Checking in with Anne Petty
After some (unplanned) time away from Green Books, I thought I'd get back into the swing of things by checking in with some Tolkien scholars about their new books. First up is Anne Petty. As a refresher, here's my Q&A with her from last year, to which this column is a kind of continuation.
Q: You have recently published a novel, Thin Line Between ($11.00 trade paperback, ISBN 1593600429). Can you tell us about it?
A: The book has been a long time in its birthing, i.e., the story simmered over a number of years while other, more academic, pursuits took precedence. Eventually, the pages were pulled out into the light, revised, new life breathed into the characters and the worlds they inhabited, and lo, a publisher said it was good. Verlyn Flieger and I have corresponded about our first novels (hers is much classier than mine) and discovered the long book gestation was an experience we had in common. My story idea began when I was working in a research assistant at a Florida natural history museum when I was just out of graduate school. The original building was the old county jail that dated back to the early 1900s, and the conservation lab/artifact storage area was in its basement. That's where my desk was. Everybody who worked there just assumed the place was haunted, and after sitting at the secretary's desk for hours by myself, I tended to agree. I'd hear doors opening and closing, then get up to see who came in, but nobody was there, or I'd find specimen drawers pulled all the way out exposing bones or pot shards when I knew damn well that when I'd come to work none of the drawers were open... that sort of thing. I spent a lot of my time fiddling with the plot outline and opening chapters of a tale that could use such a setting.
Many years later, after my book-writing career took off, I asked my editor at Cold Spring Press if there was any interest in launching a fiction line for Cold Spring Press through their distributor Simon & Schuster (Cold Spring Press had already published a number of fantasy-related literary commentary books, including Tolkien in the Land of Heroes and "Dragons of Fantasy for me). Turns out, there were plans afoot to do that very thing, and my first novel Thin Line Between ended up being the first of their contemporary fantasy fiction line.
Thin Line Between is a hard book to describe in a few, market-friendly sentences. It's definitely a fantasy in that parts of it take place in the realm of the Australian Dreamtime, and much of the draw for me is to show how ancient myth rubs shoulders with modern secular society. Parts of the book are graphic and terrifying enough to fit in with the Horror Writers crowd. And running through those elements are tales of interpersonal relationships (parents and children, lovers, best friends, professional colleagues), set in a background of detailed descriptions of rural north Florida with its distinctive flora and fauna. The book catalog blurb we finally ended up agreeing on runs like this:
Alice Waterston has enough to worry about orchestrating the grand opening of the long awaited Land of Legends Australian Aboriginal art exhibit. It's been a lot of work, but this is a moment she's anticipated for over a year. However, from the moment the pieces begin to arrive, what should be her greatest achievement as arts curator of the Hardison Museum suddenly becomes a nightmare. Things quickly begin to spiral out of control, not only in the museum, but also in Alice's personal life. Could this collection of both ancient and modern art carry a curse that echoes back to the Dreamtime? And what are the connections between the mysterious Wandjina of the exhibit and Alice's daughter Margaret who dreams of a terrifying shapeshifting creature that bears a little too much resemblance to legends that frighten children in the dark? There's also the problem of Alice's father, an artist who disappeared in the Outback before she was even born. In her search for knowledge and understanding, Alice may be in for more than she expected, unearthing clues to her past and some ancient secrets that may better off left sleeping.
Q: Is there any reason that you published the book as by "M. A. C. Petty"
instead of as Anne Petty?
A: *Laughing* Basically, we did that to distinguish the Cold Spring Press fiction line from their non-fiction books. I guess I'm a cross-over author for them. But in addition to that, my editor Jonathan Stein and I were looking for a gender-neutral name to launch the series, and I decided to use the name I signed on my creative writing and artwork when I was a lot younger. M.A.C. are the initials of my maiden name, which became MAC when I was in college. Besides, it's just fun having an alias!
Q: I see that it's labeled as Book One of the Wandjina Quartet. Has the next
volume been scheduled yet?
A: To fit Simon & Schuster's publishing schedule, we are aiming for roughly a book per year. Book 2 of the series (The Dangerous Place) is due out around May/June of 2006 [I'm madly writing the first draft now], with the third book, Thunder and Lightning out in 2007, and the series ending up in 2008 with the final volume, The Rock Bones. So I'll be very busy writing for the next three years at least. The series title, "The Wandjina Quartet" derives from the Dreamtime Ancestors known as the Wandjina, who figure in all the books. They are spirits of creation who command the elements of wind and weather, and have strong connections with a particularly spectacular Ancestor known as the Lightning Man, who shows up in Book 1.
Q: Anything else in the works?
A: I've recently completed two academic pieces of work that I'm very pleased with. First are my contributions to The Tolkien Encyclopedia project of Michael Drout, et al. I've written the entries for Allegory; Folklore; and Finnish Literary Sources. Once those were done, I recently finished a chapter for Janet Croft's anthology of articles on Tolkien and Shakespeare. The book title is Tolkien and Shakespeare: Echoes, Influences, Revisions. My article is called "Shakespearean Catharsis in J.R.R. Tolkien's Fiction." I'm not sure what the publication date is, possibly next year.
On the conference scene, this past July I was a literary guest at Trinoc-Con (a speculative fiction convention in Raleigh-Durham, NC), where I sat on several panels, was an instructor in the writing workshop, and helped judge the Art Show.
In just a few days, I'll be flying up to Atlanta to be a guest at Dragon*Con, where I'll be giving a talk for the Tolkien Track titled "Tolkien's Cinematic Fiction." I'll also be on the Young Adult Lit panel titled "Manga Explosion" (Japanese anime and manga being two of my popular-culture addictions). I'll also be one of the judges for the Anime Cosplay Contest. To promote Thin Line Between, I'll be reading several chapters and taking part in two book-signing sessions.
Then it's back to the computer to totally focus on finishing my next novel, which has a stronger horror content than the first book. No rest for the wicked, as they say.