This issue, we sit down with Jolene Dawe. A devotee of Poseidon, Dawe dedicated her first collection of short stories to the Greek God of the Sea. After falling in love with her second anthology, The Fairy Queen of Spencer’s Butte and Other Tales, we decided it was time for an interview. Here, Dawe discusses her love of Poseidon, the pains of self-publishing, and the lessons to be learned from NaNoWriMo.
EHS: If you could correct one common misconception about modern Paganism, what would it be?
Jolene Dawe: This is a tough question, mostly because I don’t really run into a whole lot of preconceived notions regarding modern paganism, from outside of paganism. The furthest south I’ve ever lived has been Philadelphia; I’ve managed to avoid the Bible Belt, and my experiences in New England was, I think, typical New England. You don’t speak of religion casually. So, I’ve never had to face the stereotypical “pagans=devil worshippers”. Thankfully.
Within modern paganism, there is often a misconception that we are all the same *sort* of pagan, and there’s an awful lot of pagan=Wicca/witchcraft. And it can, but it also needn’t. There’s been a push to tighten up the meaning of the word pagan, and I think that’s a shame. I love the broadness of the term, I love the nuances. That may be my love of language coming through. It opens one up to conversation, to story-telling, to defining personally what ‘pagan’ means to you. It’s a certain type of mystery and magic there, and I love it.
EHS: How do your writing and your spirituality intersect? How do they influence one another?
JD: Writing is my meditation. Ages ago, when I was a young pagan, writing was how I visualized, how I’d approach guided meditations. It was the first thing, the instinctual thing, that allowed me to keep the borders between the worlds . . . fluid. Writing is my vehicle through the veil, I suppose. Originally, I wrote to process my life experiences. It was the one way I could release my emotions safely, and more or less privately, hidden behind characters and fictionalized situations.
My spirituality is one that focuses on compassion, healing, and exploration, applied to myself as well as toward others, and writing is a very perfect tool for such a focus. I have ceremony and pomp, devotional activities that I do to honor the gods and spirits in my life and in my family, but if I set the writing aside, all of those things become flat and meaningless, eventually. It doesn’t even matter if my material makes it out into the world — that’s a drive that I have, but it’s not why I write the stories that come to me. And I do believe they come to me, at least some. I really do see myself as more of a conduit, a channel, rather than a creator. I’m a polytheist, right? I don’t sit and wonder which story is “real” or which version of that story is “real”, but I do treat the major characters, the ones who seem to bring the story or the concept to me, as if they were as real as my gods are. I serve them by telling the stories to the best of my ability. I talk to them, I fight with them sometimes. They exist outside of myself, and writing, story telling, is truly the foundation of how I interact and understand the world.
EHS: What is your writing process like? Do you outline in great detail or just sit down and start writing? Do you engage in a lot of research? Is your writing area covered in books and post-it notes?
JD: I sit down and start writing! I’ve tried doing outlines, but I tend to lose all interest in the story, once I’ve outlined — apparently my brain decides that the story is already told. I’ve also tried writing non-linearly, but mostly what works for me is to plot out a few scenes ahead of where I am in the writing, and not much further. There are exceptions, of course, and I generally know my end-goal, but I try not to bounce around too much, as I write. A part of the process for me, especially for longer works, is to be halfway through the book, or nearly done, and have the story collapse — which is why I’ve tried to make outlining work for me. I must be a masochist, because I’ve found that I live for those “ah-ha!” moments when half the book is in rubble around me, and the True Story emerges from the ruins.
Once upon a time my writing area used to contain books and notes, but we had one cat who expressed her displeasure for random piles by . . . er . . . ruining them, and so I’ve been trained out of that habit. I rarely take notes. The Internet spoils me for random fact checking, and since I don’t write historical fiction, I don’t worry too much about such things. I’ve learned that too much topic-specific-research does to whatever I’m writing what too much outlining does. Unless the research is in the realm of nature and animals, and then I can research forever.
JD: Words cannot hope to capture my devotion, adoration, dedication to, and love of this wonderful, generous, great God. Poseidon is why I am alive, why I can see joy and wonder around me, why I can continue to tell stories. I’ve come to believe, as I’ve grown older, that in order to truly tell a good story, one needs to be willing to connect to the human condition, to humanity in general — stories are a human thing — storytelling and the creation of textiles is, in my mind, the things that make us human. They are the foundation of civilization, of human history itself. Poseidon took me from a cynical, jaded, hostile child, and put my feet upon the path of healing, of health and well-being. Treasures From the Deep was thanking Him, as best I could, with the best I had to offer — my writing. It’s me at my most me.
EHS: What is your favorite classical myth featuring Poseidon? Which resources about that God would you recommend to those who are curious about him?
JD: I’m not sure I have a favorite, honestly. I delight in coming across the lesser known things — such as His being hidden among a flock of lambs after His birth, rather than being swallowed, as happens in the more common story. I adore Pausanias’ travelogues for this very reason. I’m not nearly as well-read as I’d like to be, with the primary sources; I don’t like having to wade through the histories of nations and kings to get to the stories about the gods, and there is so much primary source material to get to. I do always recommend Walter Burkert’s Greek Religion, of course, and I’m a fan of Nilsson’s Greek Folk Religion. That said: I’m at heart an experiential pagan. If you want to learn about Poseidon, go light a candle or take a walk, go to some water source, and open your mind up to Him. Read one of His hymns, and go and seek Him out. The gods don’t live in the books; They don’t live in the past; They are not controlled by our cultural lenses. If you are curious about Him, seek Him out.
EHS: The Fairy Queen of Spencer’s Butte and Other Tales, your second collection, is set primarily in and around Eugene, Oregon. Why that area?
JD: It’s home! When Beth and I decided to move here in 2008, we knew very few people in the area. We knew we wanted to leave Philadelphia, and we were pretty sure we wanted to head west. So much of that move fell into place with ridiculous ease considering the obstacles involved — selling a house, finding a place to rent, moving nine animals across the country, finding jobs, etc. — that I couldn’t not feel a bit blessed by the spirits of the area . . . That, combined with reading up on the history of the area, the folktales of the area, and catching little story snippets down this alley or by that tree or near this river . . . There were stories that wanted to be told. And once I decided upon a collection of stories as a sort of thanksgiving, once I opened myself up to the tales around me, I was flooded. I’m still flooded. Now it’s just about finding the time to get them out, out of me and out into the world.
EHS: So, I take it you are a fan of Spencer’s The Fairy Queen?
JD: I’ve actually never read it. Before writing The Fairy Queen of Spencer’s Butte, I wasn’t much of a fairy fan. They were not my favorite fantasy creature, nor my favorite creature of myth. I have a sort of dislike of the “European gods=faeries” trope that’s common in fantasy these days. (Because the type of not-human matters so much??). I wanted my gods to be gods, my faeries to be faeries, etc. Neat, orderly boxes, yeah? So, I’d read stories about gods or spirits, but it was rare for me to read anything that dealt overmuch with the fey, and especially delving into the court stories. This has changed, since then, and my fairy queen is one of my most favorite characters ever. I do adore Thistle, and she’s so amazing to write. But, I haven’t read much of the classical “fairy” fairytales.
EHS: Any suggestions for authors considering self publishing?
JD: Formatting is a pain in the ass. Resign yourself to that fact.
I am in so many ways only an amateur when it comes to indie publishing. I barely do any marketing or promotion — I simply don’t have much time, between the day job and writing and being with my family. I’m trying to remember how much I hate formatting, as I go, so that I won’t be sloppy, but really, I don’t believe I have much experience under my belt to offer suggestions for this.
EHS: You took on National Novel Writing Month this year. What did you learn from the experience? Any advice you can offer others who might be considering NaNoWriMo?
JD: First and foremost: get it clear in your mind from the beginning why you are participating in NaNoWriMo, and then don’t let other people negatively influence you. I see far too many people willing to pull one another down, and it’s unfortunate. We should be building one another up, or at least not actively trying to tear one another down. My own experience was pretty amazing. I went into November with zero planning on the project I was going to work on, and in fact, it wasn’t something I really wanted to work on. It was more of a project I’d been putting off for years. I’m glad I took the time for it, and I learned that the things I expected to dislike about NaNoWriMo, such as the pace, I actually enjoyed, and am planning on keeping. I didn’t like the ‘delete nothing’ rule that I held to for the month — I’d rather reach day 30 with fewer than 50k words, if they are mostly all usable, and the mess that is my NaNo project is . . . headache-worthy, at best. So, I can see the value in it, for getting words out of the reluctant or hesitant writer, but that’s not me, at this point.
And I really liked the graphs. Those, more than anything else, helped make the progress feel tangible.
EHS: What project did you work on during NaNoWriMo? Any chance we’ll see it in print or online?
JD: It is a right mess, is what it is! “Inundated” was supposed to be a sort of “life as a devotee of Poseidon’s, and His modern day worship” but it wound up being something of a life-memoir. I am not at all happy with the level of myself that’s in there, and I do not like at all its rawness. There was a purging, to be sure, in the writing of it, and I gained some awesome insight into myself and the stories I tell myself about myself. It was humbling.
It is also a right mess. I’m going to let it sit for a time, and see about neating it up, getting a bit of myself out of it, and seeing where we are after that.
EHS: Your blog, The Saturated Page, is subtitled “Life with book, fiber, critters, and rain.” Why?
JD: I live in the Willamette Valley, in Oregon. The oft-totted statistics are that we see the sun for something like 60 days out of the year. I’m not sure how true that is, but it does rain here. A lot. I love it. We are a household of many animal companions — at the time I created that blog, we had six cats and a dog, and we had only recently gone from eight to six cats — plus two that were not ours that we were caring for. We moved into a smaller place, and had to rehome two of our pride. In the convening years, we’ve lost two of our girls to old age and illness, but we still have four cats and one small dog in a three room apartment — and we are thriving! They love being close to one another and snuggling. We also have as many spinning wheels as we do rooms, and though I’m not a spinner myself yet, I do much enjoy knitting and the whole fiber processing . . . er, process. The absolute worst thing about our space is there is not nearly enough book space. There could be, but that would require fewer shrine spaces . . . Happily, we have a storage shed. Those poor books.
EHS: Which book fairs, conventions or other events will you be attending in the foreseeable future?
JD: Absolutely none. Maybe eventually, but traveling is pretty much restricted to family visiting, at this point.
EHS: What other projects are you working on?
JD: I’m roughly halfway through the first book in my upcoming Stewards War series. The first book, Born of Flame, introduces the series and the world that goes along with it. McCredie Day is having a perfectly fine day out with her family, thank you very much, until her son slips and falls to certain death. When presented with the choice, her life for her son’s life, she doesn’t really have much choice at all. . . I’m not sure if I’m going to try to pick up a traditional publisher, or if I’m going to stick with indie publishing. (I really, really hate formatting). It’s a three to four book series that I’m best able to describe as contemporary, pre-through-to-post apocalyptical epic fantasy. It’s set here and now-ish, at least parts, but the world as we know it is on the brink of destruction. Also, there are dragons! Which amuses me because I’ve never really been a huge dragons-in-fantasy fan, anymore than I’ve been a huge fairies in fantasy fan. And look at me. Because the other book in progress is a full-book spin off of The Fairy Queen of Spencer’s Butte, from the collection of the same name. Last laugh on me, right?