Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret
among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture Marly Youmans is a novelist and poet out of sync with the times
but in tune with the ages. --First Things

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Hard to pin--

Being rather fat, it needs one!
On the classification of this creature, Marly Youmans
A fresh classification for the same
More news about the Gold Award Addy

Golden butterfly--"gilded butterfly on a needle"
courtesy of and Karen Steiner of Austria.

In honor of Elsa Louise, let's change it to: IMPOSSIBLE TO PIN

For publishers and reviewers and booksellers, the writer needs to be pinned down.  It's helpful to sort and place him in a box with others of the same kind. It's helpful when placing the book on a shelf in a bookstore or on a search list in an online shop.

Some of us are hard to pin. Keep putting different pins in us, and we may turn out to be all holes: invisible to the naked eye. And that is true even though, from the inside of the writer, all the work seems to flow from the very same fount and to have a kind of seamlessness. Try and catch a butterfly? It can all go the beautiful, destructive way of Hawthorne's "The Artist of the Beautiful."

For a long time I was called a poet. Then I was titled "literary writer." When I set a  novel in the past, I was suddenly "historical novelist" to some--to more when I did it again. Then I further messed up the box of labels by writing a couple of books especially for my daughter and so publishing a Southern fantasy that was marketed to children, and then another marketed to young adults, although both were reviewed as crossover books that adults would enjoy. 

That's another mixed category. My adult novels tend to be mentioned as crossover books for bright teens. My children's books tend to be mentioned as crossover books for (also-bright, I am sure!) adults.

Meanwhile my poetry veers from lyric to monologue to narrative to epic. My 2011 collection, The Throne of Psyche, moves from a long blank verse narrative to a wealth of shorter forms. And what about the short stories, which might puzzle a labeler as well, being set in present or past and called realist or irrealist, depending on the story and the reader?

My upcoming books are equally mixed: a picaresque tale set during the Depression era (my ninth book and winner of The Ferrol Sams Award, A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage, now available as a pre-order); a novel that tells the awkward coming-of-age and destruction of a pulp writer, leaning on the facts of one such writer's life (Maze of Blood) and interspersing the story with fantastic faux-pulp passages; a story of a artist's rebirth in mid-life and pursuit of the muse, twisted together with a sort of dream journey/vision (Glimmerglass); an epic poem, post-apocalyptic (Thaliad); a collection of formal poems, many of them intensely "green" and mythic (The Foliate Head.) I'm working on revising a manuscript of poems called The Book of the Red King; oddly, the stories of the Fool and the King feel in some curious way like the most autobiographical thing I have ever done. (I am, of course, not the King--whose identity is various and unpinned--but the Fool.) I'm not much interested in autobiography unless it can be wholly transformed.

What kind of butterfly am I, flitting in the one bright meadow?  

Morpho peleides courtesy of Rudy Tiben of the Netherlands
and picked a morpho because one of the characters
in The Book of the Red King is linked to a blue morpho.


Today I'm rather pleased to find myself in a whole new category. At this point, it seems that I am destined to be collected in many ways and so to be a collector of categories! When I have been pinned in a sufficient number of categories, perhaps I will have a kind of roundness in the world's eyes. It's hard to pin what is round.

If you hop over to Hellnotes, you can see that I have now been collected in a new box: "25 Women Horror Writers You Probably Haven't Heard of (But Should Know)." I am described like this:  "award-winning author Marly Youmans has a decidedly more darkly fantastical vibe to her than 'traditional' horror but has produced some of the most beautiful dark fiction." I like it; it sounds positively Hawthornean.

Certainly my two books marketed to children/young adults are rife with shadow, and a number of anthologized stories and others in magazines have a dark, fantastic tint as well. I'm quite pleased to be in some good company and also to venture nearer to a new set of readers. I even have meaningful linkages to several writers on the list, as I narrated Kathe Koja's essay on the maquettes of Clive Hicks-Jenkins for a film when I was in Wales last spring, and Catherynne Valente wrote an introduction for my forest tale, Val/Orson. So thanks to Hellnotes and to Darkeva, who snagged me as part of her collection.


Earlier I posted about the Addy Gold Award for The Throne of Psyche. If you would like to see the full list of Addy awards for Burt and Burt and Mercer, hop here.  The design team and Mercer now go onto regionals and, one hopes, nationals--they managed to beat out more than 50,000 other designs to place, so that's exciting!

If you would like to see how Clive Hicks-Jenkins, painter of "Touched," responded, jump here. You'll also see responses from some of Clive's real-life friends and e-friends, including the painting's owner.


  1. This is a lovely post. That explains why you're hard to sell. You are elusive and cannot be over-simplified. Hence, unfortunately, you are harder to sell. But it gives you ultimately more niches to sell to.

  2. Hi Robbi--

    A lot of publishers do prefer a big fat pigeon to fit snugly into a pigeonhole...

    But fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, I prefer doing what I want to do and don't worry about the cost.

  3. Oh, I agree, Marly - you be yourself! Being pigeonholed will only restrict your abundant creativity.

  4. marja-leena,

    I do feel that I made those sorts of choices long ago and abide by the results.

    The one thing I am fuzzy on is the need for marketing--how much or how little, what exactly, my degree of responsibility and obligation given how the world of books has changed, etc.

  5. I almost didn’t comment but have decided to go ahead and be a contrarian.

    When you write here of being pinned like a butterfly, while it isn’t your intent, it makes me feel sad. For you. For all artists who are grappling with this dilemma. A pinned butterfly represents a stilled life.

    With all the changes in the publishing world, it well may be incumbent on writers to put on marketing hats as well as writerly ones. Perhaps the labels are important, or not. We’re all so used to them now, aren’t we?

    The same thing has gone on for years and years in the music industry. Industries like to categorize because doing so makes it easier to sell things. People, too, do seem to enjoy categorizing and comparing and organizing their worlds.

    I think of you as a poet and a writer. I do separate them in my own mind, because for me each one covers its own terrain of wordsmithery. Beyond that, I don’t need any other labels to understand what it is you create.

    Resist labeling yourself. Strive to retain your discipline, yet be free in your writing and in your soul.

  6. Elsa Louise,

    Indeed, I only think of myself as a poet and writer, and I hope that I am ultimately impossible to pin!

    But people go on trying to pin me in different ways. I tend to think of these as marketing ideas and don't worry about it too much--but I must say that I did at one time.

    I like the way you write about these ideas...

  7. Thank you. I was not sure but wanted to write, as visions of Lepidoptera boxes were conjured.

    I figured and hoped you were simply flexing your marketing muscles but still wanted to lend some support to the artist herself.

    Yes, well, we must live in the world we find ourselves in at any given moment in time. We cannot be cultural dinosaurs, lest we meet a fate similar to that of the great beasties of prehistory.

  8. Elsa Louise,

    I would love to go into my little sanctuary and shut the door and never think about marketing and how my books are sold--I think most writers would like to do likewise. But yes, we need to keep up with how we are perceived, and we need to participate.

    And also we depend on the good kindness of strangers to befriend our books when they go out into the world.


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.