We are very excited to be publishing The Child Eater, our very first book from Rachel Pollack, on July 3rd. Rachel was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1945 and holds an honours degree in English from New York University and a Masters in English from Claremont Graduate School. She is also a poet, an award-winning novelist and a Tarot card and comic book artist.
But we are sure you want to know more about her than that, you want the juicy information like what was the last book she couldn’t finish, her views on eBooks and if her parents have read her books. And so we are happy to bring you part 1 of our 2 part interview with Rachel letting you know all of this and more!
1. Did you always dream of becoming a writer? And if so, has it turned out to be how you always imagined it?
Yes, since I was very young. One thing I certainly did not expect was that I would write a good deal of non-fiction, in particular about tarot cards. I had never heard of them growing up.
2. Following on from that, when and why did you first start writing?
I began writing about the age of 8, on a family vacation. My parents gave me a Big Indian pad and a pencil to keep me quiet, so they must have known I wanted to write. I had in mind to write a grand fantasy epic, more or less stolen from something I’d read. I didn’t get very far, but became more serious at the age of 11, when we had a creative writing series of classes in school.
3. Do you write primarily from experience, or are you a keen researcher – and has that research ever changed the course of the story?
I don’t do much research of facts or technical details, but I read a great deal about shamanic and magical traditions around the world, and many of my stories come out of this. The Child Eater was inspired by, among other things, mediaeval Jewish myths, in particular a belief in magical severed heads of boys taken from their families before their bar mitzvah.
4. Who or what is your biggest inspiration? Why?
Fairy tales, mythology, esoteric practices, anthropological accounts, tribal shamanism. These things have an intense reality that I find very compelling.
5. Do you plan your books? And where do you begin a story, at the beginning, in the middle or at the end?
It varies from story to story. Sometimes a single detail will grab me. My novel Temporary Agency (nominated for the Nebula) began with a sentence originally intended as part of another story (“When I was fourteen, a cousin of mine angered a Malignant One.”) The Child Eater began with the severed head idea, but also something else – a gold fountain pen from the 1920s, engraved with the name M. Matyas. Just about instantly the title “Master Matyas” came to mind, and out of that the story of a boy who becomes a great wizard only to fall as far as he’d risen.
6. You’re throwing your Fantasy Dinner Party: who are your other guests, living, dead, real, mythological or made-up, and why?
Joan of Arc, just because. George Bernard Shaw, because I admire him, and he should get to meet St Joan. Isaac Luria, great Kabbalist rabbi from the 16th century. Marie Laveau, New Orleans Voodoo queen, because why not? James Joyce and Philip K. Dick, two of my writing heroes. Emily Dickinson, because she should get out of the house more. Walt Whitman, to see how he and Dickinson would get along. Arthur Waite and Pamela Colman Smith, creators of the Rider tarot deck, to learn about how they did it.
7. What was your favourite book as a child? And what was the last book you started but couldn’t finish?
Grimm’s Fairy Tales as a child. Most recent unfinished book, The Flamethrowers, by Rachel Kushner. Great stylist, but the subject of at least the first half, the art world of the ’70s, annoys me. I probably will return to it.
8. Other than writing, what would be your dream job? And what’s the most interesting job you’ve actually had?
My dream job would be high stakes poker player. My most interesting job is one I have now, faculty member in Goddard College’s MFA program for creative writing.
9. What’s the book – or who’s the author – you turn to when you’re sad, ill or worried?
No single book or author but I will distract myself with thrillers.
10. What’s your view of eBooks and online writing – blogs, fan-fiction, etc? Are you involved in any online writing yourself?
I have an intermittent blog – intermittent because the time spent writing it could be used for working on a book or story. The future of ebooks seems uncertain to me. They began with a big splash but they may have levelled out. A great many serious readers like to hold actual books.
Be sure to come back next week for the concluding part of our interview with Rachel Pollack.