For the next installment of our Celebrating Pagan Fiction series, I’m extremely excited to share my interview with C.S. McCath. I discovered her work when I read her contribution in The Shining Cities (an awesome anthology with amazing stories and the seed that sprouted the Celebrating series). I purchased her collection The Ruin of Beltany Ring and was so very happy that I did so. (Ah the instant gratification of e-books!) Her power with words, with imagery, her skill at taking your heart and manipulating it with such stories — how strange, to adore having our hearts played with, but she does so with such a deft hand. A brilliant author to have discovered, and I’m honored that she’s taken time to answer some questions for this interview. Enjoy!
What is your pagan tradition/path?
I’m a gnostic Druid with a Buddhist practice, which is to say that I revere the natural world and value the internal spiritual process. Of note, I’m a Druid member of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, and I live in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, where there is a strong Buddhist presence (Gampo Abbey is located here, in Pleasant Bay). Because I was raised a Jehovah’s Witness, rigid belief systems make me uncomfortable no matter what their origins might be, so I’ve never been able to embrace any branch of Paganism with a well-defined religious structure. I’m also less ritual-focused than I used to be and prefer to express my spirituality in meditation, wildlife rescue and vegan advocacy.
How does your particular paganism or spiritual path influence your writing?
I don’t set out to include elements of my present spiritual path in my fiction and poetry, so my work isn’t necessarily Druidry or Buddhism-focused. However, I have and do include Pagan themes in my writing overall; from religious ideologies to ritual to lifestyle choices, but this is more an artifact of my twenty-eight years in Paganism and the world-view it continues to shape in me.
Having said this, I think it’s important that readers be exposed to Pagan themes in fiction and poetry. Paganism is a minority religion, and there are so many prevalent misconceptions about who we are and what we believe. If all we offer the world by way of explanation are historical and instructional materials, then we don’t give non-Pagans the opportunity to identify with us as protagonists, antagonists and supporting characters in the human story. So whether ‘Pagan fiction’ is a genre or a means of identifying certain motifs in storytelling of all kinds, I support its growth wholeheartedly.
Was it a conscious decision on your part to write about pagan topics or was it a natural outgrowth of ‘writing what you know’?
It was both. Because my world-view is Pagan, I’ve written what I know quite a bit. However, I’ve also written for Pagan audiences because I thought my work might find a welcome there. I’m really happy to find that it has!
Do you view your fiction as religious fiction, in that it has either a didactic or an inspirational purpose?
Inasmuch as storytelling teaches us how to be human, I write fiction with a didactic or inspirational message. However, I think there is a subtle, but important difference between the work of a bard and the work of a religious fiction writer. The bard’s voice is an outgrowth of her place in a community, which means that she speaks for her people in praise, satire, hero tales, object lessons and the like, and her underlying message is always ‘this is who we are’. The mainstream religious fiction writer speaks to her people, which is why so much work in that genre is didactic or inspirational. It serves much the same function a sermon does, and its underlying message is ‘this is how you should or should not behave’. At the root of these two kinds of storytellers are the kinds of communities they work in; tribal and accountable to one another vs. individual and accountable to God. I hope we live in the former sort of community, and so I try to write as if we do.
There is an abundance of pagan-friendly stories on the market these days, especially with the gaining 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?
I think people who write self-consciously Pagan fiction are more careful about appropriate representation of the faith. I also think they take the elements of Paganism seriously; Gods, practices, community and so forth. Conversely, people who simply use Pagan tropes to tell a story are often riding the popularity wave of paranormal storytelling and either don’t know how or don’t care to be respectful to Pagans and Paganism. That’s why I really appreciated Deborah Blake’s “Witchcraft for the Paranormal Author” series of online workshops. Sadly, they aren’t running any longer, but they were a great service to non-Pagan writers, I think.
Where do you hope to see the future of pagan fiction go?
I want for it to have an equal place among the other literate voices of the contemporary Pagan community and to serve a function apart from non-fiction writing, blogging and the like. I want for it to freely describe, envision, praise and critique us with the tools unique to storytelling so that we can come to better understand ourselves by seeing through one anothers’ eyes.
Who are your favorite pagan fiction authors and/or what are the titles of some of your favorite pagan fiction works?
I’d rather point you in the direction of a brilliant, online resource for Pagan fiction, Eternal Haunted Summer. Rebecca Buchanan has been a tireless supporter of Pagan storytelling for many years, and EHS is a well-curated journal. Go explore the archives. You won’t be sorry.
[I can only heartily concur with that! Rebecca is providing us with a wonderful resource, and you should definitely take advantage of that!]
Lastly, tell us where we can find more about you and your available work?
I have a short story entitled, “N Is for Nanomachine” forthcoming in Rhonda Parrish’s A Is for Apocalypse anthology, and you can explore my other published work by visiting my web site at csmaccath.com. I’m also blogging for PaganSquare.