Regulars to my blog will know that Storm Constantine's name crops up regularly. I am a huge fan of her Wraeththu Mythos – a world to which I've had the privilege of contributing stories. This past week she's seen the release of her next offering in the setting: Blood, the Phoenix and a Rose.
Nerine Dorman (ND): One thing that can be said about your Wraeththu mythos is its longevity – the first book came out in 1987 and it’s now on the cusp of 30 years later. What makes the Mythos so vital, in your mind?
Storm Constantine (SC): Plenty of authors invent thorough histories and geographies for their imagined worlds, and populate them with detailed flora and fauna, and established sentient races. They might write several novels set in these worlds, but there has to be something different about a mythos for it to endure – to captivate. This includes when readers are so into a fictional world, they’ll be inspired to write within it themselves, producing what’s known as fan fiction. As to what exactly makes a mythos endure (and expand) this way I’m not sure. I think part of it has to be down to the authors’ ability to create characters that readers love and who feel real. If an author creates a fabulous new world, rich in detail and imagery, but can’t give it a beating heart through the people and creatures who live in it, it won’t capture the interest and loyalty of readers in the same way that a vivid, living mythos will. When I’m writing my characters they do feel real to me, as if I know them in reality. I know the facets of their personalities, their weaknesses, their strengths. Some of them I’m a little in love with! I’m sure these feelings permeate the work and rub off on certain readers – like a kind of psychic communication through the written word. So I suppose, in a nutshell, what makes a mythos endure is integrity and love. The Wraeththu mythos isn’t anywhere near as big as those of Harry Potter, Star Wars, LOTR and so on, but is part of the same phenomenon.
ND: From what I can see, part of why the Mythos has endured so long is because it has a core small but incredibly loyal following of fans. I often find myself foisting the first of the books on unsuspecting individuals, and because this interview itself will no doubt be reaching many such potential readers, how would you (briefly) explain to a new reader what your milieu is all about?
SC: Wraeththu are simply how the human race would be if I could design it myself: androgynous, beautiful (mostly), magical and housed in a more efficient vehicle of flesh and blood. Yet Wraeththu hara are not stainless; they are flawed. What makes them different from humanity – apart from their androgyny and improved physical/psychic being – is that they have a clean slate to start anew. Longevity helps them; humans, being frail creatures, become infirm and die just as they reach the threshold to real wisdom. Hara might have risen from a brutal start, but have a greater capacity to rise above it, to reach their potential. A world without villains and conflict, from a fictional point of view, would be pretty dull, so the mythos has to include those aspects. Wraeththu aren’t perfect, but to me they are better than what came before.
ND: This month you’re celebrating the release of Blood, the Phoenix and a Rose: An Alchymical Triptych – which you describe as a trio of interconnected novellas. Now I’ve yet to plunge into this one, can you share how (and if) this one ties in with the previous tales? From what I can gather of what you’ve mentioned online, the creation of this work took a few unexpected turns.
SC: I have around a dozen Wraeththu stories that I began writing but never finished. These are mostly short pieces. Recently, I decided I should complete them all and release them as a collection, and began work on that early in 2016. I didn’t get further than one story – ‘Song of the Cannibals’. After I’d finished writing it, I wanted to carry on with its characters, because there was so much more to say, not just about what happened afterwards, but what happened before. So one story became three. The novellas are layered tales, folding upon one another. They are told by three narrators, who bring their own viewpoint and biases to their stories. The novellas aren’t the same tale told three times over – they expand upon the first story both forward and backward in time – but they do overlap. A couple of scenes are described more than once, simply to show how a witness influences what is ‘truth’.
There are certain aspects of the Wraeththu mythos, or historic episodes within it, that I’m drawn back to, like probing a sore tooth with your tongue! One of these is the Varr tribe, their archon Ponclast and the fortress city of Fulminir. This dark citadel hid many secrets, most of which haven’t yet been revealed. The Varrs were created by fear and ignorance – hara who didn’t like, or couldn’t accept, what it meant to be Wraeththu. They – or rather the leaders of this tribe – wanted to remain human and to impose this condition on others. They feared the change, refused to adapt to it, and became vicious in protecting their beliefs. These novellas take the reader right into Fulminir, and from a Varr’s point of view. Previously, only more ‘virtuous’ narrators have described what they found in this place. They never had to live there. Going back to Fulminir has allowed me to explore through fiction flaws within our own world; bigotry, intolerance, terror, oppression. And it’s been interesting to examine how when a faction is opposed to such brutality, and wishes to install what they perceive as a more ‘correct’ way to live and think, they in some ways become what they resist. The imposition of their world views can be almost as oppressive as the tyrannical regime they seek to overthrow.
ND: I do want to touch on The Moonshawl which to my utter shame is still on my virtual bedside TBR pile – it’s a standalone novel set within your Mythos, and also one that at a glance appears to be a combination of coming-of-age and the laying to rest of a great evil. What were some of the story seeds that came to fruit with this story?
SC: I wanted to write a ghost story, because I love them – those old-fashioned ghost stories set in crumbling mansions, where more is implied than shown. In a film, sound and light and shadow do much to conjure the atmosphere. I wanted to do this in a book, in the same vein as some classic novels I love, such as The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, and the equally captivating, yet far lesser known, The Uninvited by Dorothy Macardle, which happily has just been re-released after many years of being out of print. Both of these novels became wonderfully atmospheric films. (By The Uninvited I don’t mean the couple of more recent movies. The original was black and white and – I believe – made in the 50s.) I also wanted to finish the sequence of Wraeththu novels I set in Alba Sulh (once the British Isles), in particular Wales, which I find to be a wonderfully mystical landscape. The Moonshawl is a stand-alone novel, even though its protagonist, Ysobi, features in the previous two books set in that country. Ysobi is estranged from his tribe because of past misdemeanours, and takes work in an isolated spot to – I suppose – ‘find himself’. He finds rather more than himself. The book did grow from its original simple premise, and I ended up showing more than I originally intended, but that was just the way the novel developed. It needed a few frights, not just implications or mild inexplicable events.
ND: Unlike some authors who hold tightly onto their ideas and worlds, you’ve done the opposite, which has been to open the Mythos to other writers to not only contribute shorter-form fiction to anthologies but novels as well. Certainly there must be some sort of biofeedback or alchemy that takes place. Can you offer a little more on this?
SC: Around twenty years ago, it was brought to my attention that a small community had arisen devoted to writing Wraeththu fanfic. The main reason these writers had turned to my Mythos was because they’d been hounded out of another one by a famous writer who strongly objected to their activities, and in short, regarded the tales as criminal infringement of their intellectual property. A fanfic writer mailed me about this and asked for my opinion, and what I felt about fan fiction set in a world I’d invented and about which I still continued to write. I thought about it for some time, and realised that I didn’t feel offended at all. Should I be? As far as I could see, it was similar to a time in my childhood when I’d also invented make-believe worlds – avidly – and the more friends I could get to share in that make-believe and play in my world, the better. This to me was the same. People were coming to play in my garden with me. Why should that be offensive? Could I ever stop people imagining these stories? No. Hadn’t I myself begun my writing life as a fanfic author – albeit writing ‘sequels’ to Greek and Roman myths as a child rather than an established author’s work? I understood the impulse to add to an invented world, to want to play in it when the author had closed the gates for the night.
I could only suppose the offended author was concerned more about copyright and threats to their work and their income. If I recall correctly the trouble started when a fanfic writer claimed that a story this writer published was actually based on one of their fanfics and complained about it. I can imagine how that could be provocative to say the least. So I did have some sympathy with that writer. But as long as fanfic writers play by the rules and accept the intellectual property of the Wraeththu mythos is mine, and I own everything within it, that’s fine. Once I learned about the fanfic, I read some of it and realised several stories – and authors – were good enough to be published professionally. Once I set up Immanion Press in 2003, I had the means to publish these authors. So the Mythos opened up officially for people to come and play, and also end up with a published book in their hands. There are some among my readers who’d like more fiction from me than I have the time to write, so the mythos writers help me in that respect!
Wendy Darling and I have compiled four anthologies of Wraeththu mythos stories, including pieces from ourselves and other writers. The new one, for which I’ll be announcing a call for submissions soon harks back to my love of ghosts. Stories must have a ghostly theme, and the working title for the anthology is Para Spectral. Potential contributors can contact me at email@example.com. Details of all other anthologies and mythos novels are at the end of this interview.
ND: Magic is the breath of life that runs through your Mythos, but I feel I also need to mention that you’ve compiled the (now two) Grimoire Dehara – systems of magic that are companions to your Mythos. Can you share a little of your process for those who are drawn towards contemporary magical systems?
SC: The Deharan system is Pop Culture magic. This ‘genre’ of magic grew from what originally was termed Chaos Magic, in that practitioners turned to icons and imagery within modern society, literature, film, TV and so on, to use in a magical context. The idea behind it was that just because a system is new doesn’t mean it’s less effective than one that’s existed for centuries. I believe the most popular Pagan belief system, Wicca, grew from a similar idea. It was based on ancient practices but was in fact a reinterpretation. The ‘stage props’ of a belief system – its gods, goddesses and rituals – are simply a means for people to access spirituality. The props might change but the core remains; if not the same, then similar.
People often asked me to expand upon the magical system in the Wraeththu books, as in the first trilogy I didn’t give too much detail of its practices. Eventually I decided to go the whole way and write the manual! The third book in the series, Grimoire Dehara: Nahir Nuri will be started in the new year. As with the second book Grimoire Dehara: Ulani, I’ll be writing it with my Immanion Press colleague, Taylor Ellwood. We hope to release it late next year.
ND: I’ve read some of your blog posts where you’ve been quite reflective about your career and what it means to be a creative, about being true to the kinds of stories you need to tell. Looking back now, what is there that you’d tell those who’re only at the start of their journey? A turn of phrase that often catches me up short, and which has become a bit of a mantra for me is Neil Gaiman’s 2012 keynote speech where he uses the phrase “Make good art” to highlight the kind of care and devotion to integrity that sustains. Do you have any thoughts along this line?
SC: To me, the most important thing is to write with love. I often tell people, who want to be authors, and who ask the best way to begin, that their first novel should be the book they’ve always wanted to read but have never found. They should love their work, because if they do, readers are more likely to love it too. There are many people who are able to write prolifically, simply for money, and who do it very well, but when you read their novels you can feel they’re distanced from their work, no matter how accomplished it is. I’m not one of those people. It sounds pretentious to say ‘my work is art’, so I’d prefer to say ‘my work is my heart.’
Storm's Facebook page
Wraeththu mythos page
Immanion Press Facebook page
Wendy Darling’s Wraeththu fanfic blog
Another of Wendy’s sites she set up for fans
Guest post: Storm on Para Kindred
The Wraeththu Chronicles
The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit
The Bewitchments of Love and Hate
The Fulfilments of Fate and Desire
The Wraeththu Chronicles (omnibus of trilogy)
The Wraeththu Histories
The Wraiths of Will and Pleasure
The Shades of Time and Memory
The Ghosts of Blood and Innocence
The Alba Sulh Sequence (Wraeththu Mythos)
Student of Kyme
Blood, the Phoenix and a Rose
Wraeththu Mythos Collections
(co-edited with Wendy Darling, including stories by the editors and other writers)
Mythos Novels by Other Writers
Breeding Discontent by Wendy Darling & Bridgette Parker
Terzah’s Sons by Victoria Copus
Song of the Sulh by Maria Leel
Whispers of the World That Was by E. S. Wynn