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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Jeannine Hall Gailey Talks About ‘The White Doe’

[Interviewer’s Note: This is a series of interviews featuring the contributors of The Beastly Bride: Tales of the Animal People edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling.]

Jeannine Hall Gailey is the author of Becoming the Villainess, published by Steel Toe Books in 2006. Poems from the book were featured on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac, Verse Daily, and two poems from the book appeared in 2007’s The Years’ Best Fantasy and Horror. She volunteers for Crab Creek Review as a contributing editor and currently teaches for National University’s MFA program.

Charles Tan: Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, what is it about fairy tales and myths that interests you?

Jeanine Hall Gailey: I was one of those kids who always had their heads buried in a book; usually it was one of Andrew Lang’s Fairy books or a book of Greek mythology. I’ve always thought those stories had very interesting tropes and archetypes; for women, especially. I’ve always thought these stories contain interesting lessons, beyond the obvious ones – that children, for example, should be at least as wary of their own parents as they are of strangers; that being bold and clever can outweigh socioeconomic constraints. The coded messages about marriage and courtship are particularly interesting.

CT: How did you decide that “The White Doe: Three Poems” would be composed of three poems?

JHG: I didn’t! I wrote one poem, then another, and then the third. One poem was basically a retelling of the old French fairy tale called “The White Doe,” and the other two are written from the point of view of the doe. I think “The White Doe Decides” is my favorite of the three, because I took more liberties with the story and character.

CT: I loved the way you weaved the words with the narrative. In your opinion, what is it about poetry that a regular short story wouldn’t have been able to accomplish, especially in this case?

JHG: Thanks for your kind words. What does poetry do that short stories do not? As a poet, I like to think that poetry is more dependent on music, on a lyric moment, than fiction. Poetry also allows space for more of a cognitive leap than most fiction – that ability to jump, and have the reader follow you on faith. I like the idea that poetry can pack the same punch as fiction, even tell a story or give you insight into a character, in a more compressed way.

CT: The subversion at the end is very important. For you, why is it important that we give old stories a revised, empowering voice?

JHG: When I rediscovered the fairy tale, I was shocked by the fact that this young prince basically falls in love with a picture, goes and curses her to be a doe by opening the door the princess’s mother told him not to open, and then shoots the princess in her doe form. Then they go off and get married? That sounds like a fantastic courtship…not! So I started thinking – what if the princess preferred staying in the dark, or preferred staying in her white doe form? Either choice has got to be better than marrying that prince. I often write persona poems in which characters act in a different way than one might expect; here, I just thought the princess deserved a better ending and a voice for her own opinions.

CT: What is it about the Beastly Bride concept that appeals to you?

JHG: Well, my first book, Becoming the Villainess, was all about the stories of transforming women, mainly from Grimms’ fairy tales, Ovid, and comic books. I think the idea of a wife who is there but not there – not exactly what a man imagines her to be – resonates in contemporary life quite a bit. I also love the stories from other cultures – such as the Japanese kitsune wife – about the transforming bride. I’ve always admired Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow’s work, so I was excited to be part of their project, and I’m so happy and honored to be in the company of the writers in this anthology – especially Peter S. Beagle and Jane Yolen, writers I loved in my childhood that inspired me to become a writer.

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