November and so it’s been six months since we have seen each other; when she suggested flying up to visit her for my birthday weekend, I was overjoyed and jumped at the notion immediately. And while we did spend time in her darling new city, and had some lovely adventures in the surrounding areas,  we also took a thrilling 24 hour side trip to New York on my second day there.

Now, as we were there for such a short amount of time, I am not even going to pretend I know everything there is to know about New York, or really anything about this place at all. I’ll leave the comprehensive NYC travel reviews to the experts (and maybe the people who live there. I guess you guys know a thing or two about a thing or two.) We were actually in the city for a very specific reason– a rare and lovely gift that my friend had arranged for us to experience–and that, I can definitely fill you in on!

(It does bear mentioning though, that we stayed in a lovely hotel in/near the flower district, and walking between locations, enclosed on both sides by damp and fluttering vines and blossoms and blooms and leafy growing things, was an utterly enchanting bit of sidewalk springtime travel magic.)

As you may have guessed by now (perhaps via premonition whispered by my instagram updates while I was standing in line), we attended the much-lauded-in-certain-circles, performance/experience Sleep No More. If you’ve not heard of it, Sleep No More is an immersive artistic creation by London’s award-winning PUNCHDRUNK, in which roaming audiences experience epic and emotional storytelling inside sensory, theatrical worlds–and the specific story in this case is Macbeth, or, “Shakespeare’s Scottish tragedy through a film noir lens.” Taking place at the McKittrick Hotel, which, according to the playbill, has a story of its own–

“Completed in 1939, the McKittrick Hotel was intended to be New York City’s finest and most decadent luxury hotel of its time. Six weeks before opening, and two days after the outbreak of World War II, the legendary hotel was condemned and left locked, permanently sealed from the public. Until now…”

–audiences move freely through a transporting world at their own pace, choosing their own path through the story.

I was terribly nervous. Everything makes me a little bit nervous; more often than not, I’m operating on the on the weak adrenaline of constant, low-grade anxiety. But this? This. Was another level. So, hopefully, I am going to share enough to let you know that I did not, in fact, die of a broken neck after tumbling down a steep staircase in the dark–no, indeed I did not! I walked out of the show exhilarated and utterly exhausted, but perfectly alive. If you’re anxious, like me, these are the things you probably want to know right off the bat.

It’s difficult to share one’s experiences at Sleep No More without oversharing, though. Every detail I let slip is one less secret for you to discover for yourself, one more surprise spoiled. Or maybe not? One of the things that makes this such a unique experience is that everyone’s encounter with the hotel and its inhabitants is so vastly different. With that said, I will try to keep this spoiler-free and just share a broad overview (particularly as a guide for nervous nellies).

Once in the hotel you must check your bags, so bring some cash. Also, no cell phones allowed, and no talking! You then get your “room key” (a special playing card, mine was a stylized ace) from the front desk, and make your way through a small, close, pitch black maze which quickly deposits you into the Manderley Bar. (If you feel your way along the walls, you’ll be fine.) Depending when you get there, you might have time for a drink or two, but honestly, I am not sure that’s a great idea. I’ll get to that in a bit, though.

You are then divided into groups by a dapper gentleman and his vampy companion, and all guests are given ghoulish white masks; this creates a sense of anonymity so that the rest of the audience dissolves into generic, ghostly presences, enabling that each person can explore the space alone. They suggest that guests who wear glasses should instead wear their contacts–which, I don’t wear contacts because everyone knows they can roll back behind your eyeballs and get stuck in your brain, so no, thank you.  I wore my mask over my glasses and was mostly fine.

You are guided into an elevator which places you in close quarters with about fifteen people; you are jostled around a bit, and soon ushered out, in small groups, onto various, darkened floors of the hotel–with only one cryptic intonation of advice: “fortune favors the bold.” And then, I, like many people at this juncture in the evening, became separated from my group.

As I stepped into the darkness beyond the elevator doors, I immediately felt immersed inside a dream. Only two other guests exited with me, and they disappeared down a dim passageway as if they had never been there at all.  I felt a brief flash of panic before I hit upon the idea that buoyed me throughout the entire night: inside dreams, I forget myself. I behave quite differently. Which is to say that I become audacious and daring, and delight in strange experiences. Emboldened by this logic, I crept along the corridors, investigating and examining each aspect of every room that I encountered, each space a different chapter of a story just beyond my grasp. I peeked in coffins, rifled through police files, filled my pockets with candies from gleaming glass jars (I don’t even like candies, but dream-me dictated this must be done.) And just as I reached the stairwell to ascend to the next floor, an unmasked figure rushed by me, mumbling and muttering curiously. This was one of the characters! As I watched, he began a fitful, violent dance,  and eventually clambered up along some pipes on the wall to continue his manic capering. A small crowd of masked guests gathered around me as the actor culminated his performance with a dramatic leap from above, only to walk away, nonchalantly, as if he had business elsewhere. The throng dispersed, and I was again on my own.

Much of the evening was spent thusly. I explored a bit, ran into a character, and just watched to see what would happen. I saw things tragic, savage, desperate, furious. I observed obscure transactions, tender touches, and wild embraces. I watched passively as a handsome taxidermist ripped his own seams to repair a precious specimen; I followed this gentleman’s restorations for ten minutes and was, in some corner of my brain, shocked by how closely I allowed myself to stand, viewing his work. Mere inches away from this stranger, doing a bit of routine puttering, pretending as if I was not even there. I then saw a witch’s orgy. Twice! This was purely coincidence; I didn’t know where I was at any given moment, nor could I recall where I had been, so that I ended up in the same room at the same point in time for this frenzied, feverish interlude was pretty incredible, and easily my favorite scene from the evening.

At the end, I spent what I believe was three hours immersed in the hallucinatory atmospheres and scenarios of The McKittrick and Sleep No More. I was assured ahead of time that I would be able to sense when things were starting to wrap up, and I wasn’t sure what that meant, but I eventually saw various characters take a masked guest lightly by the arm and lead them back to The Manderly downstairs, and other guests, seeing this, followed the ghostly procession. I somehow found myself back at the bar, breathless, emerging from a dream (or was it a nightmare?) that was already starting to fade. My friend and her husband were waiting outside for me ; the sun was setting on the city and a light, chilled rain had begun to fall. We retired to Death Avenue down the block for cocktails and a spirited discussion of our own, individual experiences. (An essential aside: my friend ordered the grilled octopus; it was amazing. We shared a slice of celebratory figgy bread pudding with fig ice cream, and that is also not to be missed.)

I still cannot believe that me,  little mouse that I am, attended this extraordinary performance. Of course, that it even happened at all is due to my friend planning a birthday gift, for me; one “that Sarah will enjoy and remember and hopefully not freak her out too much”–and these aren’t her words, but I imagine that was part of the thought process. And for that, I am profoundly grateful. And for you, I have a few pointers and tips!

— Be comfortable! This is not the night to try out your new six-inch heeled Fluevogs. Flats and sneakers are best because you are going to be running around a lot. My friend warned me of this and I’ll admit, I scoffed. “Running? I see no reason for that!” Well, I was wrong.  Also, I had twisted my ankle terribly before we even got on the train to leave for NY, so if I can walk the city and run up and down five flights of stairs countless times on an injured ankle, you will do just fine. I will say, though, that two weeks later I am still sore and bruised, so that probably was not very smart on my part.

— The hotel gets pretty warm, especially with all the running and exploring and so on, so wear light clothes. I wore a linen tunic, leggings, and sneakers, in case you are curious. If you had imbibed at the bar ahead of time, I would think you would be especially overheated, and also maybe not very clear-headed, so I honestly would save the cocktails for afterward, while you savor your evening and experiences.

— While this is an immersive performance, it can also be interactive. It is possible that a guest can have a one-on-one, personal encounter with a character! I am not quite certain how this happens, some people say that you have to be alone with one of the characters, others say you have to choose one and follow them relentlessly. I think, though, you have to somehow indicate that you are ok with it? Maybe locking and maintaining eye contact? I was decidedly not cool with the idea of it, so I just didn’t look at any of the characters directly in the face and I was fine. My companions, however, each had a one-on-one! But they were both definitely into that happening for them, so I am not surprised.

— Maybe re-read Macbeth. I don’t remember a thing about it except witches and murder.

— And lastly, I saw several couples holding hands, never very far from one another. I know it sounds a little judgemental to say this, but that’s kind of dumb, and I think they are missing the point. You can’t have individual experiences when you’re joined at the hip like that! Of course, for all I know someone might have a health condition, or might severely panic at some point, and need a partner nearby. But if that does not describe you, I would heartily suggest that you and your companions go your separate ways, and each have your own delicious adventure!

As it happened, Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination had opened at The Met a few days prior to my arrival, so we took advantage of the timing and visited the museum the day after Sleep No More. We had a five o’clock train to catch, and this afforded us plenty of time to take in this exhibition featuring fashion and medieval art from The Met collection, and which examines fashion’s ongoing engagement with the devotional practices and traditions of Catholicism.

 Along the path of our pilgrimage, there were exquisite masterpieces by Dolce & Gabbana and Versace, as well as McQueen, Valentino and Dior; the various gowns were inspired by ancient religious art and architecture, and referenced the church’s hierarchies and gender distinctions, as well as the conceptual divide between heaven and earth. Liturgical pieces encompassing more than 15 papacies from the 18th to the early 21st century were housed in the Anna Wintour Costume Center. Photography was forbidden in this latter area, but these papal relics were both exquisite and thought-provoking (for reasons you can ponder upon yourselves, if you care to ruminate on monies spent for these things and these particular people) and absolutely worth as close a look as you can get.

We stopped at the gift shop before leaving and at that point I encountered my most heart-stopping situation of the whole trip. Take a look at this receipt. What, did I unbeknownst to myself, attempt to purchase some papal regalia? What was I thinking? Yikes! As it turns out, I am no high-roller; the cashier had mistakenly tried to charge me 800K for an $80 necklace.

And that, friends, is my most recent NY experience! See below for a slew of photos from the Heavenly Bodies exhibit, and feel free to comment with some must-dos and must-sees for my next visit up there. Who knows, maybe we can meet up for coffees or cocktails or a many thousand dollar shopping spree. Obviously, The Met thinks I can afford such things!


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Ten Years Of Haute Macabre: 24 Hours In NYC, Sleep No More, And The Heavenly Bodies Exhibit

by on Jan.12, 2019, under Syndicated from the Web

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S. Elizabeth: While this is technically some writing in our “Haute Haunts” category about a visit to see my Best Good Friend after she moved away to a new city, and the interesting things we did in the span of 24 hours in our whirlwind trip to NYC — I received some unexpectedly wonderful feedback from readers who had been interested in doing something I specifically mention in this essay, but were too scared and anxious to give it a try, until they read my thoughts about it here. Henceforth I’ve always thought of this piece as “Sleep No More For Nervous Nellies”. Enjoy! (And if you take a trip to Sleep No More in NYC, I want to hear all about it in the comments!)

It’s funny, I lived less than an hour from New York City for almost eight years and in all that time, I only traveled into the city once or twice. To be honest, I have always found NYC massively intimidating. There’s so much–too much!– going on at any one time; everything is too loud, too close, too big! It’s a little overwhelming for my anxious, suburban heart. Ugh, what an admission! But there it is. However, earlier this month an opportunity presented itself that was I in no way going to pass up…

My beloved Best Good Friend moved to the Philadelphia-ish area last November and so it’s been six months since we have seen each other; when she suggested flying up to visit her for my birthday weekend, I was overjoyed and jumped at the notion immediately. And while we did spend time in her darling new city, and had some lovely adventures in the surrounding areas,  we also took a thrilling 24 hour side trip to New York on my second day there.

Now, as we were there for such a short amount of time, I am not even going to pretend I know everything there is to know about New York, or really anything about this place at all. I’ll leave the comprehensive NYC travel reviews to the experts (and maybe the people who live there. I guess you guys know a thing or two about a thing or two.) We were actually in the city for a very specific reason– a rare and lovely gift that my friend had arranged for us to experience–and that, I can definitely fill you in on!

(It does bear mentioning though, that we stayed in a lovely hotel in/near the flower district, and walking between locations, enclosed on both sides by damp and fluttering vines and blossoms and blooms and leafy growing things, was an utterly enchanting bit of sidewalk springtime travel magic.)

As you may have guessed by now (perhaps via premonition whispered by my instagram updates while I was standing in line), we attended the much-lauded-in-certain-circles, performance/experience Sleep No More. If you’ve not heard of it, Sleep No More is an immersive artistic creation by London’s award-winning PUNCHDRUNK, in which roaming audiences experience epic and emotional storytelling inside sensory, theatrical worlds–and the specific story in this case is Macbeth, or, “Shakespeare’s Scottish tragedy through a film noir lens.” Taking place at the McKittrick Hotel, which, according to the playbill, has a story of its own–

“Completed in 1939, the McKittrick Hotel was intended to be New York City’s finest and most decadent luxury hotel of its time. Six weeks before opening, and two days after the outbreak of World War II, the legendary hotel was condemned and left locked, permanently sealed from the public. Until now…”

–audiences move freely through a transporting world at their own pace, choosing their own path through the story.

I was terribly nervous. Everything makes me a little bit nervous; more often than not, I’m operating on the on the weak adrenaline of constant, low-grade anxiety. But this? This. Was another level. So, hopefully, I am going to share enough to let you know that I did not, in fact, die of a broken neck after tumbling down a steep staircase in the dark–no, indeed I did not! I walked out of the show exhilarated and utterly exhausted, but perfectly alive. If you’re anxious, like me, these are the things you probably want to know right off the bat.

It’s difficult to share one’s experiences at Sleep No More without oversharing, though. Every detail I let slip is one less secret for you to discover for yourself, one more surprise spoiled. Or maybe not? One of the things that makes this such a unique experience is that everyone’s encounter with the hotel and its inhabitants is so vastly different. With that said, I will try to keep this spoiler-free and just share a broad overview (particularly as a guide for nervous nellies).

Once in the hotel you must check your bags, so bring some cash. Also, no cell phones allowed, and no talking! You then get your “room key” (a special playing card, mine was a stylized ace) from the front desk, and make your way through a small, close, pitch black maze which quickly deposits you into the Manderley Bar. (If you feel your way along the walls, you’ll be fine.) Depending when you get there, you might have time for a drink or two, but honestly, I am not sure that’s a great idea. I’ll get to that in a bit, though.

You are then divided into groups by a dapper gentleman and his vampy companion, and all guests are given ghoulish white masks; this creates a sense of anonymity so that the rest of the audience dissolves into generic, ghostly presences, enabling that each person can explore the space alone. They suggest that guests who wear glasses should instead wear their contacts–which, I don’t wear contacts because everyone knows they can roll back behind your eyeballs and get stuck in your brain, so no, thank you.  I wore my mask over my glasses and was mostly fine.

You are guided into an elevator which places you in close quarters with about fifteen people; you are jostled around a bit, and soon ushered out, in small groups, onto various, darkened floors of the hotel–with only one cryptic intonation of advice: “fortune favors the bold.” And then, I, like many people at this juncture in the evening, became separated from my group.

As I stepped into the darkness beyond the elevator doors, I immediately felt immersed inside a dream. Only two other guests exited with me, and they disappeared down a dim passageway as if they had never been there at all.  I felt a brief flash of panic before I hit upon the idea that buoyed me throughout the entire night: inside dreams, I forget myself. I behave quite differently. Which is to say that I become audacious and daring, and delight in strange experiences. Emboldened by this logic, I crept along the corridors, investigating and examining each aspect of every room that I encountered, each space a different chapter of a story just beyond my grasp. I peeked in coffins, rifled through police files, filled my pockets with candies from gleaming glass jars (I don’t even like candies, but dream-me dictated this must be done.) And just as I reached the stairwell to ascend to the next floor, an unmasked figure rushed by me, mumbling and muttering curiously. This was one of the characters! As I watched, he began a fitful, violent dance,  and eventually clambered up along some pipes on the wall to continue his manic capering. A small crowd of masked guests gathered around me as the actor culminated his performance with a dramatic leap from above, only to walk away, nonchalantly, as if he had business elsewhere. The throng dispersed, and I was again on my own.

Much of the evening was spent thusly. I explored a bit, ran into a character, and just watched to see what would happen. I saw things tragic, savage, desperate, furious. I observed obscure transactions, tender touches, and wild embraces. I watched passively as a handsome taxidermist ripped his own seams to repair a precious specimen; I followed this gentleman’s restorations for ten minutes and was, in some corner of my brain, shocked by how closely I allowed myself to stand, viewing his work. Mere inches away from this stranger, doing a bit of routine puttering, pretending as if I was not even there. I then saw a witch’s orgy. Twice! This was purely coincidence; I didn’t know where I was at any given moment, nor could I recall where I had been, so that I ended up in the same room at the same point in time for this frenzied, feverish interlude was pretty incredible, and easily my favorite scene from the evening.

At the end, I spent what I believe was three hours immersed in the hallucinatory atmospheres and scenarios of The McKittrick and Sleep No More. I was assured ahead of time that I would be able to sense when things were starting to wrap up, and I wasn’t sure what that meant, but I eventually saw various characters take a masked guest lightly by the arm and lead them back to The Manderly downstairs, and other guests, seeing this, followed the ghostly procession. I somehow found myself back at the bar, breathless, emerging from a dream (or was it a nightmare?) that was already starting to fade. My friend and her husband were waiting outside for me ; the sun was setting on the city and a light, chilled rain had begun to fall. We retired to Death Avenue down the block for cocktails and a spirited discussion of our own, individual experiences. (An essential aside: my friend ordered the grilled octopus; it was amazing. We shared a slice of celebratory figgy bread pudding with fig ice cream, and that is also not to be missed.)

I still cannot believe that me,  little mouse that I am, attended this extraordinary performance. Of course, that it even happened at all is due to my friend planning a birthday gift, for me; one “that Sarah will enjoy and remember and hopefully not freak her out too much”–and these aren’t her words, but I imagine that was part of the thought process. And for that, I am profoundly grateful. And for you, I have a few pointers and tips!

— Be comfortable! This is not the night to try out your new six-inch heeled Fluevogs. Flats and sneakers are best because you are going to be running around a lot. My friend warned me of this and I’ll admit, I scoffed. “Running? I see no reason for that!” Well, I was wrong.  Also, I had twisted my ankle terribly before we even got on the train to leave for NY, so if I can walk the city and run up and down five flights of stairs countless times on an injured ankle, you will do just fine. I will say, though, that two weeks later I am still sore and bruised, so that probably was not very smart on my part.

— The hotel gets pretty warm, especially with all the running and exploring and so on, so wear light clothes. I wore a linen tunic, leggings, and sneakers, in case you are curious. If you had imbibed at the bar ahead of time, I would think you would be especially overheated, and also maybe not very clear-headed, so I honestly would save the cocktails for afterward, while you savor your evening and experiences.

— While this is an immersive performance, it can also be interactive. It is possible that a guest can have a one-on-one, personal encounter with a character! I am not quite certain how this happens, some people say that you have to be alone with one of the characters, others say you have to choose one and follow them relentlessly. I think, though, you have to somehow indicate that you are ok with it? Maybe locking and maintaining eye contact? I was decidedly not cool with the idea of it, so I just didn’t look at any of the characters directly in the face and I was fine. My companions, however, each had a one-on-one! But they were both definitely into that happening for them, so I am not surprised.

— Maybe re-read Macbeth. I don’t remember a thing about it except witches and murder.

— And lastly, I saw several couples holding hands, never very far from one another. I know it sounds a little judgemental to say this, but that’s kind of dumb, and I think they are missing the point. You can’t have individual experiences when you’re joined at the hip like that! Of course, for all I know someone might have a health condition, or might severely panic at some point, and need a partner nearby. But if that does not describe you, I would heartily suggest that you and your companions go your separate ways, and each have your own delicious adventure!

As it happened, Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination had opened at The Met a few days prior to my arrival, so we took advantage of the timing and visited the museum the day after Sleep No More. We had a five o’clock train to catch, and this afforded us plenty of time to take in this exhibition featuring fashion and medieval art from The Met collection, and which examines fashion’s ongoing engagement with the devotional practices and traditions of Catholicism.

 Along the path of our pilgrimage, there were exquisite masterpieces by Dolce & Gabbana and Versace, as well as McQueen, Valentino and Dior; the various gowns were inspired by ancient religious art and architecture, and referenced the church’s hierarchies and gender distinctions, as well as the conceptual divide between heaven and earth. Liturgical pieces encompassing more than 15 papacies from the 18th to the early 21st century were housed in the Anna Wintour Costume Center. Photography was forbidden in this latter area, but these papal relics were both exquisite and thought-provoking (for reasons you can ponder upon yourselves, if you care to ruminate on monies spent for these things and these particular people) and absolutely worth as close a look as you can get.

We stopped at the gift shop before leaving and at that point I encountered my most heart-stopping situation of the whole trip. Take a look at this receipt. What, did I unbeknownst to myself, attempt to purchase some papal regalia? What was I thinking? Yikes! As it turns out, I am no high-roller; the cashier had mistakenly tried to charge me 800K for an $80 necklace.

And that, friends, is my most recent NY experience! See below for a slew of photos from the Heavenly Bodies exhibit, and feel free to comment with some must-dos and must-sees for my next visit up there. Who knows, maybe we can meet up for coffees or cocktails or a many thousand dollar shopping spree. Obviously, The Met thinks I can afford such things!


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10 Years of Haute Macabre: Le Rêveur Parle: An Interview with Erin Morgenstern by J.L. Schnabel

by on Jan.11, 2019, under Syndicated from the Web

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The Night Circus

Upon first reading The Night Circus, the void in your heart that you were previously unaware of is filled. From its opening lines, you are stolen away and captivated by its lyrical story and magical characters, your life forever enriched by your experience with it. You find yourself unconsciously nodding to any stranger in the street wearing a streak of red anywhere on them, wishing to again wander through the black and white tents amongst fellow rêveurs. 

Please journey with us now while J.L. Schnabel of BloodMilk Jewels discusses this and more with The Night Circus author, Erin Morgenstern

The circus arrives without warning.
No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.

JLS: I’m always fascinated by a writer’s process. From what I’ve read, you’ve had an interesting, non- traditional route to writing, having completed ‘The Night Circus’ over a series of years based on November’s National Novel Writing Month challenge as a prompt. Do you employ any personal rituals or routines to get you into a writing ‘rhythm’ now that your first book has been published?

EM: In a lot of ways I feel like I’m still looking for my process, trying things and seeing what works and what doesn’t. I didn’t set out to be a writer, so I’m figuring it out as I go along. And of course, this next book is not following the same writing patterns as The Night Circus did.

I still tend to binge write, though I’m not an “x-words per day” writer. I’ll have days that are thinking days when I just let things stew in my head and maybe take a couple of notes and other days when I’ll write pages upon pages. I tend to write a lot more than I end up using, I revised The Night Circus so much that it made me extra willing to change things as I go along, I’m rarely precious about particular scenes/lines/chapters. I also seem to have made a habit of writing things, finishing or nearly finishing them and then realizing they’re not quite right—or plain old wrong—and going back to try again.

I’m trying to add more routines. I just recently moved and I’m waiting for some minor renovations to be completed in the space that’s going to be my office and I’m hoping I can establish more of a daily rhythm. Probably obvious but I am very into spaces and environments, and while I can work just about anywhere—before we moved I wrote in the lobby of the Ace Hotel quite frequently—I love being able to create and curate a space with light and scent and texture. Also I tend to be a terrible eavesdropper so writing in public spaces often gets distracting.

I listen to music a lot while I work. I have to have background noise, I can’t focus without it. I even write with the TV on in the background sometimes, but I prefer music. I also do the one-track-on-constant-repeat thing, especially if it seems like there’s something in the music that sounds the way I want the words on the page to feel.

The towering tents are striped in white and black, no golds and crimsons to be seen. No color at all, save for the neighboring trees and the grass of the surrounding fields. Black and white stripes on grey sky; countless tents of vary ing shapes and sizes, with an elaborate wrought iron fence encasing them in a colorless world. Even what little ground is visible from outside is black or white, painted or powdered, or treated with some other circus trick.

JLS: In the same vein of this question, I’m also really inspired by how you went from being someone who wasn’t “a finisher” to someone who not only overcame that, but who’s garnered an enormous amount of success with your first novel. Can you speak at all about the struggles that went into your first book?

EM: I was always the sort of person who thought I might like to write but I would write a page or a few paragraphs and hate it so I would stop. This is not a particularly effective way to learn to write. I started doing National Novel Writing Month because I liked the concreteness of word counts and deadlines and specific goals. And little graphs, I love a good graph.

I still didn’t end up with proper manuscripts, though, just words in much higher volumes. After several years of November writing I had something that I thought might have potential so I started looking into publishing, which at that point I knew nothing about. I found a lot of things that said to never write in present tense and never, ever write in second person so I felt like I’d done everything wrong but since I had written it all that way already I decided to send it out to agents anyway.

The draft I sent to agents was nowhere near agent-ready. I know that now so I’m dreadfully embarrassed about it but apparently I was doing a few things right amongst all the no-plot, incoherent wrongness of the rest of it. I got many rejections but I also got some interest provided I worked on it more.

I spent months revising based on all that feedback, first for a few different agents and once I signed with my agent I revised for several more months for him. I kept listening to what was working and what wasn’t, I kept changing things and sometimes the changes worked and sometimes they didn’t. I always tried to stay true to what I thought felt right for the story, so even when it felt like stabbing in the dark I was pretty sure I was in the correct dark room with the proper knife.

I spent so much time revising that I was downright surprised when my agent said “I’m going to go find you a publisher” at the end of one of many rounds of changes. I’d kind of forgotten that was the point, I’d gotten distracted trying to tell the story properly. I’m still a little baffled that it went from this weird mess of a book that I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to get in publishable shape to being as successful as it has been.

I’m back in revising mode again now. In some ways I like it more than the drafting, now that everything is about changing and polishing and improving. In other ways it makes me ill and anxious, all the falling down and getting back up again. It’ll get there, but I think this may be how my process works. Slow and not always steady.

But it is not open for business. Not just yet. Within hours everyone in town has heard about it. By afternoon the news has spread several towns over. Word of mouth is a more effective method of advertisement than typeset words and exclamation points on paper pamphlets or posters. It is impres-sive and unusual news, the sudden appearance of a mysterious circus. People marvel at the staggering height of the tallest tents. They stare at the clock that sits just inside the gates that no one can properly describe.

JLS: Writers are often dedicated readers as well. Can you share any insight into your current stack? Are there certain genres you gravitate towards?

EM: I like to think I read eclectically but I do gravitate toward fantastical or moody or slightly off-beat. I do try to find those qualities everywhere, though. I like horror and magical realism and fantasy and literary fiction and graphic novels. I’ve been trying to read more poetry, I have Rupi Kaur’s milk & honey on my nightstand.

I tend not to read many novels when I’m writing, unfortunately, but I recently read Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle for the first time and I regret not reading it sooner. It’s so wonderful and moody with such pitch-perfect voice and of course I’m a sucker for a good house book. Someday I will write one, once I find the right house in my head.

I just picked up two beautiful new collections of Ursula LeGuin short fictions & novellas from Saga Press, The Lost and the Found and The Real and the Unreal. Haven’t delved in yet but I’m looking forward to them and they look really nice on my shelves.

Otherwise the current stack is mostly nonfiction. Recent acquisitions include The Occult, Witchcraft & Magic: An Illustrated History by Christopher Dell and Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey. And in the spirit of full disclosure: Ina Garten’s new cookbook, Cooking for Jeffrey. The title made me roll my eyes but then I flipped through it and she had me at butternut squash hummus. Plus, the pictures of Ina & Jeffrey together look like a delightfully odd production of Macbeth.

JLS: You received your formal education in theatre and you’ve also been/are (?) a painter. I know for myself that each practice lends a helpful hand to the other. Do you still find time to paint these days or are you solely writing? Can you talk about some of your favorite visual artists ?

EM: I do paint but when I was in Manhattan I never had enough room for it so I’m terribly out of practice. I think I probably need a new project, I spent a few years painting a tarot deck partially because it meant I always knew what I was going to paint next. I’m going to try to set up a painting space in the house once we’re more settled. I do love the back-and-forth of painting when I’m not writing and writing when I’m not painting. I found that if I got stuck with one and switched to the other I’d be unstuck by the time I switched back again.

I love art with a lot of texture, mixed media things and installation art and such. While I was at Smith there was a Sandy Skoglund exhibit at their museum and I went to the opening where she walked through her Walking On Eggshells piece and it’s something I still remember from time to time, much more clearly than most of my collegiate memories.

I love René Magritte, I went to the big MOMA exhibit they did a few years ago and remembered just how much I adore so many of his pieces. And they have such great titles. I like images that have a little bit of whimsy, especially when it’s mixed with something dark. Like Stephen Mackey, whose work I found through you, I believe. I have a copy of his Conjuress taped to the cover of one of my current notebooks.

In the house patiently awaiting decisions regarding framing and/or placement we have pieces by Shaun Tan and J. C. Leyendecker and Aaron Horkey—who I also discovered through you—and a giclée print of one of the tarot designs from Dragon Age: Inquisition because our taste is nothing if not eclectic. We also have sculptures by Darla Jackson and Ellen Jewett that both involve bunnies and ravens. And I’m hoping to someday add a Jessica Joslin piece to the sculpture collection.

And the black sign painted in white letters that hangs upon the gates, the one that reads:
Opens at Nightfall
Closes at Dawn

JLS: After reading nearly any interview I could of yours to prepare for this one, I was fascinated by how ‘The Night Circus’ didn’t originally contain Celia, one of the book’s core protagonists. Aside from needing more of a plot, what was the inspiration to include her? Her role as a female illusionist is quite interesting for the time period, women were often only magician’s assistants or used as volunteers, to be sawed in half and so on.

EM: At the beginning I had all of these vignettes with very little to tie them together, all little glimpses of things that weren’t the whole story, and Celia isn’t in that first book-length compilation of vignettes. She only turned up once I started trying to pull everything together more.

It’s truly difficult to remember but I do recall I’d been pondering adding another female character somewhere front-and-center performance-wise, and I liked the idea of taking a traditionally male role like the Magician and moving the beautiful assistant center stage. And of course it fit well because Chandresh would prefer the unusual magician, to give the audience something unexpected. The audition scene that arose from that decision is still one of my favorites.

She’s named after Clara Bow. I found a lovely photo of her with this dark, serious expression and something in it felt like Celia to me, even before Celia had her name. I chose a first name that had similar sounds and letters and then added the –en to Bow.

I really didn’t know how important she would be when she turned up, but the same can be said of Marco, who appeared in my head when I needed someone to be taking notes for Chandresh, because Chandresh would never take his own notes.

“What kind of circus is only open at night?” people ask. No one has a proper answer, yet as dusk approaches there is a substantial crowd of spectators gathering outside the gates.You are amongst them, of course. Your curiosity got the better of you, as curiosity is wont to do. You stand in the fading light, the scarf around your neck pulled up against the chilly evening breeze, waiting to see for yourself exactly what kind of circus only opens once the sun sets.

JLS: In your acknowledgments section you thank Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab for being an inspiration, & I can certainly see their influence throughout the book in the scent-scapes you create. Can you talk about this inspiration? What are some of your favorite scents from their line ?

EM: I discovered Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab by pure chance somewhere around 2004—back when their samples came dressed up in fancy tags—while searching for something tarot-related that I have since forgotten. They used to have a tarot-inspired line and I had a few bottles that are long gone, though I remember The Star smelled like lemon cookies.

I’d never been much of a perfume person before I fell into the BPAL rabbit hole and it really did change the way I think—and write—about scent. I think it tends to be underused as a descriptor in prose which seems strange because it’s so evocative. It’s one of two things I always think about when I start a new scene: what does it smell like and how is it lit.

I have an embarrassingly large BPAL collection and I’m saved from having an obscene amount only by the fact that most florals don’t work on my skin. So I end up with incense or wine or marshmallow or leather which are more my style anyway. I like dark and mysterious for some days and light and ethereal for others.

I vary what I wear quite frequently but my go-to is Smut: Three swarthy, smutty musks sweetened with sugar and woozy with dark booze notes and I have several different vintages. I love anything with a strong tobacco note, it turns into this glorious dark caramel-tinged scent on me. Dead Leaves & Tobacco is on heavy rotation this time of year. So is Sonnet D’Automne when I want something softer. I’m waiting for it to be cold enough to pull out Picture Books in Winter.

And I’m still finding gems unexpectedly in the gifted samples tucked into orders. I’ve become recently enamored of The Black Tower: Long-dead soldiers, oath-bound; the perfume of their armor, the chill wind that surges through their tower, white bone and blackened steel: white sandalwood, ambergris, wet ozone, galbanum and leather with ebony, teak, burnt grasses, English ivy and a hint of red wine.

I also have a series of circus-inspired prototypes carefully tucked away, a still in-progress not-quite-secret project with tents and characters in bottles that will hopefully make their way out into the world someday. Herr Thiessen is my favorite.

The ticket booth clearly visible behind the gates is closed and barred. The tents are still, save for when they ripple ever so slightly in the wind. The only movement within the circus is the clock that ticks by the passing minutes, if such a wonder of sculpture can even be called a clock.

JLS: The book, as an object, is gorgeous. The publisher’s seemed to know they had something truly special as it seems extra care went into the design of the book: from its end pages to the silver foil on the front of the US hardcover edition. I’ve often heard that writers don’t have much say about how their book will look but this felt unmistakably so cohesive to your narrative, were you allowed any input?

EM: I actually didn’t have much input, I think I’ve simply been blessed by the book design gods. There were a few tweaks here and there along the way for both the US hardcover and paperback but the original design is mostly the same. Originally the hardcover design leaned more ornate like a Victorian Valentine but it was streamlined and shiny by the time it was released and most of that was done without me. I find the whole process fascinating though I didn’t get to see much of it first hand. I once found a beautiful alternate cover online somewhere with a note that the author and publisher had decided to go in a different direction but I’d never even seen it.

I’ve been lucky with other editions, too. The first edition UK hardcover has black-edged pages and a red ribbon bookmark, it’s truly stunning. Easton Press recently did a gilded-edge, leather-bound limited edition that’s particularly fancy. And I love the Japanese cover: all blue evening sky with a line of glowing tents in the distance.

I think I’ve been lucky to work with publishers who understand how visual the story itself is and how that can translate to the book as an object. Doubleday gifted me the original papercut art by Helen Musselwhite from the US hardcover framed like a shadowbox. It’s also patiently waiting to be hung in its new home.

The circus looks abandoned and empty. But you think perhaps you can smell caramel wafting through the evening breeze, beneath the crisp scent of the autumn leaves. A subtle sweetness at the edges of the cold.

JLS: One of the influences of your work, ‘Sleep No More’ is also an obsession of mine. I read your book and had my first trip there in the same few months. After recently re-reading it in preparation for this interview, I can see some of the influence more clearly, the “full immersion” techniques that are employed both in the McKittrick as well as in The Night Circus, via touching on nearly all of the senses. (i.e. your wonderfully detailed descriptions of food and scent etc.) I was also interested in how circus goers on Halloween would wear masks, & feel like ‘ghosts’. This is how I feel about being masked within Sleep No More. How much of the production influenced you as you were writing?

EM: I had the extraordinary good timing of happening on Sleep No More’s Boston production right when I was in the middle of revising The Night Circus. I’d been burnt out on theatre things and hadn’t gone to see much live but happened to be on a mailing list and got a postcard and that production was staged in an abandoned school, which seemed particularly intriguing. I already had so much of the circus in my head as an imagined experience but Sleep No More was (and is) the closest thing I’ve found in real life. Partially it’s the full immersion but also it’s the self-directedness of it, where you can wander wherever you like, explore rooms and choose doors and staircases based on something interesting to follow or whims or strange noises.

I actually don’t like “audience participation” and I think that’s one of the reasons the wandering masked ghost aspect appeals to me so much, the feeling of being involved but apart from the production itself. There’s something about the mask and the no talking rule that feels like a safety blanket.

There are a few things I lifted directly from Sleep No More to add to the circus, including the room full of evergreen trees in the Labyrinth, but the most important one in my mind was the space at the beginning, the darkness that leads from ticket-taking formalities to someplace else entirely, purposefully just slightly disorienting. That made me realize how important a transition space is, even if it’s a short one, in going from the real world to the dream world.

Between the Boston and NYC productions I’ve been to Sleep No More about eleven times. And as much as I like my safety blanket I’ve had my mask removed many times, in unexpected intimate moments. I’ve had bible verses whispered in my ears and been locked in rooms by undertakers and then there was that dashing gentleman with the magnifying glass that one night. Sigh.

I haven’t been back in awhile but I miss it, I should go back and visit again. There’s at least one moment from a more recent visit that worked its way into the book I’m writing now, too.

JLS: Another element that both The Night Circus and Sleep No More share, is the idea of being ‘out of time’, as if removed from one’s life, one’s time line. Time is an interesting thread woven throughout the entire novel, from the format, to the clocks, to the span. Can you talk about this use of time?

EM: Once upon a time the entire book was non-linear, back when it was all just things revolving around the circus and hadn’t coalesced into a story yet. Originally it was because I wanted the book to feel like the circus itself: a lot of smaller scenes/stories/tents making up a larger whole, interludes that could be visited in any order, but that gets really confusing really fast.

To compare it to Sleep No More I think the page can be limiting in that sense, because it has to be experienced in a more direct way from beginning to end. I think I wanted that timeless dreamscape that SNM has but for a novel it has to be reined in.

At one point I considered telling everything chronologically, but then ran into the problem of Bailey’s arc occurring very late, so I compromised by layering his storyline over the main timeline.

I always wanted a timeless quality, the way a fairy tale is usually difficult to place, but I also wanted to ground it in that Victorian/Edwardian era: long ago but not too terribly long, so it could (and does) brush up against the present. There’s something that feels magical in that, pushing it beyond the ticking clock of everyday life.

And of course, it helped to put an extraordinary clock right in the middle of it, which came about originally because I wanted Herr Thiessen to do something that seemed like magic but wasn’t.

The sun disappears completely beyond the horizon, and the remaining luminosity shifts from dusk to twilight. The people around you are growing restless from waiting, a sea of shuffling feet, murmuring about abandoning the endeavor in search of someplace warmer to pass the evening. You yourself are debating departing when it happens.

JLS: One of the things that I was most attracted to in the form of the book was how there are so many things left off the page. For instance, Celia’s relationship with Herr Friedrick Thiessen. Can you talk about these ‘off page’ choices ?

EM: I have the somewhat unfortunate habit of having entire storyworlds turn up in my head completely formed and it can be difficult to figure out what parts of the story belong inside the book and which other parts should stay outside, whether they should be hinted at or implied or left out entirely. Sometimes they were left out because I didn’t know what to do with them, or because something else was more important. And it goes back to that idea of the book feeling like the circus: the reader doesn’t get to see every tent, every corner. But you know there’s more around that corner, inside that unexplored tent.

In the particular case of Celia’s relationship with Herr Thiessen, I almost didn’t want it on the page because I love it so much. It was this delicate, important thing for her to finally trust someone and have that connection so I wanted to just let her have that without getting into it too much. A combination of not knowing if I could do it justice and knowing that they’re both very private people and letting them have their secrets. Some things are better left up to the imagination. I think it feels more intimate because even the reader doesn’t get to see it. And it’s absolutely a romance in its own right.

There’s probably an analogy here about how much to pull back the curtain and how much to leave it drawn.

It’s one of my favorite elements in horror when the scary things are left unseen in the shadows but you just know that they’re there. It can work well for other emotions as well: implying the content without showing it entirely.

There’s also probably an analogy about hemlines or necklines or corsets somewhere around here, too.

 

The Night Circus

First, there is a popping sound. It is barely audible over the wind and conversation. A soft noise like a kettle about to boil for tea. Then comes the light. All over the tents, small lights begin to flicker, as though the entirety of the circus is covered in particularly bright fireflies. The waiting crowd quiets as it watches this display of illumination. Someone near you gasps. A small child claps his hands with glee at the sight.

JLS: I read that the Night Circus began as a kind of Edward Gorey-esque plot-less work and that it evolved over time to have the duel / love story. I’m both intrigued by the Edward Gorey reference and so interested in how the love story doesn’t even truly begin until mid-way through the novel. Can you speak about how you were influenced to make these choices ?

EM: I found the circus originally while working through a different National Novel Writing Month project that was mostly just people in Gorey-type fur coats being mysterious and doing very little else. It was boring, I was bored, and out of desperation for something interesting to happen I sent all the characters to a circus. That circus instantly appeared in my head as this multi-tent, black-and-white striped, bonfire-in-the-center space even though at that point I didn’t know where it came from or what I was going to do with it.

But the circus was immediately more interesting than the mysterious guys in their coats so I switched my focus and started writing little disconnected things about the circus itself. I did that for a very long time.

I had this interesting setting that didn’t have a plot and so in trying to pull a plot out of it one of the things I kept coming back to was the color scheme: it was perfectly set up to be a chessboard. That’s where the game/competition aspect started to develop.

I already had Celia and Marco doing various magical things in separate corners so I thought maybe I’d pit them against each other, and then I looked at who they were and thought about how it would play out and thought to myself “Oh, if I do this it’s going to turn into Romeo & Juliet.” But I decided to just let it be that and see what happened, and that’s when all the pieces started to fall into place. I think that’s one of the reasons the romance doesn’t come into play until late, because it’s something that developed out of the competition and not something that was planned from the beginning. Someone once described it as a pair of artists falling in love with each other’s art and I always liked that aspect of it. That they each have a sense of the other person long before they have that first real conversation.

I still sometimes get surprised when the book is referred to as a romance, because that was always only one element of it. In my mind it was always a book about the circus and the things that happen in it, and the romance is just as much between Bailey and the circus itself as it is about Celia and Marco.

When the tents are all aglow, sparkling against the night sky, the sign appears. Stretched across the top of the gates, hidden in curls of iron, more fire-fly lights flicker to life. They pop as they brighten, some accompanied by a shower of glowing white sparks and a bit of smoke. The people nearest to the gates take a few steps back.

JLS: While the book is beautiful in its descriptions and ideas, there is a darkness that also permeates its pages in a more subtle way. The members of the circus are essentially trapped, both in time and within the confines of the circus. Some of the characters, such as the contortionist or Chandresh exhibit more shadowy, complex aspects. I feel these layers added such nuance to your book, a perfect foil to the romance and fantasy of the circus.

EM: I always wanted there to be a lot of grey within the black and white. There’s a reason Alexander’s always skulking around in a grey suit, in an environment where everything looks light or dark the reality is always both. I never wanted it to feel all light and fantastical, I wanted it to be grounded in heaviness and reality and live somewhere in that buoyant space in between. It’ll probably be true of all my work but I think it’s particularly true with the circus.

I tried to play a lot with threads and reverberations and butterfly effects. I like how the same action/object viewed from different perspectives takes on different meanings for different people. A single choice has multiple repercussions. The magic that enchants an audience member is slowly making Chandresh lose himself. A story that’s a romance to two people is a tragedy to a third, but it’s the same story.

One of the reasons the book begins where it does is that I tried to trace everything back to where it started, to the moment that sets everything in motion. It’s the moment when Celia’s mother commits suicide. If that hadn’t occurred, nothing else in the book would have followed. I think that colored tone for me throughout: all of this happens, both the bright things and the dark ones, because someone died.

Narratives that are all light or all dark don’t really appeal to me, but at the same time I dislike a clear-cut good guy/bad guy dynamic. I don’t like villains. I put a lot of my personal story opinions in that speech of Alexander’s about the villain being the hero of his own story. Evil just because evil doesn’t usually work for me. It feels hollow underneath the menace. This is probably one of the reasons I don’t like zombies.

At first, it is only a random pattern of lights. But as more of them ignite, it becomes clear that they are aligned in scripted letters. First a C is distinguishable, followed by more letters. A q, oddly, and several e’s. When the final bulb pops alight, and the smoke and sparks dissipate, it is finally legible, this elaborate incandescent sign. Leaning to your left to gain a better view, you can see that it reads:

JLS: Can you talk a bit about your childhood? Were you always an artist of some sort ? ( I grew up reading The Egypt Game as well and loved to hear you speak of it in a past interview. )

EM: I grew up in eastern Massachusetts, in one of those coastal towns with rock-covered beaches though I was never much of a beach girl. I used to play in the woods behind my house a lot, I know I’m not allergic to poison ivy because I must have run around in it every day for years. It was a house not terribly unlike the one I live in now, though my current woods are more easily traversable, or maybe I’m just taller and I have better boots.

I was always kind of bookish and introverted and off in my own imagination. I read and re-read things like The Egypt Game and The Headless Cupid, I built imaginary temples out amongst rocks and trees. I’ve always liked spaces and I’ve always been a bit of a hermit. I used to read curled up in the back of my closet in a little blanket nest. I’ve always kept my own company well, long before I knew introvert was a word.

In school I was always best in art class, I took a drawing class based on Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain when I was very young so I had a solid footing early and it was one of the only subjects I felt secure in. I was never any good at math but I liked English when I wasn’t bored. I liked books. I read all the big fat Stephen King books from my local library when I was about eleven, I still remember how they were all on the bottom shelf and I thought it was because they were so big and heavy when it was likely just an alphabetized coincidence.

I think I always had an artistic temperament but it took me awhile to find the right mediums to express myself within. I went through phases of pretending to be an extrovert doing theatre but it never quite clicked. I am glad I did it, though, because all of that ends up informing my writing.

Le Cirque des Rêves

JLS: Do you keep a notebook or a journal ? If so, how much does doing this influence your work or your process ?

EM: I don’t keep a proper journal though I always think that I should. I have tried at various points over the years. I tend to pick up a nice shiny new blank notebook and write a few pages and then the notebook isn’t so shiny anymore and I feel like I’ve ruined it with messy handwriting and incoherent nonsense and I wander away from it again. I have a complicated relationship with blank pages. I used to keep a typed diary/journal and that was easier since I’m often on my computer, but I fell out of the habit there, too. I’ve tried doing Julia Cameron morning pages and various different techniques but I haven’t found one that fits and sticks just yet. I am still looking, because it is something that I’d like to do.

I have a great many very pretty journals, sitting on shelves with their blank pages unmarred, like undisturbed winter snow. Maybe someday.

I have taken to doing more prose writing longhand in notebooks, though. I used to only take notes or brainstorm by hand because I can type much faster but recently I’ve been trying to compose more longhand precisely because it slows me down. Then of course I have to go back and re-read my handwriting in order to transcribe, which can sometimes be an adventure.

Some in the crowd smile knowingly, while others frown and look questioningly at their neighbors. A child near you tugs on her mother’s sleeve, begging to know what it says.“The Circus of Dreams,” comes the reply. The girl smiles delightedly.Then the iron gates shudder and unlock, seemingly by their own volition. They swing outward, inviting the crowd inside.

JLS: I loved reading about how when you were living in Salem, a psychic you happened to meet casually on the street talked to you about the future the success of your book. Do you feel your living environment influences your work, or is the world you cull your ideas from solely inside you ?

EM: Salem is magical and I’m glad I lived there while I wrote The Night Circus. It’s a place with so much history and mystery. I still miss having several different stores that sold crystal balls and tarot cards within walking distance. And it was always so alive and crackling during the autumn, I think that was probably one of the reasons I wrote such an autumnal book there.

Manhattan constantly buzzed, like a light bulb. A 24-hour-a-day hum and I’m not sure I ever got used to it but it was interesting to experience for the years that I was there. I think it kept me on my toes but also probably caused some long term low-grade anxiety.

I live out in the woods in the mountains now, which is so different but there’s still a ripple in the atmosphere. An almost-constant rustle of the wind in the trees, a far-off train whistle, the crackling of a bonfire, a midnight owl hoot. I’m looking forward to the snow, since the book I’m working on now is very much a winter creature.

I think the words and the stories come from inside but they’re easier to hear in some places. I wrote a first buzzing draft of the book I’m working on now in Manhattan and I get to revise it here with a clarity I never managed to hold onto for long in the city. I’m curious to see how it will turn out.

Now the circus is open.

JLS: Lastly, what do you consider to be the true heart of your work?

EM: I think I’m still looking for it. I think finding the heart of something can be a process, but for me part of it is about storytelling itself, about the balance between fairy tale and real life and carrying childhood wonderment into adulthood. I think in writing I’m searching for that heart and trying to find it is one of the reasons I write.

If I’m very quiet and listen closely I can hear it beating.

2,3, 4 illustrations featured here by Abigail Larson

Now you may enter.

 


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10 Years of Haute Macabre: Le Rêveur Parle: An Interview with Erin Morgenstern by J.L. Schnabel

by on Jan.11, 2019, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from | Go to Original Post

The Night Circus

Upon first reading The Night Circus, the void in your heart that you were previously unaware of is filled. From its opening lines, you are stolen away and captivated by its lyrical story and magical characters, your life forever enriched by your experience with it. You find yourself unconsciously nodding to any stranger in the street wearing a streak of red anywhere on them, wishing to again wander through the black and white tents amongst fellow rêveurs. 

Please journey with us now while J.L. Schnabel of BloodMilk Jewels discusses this and more with The Night Circus author, Erin Morgenstern

The circus arrives without warning.
No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.

JLS: I’m always fascinated by a writer’s process. From what I’ve read, you’ve had an interesting, non- traditional route to writing, having completed ‘The Night Circus’ over a series of years based on November’s National Novel Writing Month challenge as a prompt. Do you employ any personal rituals or routines to get you into a writing ‘rhythm’ now that your first book has been published?

EM: In a lot of ways I feel like I’m still looking for my process, trying things and seeing what works and what doesn’t. I didn’t set out to be a writer, so I’m figuring it out as I go along. And of course, this next book is not following the same writing patterns as The Night Circus did.

I still tend to binge write, though I’m not an “x-words per day” writer. I’ll have days that are thinking days when I just let things stew in my head and maybe take a couple of notes and other days when I’ll write pages upon pages. I tend to write a lot more than I end up using, I revised The Night Circus so much that it made me extra willing to change things as I go along, I’m rarely precious about particular scenes/lines/chapters. I also seem to have made a habit of writing things, finishing or nearly finishing them and then realizing they’re not quite right—or plain old wrong—and going back to try again.

I’m trying to add more routines. I just recently moved and I’m waiting for some minor renovations to be completed in the space that’s going to be my office and I’m hoping I can establish more of a daily rhythm. Probably obvious but I am very into spaces and environments, and while I can work just about anywhere—before we moved I wrote in the lobby of the Ace Hotel quite frequently—I love being able to create and curate a space with light and scent and texture. Also I tend to be a terrible eavesdropper so writing in public spaces often gets distracting.

I listen to music a lot while I work. I have to have background noise, I can’t focus without it. I even write with the TV on in the background sometimes, but I prefer music. I also do the one-track-on-constant-repeat thing, especially if it seems like there’s something in the music that sounds the way I want the words on the page to feel.

The towering tents are striped in white and black, no golds and crimsons to be seen. No color at all, save for the neighboring trees and the grass of the surrounding fields. Black and white stripes on grey sky; countless tents of vary ing shapes and sizes, with an elaborate wrought iron fence encasing them in a colorless world. Even what little ground is visible from outside is black or white, painted or powdered, or treated with some other circus trick.

JLS: In the same vein of this question, I’m also really inspired by how you went from being someone who wasn’t “a finisher” to someone who not only overcame that, but who’s garnered an enormous amount of success with your first novel. Can you speak at all about the struggles that went into your first book?

EM: I was always the sort of person who thought I might like to write but I would write a page or a few paragraphs and hate it so I would stop. This is not a particularly effective way to learn to write. I started doing National Novel Writing Month because I liked the concreteness of word counts and deadlines and specific goals. And little graphs, I love a good graph.

I still didn’t end up with proper manuscripts, though, just words in much higher volumes. After several years of November writing I had something that I thought might have potential so I started looking into publishing, which at that point I knew nothing about. I found a lot of things that said to never write in present tense and never, ever write in second person so I felt like I’d done everything wrong but since I had written it all that way already I decided to send it out to agents anyway.

The draft I sent to agents was nowhere near agent-ready. I know that now so I’m dreadfully embarrassed about it but apparently I was doing a few things right amongst all the no-plot, incoherent wrongness of the rest of it. I got many rejections but I also got some interest provided I worked on it more.

I spent months revising based on all that feedback, first for a few different agents and once I signed with my agent I revised for several more months for him. I kept listening to what was working and what wasn’t, I kept changing things and sometimes the changes worked and sometimes they didn’t. I always tried to stay true to what I thought felt right for the story, so even when it felt like stabbing in the dark I was pretty sure I was in the correct dark room with the proper knife.

I spent so much time revising that I was downright surprised when my agent said “I’m going to go find you a publisher” at the end of one of many rounds of changes. I’d kind of forgotten that was the point, I’d gotten distracted trying to tell the story properly. I’m still a little baffled that it went from this weird mess of a book that I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to get in publishable shape to being as successful as it has been.

I’m back in revising mode again now. In some ways I like it more than the drafting, now that everything is about changing and polishing and improving. In other ways it makes me ill and anxious, all the falling down and getting back up again. It’ll get there, but I think this may be how my process works. Slow and not always steady.

But it is not open for business. Not just yet. Within hours everyone in town has heard about it. By afternoon the news has spread several towns over. Word of mouth is a more effective method of advertisement than typeset words and exclamation points on paper pamphlets or posters. It is impres-sive and unusual news, the sudden appearance of a mysterious circus. People marvel at the staggering height of the tallest tents. They stare at the clock that sits just inside the gates that no one can properly describe.

JLS: Writers are often dedicated readers as well. Can you share any insight into your current stack? Are there certain genres you gravitate towards?

EM: I like to think I read eclectically but I do gravitate toward fantastical or moody or slightly off-beat. I do try to find those qualities everywhere, though. I like horror and magical realism and fantasy and literary fiction and graphic novels. I’ve been trying to read more poetry, I have Rupi Kaur’s milk & honey on my nightstand.

I tend not to read many novels when I’m writing, unfortunately, but I recently read Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle for the first time and I regret not reading it sooner. It’s so wonderful and moody with such pitch-perfect voice and of course I’m a sucker for a good house book. Someday I will write one, once I find the right house in my head.

I just picked up two beautiful new collections of Ursula LeGuin short fictions & novellas from Saga Press, The Lost and the Found and The Real and the Unreal. Haven’t delved in yet but I’m looking forward to them and they look really nice on my shelves.

Otherwise the current stack is mostly nonfiction. Recent acquisitions include The Occult, Witchcraft & Magic: An Illustrated History by Christopher Dell and Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey. And in the spirit of full disclosure: Ina Garten’s new cookbook, Cooking for Jeffrey. The title made me roll my eyes but then I flipped through it and she had me at butternut squash hummus. Plus, the pictures of Ina & Jeffrey together look like a delightfully odd production of Macbeth.

JLS: You received your formal education in theatre and you’ve also been/are (?) a painter. I know for myself that each practice lends a helpful hand to the other. Do you still find time to paint these days or are you solely writing? Can you talk about some of your favorite visual artists ?

EM: I do paint but when I was in Manhattan I never had enough room for it so I’m terribly out of practice. I think I probably need a new project, I spent a few years painting a tarot deck partially because it meant I always knew what I was going to paint next. I’m going to try to set up a painting space in the house once we’re more settled. I do love the back-and-forth of painting when I’m not writing and writing when I’m not painting. I found that if I got stuck with one and switched to the other I’d be unstuck by the time I switched back again.

I love art with a lot of texture, mixed media things and installation art and such. While I was at Smith there was a Sandy Skoglund exhibit at their museum and I went to the opening where she walked through her Walking On Eggshells piece and it’s something I still remember from time to time, much more clearly than most of my collegiate memories.

I love René Magritte, I went to the big MOMA exhibit they did a few years ago and remembered just how much I adore so many of his pieces. And they have such great titles. I like images that have a little bit of whimsy, especially when it’s mixed with something dark. Like Stephen Mackey, whose work I found through you, I believe. I have a copy of his Conjuress taped to the cover of one of my current notebooks.

In the house patiently awaiting decisions regarding framing and/or placement we have pieces by Shaun Tan and J. C. Leyendecker and Aaron Horkey—who I also discovered through you—and a giclée print of one of the tarot designs from Dragon Age: Inquisition because our taste is nothing if not eclectic. We also have sculptures by Darla Jackson and Ellen Jewett that both involve bunnies and ravens. And I’m hoping to someday add a Jessica Joslin piece to the sculpture collection.

And the black sign painted in white letters that hangs upon the gates, the one that reads:
Opens at Nightfall
Closes at Dawn

JLS: After reading nearly any interview I could of yours to prepare for this one, I was fascinated by how ‘The Night Circus’ didn’t originally contain Celia, one of the book’s core protagonists. Aside from needing more of a plot, what was the inspiration to include her? Her role as a female illusionist is quite interesting for the time period, women were often only magician’s assistants or used as volunteers, to be sawed in half and so on.

EM: At the beginning I had all of these vignettes with very little to tie them together, all little glimpses of things that weren’t the whole story, and Celia isn’t in that first book-length compilation of vignettes. She only turned up once I started trying to pull everything together more.

It’s truly difficult to remember but I do recall I’d been pondering adding another female character somewhere front-and-center performance-wise, and I liked the idea of taking a traditionally male role like the Magician and moving the beautiful assistant center stage. And of course it fit well because Chandresh would prefer the unusual magician, to give the audience something unexpected. The audition scene that arose from that decision is still one of my favorites.

She’s named after Clara Bow. I found a lovely photo of her with this dark, serious expression and something in it felt like Celia to me, even before Celia had her name. I chose a first name that had similar sounds and letters and then added the –en to Bow.

I really didn’t know how important she would be when she turned up, but the same can be said of Marco, who appeared in my head when I needed someone to be taking notes for Chandresh, because Chandresh would never take his own notes.

“What kind of circus is only open at night?” people ask. No one has a proper answer, yet as dusk approaches there is a substantial crowd of spectators gathering outside the gates.You are amongst them, of course. Your curiosity got the better of you, as curiosity is wont to do. You stand in the fading light, the scarf around your neck pulled up against the chilly evening breeze, waiting to see for yourself exactly what kind of circus only opens once the sun sets.

JLS: In your acknowledgments section you thank Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab for being an inspiration, & I can certainly see their influence throughout the book in the scent-scapes you create. Can you talk about this inspiration? What are some of your favorite scents from their line ?

EM: I discovered Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab by pure chance somewhere around 2004—back when their samples came dressed up in fancy tags—while searching for something tarot-related that I have since forgotten. They used to have a tarot-inspired line and I had a few bottles that are long gone, though I remember The Star smelled like lemon cookies.

I’d never been much of a perfume person before I fell into the BPAL rabbit hole and it really did change the way I think—and write—about scent. I think it tends to be underused as a descriptor in prose which seems strange because it’s so evocative. It’s one of two things I always think about when I start a new scene: what does it smell like and how is it lit.

I have an embarrassingly large BPAL collection and I’m saved from having an obscene amount only by the fact that most florals don’t work on my skin. So I end up with incense or wine or marshmallow or leather which are more my style anyway. I like dark and mysterious for some days and light and ethereal for others.

I vary what I wear quite frequently but my go-to is Smut: Three swarthy, smutty musks sweetened with sugar and woozy with dark booze notes and I have several different vintages. I love anything with a strong tobacco note, it turns into this glorious dark caramel-tinged scent on me. Dead Leaves & Tobacco is on heavy rotation this time of year. So is Sonnet D’Automne when I want something softer. I’m waiting for it to be cold enough to pull out Picture Books in Winter.

And I’m still finding gems unexpectedly in the gifted samples tucked into orders. I’ve become recently enamored of The Black Tower: Long-dead soldiers, oath-bound; the perfume of their armor, the chill wind that surges through their tower, white bone and blackened steel: white sandalwood, ambergris, wet ozone, galbanum and leather with ebony, teak, burnt grasses, English ivy and a hint of red wine.

I also have a series of circus-inspired prototypes carefully tucked away, a still in-progress not-quite-secret project with tents and characters in bottles that will hopefully make their way out into the world someday. Herr Thiessen is my favorite.

The ticket booth clearly visible behind the gates is closed and barred. The tents are still, save for when they ripple ever so slightly in the wind. The only movement within the circus is the clock that ticks by the passing minutes, if such a wonder of sculpture can even be called a clock.

JLS: The book, as an object, is gorgeous. The publisher’s seemed to know they had something truly special as it seems extra care went into the design of the book: from its end pages to the silver foil on the front of the US hardcover edition. I’ve often heard that writers don’t have much say about how their book will look but this felt unmistakably so cohesive to your narrative, were you allowed any input?

EM: I actually didn’t have much input, I think I’ve simply been blessed by the book design gods. There were a few tweaks here and there along the way for both the US hardcover and paperback but the original design is mostly the same. Originally the hardcover design leaned more ornate like a Victorian Valentine but it was streamlined and shiny by the time it was released and most of that was done without me. I find the whole process fascinating though I didn’t get to see much of it first hand. I once found a beautiful alternate cover online somewhere with a note that the author and publisher had decided to go in a different direction but I’d never even seen it.

I’ve been lucky with other editions, too. The first edition UK hardcover has black-edged pages and a red ribbon bookmark, it’s truly stunning. Easton Press recently did a gilded-edge, leather-bound limited edition that’s particularly fancy. And I love the Japanese cover: all blue evening sky with a line of glowing tents in the distance.

I think I’ve been lucky to work with publishers who understand how visual the story itself is and how that can translate to the book as an object. Doubleday gifted me the original papercut art by Helen Musselwhite from the US hardcover framed like a shadowbox. It’s also patiently waiting to be hung in its new home.

The circus looks abandoned and empty. But you think perhaps you can smell caramel wafting through the evening breeze, beneath the crisp scent of the autumn leaves. A subtle sweetness at the edges of the cold.

JLS: One of the influences of your work, ‘Sleep No More’ is also an obsession of mine. I read your book and had my first trip there in the same few months. After recently re-reading it in preparation for this interview, I can see some of the influence more clearly, the “full immersion” techniques that are employed both in the McKittrick as well as in The Night Circus, via touching on nearly all of the senses. (i.e. your wonderfully detailed descriptions of food and scent etc.) I was also interested in how circus goers on Halloween would wear masks, & feel like ‘ghosts’. This is how I feel about being masked within Sleep No More. How much of the production influenced you as you were writing?

EM: I had the extraordinary good timing of happening on Sleep No More’s Boston production right when I was in the middle of revising The Night Circus. I’d been burnt out on theatre things and hadn’t gone to see much live but happened to be on a mailing list and got a postcard and that production was staged in an abandoned school, which seemed particularly intriguing. I already had so much of the circus in my head as an imagined experience but Sleep No More was (and is) the closest thing I’ve found in real life. Partially it’s the full immersion but also it’s the self-directedness of it, where you can wander wherever you like, explore rooms and choose doors and staircases based on something interesting to follow or whims or strange noises.

I actually don’t like “audience participation” and I think that’s one of the reasons the wandering masked ghost aspect appeals to me so much, the feeling of being involved but apart from the production itself. There’s something about the mask and the no talking rule that feels like a safety blanket.

There are a few things I lifted directly from Sleep No More to add to the circus, including the room full of evergreen trees in the Labyrinth, but the most important one in my mind was the space at the beginning, the darkness that leads from ticket-taking formalities to someplace else entirely, purposefully just slightly disorienting. That made me realize how important a transition space is, even if it’s a short one, in going from the real world to the dream world.

Between the Boston and NYC productions I’ve been to Sleep No More about eleven times. And as much as I like my safety blanket I’ve had my mask removed many times, in unexpected intimate moments. I’ve had bible verses whispered in my ears and been locked in rooms by undertakers and then there was that dashing gentleman with the magnifying glass that one night. Sigh.

I haven’t been back in awhile but I miss it, I should go back and visit again. There’s at least one moment from a more recent visit that worked its way into the book I’m writing now, too.

JLS: Another element that both The Night Circus and Sleep No More share, is the idea of being ‘out of time’, as if removed from one’s life, one’s time line. Time is an interesting thread woven throughout the entire novel, from the format, to the clocks, to the span. Can you talk about this use of time?

EM: Once upon a time the entire book was non-linear, back when it was all just things revolving around the circus and hadn’t coalesced into a story yet. Originally it was because I wanted the book to feel like the circus itself: a lot of smaller scenes/stories/tents making up a larger whole, interludes that could be visited in any order, but that gets really confusing really fast.

To compare it to Sleep No More I think the page can be limiting in that sense, because it has to be experienced in a more direct way from beginning to end. I think I wanted that timeless dreamscape that SNM has but for a novel it has to be reined in.

At one point I considered telling everything chronologically, but then ran into the problem of Bailey’s arc occurring very late, so I compromised by layering his storyline over the main timeline.

I always wanted a timeless quality, the way a fairy tale is usually difficult to place, but I also wanted to ground it in that Victorian/Edwardian era: long ago but not too terribly long, so it could (and does) brush up against the present. There’s something that feels magical in that, pushing it beyond the ticking clock of everyday life.

And of course, it helped to put an extraordinary clock right in the middle of it, which came about originally because I wanted Herr Thiessen to do something that seemed like magic but wasn’t.

The sun disappears completely beyond the horizon, and the remaining luminosity shifts from dusk to twilight. The people around you are growing restless from waiting, a sea of shuffling feet, murmuring about abandoning the endeavor in search of someplace warmer to pass the evening. You yourself are debating departing when it happens.

JLS: One of the things that I was most attracted to in the form of the book was how there are so many things left off the page. For instance, Celia’s relationship with Herr Friedrick Thiessen. Can you talk about these ‘off page’ choices ?

EM: I have the somewhat unfortunate habit of having entire storyworlds turn up in my head completely formed and it can be difficult to figure out what parts of the story belong inside the book and which other parts should stay outside, whether they should be hinted at or implied or left out entirely. Sometimes they were left out because I didn’t know what to do with them, or because something else was more important. And it goes back to that idea of the book feeling like the circus: the reader doesn’t get to see every tent, every corner. But you know there’s more around that corner, inside that unexplored tent.

In the particular case of Celia’s relationship with Herr Thiessen, I almost didn’t want it on the page because I love it so much. It was this delicate, important thing for her to finally trust someone and have that connection so I wanted to just let her have that without getting into it too much. A combination of not knowing if I could do it justice and knowing that they’re both very private people and letting them have their secrets. Some things are better left up to the imagination. I think it feels more intimate because even the reader doesn’t get to see it. And it’s absolutely a romance in its own right.

There’s probably an analogy here about how much to pull back the curtain and how much to leave it drawn.

It’s one of my favorite elements in horror when the scary things are left unseen in the shadows but you just know that they’re there. It can work well for other emotions as well: implying the content without showing it entirely.

There’s also probably an analogy about hemlines or necklines or corsets somewhere around here, too.

 

The Night Circus

First, there is a popping sound. It is barely audible over the wind and conversation. A soft noise like a kettle about to boil for tea. Then comes the light. All over the tents, small lights begin to flicker, as though the entirety of the circus is covered in particularly bright fireflies. The waiting crowd quiets as it watches this display of illumination. Someone near you gasps. A small child claps his hands with glee at the sight.

JLS: I read that the Night Circus began as a kind of Edward Gorey-esque plot-less work and that it evolved over time to have the duel / love story. I’m both intrigued by the Edward Gorey reference and so interested in how the love story doesn’t even truly begin until mid-way through the novel. Can you speak about how you were influenced to make these choices ?

EM: I found the circus originally while working through a different National Novel Writing Month project that was mostly just people in Gorey-type fur coats being mysterious and doing very little else. It was boring, I was bored, and out of desperation for something interesting to happen I sent all the characters to a circus. That circus instantly appeared in my head as this multi-tent, black-and-white striped, bonfire-in-the-center space even though at that point I didn’t know where it came from or what I was going to do with it.

But the circus was immediately more interesting than the mysterious guys in their coats so I switched my focus and started writing little disconnected things about the circus itself. I did that for a very long time.

I had this interesting setting that didn’t have a plot and so in trying to pull a plot out of it one of the things I kept coming back to was the color scheme: it was perfectly set up to be a chessboard. That’s where the game/competition aspect started to develop.

I already had Celia and Marco doing various magical things in separate corners so I thought maybe I’d pit them against each other, and then I looked at who they were and thought about how it would play out and thought to myself “Oh, if I do this it’s going to turn into Romeo & Juliet.” But I decided to just let it be that and see what happened, and that’s when all the pieces started to fall into place. I think that’s one of the reasons the romance doesn’t come into play until late, because it’s something that developed out of the competition and not something that was planned from the beginning. Someone once described it as a pair of artists falling in love with each other’s art and I always liked that aspect of it. That they each have a sense of the other person long before they have that first real conversation.

I still sometimes get surprised when the book is referred to as a romance, because that was always only one element of it. In my mind it was always a book about the circus and the things that happen in it, and the romance is just as much between Bailey and the circus itself as it is about Celia and Marco.

When the tents are all aglow, sparkling against the night sky, the sign appears. Stretched across the top of the gates, hidden in curls of iron, more fire-fly lights flicker to life. They pop as they brighten, some accompanied by a shower of glowing white sparks and a bit of smoke. The people nearest to the gates take a few steps back.

JLS: While the book is beautiful in its descriptions and ideas, there is a darkness that also permeates its pages in a more subtle way. The members of the circus are essentially trapped, both in time and within the confines of the circus. Some of the characters, such as the contortionist or Chandresh exhibit more shadowy, complex aspects. I feel these layers added such nuance to your book, a perfect foil to the romance and fantasy of the circus.

EM: I always wanted there to be a lot of grey within the black and white. There’s a reason Alexander’s always skulking around in a grey suit, in an environment where everything looks light or dark the reality is always both. I never wanted it to feel all light and fantastical, I wanted it to be grounded in heaviness and reality and live somewhere in that buoyant space in between. It’ll probably be true of all my work but I think it’s particularly true with the circus.

I tried to play a lot with threads and reverberations and butterfly effects. I like how the same action/object viewed from different perspectives takes on different meanings for different people. A single choice has multiple repercussions. The magic that enchants an audience member is slowly making Chandresh lose himself. A story that’s a romance to two people is a tragedy to a third, but it’s the same story.

One of the reasons the book begins where it does is that I tried to trace everything back to where it started, to the moment that sets everything in motion. It’s the moment when Celia’s mother commits suicide. If that hadn’t occurred, nothing else in the book would have followed. I think that colored tone for me throughout: all of this happens, both the bright things and the dark ones, because someone died.

Narratives that are all light or all dark don’t really appeal to me, but at the same time I dislike a clear-cut good guy/bad guy dynamic. I don’t like villains. I put a lot of my personal story opinions in that speech of Alexander’s about the villain being the hero of his own story. Evil just because evil doesn’t usually work for me. It feels hollow underneath the menace. This is probably one of the reasons I don’t like zombies.

At first, it is only a random pattern of lights. But as more of them ignite, it becomes clear that they are aligned in scripted letters. First a C is distinguishable, followed by more letters. A q, oddly, and several e’s. When the final bulb pops alight, and the smoke and sparks dissipate, it is finally legible, this elaborate incandescent sign. Leaning to your left to gain a better view, you can see that it reads:

JLS: Can you talk a bit about your childhood? Were you always an artist of some sort ? ( I grew up reading The Egypt Game as well and loved to hear you speak of it in a past interview. )

EM: I grew up in eastern Massachusetts, in one of those coastal towns with rock-covered beaches though I was never much of a beach girl. I used to play in the woods behind my house a lot, I know I’m not allergic to poison ivy because I must have run around in it every day for years. It was a house not terribly unlike the one I live in now, though my current woods are more easily traversable, or maybe I’m just taller and I have better boots.

I was always kind of bookish and introverted and off in my own imagination. I read and re-read things like The Egypt Game and The Headless Cupid, I built imaginary temples out amongst rocks and trees. I’ve always liked spaces and I’ve always been a bit of a hermit. I used to read curled up in the back of my closet in a little blanket nest. I’ve always kept my own company well, long before I knew introvert was a word.

In school I was always best in art class, I took a drawing class based on Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain when I was very young so I had a solid footing early and it was one of the only subjects I felt secure in. I was never any good at math but I liked English when I wasn’t bored. I liked books. I read all the big fat Stephen King books from my local library when I was about eleven, I still remember how they were all on the bottom shelf and I thought it was because they were so big and heavy when it was likely just an alphabetized coincidence.

I think I always had an artistic temperament but it took me awhile to find the right mediums to express myself within. I went through phases of pretending to be an extrovert doing theatre but it never quite clicked. I am glad I did it, though, because all of that ends up informing my writing.

Le Cirque des Rêves

JLS: Do you keep a notebook or a journal ? If so, how much does doing this influence your work or your process ?

EM: I don’t keep a proper journal though I always think that I should. I have tried at various points over the years. I tend to pick up a nice shiny new blank notebook and write a few pages and then the notebook isn’t so shiny anymore and I feel like I’ve ruined it with messy handwriting and incoherent nonsense and I wander away from it again. I have a complicated relationship with blank pages. I used to keep a typed diary/journal and that was easier since I’m often on my computer, but I fell out of the habit there, too. I’ve tried doing Julia Cameron morning pages and various different techniques but I haven’t found one that fits and sticks just yet. I am still looking, because it is something that I’d like to do.

I have a great many very pretty journals, sitting on shelves with their blank pages unmarred, like undisturbed winter snow. Maybe someday.

I have taken to doing more prose writing longhand in notebooks, though. I used to only take notes or brainstorm by hand because I can type much faster but recently I’ve been trying to compose more longhand precisely because it slows me down. Then of course I have to go back and re-read my handwriting in order to transcribe, which can sometimes be an adventure.

Some in the crowd smile knowingly, while others frown and look questioningly at their neighbors. A child near you tugs on her mother’s sleeve, begging to know what it says.“The Circus of Dreams,” comes the reply. The girl smiles delightedly.Then the iron gates shudder and unlock, seemingly by their own volition. They swing outward, inviting the crowd inside.

JLS: I loved reading about how when you were living in Salem, a psychic you happened to meet casually on the street talked to you about the future the success of your book. Do you feel your living environment influences your work, or is the world you cull your ideas from solely inside you ?

EM: Salem is magical and I’m glad I lived there while I wrote The Night Circus. It’s a place with so much history and mystery. I still miss having several different stores that sold crystal balls and tarot cards within walking distance. And it was always so alive and crackling during the autumn, I think that was probably one of the reasons I wrote such an autumnal book there.

Manhattan constantly buzzed, like a light bulb. A 24-hour-a-day hum and I’m not sure I ever got used to it but it was interesting to experience for the years that I was there. I think it kept me on my toes but also probably caused some long term low-grade anxiety.

I live out in the woods in the mountains now, which is so different but there’s still a ripple in the atmosphere. An almost-constant rustle of the wind in the trees, a far-off train whistle, the crackling of a bonfire, a midnight owl hoot. I’m looking forward to the snow, since the book I’m working on now is very much a winter creature.

I think the words and the stories come from inside but they’re easier to hear in some places. I wrote a first buzzing draft of the book I’m working on now in Manhattan and I get to revise it here with a clarity I never managed to hold onto for long in the city. I’m curious to see how it will turn out.

Now the circus is open.

JLS: Lastly, what do you consider to be the true heart of your work?

EM: I think I’m still looking for it. I think finding the heart of something can be a process, but for me part of it is about storytelling itself, about the balance between fairy tale and real life and carrying childhood wonderment into adulthood. I think in writing I’m searching for that heart and trying to find it is one of the reasons I write.

If I’m very quiet and listen closely I can hear it beating.

2,3, 4 illustrations featured here by Abigail Larson

Now you may enter.

 


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10 Years of Haute Macabre: Le Rêveur Parle: An Interview with Erin Morgenstern by J.L. Schnabel

by on Jan.11, 2019, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from | Go to Original Post

The Night Circus

Upon first reading The Night Circus, the void in your heart that you were previously unaware of is filled. From its opening lines, you are stolen away and captivated by its lyrical story and magical characters, your life forever enriched by your experience with it. You find yourself unconsciously nodding to any stranger in the street wearing a streak of red anywhere on them, wishing to again wander through the black and white tents amongst fellow rêveurs. 

Please journey with us now while J.L. Schnabel of BloodMilk Jewels discusses this and more with The Night Circus author, Erin Morgenstern

The circus arrives without warning.
No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.

JLS: I’m always fascinated by a writer’s process. From what I’ve read, you’ve had an interesting, non- traditional route to writing, having completed ‘The Night Circus’ over a series of years based on November’s National Novel Writing Month challenge as a prompt. Do you employ any personal rituals or routines to get you into a writing ‘rhythm’ now that your first book has been published?

EM: In a lot of ways I feel like I’m still looking for my process, trying things and seeing what works and what doesn’t. I didn’t set out to be a writer, so I’m figuring it out as I go along. And of course, this next book is not following the same writing patterns as The Night Circus did.

I still tend to binge write, though I’m not an “x-words per day” writer. I’ll have days that are thinking days when I just let things stew in my head and maybe take a couple of notes and other days when I’ll write pages upon pages. I tend to write a lot more than I end up using, I revised The Night Circus so much that it made me extra willing to change things as I go along, I’m rarely precious about particular scenes/lines/chapters. I also seem to have made a habit of writing things, finishing or nearly finishing them and then realizing they’re not quite right—or plain old wrong—and going back to try again.

I’m trying to add more routines. I just recently moved and I’m waiting for some minor renovations to be completed in the space that’s going to be my office and I’m hoping I can establish more of a daily rhythm. Probably obvious but I am very into spaces and environments, and while I can work just about anywhere—before we moved I wrote in the lobby of the Ace Hotel quite frequently—I love being able to create and curate a space with light and scent and texture. Also I tend to be a terrible eavesdropper so writing in public spaces often gets distracting.

I listen to music a lot while I work. I have to have background noise, I can’t focus without it. I even write with the TV on in the background sometimes, but I prefer music. I also do the one-track-on-constant-repeat thing, especially if it seems like there’s something in the music that sounds the way I want the words on the page to feel.

The towering tents are striped in white and black, no golds and crimsons to be seen. No color at all, save for the neighboring trees and the grass of the surrounding fields. Black and white stripes on grey sky; countless tents of vary ing shapes and sizes, with an elaborate wrought iron fence encasing them in a colorless world. Even what little ground is visible from outside is black or white, painted or powdered, or treated with some other circus trick.

JLS: In the same vein of this question, I’m also really inspired by how you went from being someone who wasn’t “a finisher” to someone who not only overcame that, but who’s garnered an enormous amount of success with your first novel. Can you speak at all about the struggles that went into your first book?

EM: I was always the sort of person who thought I might like to write but I would write a page or a few paragraphs and hate it so I would stop. This is not a particularly effective way to learn to write. I started doing National Novel Writing Month because I liked the concreteness of word counts and deadlines and specific goals. And little graphs, I love a good graph.

I still didn’t end up with proper manuscripts, though, just words in much higher volumes. After several years of November writing I had something that I thought might have potential so I started looking into publishing, which at that point I knew nothing about. I found a lot of things that said to never write in present tense and never, ever write in second person so I felt like I’d done everything wrong but since I had written it all that way already I decided to send it out to agents anyway.

The draft I sent to agents was nowhere near agent-ready. I know that now so I’m dreadfully embarrassed about it but apparently I was doing a few things right amongst all the no-plot, incoherent wrongness of the rest of it. I got many rejections but I also got some interest provided I worked on it more.

I spent months revising based on all that feedback, first for a few different agents and once I signed with my agent I revised for several more months for him. I kept listening to what was working and what wasn’t, I kept changing things and sometimes the changes worked and sometimes they didn’t. I always tried to stay true to what I thought felt right for the story, so even when it felt like stabbing in the dark I was pretty sure I was in the correct dark room with the proper knife.

I spent so much time revising that I was downright surprised when my agent said “I’m going to go find you a publisher” at the end of one of many rounds of changes. I’d kind of forgotten that was the point, I’d gotten distracted trying to tell the story properly. I’m still a little baffled that it went from this weird mess of a book that I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to get in publishable shape to being as successful as it has been.

I’m back in revising mode again now. In some ways I like it more than the drafting, now that everything is about changing and polishing and improving. In other ways it makes me ill and anxious, all the falling down and getting back up again. It’ll get there, but I think this may be how my process works. Slow and not always steady.

But it is not open for business. Not just yet. Within hours everyone in town has heard about it. By afternoon the news has spread several towns over. Word of mouth is a more effective method of advertisement than typeset words and exclamation points on paper pamphlets or posters. It is impres-sive and unusual news, the sudden appearance of a mysterious circus. People marvel at the staggering height of the tallest tents. They stare at the clock that sits just inside the gates that no one can properly describe.

JLS: Writers are often dedicated readers as well. Can you share any insight into your current stack? Are there certain genres you gravitate towards?

EM: I like to think I read eclectically but I do gravitate toward fantastical or moody or slightly off-beat. I do try to find those qualities everywhere, though. I like horror and magical realism and fantasy and literary fiction and graphic novels. I’ve been trying to read more poetry, I have Rupi Kaur’s milk & honey on my nightstand.

I tend not to read many novels when I’m writing, unfortunately, but I recently read Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle for the first time and I regret not reading it sooner. It’s so wonderful and moody with such pitch-perfect voice and of course I’m a sucker for a good house book. Someday I will write one, once I find the right house in my head.

I just picked up two beautiful new collections of Ursula LeGuin short fictions & novellas from Saga Press, The Lost and the Found and The Real and the Unreal. Haven’t delved in yet but I’m looking forward to them and they look really nice on my shelves.

Otherwise the current stack is mostly nonfiction. Recent acquisitions include The Occult, Witchcraft & Magic: An Illustrated History by Christopher Dell and Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey. And in the spirit of full disclosure: Ina Garten’s new cookbook, Cooking for Jeffrey. The title made me roll my eyes but then I flipped through it and she had me at butternut squash hummus. Plus, the pictures of Ina & Jeffrey together look like a delightfully odd production of Macbeth.

JLS: You received your formal education in theatre and you’ve also been/are (?) a painter. I know for myself that each practice lends a helpful hand to the other. Do you still find time to paint these days or are you solely writing? Can you talk about some of your favorite visual artists ?

EM: I do paint but when I was in Manhattan I never had enough room for it so I’m terribly out of practice. I think I probably need a new project, I spent a few years painting a tarot deck partially because it meant I always knew what I was going to paint next. I’m going to try to set up a painting space in the house once we’re more settled. I do love the back-and-forth of painting when I’m not writing and writing when I’m not painting. I found that if I got stuck with one and switched to the other I’d be unstuck by the time I switched back again.

I love art with a lot of texture, mixed media things and installation art and such. While I was at Smith there was a Sandy Skoglund exhibit at their museum and I went to the opening where she walked through her Walking On Eggshells piece and it’s something I still remember from time to time, much more clearly than most of my collegiate memories.

I love René Magritte, I went to the big MOMA exhibit they did a few years ago and remembered just how much I adore so many of his pieces. And they have such great titles. I like images that have a little bit of whimsy, especially when it’s mixed with something dark. Like Stephen Mackey, whose work I found through you, I believe. I have a copy of his Conjuress taped to the cover of one of my current notebooks.

In the house patiently awaiting decisions regarding framing and/or placement we have pieces by Shaun Tan and J. C. Leyendecker and Aaron Horkey—who I also discovered through you—and a giclée print of one of the tarot designs from Dragon Age: Inquisition because our taste is nothing if not eclectic. We also have sculptures by Darla Jackson and Ellen Jewett that both involve bunnies and ravens. And I’m hoping to someday add a Jessica Joslin piece to the sculpture collection.

And the black sign painted in white letters that hangs upon the gates, the one that reads:
Opens at Nightfall
Closes at Dawn

JLS: After reading nearly any interview I could of yours to prepare for this one, I was fascinated by how ‘The Night Circus’ didn’t originally contain Celia, one of the book’s core protagonists. Aside from needing more of a plot, what was the inspiration to include her? Her role as a female illusionist is quite interesting for the time period, women were often only magician’s assistants or used as volunteers, to be sawed in half and so on.

EM: At the beginning I had all of these vignettes with very little to tie them together, all little glimpses of things that weren’t the whole story, and Celia isn’t in that first book-length compilation of vignettes. She only turned up once I started trying to pull everything together more.

It’s truly difficult to remember but I do recall I’d been pondering adding another female character somewhere front-and-center performance-wise, and I liked the idea of taking a traditionally male role like the Magician and moving the beautiful assistant center stage. And of course it fit well because Chandresh would prefer the unusual magician, to give the audience something unexpected. The audition scene that arose from that decision is still one of my favorites.

She’s named after Clara Bow. I found a lovely photo of her with this dark, serious expression and something in it felt like Celia to me, even before Celia had her name. I chose a first name that had similar sounds and letters and then added the –en to Bow.

I really didn’t know how important she would be when she turned up, but the same can be said of Marco, who appeared in my head when I needed someone to be taking notes for Chandresh, because Chandresh would never take his own notes.

“What kind of circus is only open at night?” people ask. No one has a proper answer, yet as dusk approaches there is a substantial crowd of spectators gathering outside the gates.You are amongst them, of course. Your curiosity got the better of you, as curiosity is wont to do. You stand in the fading light, the scarf around your neck pulled up against the chilly evening breeze, waiting to see for yourself exactly what kind of circus only opens once the sun sets.

JLS: In your acknowledgments section you thank Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab for being an inspiration, & I can certainly see their influence throughout the book in the scent-scapes you create. Can you talk about this inspiration? What are some of your favorite scents from their line ?

EM: I discovered Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab by pure chance somewhere around 2004—back when their samples came dressed up in fancy tags—while searching for something tarot-related that I have since forgotten. They used to have a tarot-inspired line and I had a few bottles that are long gone, though I remember The Star smelled like lemon cookies.

I’d never been much of a perfume person before I fell into the BPAL rabbit hole and it really did change the way I think—and write—about scent. I think it tends to be underused as a descriptor in prose which seems strange because it’s so evocative. It’s one of two things I always think about when I start a new scene: what does it smell like and how is it lit.

I have an embarrassingly large BPAL collection and I’m saved from having an obscene amount only by the fact that most florals don’t work on my skin. So I end up with incense or wine or marshmallow or leather which are more my style anyway. I like dark and mysterious for some days and light and ethereal for others.

I vary what I wear quite frequently but my go-to is Smut: Three swarthy, smutty musks sweetened with sugar and woozy with dark booze notes and I have several different vintages. I love anything with a strong tobacco note, it turns into this glorious dark caramel-tinged scent on me. Dead Leaves & Tobacco is on heavy rotation this time of year. So is Sonnet D’Automne when I want something softer. I’m waiting for it to be cold enough to pull out Picture Books in Winter.

And I’m still finding gems unexpectedly in the gifted samples tucked into orders. I’ve become recently enamored of The Black Tower: Long-dead soldiers, oath-bound; the perfume of their armor, the chill wind that surges through their tower, white bone and blackened steel: white sandalwood, ambergris, wet ozone, galbanum and leather with ebony, teak, burnt grasses, English ivy and a hint of red wine.

I also have a series of circus-inspired prototypes carefully tucked away, a still in-progress not-quite-secret project with tents and characters in bottles that will hopefully make their way out into the world someday. Herr Thiessen is my favorite.

The ticket booth clearly visible behind the gates is closed and barred. The tents are still, save for when they ripple ever so slightly in the wind. The only movement within the circus is the clock that ticks by the passing minutes, if such a wonder of sculpture can even be called a clock.

JLS: The book, as an object, is gorgeous. The publisher’s seemed to know they had something truly special as it seems extra care went into the design of the book: from its end pages to the silver foil on the front of the US hardcover edition. I’ve often heard that writers don’t have much say about how their book will look but this felt unmistakably so cohesive to your narrative, were you allowed any input?

EM: I actually didn’t have much input, I think I’ve simply been blessed by the book design gods. There were a few tweaks here and there along the way for both the US hardcover and paperback but the original design is mostly the same. Originally the hardcover design leaned more ornate like a Victorian Valentine but it was streamlined and shiny by the time it was released and most of that was done without me. I find the whole process fascinating though I didn’t get to see much of it first hand. I once found a beautiful alternate cover online somewhere with a note that the author and publisher had decided to go in a different direction but I’d never even seen it.

I’ve been lucky with other editions, too. The first edition UK hardcover has black-edged pages and a red ribbon bookmark, it’s truly stunning. Easton Press recently did a gilded-edge, leather-bound limited edition that’s particularly fancy. And I love the Japanese cover: all blue evening sky with a line of glowing tents in the distance.

I think I’ve been lucky to work with publishers who understand how visual the story itself is and how that can translate to the book as an object. Doubleday gifted me the original papercut art by Helen Musselwhite from the US hardcover framed like a shadowbox. It’s also patiently waiting to be hung in its new home.

The circus looks abandoned and empty. But you think perhaps you can smell caramel wafting through the evening breeze, beneath the crisp scent of the autumn leaves. A subtle sweetness at the edges of the cold.

JLS: One of the influences of your work, ‘Sleep No More’ is also an obsession of mine. I read your book and had my first trip there in the same few months. After recently re-reading it in preparation for this interview, I can see some of the influence more clearly, the “full immersion” techniques that are employed both in the McKittrick as well as in The Night Circus, via touching on nearly all of the senses. (i.e. your wonderfully detailed descriptions of food and scent etc.) I was also interested in how circus goers on Halloween would wear masks, & feel like ‘ghosts’. This is how I feel about being masked within Sleep No More. How much of the production influenced you as you were writing?

EM: I had the extraordinary good timing of happening on Sleep No More’s Boston production right when I was in the middle of revising The Night Circus. I’d been burnt out on theatre things and hadn’t gone to see much live but happened to be on a mailing list and got a postcard and that production was staged in an abandoned school, which seemed particularly intriguing. I already had so much of the circus in my head as an imagined experience but Sleep No More was (and is) the closest thing I’ve found in real life. Partially it’s the full immersion but also it’s the self-directedness of it, where you can wander wherever you like, explore rooms and choose doors and staircases based on something interesting to follow or whims or strange noises.

I actually don’t like “audience participation” and I think that’s one of the reasons the wandering masked ghost aspect appeals to me so much, the feeling of being involved but apart from the production itself. There’s something about the mask and the no talking rule that feels like a safety blanket.

There are a few things I lifted directly from Sleep No More to add to the circus, including the room full of evergreen trees in the Labyrinth, but the most important one in my mind was the space at the beginning, the darkness that leads from ticket-taking formalities to someplace else entirely, purposefully just slightly disorienting. That made me realize how important a transition space is, even if it’s a short one, in going from the real world to the dream world.

Between the Boston and NYC productions I’ve been to Sleep No More about eleven times. And as much as I like my safety blanket I’ve had my mask removed many times, in unexpected intimate moments. I’ve had bible verses whispered in my ears and been locked in rooms by undertakers and then there was that dashing gentleman with the magnifying glass that one night. Sigh.

I haven’t been back in awhile but I miss it, I should go back and visit again. There’s at least one moment from a more recent visit that worked its way into the book I’m writing now, too.

JLS: Another element that both The Night Circus and Sleep No More share, is the idea of being ‘out of time’, as if removed from one’s life, one’s time line. Time is an interesting thread woven throughout the entire novel, from the format, to the clocks, to the span. Can you talk about this use of time?

EM: Once upon a time the entire book was non-linear, back when it was all just things revolving around the circus and hadn’t coalesced into a story yet. Originally it was because I wanted the book to feel like the circus itself: a lot of smaller scenes/stories/tents making up a larger whole, interludes that could be visited in any order, but that gets really confusing really fast.

To compare it to Sleep No More I think the page can be limiting in that sense, because it has to be experienced in a more direct way from beginning to end. I think I wanted that timeless dreamscape that SNM has but for a novel it has to be reined in.

At one point I considered telling everything chronologically, but then ran into the problem of Bailey’s arc occurring very late, so I compromised by layering his storyline over the main timeline.

I always wanted a timeless quality, the way a fairy tale is usually difficult to place, but I also wanted to ground it in that Victorian/Edwardian era: long ago but not too terribly long, so it could (and does) brush up against the present. There’s something that feels magical in that, pushing it beyond the ticking clock of everyday life.

And of course, it helped to put an extraordinary clock right in the middle of it, which came about originally because I wanted Herr Thiessen to do something that seemed like magic but wasn’t.

The sun disappears completely beyond the horizon, and the remaining luminosity shifts from dusk to twilight. The people around you are growing restless from waiting, a sea of shuffling feet, murmuring about abandoning the endeavor in search of someplace warmer to pass the evening. You yourself are debating departing when it happens.

JLS: One of the things that I was most attracted to in the form of the book was how there are so many things left off the page. For instance, Celia’s relationship with Herr Friedrick Thiessen. Can you talk about these ‘off page’ choices ?

EM: I have the somewhat unfortunate habit of having entire storyworlds turn up in my head completely formed and it can be difficult to figure out what parts of the story belong inside the book and which other parts should stay outside, whether they should be hinted at or implied or left out entirely. Sometimes they were left out because I didn’t know what to do with them, or because something else was more important. And it goes back to that idea of the book feeling like the circus: the reader doesn’t get to see every tent, every corner. But you know there’s more around that corner, inside that unexplored tent.

In the particular case of Celia’s relationship with Herr Thiessen, I almost didn’t want it on the page because I love it so much. It was this delicate, important thing for her to finally trust someone and have that connection so I wanted to just let her have that without getting into it too much. A combination of not knowing if I could do it justice and knowing that they’re both very private people and letting them have their secrets. Some things are better left up to the imagination. I think it feels more intimate because even the reader doesn’t get to see it. And it’s absolutely a romance in its own right.

There’s probably an analogy here about how much to pull back the curtain and how much to leave it drawn.

It’s one of my favorite elements in horror when the scary things are left unseen in the shadows but you just know that they’re there. It can work well for other emotions as well: implying the content without showing it entirely.

There’s also probably an analogy about hemlines or necklines or corsets somewhere around here, too.

 

The Night Circus

First, there is a popping sound. It is barely audible over the wind and conversation. A soft noise like a kettle about to boil for tea. Then comes the light. All over the tents, small lights begin to flicker, as though the entirety of the circus is covered in particularly bright fireflies. The waiting crowd quiets as it watches this display of illumination. Someone near you gasps. A small child claps his hands with glee at the sight.

JLS: I read that the Night Circus began as a kind of Edward Gorey-esque plot-less work and that it evolved over time to have the duel / love story. I’m both intrigued by the Edward Gorey reference and so interested in how the love story doesn’t even truly begin until mid-way through the novel. Can you speak about how you were influenced to make these choices ?

EM: I found the circus originally while working through a different National Novel Writing Month project that was mostly just people in Gorey-type fur coats being mysterious and doing very little else. It was boring, I was bored, and out of desperation for something interesting to happen I sent all the characters to a circus. That circus instantly appeared in my head as this multi-tent, black-and-white striped, bonfire-in-the-center space even though at that point I didn’t know where it came from or what I was going to do with it.

But the circus was immediately more interesting than the mysterious guys in their coats so I switched my focus and started writing little disconnected things about the circus itself. I did that for a very long time.

I had this interesting setting that didn’t have a plot and so in trying to pull a plot out of it one of the things I kept coming back to was the color scheme: it was perfectly set up to be a chessboard. That’s where the game/competition aspect started to develop.

I already had Celia and Marco doing various magical things in separate corners so I thought maybe I’d pit them against each other, and then I looked at who they were and thought about how it would play out and thought to myself “Oh, if I do this it’s going to turn into Romeo & Juliet.” But I decided to just let it be that and see what happened, and that’s when all the pieces started to fall into place. I think that’s one of the reasons the romance doesn’t come into play until late, because it’s something that developed out of the competition and not something that was planned from the beginning. Someone once described it as a pair of artists falling in love with each other’s art and I always liked that aspect of it. That they each have a sense of the other person long before they have that first real conversation.

I still sometimes get surprised when the book is referred to as a romance, because that was always only one element of it. In my mind it was always a book about the circus and the things that happen in it, and the romance is just as much between Bailey and the circus itself as it is about Celia and Marco.

When the tents are all aglow, sparkling against the night sky, the sign appears. Stretched across the top of the gates, hidden in curls of iron, more fire-fly lights flicker to life. They pop as they brighten, some accompanied by a shower of glowing white sparks and a bit of smoke. The people nearest to the gates take a few steps back.

JLS: While the book is beautiful in its descriptions and ideas, there is a darkness that also permeates its pages in a more subtle way. The members of the circus are essentially trapped, both in time and within the confines of the circus. Some of the characters, such as the contortionist or Chandresh exhibit more shadowy, complex aspects. I feel these layers added such nuance to your book, a perfect foil to the romance and fantasy of the circus.

EM: I always wanted there to be a lot of grey within the black and white. There’s a reason Alexander’s always skulking around in a grey suit, in an environment where everything looks light or dark the reality is always both. I never wanted it to feel all light and fantastical, I wanted it to be grounded in heaviness and reality and live somewhere in that buoyant space in between. It’ll probably be true of all my work but I think it’s particularly true with the circus.

I tried to play a lot with threads and reverberations and butterfly effects. I like how the same action/object viewed from different perspectives takes on different meanings for different people. A single choice has multiple repercussions. The magic that enchants an audience member is slowly making Chandresh lose himself. A story that’s a romance to two people is a tragedy to a third, but it’s the same story.

One of the reasons the book begins where it does is that I tried to trace everything back to where it started, to the moment that sets everything in motion. It’s the moment when Celia’s mother commits suicide. If that hadn’t occurred, nothing else in the book would have followed. I think that colored tone for me throughout: all of this happens, both the bright things and the dark ones, because someone died.

Narratives that are all light or all dark don’t really appeal to me, but at the same time I dislike a clear-cut good guy/bad guy dynamic. I don’t like villains. I put a lot of my personal story opinions in that speech of Alexander’s about the villain being the hero of his own story. Evil just because evil doesn’t usually work for me. It feels hollow underneath the menace. This is probably one of the reasons I don’t like zombies.

At first, it is only a random pattern of lights. But as more of them ignite, it becomes clear that they are aligned in scripted letters. First a C is distinguishable, followed by more letters. A q, oddly, and several e’s. When the final bulb pops alight, and the smoke and sparks dissipate, it is finally legible, this elaborate incandescent sign. Leaning to your left to gain a better view, you can see that it reads:

JLS: Can you talk a bit about your childhood? Were you always an artist of some sort ? ( I grew up reading The Egypt Game as well and loved to hear you speak of it in a past interview. )

EM: I grew up in eastern Massachusetts, in one of those coastal towns with rock-covered beaches though I was never much of a beach girl. I used to play in the woods behind my house a lot, I know I’m not allergic to poison ivy because I must have run around in it every day for years. It was a house not terribly unlike the one I live in now, though my current woods are more easily traversable, or maybe I’m just taller and I have better boots.

I was always kind of bookish and introverted and off in my own imagination. I read and re-read things like The Egypt Game and The Headless Cupid, I built imaginary temples out amongst rocks and trees. I’ve always liked spaces and I’ve always been a bit of a hermit. I used to read curled up in the back of my closet in a little blanket nest. I’ve always kept my own company well, long before I knew introvert was a word.

In school I was always best in art class, I took a drawing class based on Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain when I was very young so I had a solid footing early and it was one of the only subjects I felt secure in. I was never any good at math but I liked English when I wasn’t bored. I liked books. I read all the big fat Stephen King books from my local library when I was about eleven, I still remember how they were all on the bottom shelf and I thought it was because they were so big and heavy when it was likely just an alphabetized coincidence.

I think I always had an artistic temperament but it took me awhile to find the right mediums to express myself within. I went through phases of pretending to be an extrovert doing theatre but it never quite clicked. I am glad I did it, though, because all of that ends up informing my writing.

Le Cirque des Rêves

JLS: Do you keep a notebook or a journal ? If so, how much does doing this influence your work or your process ?

EM: I don’t keep a proper journal though I always think that I should. I have tried at various points over the years. I tend to pick up a nice shiny new blank notebook and write a few pages and then the notebook isn’t so shiny anymore and I feel like I’ve ruined it with messy handwriting and incoherent nonsense and I wander away from it again. I have a complicated relationship with blank pages. I used to keep a typed diary/journal and that was easier since I’m often on my computer, but I fell out of the habit there, too. I’ve tried doing Julia Cameron morning pages and various different techniques but I haven’t found one that fits and sticks just yet. I am still looking, because it is something that I’d like to do.

I have a great many very pretty journals, sitting on shelves with their blank pages unmarred, like undisturbed winter snow. Maybe someday.

I have taken to doing more prose writing longhand in notebooks, though. I used to only take notes or brainstorm by hand because I can type much faster but recently I’ve been trying to compose more longhand precisely because it slows me down. Then of course I have to go back and re-read my handwriting in order to transcribe, which can sometimes be an adventure.

Some in the crowd smile knowingly, while others frown and look questioningly at their neighbors. A child near you tugs on her mother’s sleeve, begging to know what it says.“The Circus of Dreams,” comes the reply. The girl smiles delightedly.Then the iron gates shudder and unlock, seemingly by their own volition. They swing outward, inviting the crowd inside.

JLS: I loved reading about how when you were living in Salem, a psychic you happened to meet casually on the street talked to you about the future the success of your book. Do you feel your living environment influences your work, or is the world you cull your ideas from solely inside you ?

EM: Salem is magical and I’m glad I lived there while I wrote The Night Circus. It’s a place with so much history and mystery. I still miss having several different stores that sold crystal balls and tarot cards within walking distance. And it was always so alive and crackling during the autumn, I think that was probably one of the reasons I wrote such an autumnal book there.

Manhattan constantly buzzed, like a light bulb. A 24-hour-a-day hum and I’m not sure I ever got used to it but it was interesting to experience for the years that I was there. I think it kept me on my toes but also probably caused some long term low-grade anxiety.

I live out in the woods in the mountains now, which is so different but there’s still a ripple in the atmosphere. An almost-constant rustle of the wind in the trees, a far-off train whistle, the crackling of a bonfire, a midnight owl hoot. I’m looking forward to the snow, since the book I’m working on now is very much a winter creature.

I think the words and the stories come from inside but they’re easier to hear in some places. I wrote a first buzzing draft of the book I’m working on now in Manhattan and I get to revise it here with a clarity I never managed to hold onto for long in the city. I’m curious to see how it will turn out.

Now the circus is open.

JLS: Lastly, what do you consider to be the true heart of your work?

EM: I think I’m still looking for it. I think finding the heart of something can be a process, but for me part of it is about storytelling itself, about the balance between fairy tale and real life and carrying childhood wonderment into adulthood. I think in writing I’m searching for that heart and trying to find it is one of the reasons I write.

If I’m very quiet and listen closely I can hear it beating.

2,3, 4 illustrations featured here by Abigail Larson

Now you may enter.

 


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10 Years of Haute Macabre: Exploring the Daydream Spaces of Scott Radke

by on Jan.10, 2019, under Syndicated from the Web

Reposted from | Go to Original Post

Scott Radke - Wax Wane Full

Maika: When I began writing for Haute Macabre in 2016, one of the very first things I wanted to do was share an essay I’d already been writing and rewriting for years. It’s about the work of artist Scott Radke, one of my favorite contemporary artists, who has since become a friend. Each time I revisited this piece, I found myself lingering over it once more, honing and adding to it. So, of course, I revised it yet again before it was first published here. I’m not going to do that this time. I’m sharing it exactly as it was when I debuted as a member of the Haute Macabre staff. 

There is one thing I’d like to add that you won’t find in the essay below: In addition to creating his marvelous sculptures, Scott Radke is also a wonderful nature photographer whose photos and videos are perfectly in line with the gentle, otherworldly tones of his art. He quite literally has birds eating out of the palm of his hand and the woods near his home are full of whitetail deer and wild turkeys. If you enjoy his art, chances are good you’ll likewise enjoy the natural world viewed through his eyes, especially if you’re a mycophile. I highly recommend checking out Scott’s other instagram account. While he posts nature photos to his primary IG account as well, this one is pretty strictly nature-focused and it’s one of my favorites. 


Cleveland-based artist Scott Radke creates beautifully haunting and utterly unique characters in the form of sculptures and marionettes made of wire, wood, epoxy resin, burlap, and acrylic paint. Some might be quick to describe his characters as otherworldly, but I find them perfectly at home here in this world; it’s just that they inhabit spaces most humans don’t even notice, let alone occupy. They dwell in the shadows of shadows, within the reflections of pools and puddles, or cloaked by the patterns in tree bark or sunlight filtered through leaves.

Scott Radke - Angie

Scott Radke - Angie 2

When asked to explain some of his artwork during an interview with Arrested Motion, Radke said,

“A lot of what I do is like daydreaming. If you’re a writer, I imagine you would daydream in stories and words, but mine are more image oriented — shapes, colors, animals, faces, and textures. I just clump them all together and add and subtract along the way until something feels balanced and complete.”

Scott Radke - Birth

Knowing this about Radke’s creative process, the most effective way for me to describe such exquisite creatures born of daydreams is to daydream about meeting them myself:

A firsthand encounter with one of these beings is most likely to occur in a natural setting, the wilder the better. Being alone is also essential — all alone and very quiet. Perhaps I’ve lost track of the trail while hiking in the woods or else I’m wending my way through an overgrown labyrinth. Maybe I’m out exploring some crumbling, mossy ruins in the middle of nowhere, as one does.

Scott Radke - cicadachaser

Wherever I find myself, Radke’s creatures won’t simply pop out of hiding and greet me. Instead, well aware of my presence from the moment I first set foot on their land, they carefully keep themselves out of sight. They peer out from safe shadowy spots and down from perches on high tree branches, observing me with interest to see if I merit concern or closer attention.

Scott Radke - closeup

Eventually I begin to feel like something or someone is watching me. Several times I just barely discern a presence or slight movement in the periphery of my vision, but see nothing when I turn to look, so I continue walking. Assuming Radke’s creatures find me sufficiently interesting, they’ll follow me discreetly for some time, studying me with care, taking time to determine if I’m worth approaching.

Scott Radke - Acceptance

Scott Radke - secret owl

I still can’t shake the feeling that I am not, in fact, alone, so I stop walking and stand quietly, watching the shadows and listening to the sounds of the forest as my sense of time slips away. Patience pays off as a few of them decide to make themselves visible, gradually emerging into lighter shadow and silently stealing closer. At last I can see them as all the while they continue watching me.

Scott Radke - woodspritesfollowing

Scott Radke - Yin Yang

Scott Radke - quintet

When not in some sort of animal or insect form (I believe these beings are fully capable of shape-shifting), Radke’s creatures often have simple bodies which tend to be rudimentary and small. If not a fish’s fins, bird’s talons, rabbit’s paws, or sprouting tree branches, they’re as likely to have small vestigial limbs as they are delicate elfin hands with which to gracefully gesture or tenderly wield a precious object.

Scott Radke - witchhands

Scott Radke - eggbearer

Scott Radke - corazon

My eyes are irresistibly drawn to their striking faces. Some have skin that looks more like wood, bark, or weathered stone than flesh. Their movements are sometimes so careful and slow as to be almost imperceptible. Their heads tilt and turn in an owl-like fashion as they quietly scrutinize me with shiny, coal-black eyes. Some blink slowly, some rapidly, some not at all. Meanwhile I’m doing my best to be calm and remain perfectly still.

Scott Radke - Empress detail

Scott Radke - Empress

I don’t imagine that Radke’s creatures are likely to speak to me. It’s not that I fancy them mute, but rather that speech is something reserved only for interactions with each other. Theirs is an arcane, earthy language that’s spoken softly and without hurry. For them, body language and the silences between words convey as much as words themselves.

Scott Radke - Horned Geisha

Because Radke’s creatures are so quiet, reading their facial expressions is very important. At a glance, one might find their faces quite similar to each other. Their features share a sage world-weariness or melancholy, but it’s important to examine every face carefully, because each actually has a very unique expression.

Scott Radke - precious object

Scott Radke - cocoons

Scott Radke - owl

Some are sorrowful or worried, while others wear less guarded expressions and appear inquisitive, amused, or even impish. Some have an open innocence about them that makes one hope they never experience the wider world beyond their wild environs.

Scott Radke - spiralsprites

Scott Radke - witt2

Whatever their facial expression, it’s clear that these beings are keepers of primeval wisdom. They are also keepers of secrets, both secrets that are theirs alone and confidences whispered to them by strangers such as myself. If I am very lucky, eventually one of these mysterious beings will decide to approach me directly.

Scott Radke - wingedwitchturns

They draw very close and look deep into my eyes, silently daring me to look away, if not flee outright. If I don’t, if I am able to stand my ground and hold their enigmatic gaze, then they will lean in even closer still and cock their head to the side, wordlessly extending the invitation of a patient and receptive ear.

Scott Radke - listener

I take a slow, deep breath, close my eyes, and begin to share my secret. I haven’t the faintest idea what I’m going to say until the words leave my lips, almost of their own accord – as though my secret is being drawn out of me by the very presence of Scott Radke’s rare and wondrous creatures.

Scott Radke - Celeste detail

Scott Radke - Snow Witch

Thanks to a very successful Kickstarter campaign run by Kasra Ghanbari in 2015, Scott Radke’s first book has just been published. Scott Radke: Antumbra is a limited edition monograph covering his work from 1995 to 2015. The book is now available for pre-order, to be shipped in January 2018. Every copy pre-ordered before January 5, 2018 will come with a signed/embossed print and a signed/numbered signature plate.

Find Scott Radke: Website // Instagram //Facebook // Twitter // YouTube

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