[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.]
Nan Fry was born in Missouri, grew up in Connecticut, and now lives near the Potomac River in Maryland. She is the author of two collections of poetry, Relearning the Dark (Washington Writers’ Publishing House) and Say What I Am Called (Sibyl-Child Press), a selection of riddles she translated from the Anglo-Saxon. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals, textbooks, and anthologies, including the zine Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet; The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror: Sixteenth Annual Collection and The Faery Reel, both edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling; and The Best of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, edited by Gavin J. Grant and Kelly Link. Some of her myth and fairy tale poems can be found in the poetry archives of the Journal of Mythic Arts. One of her stories recently appeared in Gravity Dancers, an anthology of fiction by women in the Washington, DC, area, edited by Richard Peabody. She teaches at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
Charles Tan: First off, what is it about poetry that appeals to you?
Nan Fry: The language–often it is rich, compressed, musical. Poets are able to suggest much with a few well-chosen words. The music comes from a number of sources, including rhythm and a chiming or echoing of sounds.
If I had to choose my favorite element of poetry, it would be imagery, the creation of sensory experience on the page. Of course, prose writers do this too, but in poems it can be particularly intense, perhaps because of the compression and musicality of the language.
There is also an element of surprise and discovery in poetry that I enjoy. Poetry refreshes my vision, helps me see the familiar in a new way. That could be an apple, a pair of shoes–or a myth or fairy tale.
CT: What is it about the fairy tale “Rosina in the Oven” that interests you?
NF: I was particularly intrigued by Rosina’s transformation into a snake. In the original story, that is seen as a bad thing and is not developed at all. I had fun trying to imagine that “untold” part of the story. Occasionally I encounter snakes when I’m out walking my dog. I am always riveted by such a meeting and feel that I am in the presence of a mystery and a power. And of course, snakes have great mythic resonance–from the snake goddesses of the ancient world to the two snakes that spiral around the caduceus and still suggest healing.
CT: In your afterword, you mentioned how you were intending not to end the story with marriage. How did you come up with the ending?
NF: First, I would like to note that I am not against marriage–I am married myself–and think that everyone should have that option.
Secondly ,writing is a process of discovery for me. When I started “Rosina,” I knew I didn’t want to have a traditional ending, but I didn’t know what that ending would be. As I was finishing my first draft, I realized that Rosina would have been changed by her experience as a snake and that she might not fit easily into her old role as the prince’s fiancée. Once I realized that, the dialogue between the prince and Rosina came fairly quickly. The last stanza came a bit later. I wanted to end with an image that opened out and was a bit mysterious.
CT: What were the challenges in writing “Rosina”?
NF: While I had fun imagining Rosina’s life as a snake, it was also a challenge. How would she feel at first? How would she experience the world? I did a little research and then imagined how Rosina would perceive the world through her senses. What would she see, hear, feel, or smell? What would it be like to be cold-blooded and dependent on the sun for warmth? I was intrigued to discover that sunlight, which turned her into a snake, and so seemed destructive at first, became something she loved.
CT: What is it about the Beastly Bride concept that appeals to you?
NF: For me, Terri Windling expresses the appeal of this concept beautifully toward the end of her introduction when she notes that most of us long to reconnect with the wilderness outside of us and with “the wild inside each of us–and also within our lovers and spouses, the part of them we can never quite know.” The Beastly Bride concept thus allows us to explore aspects of the world and of ourselves that are remote and intimate, familiar and mysterious. I just realized, in responding to this question, that the longing to connect with animal consciousness has been a theme of mine for a long time. One of my earliest poems, “Alfalfa Sprouts,” ends with these lines: “As I eat you I graze / back to my animal past / munching the earth- / sweet grasses and hay.”
I would also like to say a bit about the series this book is part of–The Green Man, The Faery Reel, and Coyote Road. I am grateful to Terri and Ellen for keeping the old stories alive and also for providing a space to reinvent and retell them in ways that are relevant to our time. I am haunted by a phrase from one of Margaret Atwood’s Circe / Mud Poems: “the story is ruthless.” What Circe, her speaker, means is that she and her lover are doomed to live out the plot of the myth.
I prefer to believe that we can change the story–and that in doing so–we might just change ourselves and perhaps the culture as well.