[This issue, we sit down with poet and publisher Alicia Cole. Here, she discusses the creation of Priestess and Hierophant Press; the production of her audio chapbook, Darkly Told; and the importance of noms de plume to an author.]
Eternal Haunted Summer: If you could correct one common misconception about Paganism, past or present, what would it be?
Alicia Cole: I’d really like to correct the misconception that Paganism is somehow evil; I was raised conservative Christian, and the Biblical precepts against sorcery and witchcraft are what are always alluded to. You really have to take the Bible in context, though.
First, the Old Testament is founded on worship of Jehovah, a very angry and jealous deity. His warnings against sorcery and witchcraft have everything to do with separating the Jewish people from other groups; there’s also an inherent limiting of power outside of the Jewish priesthood. Individuals who practice sorcery and witchcraft know a thing or two, potentially, about influencing others, either for good or ill. Jehovah warns his chosen people about these practices so that they remain easily led by the priesthood, his chosen elite. Those who know themselves veer too close to attempting to understand the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil; while I actually wish we had not eaten of the fruit, I believe the only way back to a Biblical garden is to fully understand what was once so tempting and thus make it no longer so.
End of story: we now understand and choose good over evil, or at least have the rationale to understand that both exist in all individuals and the negative is handle-able.
So, back to the question at hand. Paganism, which, while encompassing sorcery and witchcraft, is not necessarily either, is just a religion concerning the Earth and all her myriad beings. There is nothing inherently evil about loving the Earth; it’s just a concept brought on by a faith that’s very non-egalitarian in terms of personal spiritual know-how.
EHS: How do you define your particular spiritual path? Do you belong to a specific tradition?
AC: I’m a pantheistic individual. Absolutely everything to me is part of one Universal Divine. I practice Reform Judaism and Voodou. I’m very passionate about healing work, so I practice faiths that specifically promote healing. I need to be part of healing this world.
EHS: You recently launched Priestess and Hierophant Press. First, congratulations! Second, why did you decide to launch a publishing house?
AC: Thanks! I really wanted to see a publishing house on the market that combined esoteric and spiritual subjects with fine arts and speculative works; basically, three areas of passion for me in publishing. I wish I could have published Austin Osman Spare and W.B. Yeats. I’d like to find their ilk, and publish them.
P&H is a return to something I was doing right out of high school, at 18, a fiction/sequential art project called Deadline Anthology. Nineteen years later, I’m finally back. I really enjoy self-publishing, every aspect from selection to editing to layout and design. It’s a true passion. At the end of this life, I want to run my fingers down the spines of every book I’ve ever published, and I hope they’re many.
EHS: Why did you decide to call it Priestess & Hierophant? Does that have special meaning for you?
AC: It’s a tough meaning now. I decided to call the publishing house Priestess & Hierophant because I’m a Priestess and was, at the time, married to a Hierophant. We went our separate ways. Now, I look at the name, and I think of Priestess & Hierophant as the eternal female/male balance inside of myself. So, if you see me out and about, I’ll be representing both gendered concepts of spiritual leadership.
EHS: What are you looking for in submissions? And what are you definitely not looking for?
AC: I’m looking for either an exemplary submission in one of our categories, or a really fine mix of the three. I’d love to see the latter, but am equally open to the former. I need to see that you know your craft, both the creative and editing sides, and that you’ve really put thought into your work and submission. Please always follow the submission guidelines with me, down to the last detail. I value attention to detail.
I’m looking for brief, powerful works. An ideal submission for the publishing house is 20-60 pages, dense and rich, tightly edited and well thought-out. For the online component, from which I’ll do a print anthology annually, a submission of 3-5 poems, 1 short fiction work (2,000 – 3,500), 1-2 flash fiction works (less than 1,500 words each), or 3-5 images will suffice. I’ll publish the first works online in time for the year to turn at Samhain/Day of the Dead. Submissions for 1: An Offering, are due by July 31st (whatever your particular time zone, which I’d be interested in knowing, btw).
Absolutely nothing derivative needs to come across my desk. I need individuality and mastered craft, nothing juvenile. This does not mean you have to have been published previously, only that your work needs to be of an excellent caliber.
EHS: What advice can you offer those who are considering creating their own press?
Plan for the unexpected, including disaster. I went through a divorce, a down-sizing, and homelessness, but I’m still going. I just had to scale back. You may also need to scale back.
Darkly Told did so well at the World Horror Con last May that I had originally planned to publish 3-5 titles this year. I now have to scrap those plans in favor of a single author/artist book/collection and an anthology from works I’m going to publish online.
EHS: Darkly Told collects a number of your poems, but as an “audio chapbook.” Why did you decide to release them in this format, and how did you go about creating it?
AC: I’d never heard of an audio chapbook before, and had gotten it in my head that I’d love to hear my work produced in juxtaposition with a trance soundtrack. Something new, classical music sensibility for a new age, an easy pairing with my more modern mythopoetic work. I chose a series of my adult poetry that I felt best fit my personal and social commentary in terms of what horror says about trauma, and how it heals the same. I approached a voice artist and excellent writer that I know through speculative publishing to record the works. Her name is C.S.E. Cooney. Then, I approached a musical duo I know personally to contract them out for the music. Their name is Memory Splice, a husband and wife team from the Atlanta area who can be heard bi-monthly on Radio Aspekt Berlin and are part of TFB Records, out of Spain. (Aside: they have a remix recording of “Rat Catcher”, a bonus track on Darkly Told, available through TFB Records. We’re in the club!) Sara Wilson, a freelancer I found on Elance, did the cover and interior artwork. A perfect fit. I really loved producing this work; my collaborators are all brilliant, and it felt like orchestrating a symphony and designing their composition at the same time. I hope the time, effort, and delicate balance really shine through; I want everything Priestess & Hierophant produces to be this professional, if not more so.
EHS: Where can curious readers find Darkly Told, and other publications from Priestess & Hierophant?
AC: Priestess & Hierophant resides here.You can find Darkly Told on Amazon.com and the first full track is available on Soundcloud.
If any bookstores would like to carry the collection, I’d be happy to speak with you!
EHS: You write under two different names: Alicia Cole and Alice Renard. Why the noms de plume, and do you find it useful to separate your work in this way?
AC: For me, it has to do with content rating. I write for children and adults. Alicia Cole covers everything through an R rating, which of course means some discretion is advised when helping pre-adolescents in particular read my work, though I frankly don’t often write work past PG-13; my children’s work is predominantly published in children’s journals and on child-friendly websites, outside of some all-ages content that I’ve had published in magazines such as Asimov’s. I gear towards Middle Grades+ in terms of readership, though, again, I do publish some works for small children.
Alice Renard is my nom de plum for erotica. I don’t want there to ever be an issue when it comes to finding my adult work over my all-ages work. That’s why I chose a nom de plume, to help parents navigate reading my work. I find it very useful; there’s no threat of someone inadvertently giving my erotica to a child.
EHS: What other projects are you working on?
AC: I have a full manuscript of dark horror/spiritual poetry that I’m completing. I’m contemplating puppetry, which I’ve been dabbling with since last year; frankly, I need more puppets. I need to return to a series of quantum wave/particle marker drawings I was working on last year, and I have an Indiegogo that I need to fulfill. I know who you are, you two beautiful people who needed art/writing! Also, I’m hunting an open pottery wheel to work further on a series of lotuses I was designing.
EHS: Which book fairs, conventions, or other events will you be attending in the foreseeable future?
AC: I won’t be able to nail anything down this year, unfortunately, unless I’m able to secure something at my local library, currently in Huntsville, Alabama. Being transient and homeless really took its toll on me; I’m just focusing on my art production at the moment, and regaining access to anything of importance that was lost.
I’m pleased to say that this process is going well, and it’s looking to be a much more stable second half of the year, thankfully agreed on by my astrological predictions.
If you’re in New York City, check out Darkly Told at The Poets House. I’m there! Perpetually!