An Interview with Rebecca Buchanan (Celebrating Pagan Fiction)

Last week I presented an idea and, in return, I’ve gotten a fair amount of nibbles. Scheduling and interest will determine how frequent these posts are, but for now I’m happy that there is interest other than just mine own. I am also fairly thrilled that my first interviewee is none other than Rebecca Buchanan; her work and her obvious passion for storytelling was a big part of my wanting to create this series to showcase pagan fiction. Thank you, again, Rebecca, for taking the time to answer these question and to talk shop for a bit.

~*~*~*~

JD: What is your pagan tradition/path?

RB: I am Hellenistai, meaning Hellenic polytheist. I honor the Greek Gods and Goddesses. I consider myself a revivalist, rather than a reconstructionist, as I have adapted ancient practices to modern life. I also occasionally honor Deities outside the Greek pantheon, too, such as Isis and Anubis. And I have a strong interest in other traditions. I may focus on the Greek pantheon, but I find other Deities and mythologies *fascinating*.

JD: How does your particular paganism or spiritual path influence your writing?

RB: My spirituality has a *huge* influence on my writing. Actually, one could say that it is virtually the sole focus of my writing. My poetry is devotional in nature: I’ve written hymns and prayers to Deities as varied as Adonis, Bragi, Epona, Hapy, Ishtar, The Kathirat, Kuan Yin, Nemesis, Pomona, Rosmerta, Skadhi, and Zeus, to name a few (and *boy* are there a lot of Gods out there!).

It’s the same with my short fiction. While I write in a variety of genres and sub genres — fantasy, magical realism, horror, science fiction, et cetera — they almost all feature the Gods and Goddesses in some way. The Deities may appear in person, or influence events from behind the scenes, or the story may focus on a devotee.

And, yes, I am currently working on a novel, when I have the time. 🙂 It’s an alternate history romance, set in an alternate San Francisco which started as an Athenian colony. There is a gigantic statue/temple of Athena on the island we know as Alcatraz. And lost treasure. And shapeshifters. And the Romans are coming!

JD: Was it a conscious decision on your part to write about pagan topics or was it a natural outgrowth of ‘writing what you know’?

RB: Hhmmm. A bit of both. I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. Even as a child, my writing featured powerful, magical, numinous beings. My earliest tales were (very bad) Mary Sue fairy tales and myths, with thinly-disguised versions of myself as either the powerful fairy woman or Goddess, or the beautiful warrior princess who saves the day. *eyeroll*

Once I made the conscious shift to polytheism, my writing became much more deliberately focused on the Gods and Goddesses, their myths, and their ancient and modern devotees. It’s actually kind of hard for me to generate a story idea which does *not* center around one of those elements.

JD: Do you view your fiction as religious fiction, in that it has either a didactic or an inspirational purpose?

RB: It depends on the audience. 🙂 I hope that Pagan readers will find the stories both inspirational and entertaining; I hope they realize they are not alone in their devotions. As for non-Pagan readers … I seriously doubt my stories will suddenly inspire someone to begin honoring the Gods; rather, I hope they are entertained, and do not feel like they have wasted their time or been letdown.

JD: There is an abundance of pagan-friendly stories on the market these days, especially with the rising popularity and ease of independent publishing. Do you find there is a difference between material written by pagans about pagan or pagan-friendly stories and material written by non-pagans about pagans or pagan-friendly stories?

RB: Oh, definitely. In the overwhelming majority of cases, there is a noticeable difference in attitudes towards the Gods, polytheism, mythology, folklore, devotional practices, the environment, and even death in books written by Pagans versus those written by non-Pagans. Pagan authors come to the material with personal experience and a respectful awe of/belief in the Gods. That is reflected in the stories they tell. Most non-Pagan authors treat the Gods as characters, as tools to further the story the author wants to tell; and, too often, Pagan characters are just caricatures. It is also blatantly obvious when a non-Pagan author fails to do her/his homework, for instance, getting historical facts and myths wrong, misrepresenting the Gods, and so on. (Making the Deity associated with death or war the villain, for instance, is a big pet peeve of mine; it’s just lazy writing!)

I should qualify that statement by acknowledging that there are exceptions. It depends on the skill of the author — and sometimes the religious affiliation of the author is not entirely clear. MR Sellars, the author of the Rowan Gant mysteries, identifies as Pagan; Erynn Rowan Laurie, author of fireflies at absolute zero, is a Celtic Reconstructionist; H Jeremiah Lewis, author of Strange Spirits, is Hellenic; and Starhawk is part of the Reclaiming Tradition. On the other hand, I have no idea as to the spiritual affiliation of Kevin Hearne, the author of a great urban fantasy series The Iron Druid Chronicles; the same goes for Zoe Archer (The Blades of the Rose series), Kelley Armstrong (urban fantasy), Elaine Corvidae (fantasy and mystery), Seressia Glass (paranormal romance), Kylie Griffin (Goddess-oriented fantasy romance), or a host of other writers.

And … um … I should also add that just because a Pagan-friendly story is written by a Pagan does not make it *good*. I’ll take a tale rich with complex characters from a non-Pagan over a piece of drivel by a Pagan any day.

JD: Where do you hope to see the future of pagan fiction go?

RB: I want to see it grow, not just in quantity but also in quality. I want more, better stories. I want short stories, novellas, novels, anthologies, literary journals and poetry chapbooks. I want great stories by out-of-the-closet Pagan authors available not only through small press publishers, but also through the big time publishers. I want to be able to buy great Pagan stories directly from the authors at conventions and off their personal websites, but *also* find them on the shelves of libraries and mainstream bookstores.

JD: Who are your favorite pagan fiction authors and/or what are the titles of some of your favorite pagan fiction works?

RB: Oh, gosh, where to begin? When it comes to out-of-the-closet modern Pagan authors, I highly recommend

Andrew Gyll, author of Shadow Gods and Black Fire;
Galina Krasskova, who writes mostly nonfiction, but she has published some poetry pieces;
Erynn Rowan Laurie, especially fireflies at absolute zero;
H Jeremiah Lewis (aka Sannion), especially Echoes of Alexandria and Strange Spirits;
P Sufenas Virius Lupus’ anthology, The Phillupic Hymns
Lykeia’s poetry collection Hymns From the Temple;
Douglas A Rossman, especially his Theft of the Sun anthology;
Ruby Sara edited two terrific anthologies entitled Datura: An Anthology of Esoteric Poesis, and Mandragora: Further Explorations in Esoteric Poesis;
Starhawk, especially her children’s book, The Last Wild Witch.

Circle Magazine contains some great poetry and short fiction every issue, as do Parabola, Pentacle, and witches&pagans.

There are also a few Pagan-friendly works that I highly recommend:

Aphrodite’s Kiss by Julie Kenner;
The Artesia graphic novels by Mark Smylie, an epic fantasy series starring a witch warrior queen;
The Blades of the Rose by Zoe Archer, which is a great 19th century magical Tomb Raider-esque series;
The Children of Odin and The Golden Fleece by Padraic Colum and Willy Pogany;
Earth Mother by Ellen Jackson and Leo and Diane Dillon;
Greek Myths by Ann Turnbull and Sarah Young;
A Guide to Folktales in Fragile Dialects by Catherynne M Valente, as well as her poetry collection Oracles;
Medusa Jones by Ross Collins;
Omens by Kelley Armstrong;
Rain on the Mountain and Tyrant Moon by Elaine Corvidae;
Seducing the Jackal by Seressia Glass;
The Tomb of Zeus by Barbara Cleverly.

JD: Lastly, tell us where we can find more about you and your available work?

RB: I blog semi regularly at BookMusings: (Re)Discovering Pagan Literature at PaganSquare. I edit Eternal Haunted Summer, a Pagan literary ezine. I am also editor-in-chief of Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the publishing arm of Neos Alexandria; most of my short stories and devotional poetry appear in those anthologies (I am particularly proud of “Alexander’s Heart” in The Shining Cities, and “Black Leopard” in Written in Wine). I’ve also published stories on Bards and Sages Quarterly, Cliterature, and Luna Station Quarterly. I keep an up to date list of my publications at Eternal Haunted Summer so check back regularly for — I hope! — new listings.

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