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Monday, December 28, 2015

Brazil on Maze of Blood

Suzanne Brazil reviews Maze of Blood at Opening paragraph:
Named as one of their Favorite Books of 2015 at Books and Culture MagazineMaze of Blood (Mercer University Press, 2015), is a visceral shot to the senses and a fine filament tugging at the imagination that examines the results of thwarted dreams and desires in the life of a young writer. Set in rural Texas in the 1930’s, Marly Youmans uses language as both scalpel and wand to conjure a place and time as real as the abandoned oil wells and as otherworldly as the magical lands of the great epic poems.
Click here to read the rest.

Friday, December 25, 2015

The knitting Madonna--

Eric Gill, Madonna and child and angel, 1916
Woodblock on paper
At the Tate and other collections
Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Eve light at 2:00 a.m.

Here's a Christmas poem from a little collection of poems at At Length, all drawn from the manuscript of The Book of the Red King. Fool says, Be merry!


Bewitched, the Fool is watching acanthus
And oak–the bristling leaves of Christmas flame–
When the Royal Alchemist empties salts
From bags and bottles, raising up chartreuse
And emerald and yellow, orange-red,
Like a sorcerer who summons demons.
Dangerous salts of lithium awake–
The crimson leaves erupt from walnut grain,
Exploding upward, battering the air,
And change to silver. Sound’s sea-constant, wind
Fluttering and folding, origami
Of one substance rumpled, crumpled, bent.

And afterward the Fool stares in a cave
Of magic rippling like a cuttlefish,
A secret place where Lord and Lady shine,
Coalescing in their blazing castle,
A tiny Red King and his glowing Queen,
Two salamanders glorying in flame.

Thanks to editor Jonathan Farmer, who accepted that group of poems from The Book of the Red King.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

So pleased

that writer Scott Bailey is reading another of my books and starting to comment. He is a grand reader and always has insights that make me remember what it was like to write the book. First installment--"no limit Texas hold 'em"--is here

I expect you can tell that the book under consideration is Maze of Blood (MDA Books, formerly of Rhemalda.)

And if you want to order one of Scott's books, go here.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Good wuthering

I'm very glad to have landed a spot on Amateur Reader's Wuthering Expectations end-of-year lists because I love that site. If I had all the time in the world to read blog posts, I would never  miss a post of that one. Here's the quote from the "Best of the Best" section The Wuthering Expectation Best Books of 2015 - the noodles they make for me:
Gustave Flaubert, Sentimental Education; A Shropshire Lad, A. E. Housman; Little, Big, John Crowley; Life Is a Dream, Pedro Calderón de la Barca; Germinal, Émile Zola. The confusion of the two dinners at the end of the first act of Richard Bean’s and Carlo Goldoni’s One Man, Two Guvnors; Rosso Malpelo digging for his buried father in Giovanni Verga’s “Rosso Malpelo”; Richard Jefferies falling in love with a trout; Mark Twain getting his watch fixed; John Davidson on the beach with his dogs; Lizzie Eustace trying to memorize Shelley in The Eustace Diamonds; the scene in Marly Youmans’s Thaliad where the little kids in the van drive away from the little boy – no, even better, when they go back for him; and the end of “All at One Point” in Calvino’s Cosmicomics when Mrs. Ph(i)Nk0 creates the universe in an act of generosity – “Boys, the noodles I would make for you!” – which may perhaps be an allegory for what all of these writers were doing for me this year.
I also love this and am so amused because my friend Paul Digby has mock-reproached me (for three years!) about what happens to Gabriel in Thaliad (Phoenicia Publishing, 2012.) This despite the fact that some of Fr. Augustine Wetta's students at the St. Louis Priory School gave Gabriel some fanfiction-style adventures of his own...

You can find Amateur Reader on twitter (@AmateurReader) as well. He's worth a follow. And Paul? He's the lovely fellow who has made videos for some of my poems, which you can find here:
Follow Marly's board Digby videos: videos by composer-videographer Paul Digby for poetry by Marly Youmans on Pinterest.
You can also find some recordings of Paul singing at the same Pinterest account.


Friday, December 18, 2015

"literary treasure"

Glad to be on another end-of-the-year list! This time it's a site new to me, The Imaginative Conservative, with Books for Christmas: the Headmaster Recommends.
Marly Youmans’ Glimmerglass: A NovelYoumans is a poet who writes novels. Her prose is beautiful. There were many lines I read out loud to my wife. When I finished it, she read it and we agreed, this book is a literary treasure.
I'm glad last year's book is still being recommended, as Maze of Blood arrived so close on the heels of Glimmerglass. Thanks, Headmaster!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

You asked, no. 2: writer, artist, designer

Clive Hicks-Jenkins: When time allowed and opportunities came my way, I began to make book cover images for some of my friends, the chief among them being Marly Youmans, who because of her reputation as a writer was able to persuade one of her publishers to employ me. For The Foliate Head she even persuaded the publisher to take on my brother-in-law, Andrew Wakelin, as the designer, and he produced a splendid book-cover and ensured the layout inside was handsome. It was The Foliate Head that also established my regular practice of making page-division images and vignettes for Marly’s books.
Sienna Latham asked how Clive and I work with a designer. Perhaps there's no one answer to that, as to so many things! But now I'll try to think my way through and find out, right now.

What is always the same is our relationship. The two of us trust each other to do good work, and we don't interfere--I don't try and make the artist draw a certain element or in a particular mode, that is, and he doesn't try to encourage me to write other than I do. We never try to hurry each other in any way. We are curious about what the other is doing. Although we are very different, we have common loves, a kinship in sensibility, and are drawn to some of the same material, something we discovered early in writing letters back and forth.

As there are some books that have only a jacket (and cover) from Clive, I'll speak to those that are also decorated by him on the interior. We have worked with three designers on interior / exterior art, and I would say that it's a great help to have a designer care about the material. Our three designers are Andrew Wakelin (The Foliate Head), Elizabeth Adams (Thaliad), and Mary-Frances Glover Burt (Glimmerglass and Maze of Blood.) Perhaps it is surprising that each of the three people involved with making the book--writing, art, and design--is so free to do what he or she likes. Certainly I've been in situations where I've had little knowledge of what was happening with a jacket/cover. I've also been privy to the sight of publishers (not mine) and writers (not me) attempting to budge Clive, though why one would do so, I cannot imagine. Gratefulness that he wants to do a piece of work for a book of mine is always my slant on things.

The main hurdle with books with a good deal of art is getting publishers to agree with what we will do. The great advantage with heading toward small and university presses is that people can be willing to agree or compromise. (The down side tends to be less visibility, less "push" for books, of course, as there is less muscle behind a launch.)

Andrew Wakelin, the brother of Clive's partner, was an interesting choice as a designer, in that it was possible for Clive and Andrew to meet in person to discuss layout, and for Peter Wakelin to render opinions as well. Clive and I have a love for foliate heads, and the images arrived with that sense of ease that comes from love and long practice. I had little to do but admire, although we certainly discussed choice and placement. As I had met Andrew while in Wales, I found it easy to imagine their meetings at Ty Isaf when reported by email. The primary challenge with having Andrew serve as designer is that he is not an employee of Stanza Press (a division of P. S. Publishing in the U.K.), and so we had to get permission to use a different designer and also to tinker with the Stanza Press template for poetry books. (Val/Orson, which has jacket art from Clive, was outsourced by P. S. to writer / designer Robert Wexler, so we knew it was possible. Interestingly, I got to stay with Robert and his wife, Rebecca Kuder, when I taught in the Antioch summer workshops.) It helped that Pete Crowther asked for a poetry book, since when people ask, they're more likely to accept some variation (though Pete is a wonderfully nice and agreeable man.) It also helped that Andrew is a grand designer. We had an unexpected bit of difficulty with pagination and length because of the template, and at the last moment added a few poems that were congenial with the manuscript.

Designer-and-more Beth Adams is someone I met long before she asked for Thaliad (Ivy Alvarez and I had edited an issue of quarrtisiluni, the magazine she founded with Dave Bonta, and I live not far from Beth's childhood home.) She is a visual artist, writer, editor / designer, and publisher. Her Phoenicia Publishing (Montreal) is a micro-press in staff and a macro-press in ambition. As a team, we had many common interests and were united in the desire to make the most beautiful book possible, given the constraints of small press. (Constraints are often good challenges that lead to ingenuity.) The three of us kept in close touch. Our emails were full of forwarded quotes from one another and the many images Clive made, all influenced by American folk art.

One marvelous aspect to Phoenicia Publishing is that Beth's hand is in everything. Because she writes and makes art and designs, there's a seamlessness and feeling of a central editorial taste about all Phoenicia's books.

Mary-Frances Glover Burt, who designs for Mercer University Press (her company is Burt and Burt), had a great many images to work with for Glimmerglass, as Beth Adams did for Thaliad and Andrew Wakelin for The Foliate Head. Because the press stands as an intermediary between artist and its chosen designer, one would think that we might feel a little more detached from Mary-Frances. But it's a new world now, and we're all hooked together by social media. We're big fans of Mary-Frances. Here's Clive on her imaginative jacket design:
Clive: By contrast [with The Throne of Psyche, which used existing art] I made the artwork for Glimmerglass specifically for the project, and I’ve greatly enjoyed working with Mary-Frances Glover Burt as she’s sensitively transferred my drawing to the cover and made clever adjustments to finesse it into what you see at the top of this page. (I shall not spoil the illusion by indicating where adjustments have taken place, but suffice to say that she’s been quite the magician!) Moreover she’s made the wrap-around truly beautiful, with the lettering for the cover cleverly reconfigured for the spine, and the foliate elements unspooling onto the flaps. I particularly like the detailing of where she’s inserted a white rectangle for the necessary barcode on the back cover, but sweetened it by having a foliate element passing in front of a corner of it. Gorgeous work, Mary-Frances.
We felt confident about each person's part in the process--Clive and I had already seen what an elegant job Mary-Frances did with The Throne of Psyche, which won an Abby design award for Burt and Burt and Mercer--and we looked forward to seeing what she would do. (Clive's description of what she has accomplished is so appealing, and I also liked the tiny minotaur on the spine, hooked onto the lettering Clive mentions.)

Perhaps it's in Maze of Blood where one sees most vividly how very imaginative a designer can be. In some ways, Mary-Frances appeared to have less to work with and more of a challenge when Clive's many small decorations for the interior of Glimmerglass gave way to something larger. with Maze of Blood. Despite being busy with other projects, Clive made six portraits for division pages, plus the head on the jacket.
Clive: The drawings, which are variously embellished versions of a man’s head, are intended as poetic expressions of the text rather than as representing specific episodes. Because I had only six images to play with, I tried to densely layer my ideas, so any one drawing might be seen to be referencing multiple aspects of the narrative. Vegetation and flowers figure strongly in Marly’s text, as do the imaginative universes the protagonist conjures in his novels and short stories. I wanted to combine both in this image, and so while the ‘flowering’ has been informed by aspects of American folk-art… particularly appliqué-quilts… by setting it like the crest of a headdress, it can simultaneously echo of some of the writer’s elaborate inventions of ancient and mythic cultures. In each image the man’s eye has been replaced by a substitute. There’s been a beetle, a flower, the sighting of a revolver and a coiled ribbon of paper. Here a ‘folk-art’ bird is the stand-in, and I like that the plumes of its tail might be seen as ‘tears of blood’.
At one point, Mary-Frances requested a sketch of folded paper like the maze in one of the heads, and she used it on the title page. Other elements were plucked from the six portraits--a bird, a gun, insects, flower--and woven into the text pages, as well as appearing like a passage into the prefatory and out the concluding pages. The jacket flaps and rear of the jacket also show how she has re-used signal elements like the passion flowers and moth and gun, all dark and shadowy in the rich blue of the background. The foliate bar code detail that Clive liked on Glimmerglass? There's a moth that has settled onto, slightly into, the bar code of Maze of Blood.

What strikes me about all these triangular relationships is that they are founded on a trust in the abilities and creativity of other artists. In all cases, the people involved respected the abilities of the others and left them in freedom. While it always seemed that a good deal of collaboration was happening because I was constantly seeing fresh images, in truth we were simply immersed in one another's work and having the great and happy pleasure of watching how one art generates another. Seeing the energies of the initial work flow elsewhere and generate new work is marvelous. When this sort of collaboration goes well, each person is a part of a dynamic, moving whole--as, say, one spiral branch of a triskelion.

p. s. In answer to another question, the hardcover of Thaliad is only available via the Phoenicia site. The paperback can be ordered via the usual places.

p. p. s. If you want to see Clive's lovely response and some also-lovely comments, go here. And Alan Lee has ordered three of our books! My fantasy-loving, writing-and-cartooning child was as excited as when a Diana Wynne Jones blurb arrived for Ingledove.

p. p. p. s. All the above is an attempt to describe something that is simple, full of love and joy and magic.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Favorite Books of 2015

Hurrah, Maze of Blood is in Favorite Books of 2015, "Books and Culture Magazine." I'm grateful to be on the list, along with some very interesting writers (Hey, Santa, I want A. M. Juster's St. Aldhelm's riddles!)

Still waiting for Lady Word of Mouth to start gossiping about this book. Please take a look at review clips on the Maze of Blood page if you're interested. All I want for Christmas (other than St. Aldhelm's riddles) is more readers for this book.

Oh, and I'm so pleased that they mentioned "a gorgeous cover and illustrations by Clive Hicks-Jenkins." Because the collaborations we've done don't get enough mention for the art--stellar art and also design. Design work on Maze of Blood by the wonderful Mary-Frances Glover Burt of Burt and Burt, with stellar production values from Mercer University Press.

Friday, December 11, 2015


I've already posted this on Facebook and twitter, so I'm not sure if I need to do it here, but if you would like a copy of my end-of-the-year newsletter by email, please leave me a note via twitter messages, Facebook messages, email, or in the comments (with the [at] construction, please!)

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Teeny note: recommended

If you have an interest in literature, what's happened to English studies in post-post-modern period, and the soul-sucking ideas some mainstream professors might be inculcating in our children, you might just take a look at Lisa Riddick's article at The Point, "When Nothing is Cool."
Clip: "I have spoken with many young academics who say that their theoretical training has left them benumbed. After a few years in the profession, they can hardly locate the part of themselves that can be moved by a poem or novel. It is as if their souls have gone into hiding, to await tenure or some other deliverance."

Saturday, December 05, 2015

You asked, no. 1: motherhood and the arts

Art by Clive Hicks-Jenkins for Maze of Blood
The reflections about more life (motherhood) being helpful to a writer (and an artist) might be good to have out there, too. When I was a new mother, it seemed like my hands might be tied forever. It made me scared. Two more children later, I realized how much more material I had, and how many more things I felt strongly about. Reassurance from seasoned creative mothers could be so helpful to a new creative mothers who might be feeling the panic, or helplessness. I remember looking online at the time for artist mother role models who were pulling this off successfully, and having trouble finding examples. --artist Kim Vanderheiden
I often notice writers or artists talking about how their children are keeping them from work. Just last week I read a piece by a highly successful young writer with a Guggenheim and several books in her bag. But now she has a baby and can't seem to write something she likes. Well, really, is that a huge surprise or a tragedy? I doubt it.

You know, this idea that we have to do our art every day is an idea custom-made for men. Made for men! It does not fit the average mother's life. If a mother cannot manage it, fine. She will do what she can. Mothers are needed by children, while writers and painters and so on are simply not needed by children. Not needed. At all. Oh, children might enjoy spotting a mother's book or painting in a shop or gallery, but it's not important to their lives. A mother is deep down vital to their lives.

Some of us are obsessed. I seem to be one of those. There's no particular virtue in being obsessed, just as there's no particular virtue in not being obsessed. I wrote my first book (my first published book) with my first baby on my lap. My second book was written on the landing of the stairs. We were in a condo for a year, and I could see into the sunken living room through stair railings, and sometimes I encouraged my children to play there when I wanted to write a little. I also used nap time, and I stayed up late to write.

Obviously, I wrote that book in little bits and pieces. No doubt that affected the book. And no doubt having small children affected the book. I've had people tell me that Catherwood made them cry, or made them stop reading for a week because they were grieved. Somebody told me that they were amused to see that an Amazon review of the book said it was almost too heart-wringing! Why? Because I had a son of two and a baby daughter. To love more (and in a new way) is to be bigger than before. I had more to care about, more to lose, more to feed my writing. All my intense mother-love rained down on that book. More life should never be a mistake for an artist of any sort because art craves a sense of life and energy.

But if a woman simply can't do her work with small children for an extended period, that's okay, too. She's getting bigger on the inside all the time (and I'm not talking pregnancy, though that sometimes happens as well.) Motherhood stretches us. It's joyful and wild and full of work and difficulties and exhaustion. Children sometimes turn out to have syndromes or deficits a mother never expected. And even without those difficulties, children and parents learn that the song is right: growing up is hard to do. Always. Challenges can be good for us as artists, if we don't insist on having our own way. Because children aren't about letting a mother have her own way. But they are about growing, and they will make a mother grow too. And that's good for the work.

Sometimes even the obsessed can't manage. I have to confess that it was harder for me to write something sustained when we moved back South when my children were small, and it wasn't just because I wanted to go outside and play. Some passages in life are simply more difficult than others and impossible to plan for. My children needed me in new and different ways as they grew, and they slept less. I kept writing, but I think of the years between the second and third book as years when I wrote a lot of work that I threw away later or stockpiled. Lots of poems, lots of sketches. My husband was doing some intense training that meant I didn't always have a lot of help. My father became quite ill with the disease that would kill him ten years later. And I was very sick during my third pregnancy and afterward. We also moved three times in the space of five years. I sold two houses as a result, while my husband left for new work a thousand miles away, well before the children and I moved. That was a whole lot of upheaval and change to manage.

Extreme measures can occasionally feel possible for short bursts of time. When we moved to Cooperstown, I unpacked the whole house, all but my writing room. I put my computer on my writing table and wrote a novel, The Wolf Pit. I wrote it after my three children were in bed, after I had finished the laundry, after everything else that needed to be done was done. My husband was already a grand cook, and he really took over when we moved. So I didn't have that job to do any more. Managing was still hard. I sometimes finished a night's work at 4 a.m. Then I erupted out of bed (seemingly about five minutes later) to wake my children at 7:00, in order to see the older two off to school. When I was done with my draft, I caught up on sleep, unpacked my writing room, and started tinkering and revising in little bits of time during the day. The book came out from FSG right after the tragic day we call 9-11. It got a nice national award and some great attention, but the timing was terrible, of course. I've never quite recovered from the bad timing because publishing and book-selling are governed by numbers (so thank you for supporting my in-print books.)

Now when I am not writing, I don't worry. I think of myself as fallow. I am like a field that will produce in a great explosion of spring. But perhaps it is not spring yet. Perhaps in a month I will be writing a novel, wishing to be with it all the time. Perhaps I will be having a crazy sluice of new poems. I am old enough that I have faith that what has drifted away will return again because I know my own patterns, and how I work best.

A good parallel example of how to keep going and manage to work daily shines through Luisa Igloria's post about daily writing on The House of Words series: it's here. Luisa has four daughters and a busy professional life, and she has managed at least a half hour per day for her writing for years. I don't know if she could have managed it when her children were younger. I expect if painting had been her thing, she might be doing a tiny oil painting or a sketch or a small woodcut in her bits of time, as she likes to complete something each day. And she would be, as a result, able to do better and better work on that scale, and be more ready for any bigger work as well.

We all need to have threads running to others who love what we love, and those threads can steady us and give us someone who has sympathy with our situation. People like Luisa have been important to me. I want to make beauty, do the occasional teaching gig, and be a mother, and Luisa's life is a kind of parallel to mine, except that I quit teaching full-time long ago, and so she juggles even more than I do. Luisa and I chat frequently, and we share woes and joys that come with motherhood and being writers. We're happy or sad for each other, depending on the event, and that's wonderfully helpful. I live in a place with few writers, so it's especially sweet for me. Similarly, my local friendship with painter Ashley Norwood Cooper is one where we get together to talk about a life in the arts, leaping about from children (three each) to work to goals. We live in a fairly obscure place, so it's lovely to know someone living a somewhat parallel life. I have many other friends in the arts, but knowing a good number who are trying to be mothers and also make their art feels helpful to me.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for both men and women in the arts is the fact that most of them are to varying degrees invisible as artists, so that their work is little known, or less well known than it should be. We live in a winner-takes-all time where few are pushed and promoted. Artists look around and often see that lesser work is puffed and promoted and feel that it is hard to go on. Plenty of women feel that the game is tilted toward men, but plenty of men are left out of the inner circle of marketed and promoted artists, too. A woman who feels that way and also has a few children may feel her path is just too difficult, that she is too alone in what she longs to achieve. That's another reason why constructing a circle is so important--to spend time with other people who want to bring art into the world. Because the danger with a degree of invisibility is disappearing. To know and be known by others the artist respects is a way of having the work become bright and visible, and that is always encouraging. After all, no art is quite finished without its right audience.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Signposts for the gadabout

With the incredible collapsing
hummingbird cake.
I've been playing on Facebook (so fun to get hundreds and hundreds of birthday wishes from all sorts of interesting people) and twitter (which, oddly, actually does good things for my books) and ignoring my blog for a good long while. Oh, I've been fairly dutiful and put up review clips for Maze of Blood, and left a books-in-print post when I ran off to Peru and Chile and Mexico. But I have left the blog in a condition of half-dressed neglect of late. Poor child, she needs her face scrubbed and a new gown and some kid slippers.

And so I'm wondering. I haven't asked what people would like to see or read about for a long time. So. Tell. Got a question, an idea, a wish, a direction, a signpost that fits?

Here are some of the things I've thought about doing lately. Tell me if you find any of them especially interesting, or even if you find them all dull and dowdy! Tell me your own ideas for what I should do, too--they may be better than mine.

Update (ideas from an editor): "I also wanted to suggest that you branch out and write more about non-literary, non-book topics. You are fun to talk to and have plenty of ideas and opinions, and it would be interesting to your readers as well as (I suspect) yourself to talk about some other things. What's it like living in Cooperstown (both as a small town, and as a wealthy tourist town in a mostly-depressed area of the country)? How about some interviews with other artists/musicians/writers who live in the area? What are the particular challenges and/or inspirations/advantages they deal with? Do you miss the South? Why or why not? Yankee attitudes vs Southern ones? You've been traveling - will you tell us about that?"

Update (from a painter friend): And would love to hear what you say about women authors not burning down the house with all of the men in it. Actually, we should do lunch to talk about that subject... 

And a brilliant US/NZ grad student: I would love to read more about how you and Clive work with a designer. (I would love to read more about whatever you feel like writing about, also.)

And an extremely capable writer, much published: someone who has so woefully neglected her own blog, I am at a loss. Though, I do like it when you write about poetry, because as much as I love reading it, I am never very comfortable writing about it for fear of sounding like an idiot. So I enjoy reading authors who do (and you do) know how to write about it.

And thanks to the rest of you who have offered such interesting ideas here and via email and comments elsewhere. (Special thanks to Alexandria for her ideas, including a Marly-society with embossed i.d.! A writer needs people who have faith in her powers.)  

--I have a friend who won a major poetry prize and, a year out, nothing about the book has appeared. It seems the case that fewer and fewer books are able to succeed in our bestseller-winner-take-all culture, no matter how good they are. I am bothered that she has received no reviews, and I've thought about doing a little series of posts about some of the poems in the book. Alternately, I might just write a longer, meditative sort of article for some other site.

--I've also thought about an interview with the same writer.

art by Clive Hicks-Jenkins,
book design by Burt and Burt
--A lot of my friends and e-friends are in the visual arts. People tend to know about my friendship with Clive Hicks-Jenkins because of the jackets and covers, as well as the lavish interior art for Thaliad, The Foliate Head, Glimmerglass, and Maze of Blood. But I have thought about doing a little series in honor of some of my painter friends. Maybe it would focus on particular pieces. Maybe it would combine a little bit about the paintings or a painting with a question directed at the painter.

--A shopping list: off-the-beaten track books and art, focusing on people I know.

--Podcasts of poems and fiction excerpts? (Oh, I need to look for my good microphone that Paul Digby gave me!)

--I might consider writing something about how and why I've made such odd choices, often seemingly wrong-headed ones, having to do with marketing and publishers and agents and so on. But I always think it's too much to comprehend, even for me! So perhaps I don't want to do that one, though I've started it (and trashed it) before.

A head full of blooming thoughts...
Interior art by Clive Hicks-Jenkins for Maze of Blood
--And I was just reading a hip young thing's complaints about her new baby who prevents her from writing, and thought that I really ought to write something about how more life is always helpful to a writer, that we never make a mistake by embracing more life. (She also wrote about misogyny and male writers and so on, but much of that "heavy bores" me, as Henry would say. Just let me get on with my work without indignation burning in my head.)

--Here's more of a hot-button topic: what's wrong with our trendy ideas of the evils of cultural appropriation--why they are fundamentally a wrong way to think for writers.

--And here's another: why a woman writer should not "burn down the house" of literature, with all its white male dead locked inside.

--The idea of doing a piece about how Clive and I work with a designer is appealing. And I do have plans to do an interview elsewhere that puts the two of us together.

--And what about a piece about how Elizabeth Adams planned, did the art work for, and designed Annunciation (Phoenicia Publishing)?

--More on Karin Svahn's embroidery.

--Peru, Chile?

Probably some of those miss the mark. And maybe I'm not thinking of other ideas that might be splendid and suit me. Tell me what to think, and I might just follow your lead, or debate you. Ask me a question, and I just might answer.

Maze at Foreword

5 / 5 stars

The Foreword Reviews review of Maze of Blood by Clarissa Goldsmith evidently popped into the world while I was looking in another direction... 5/5 stars. You can read it here. 

Clip: Simultaneously poetic and restrained, Youmans’s portrait of Conall Weaver is honest and, at times, heartbreaking. Maze of Blood is a layered and complex exploration of human existence and the experiences that mold a person.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Maze at Bookloons

A new review by Barbara Lingen for Bookloons--see the whole review HERE. 
CLIP from the review:
Marly Youmans truly writes a unique kind of prose. This story, which is based on the life of pulp writer Robert E. Howard, could have been Texas dusty and dry, with characters as plain and weak as the mundane world around them. Instead what we get is a wealth of stories based on timeless figures both real and imagined, along with amazing descriptions of nature - all this on top of the plot itself.
...At the end we realize that a very toxic story has been bejeweled and bedecked with magical insights and sparkling prose.

Monday, November 23, 2015

In Wilson's Bookmarks

from Wilson's Bookmarks (see column here)
in "Christianity Today" (print/online)
23 November 2015
This is one of the strangest books I have read in a long while, and also one of the best. It is a novel based on the life of Texas writer Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian and many other memorable characters. Spoiler alert: Youmans’s protagonist, Conall Weaver, commits suicide at the outset, just as Howard did (at age 30), and the story proceeds in reverse chronology. Does this sound daunting? It isn’t at all, if you read with a child’s willingness to be astonished and a grown-up’s hard-won hope that somehow our tangled lives are part of a larger Story, the outlines of which we glimpse even now.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Last weekend for pre-orders, Annunciation

Sixteen Contemporary Poets Consider Mary

Poetry by
Ivy Alvarez,  Rachel Barenblat, Jeanne Marie Beaumont, Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Chana Bloch, Leila Chatti, Luisa A. Igloria, Mohja Kahf, Vivian Lewin, Vinicius de Moraes (Natalie d'Arbeloff, trans.), Roderick Robinson, Nic Sebastian, Claudia Serea, Purvi Shah, Rosemary Starace, and Marly Youmans

Illustrated and Edited by 
Elizabeth Adams

"A beautiful book, gift, and gesture: with 64 pgs of poems by 16 accomplished poets of different cultural / religious / secular backgrounds, and 10% of your purchase going to refugee relief!" with

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Mark Finn on Maze of Blood

The great images are from Sanford Allen's Candy Skulls
Mark Finn, author of a wonderful biography of Robert E. Howard, has written a review of Maze of Blood, which you can find right HERE at Candy Skulls. It's an interesting review from someone I feared might be offended by the whole idea of the book. Read the whole piece for a sense of how Howard fans might feel about my Conall Weaver, and for a sense of how the book relates to the life. Also, if you want to know how to make bacon-infused bourbon for a glass of Blood and Thunder...
Clip from the review: Youmans’ language is exquisite. She is clearly and obviously a poet, and her skill at choosing simple words to evoke complex pictures is well-served here. And, if I may be so bold, she knows a lot about Howard’s life, as well. I’m not sure if she’s a closet fan or an avid researcher. I’d like to find out what drew her to the subject matter. But Maze of Blood is a transformative work, as each event in Conall’s life is given resonance and stories told to him are filtered through his experience and retold on the printed page. That’s the essence of understanding Robert E. Howard, and Marly Youmans gets it.
     It was also nice to see her treating the delicate subject matter of Howard’s suicide with respect and gravitas. Her Conall Weaver isn’t so much like Robert E. Howard as the book goes on. Some of the more outlandish myths around Howard serve the fiction better than the man.
     In the end, Maze of Blood is a book I would tentatively recommend to less-sensitive Robert E. Howard fans, and unreservedly recommend to lovers of magical realism and stories about writers telling stories. There’s a lot of layers in Maze of Blood, but it’s that complication that makes the novel so rewarding. 
And here is my response to his curiosity about what drew me to the material.

* * * 

Dear Mark Finn,

So pleased that you found things to like in the novel. Truly, I am grateful that you did, as I loved your account of REH's life and always recommend it to the curious. 

And so, in gratitude for your book, I will answer the question you have about "what drew her to the subject matter." Perhaps it is a little surprising; I don't know how it will appear to you. 

As a child, I spent part of every summer in little bugtussle towns in a part of Georgia that felt kindred to hot, dry places in Texas. Half of the time I spent there was on my paternal grandparents' sharecropped 40-acre farm--a very poor, a very different world than my adult world. When I came to read about Cross Plains (I was completely unable to change that perfect name), I knew exactly how a yearning young writer would feel, wandering in places that were not the least interested in and did not need a writer, that in some innocent sense sought to destroy him. I had been that out-of-place, home-but-not-home, observant person when visiting the two branches of my family in Georgia. 

Moreover, there are two figures in my paternal family line who were driven, obsessive, bright, and socially awkward--who seemed to create their own eccentric worlds within the larger world, damn the consequences. One of them was also obsessed with weight-lifting and running in the early twentieth century, a time before those things were accepted. And I will readily admit that I am an obsessive sort of writer myself. So I felt REH as kindred, felt that I knew him, felt that he could have found a place in my family tree. In my life, I have loved (that complicated dance!) family members who seemed very much like him.

While I did read REH's stories and poems (I think it's sad he gave up on the poetry, though I understand why) and am fascinated by the whole idea of making iconic figures that stick in our cultural imagination, it was the life that most compelled me. I did not choose to make a book that would be solely "about" him--I wanted to shape it as I pleased, and so I do not claim the license of a biographer to use his name. 

I like to do something different from what I have done before, each time I make a book, and this time I used a life as a kind of template. For me, that sort of license goes back to Shakespeare, who showed us the fascination of borrowing an outline and some details and then coloring at will--displaying the energy and freedom of bridging gaps, leaping from point to point. 

So you might say that I ran to the coastal edge of Howard's writing and leaped off into my own strange seas. Anything less would have been derivative. I wanted to make a book that did justice to a man's essential yearning and loneliness. I wanted to praise and reveal the figure of a visionary caught in a complex maze that would have surprise and blind passages and beauty and savagery. 

Well, I find that it has taken me more lines to explain what drew me to the material than I expected. Thank you again for your interesting, generous words, and for the revelation that is bacon-infused bourbon....



And in answer to various people (mostly facebookians), I will eventually say something about my travels in Chile, Peru, and Mexico. Yes, wondrous!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Jiggedy-jig, and Jeff Sypeck on Maze of Blood

Back from three wondrous weeks of adventure at Santiago, Valparaiso, Huaca Pucllana, Lima, Cuzco, Machu Picchu, Chichen Itza, and other points to the south. Posts will resume after jet lag ebbs!

In the meantime, here's a new piece about Maze of Blood from writer and poet Jeff Sypeck. 

Clip from the review: 
Howard wouldn’t have liked Maze of Blood; the novel is propelled not by a straightforward plot or by swashbuckling action but by subtle, non-linear vignettes that gently peel away the layers of Conall Weaver’s mind. Still, Youmans does Howard justice, taking him more seriously than many people close to him ever did. When Conall’s girlfriend wonders “why a tale has to have so much thrashing about in it . . . as though a story were a Mexican jumping bean, and inside is some horrible larval thing that’s trying to get out,” Youmans portrays their clash as the latest failed connection in a fervent life:
     “But hardly anybody ever stumbles on a buried city or a labyrinth. Nobody ever finds magical snakes sneaking through the ground. Nobody ever tries to steal somebody’s soul.”
     “Oh, I don’t know. It seems to me like rattlesnakes are always magically underfoot in Texas. And I don’t know about you, but these gourd-headed people are always sneaking around, trying to find and steal my soul. They want to bottle it up somehow, so that I can’t get out. And labyrinths? Labyrinths are funny places. A job at the five-and-dime can mean being shut up in a too-symmetrical labyrinth, needing to find a way out. A family tree can look like a drawing of a maze, all disorderly and full of dead ends and hushed-up horrors. Even a prairie or a desert can be a labyrinth, if you look at it right. Lots of people are caught in one and can’t find their way out, or don’t like the only path out. Maybe I’m one of those people.”
     Maybelline made a gesture as if throwing off unrealistic dilemmas. 
Maze of Blood is an implicit defense of fantasy. The escapism it inspires isn’t frivolous; it’s rooted in the true lives—the true needs—of writers and readers alike.

What I appreciate most about Maze of Blood is that Marly Youmans doesn’t treat the troubled writer as a testosterone-addled buffoon, nor does she let his strange, fierce attachment to his mother overshadow his complex inner life. Instead, she’s sensitive to the possibility that he’s a kindred spirit in the arts, an inspired storyteller stuck in the absolutely wrong place and unable, emotionally or intellectually, to escape.


Above are images of Jeff Sypeck's books--Becoming Charlemagne (nonfiction), Looking Up (poems inspired by National Cathedral gargoyles), and The Tale of Charlemagne and Ralph the Collier (translation.) Links to purchase them can be found at Quid plura?

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

In-print roundup

Novel inspired by the life and times of pulp writer Robert E. Howard.
Jacket and interior art by Clive Hicks-Jenkins.
Design by Mary-Frances Glover Burt.
Mercer University Press, just out!

More here.
Amazon book info. Find an Indie.
"a strange and wonderful book" --editor John Wilson
"a haunting tale of dark obsessions and transcendent creative fire, 
rendered brilliantly in Youmans' richly poetic prose"  --Midori Snyder. Full review here
Dear friends and readers, I am taking a little break from the blog. I leave you with this list of my books in print. (Some of the earlier ones should be back in print soon.) Happy reading to you! Meet you here anon....

Novel. A failed painter chases her muse, and more.
ForeWord Indiefab finalist.
Jacket and interior art by Clive Hicks-Jenkins.
Design by Mary-Frances Glover Burt.
Mercer, 2014

More here.
AmazonFind an Indie.

It’s brilliantly well-written, shockingly raw, and transportingly—sometimes confusingly (but not in a bad way)—weird.... It’s difficult to overstate the emotional effect that Glimmerglass has had on me. This is a beautiful, complex, moving book. Marly Youmans’s prose flows like clear water, and every image is, as Cynthia observes, “full of meaning” (p. 39). --Tom Atherton. Read the complete review here.
Nature, architecture, dread, thrill, sexual dilemma, and murder echo against Youmans’ gorgeous prose and terrifying romance, which glides like a serpent―without a single extraneous or boring word. Youmans is my favorite storyteller. I come back to her as if to a holy well. --poet Jeffery Beam

Novel. A Depression-era orphan, searching for light.
ForeWord BOTYA Silver Award & The Ferrol Sams Award.
Design by Mary-Frances Glover Burt.
Mercer, 2012.

More here.
AmazonFind an Indie.
Its themes and the power of its language, the forceful flow of its storyline and its characters have earned the right to a broad national audience. --John M. Formy-Duval full review here.
Every page in this book resonates with beautifully crafted language, a "universal melody that sings of deep loss and conciliation," and a moving story of a young boy, who after the death of his beloved younger brother, takes to the rails in Depression-era America. I agree with one reviewer that said this is destined to be an American classic. --Nancy Olsen, Publishers Weekly Bookseller of the Year
Long post-apocalyptic poem with epic, adventure, and novelistic tendencies.
HC Jacket / pb cover and interior art by Clive Hicks-Jenkins.
Design by Elizabeth Adams.
Montreal: Phoenicia Publishing, 2012

Note: The hardcover is available via Phoenicia only.
Paperback via the usual suspects!
More here.
AmazonFind an Indie.
It's a high water-mark of what's possible... It's old school book-crafter perfect. With that book you leapt from being one of my favorite writers to a game-changer. The literary sphere will have to catch up to what I and others have already seen--but there is no doubt it is a remarkable achievement. --James Artimus Owen
This is a beautiful and powerful book--worth owning, worth reading and rereading. I am so glad that it exists in the world and that I can turn to it, time and again, glorying in the language and the hope. --Rachel Barenblat, "Marly Youmans' Thaliad," from Velveteen Rabbi

And a collection of poems, some very green!
Now in second printing.
Art by Clive Hicks-Jenkins.
Design by Andrew Wakelin.
UK: Stanza Press, 2012.

More here. 
AmazonFind an Indie.
Ben Steelman, The Star News (Wilmington, NC) 9 November 2014
I have been meaning to write for years about “The Foliate Head,” her 2012 poem cycle 

about the Green Man, published in Britain by Stanza Press, which must rank as 
one of the most beautiful books of the 21st century. Notable are the illustrations 
and illuminations by the Welsh artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins.

Another collection of poems, The Throne of Psychewith hc jacket / pb cover art by Clive Hicks-Jenkins
and immaculate design work by Mary-Frances Glover Burt.
Mercer, 2011.
More here.
Amazon. Find an Indie.

...Youmans is a traditionalist in her use of forms, and her work will delight those who enjoy classical poetry with direction and structure, yet her strong and inventive metaphors and similes evoke an otherness that only Coleridge attained....wholly beautiful and brilliant. Youmans is a writer of rare ability whose works will one day be studied by serious students of poetry. Greg Langley, Books editor,The Baton Rouge Advocate, October 2, 2011

Saturday, October 24, 2015

A tour in the South: postcards

At a panel, Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance
trade show, Raleigh, North Carolina.
My events there were Moveable Feast and a panel.

Reading from Maze of Blood at City Lights,
Sylva, North Carolina.
Photo by Ally Vickery.
Putting the mike back on for Q & A
With singer-songwriter Rebekah White,
photographer and designer Ansel Olsen
and our host, painter Mark Sprinkle.
Photo: Tracie Meadows

The Makers Series, Richmond
Photo: Mark E. Sprinkle

Mid-way break, Saturday workshop, Richmond
Photo: Mark E. Sprinkle

Photo: by Mark Sprinkle

Memory, with olives--

detail from Clive Hicks-Jenkins art in Maze of Blood
The five of us--no, we were just four then--stopped at a pizza place in Durham after looking at used cars. Our daughter was probably three, a little blond curly-top. She asked for black olives on the pizza, and the waitress told her that they didn't have black olives. R. didn't say anything, but her eyes filled with tears. But when our pizza came, it was black with olives. The waitress had crossed a busy highway, walked to the grocery on the other side, and bought olives to bring back and put on that pizza.

I wish that I remembered her name. I wish that we were all as kind as that young woman.

The world would be all love and olive branches.