Mermaids, sex, golems, babies, deep magic, domestic chores, spiders, hammers…Anna Lea Jancewicz is a seductive enchantress who drags you into worlds seemingly familiar, comfortable, safe. She casts spells like fishing nets; her words tie you up in their poetry. Reading her work, you are caught somewhere between dream and waking, somewhere between magic and mundane. And you won’t come back the same, if you come back at all.
If you could be a creature out of folklore/mythology, what would you be and why?
Luckily for me, I have an eight-year-old daughter who asks me this question at least three or four times a week, so I’ve given it a lot of thought. I’m pretty mesmerized by the idea of being a rusalka. That’s kind of a Russian variant of the mermaid, without the fish bits, a water nymph that haunts the rivers. Originally, the rusalki were fertility spirits who brought water to the fields in springtime. Later, they became more sinister, and are depicted as sirens who dance in the moonlit fields to lure men to their watery doom. I mean, how metal is that? I could rock that gig. But really, I’m more of a selkie. That’s another mermaid variant, Gaelic. She sheds her sealskin and takes human form. Generally, a dude lures her into domesticity by stealing her sealskin. I suspect my husband may have mine hidden in the attic. I live on the precipice of the decision, whether or not to go looking for it and return to being a wild creature. I reckon that all wives and mothers do.
What is your earliest memory? Please describe it in the form of a fairy tale.
Once upon a time, there was a tiny girl with flaxen hair and eyes of blue. She lived in a little village on the top of a mountain. Golden onion domes rose above the clapboard houses to pierce the sky and men disappeared into the underworld every day to dig up coal to pay for the potatoes and flour and butter that the women would make into suppers in their warm and magical kitchens. One day, the tiny girl was at play with two of the village boys. Their mother and her mother stood watching them frolic among the buttercups on a long, sloping green lawn. The tiny girl ran across the lawn, which seemed very vast indeed to such a small child. She ran and ran, giggling in delight as she tore through the yellow flowers. Suddenly, she realized that her feet were a blur, that she was running so fast that her feet had left the ground. She was flying! She turned in delight to ask her friends to join her, to call to her mother and show her what she had learned to do. But the boys were gone, and so were the mothers. The tiny girl was all alone. She sank like a stone back to the grass, and cried, with her forehead pressed to the earth. The tiny girl grew bigger and her eyes turned green. She traveled to many places in the kingdom. But wherever she went, she was always there, among the buttercups.
What five words do you find the most magical? the most sinister? the most soothing?
Magical: galaxy, fiction, transubstantiation, autumnal, underworld
Sinister: rape, coagulate, tarantula, surgical, Risperdal
Soothing: flux, thrum, dream, poem, Andromeda
If there were a card catalog to the library of your secrets, what subject keywords might we find under the letters A, L, and J?
A: Adam (see: Fregoli delusion)
Apophenia (see: psychoses, chronic)
Away game (see: Folie à deux)
L: Lights, deep (see: Xmas, 199-)
Lucidity (see: oneironautics)
Lycanthropy, clinical (see: psychoses, various)
J: Jesus Christ (see: psychoses, chronic)
Jimi Thing (see: false exorcism)
Jar, Mason (see: moonshine & magnolias)
If you were to grow a garden from your obsessions, what would you be planting?
I’m going to take this to mean my literary obsessions, the things I am compelled to write about again and again. My seeds are the ambivalences of motherhood, feminine violence, magic/mental illness/God, birth, desire, death.
Please describe your writing routines and revision process.
I tell myself stories all the time. It usually starts with a particular image or a turn of phrase. I start telling myself the story, and I go over the words in my head for days sometimes before I write anything down. I’m making stories while I wash dishes and wipe butts and chop vegetables and check math problems. I usually sit down to type something out at night, once everybody else is sleeping. I usually have a pretty good idea of the words I’m going to write before I start, at least the beginning. I’m not just thinking about plot and characters, I’m thinking about the poetry of it. I’m not good with the Shitty First Draft thing. I obsessively rewrite as I go. I find it very difficult to build on something until I feel like I’ve got it right. Of course I go back and make some changes later, but they’re minor. I really change a lot as I go and spend a lot of time with that first draft. I know that’s supposed to be against the rules, but it works for me. If I get stuck I try to work it out while I’m falling asleep. That between-awake-and-dream time is really good for me. Sometimes I have to bolt up and write something down in the dark that I have trouble reading later.
In your opinion, what is the sexiest supernatural being? the most repulsive? the smartest? the funniest? Create a writing prompt that involves all four.
The chicks really seem to dig those effeminate urbane vampires but I’m going to say I’m all about the werewolf. He’s genuine and raw, and he’s not going to loiter around on your threshold waiting for an invitation. He’s a man completely undone by the moon, razed to the bedrock of consciousness, all id. Now that’s hot. I mean, in theory at least. In praxis, you’re going to be washing dried blood and chicken feathers out of the sheets every morning, and he’ll probably have fleas, and it’s really not such a party to get mauled by a giant wild dog. But let’s think of him less as a rabid beast and more kind of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, okay? The most repulsive, hands down, is the zombie. They’ve been really hip lately, but I’m totally not into zombies. Disgusting. The smartest is the sphinx, of course. And the funniest is the leshy. He’s not quite the celebrity the rest of them are, but he’s pretty awesome. He’s a little Russian Green Man kind of creature who protects the forest, but he also leads lost travelers in the wrong direction and steals children. He’s often depicted as this little goblin guy but with human sized feet stuck on his legs turned backward, so his footprints fool you into going the wrong way. I just think it’s pretty funny to picture him, with big backwards oversized feet.
So, a werewolf, a zombie, a sphinx, and a leshy all walk into a bar (haha, I couldn’t help it) and you’re the bartender. It’s the end of a wild night, and there’s nothing left to serve but one shot of vodka. To which one of them do you give the vodka? How do you defeat the other three? The werewolf and the zombie are going to be formidable physical opponents, yes, but the leshy is going to try to trick you, lead you away into the forest of forgetting, where you may lose your identity, and the sphinx is going to ask you the one riddle about yourself that you most fear answering. Okay, write!
If you could send a postcard to your 10-year-old self, what would it say? If your 10-year-old self sent you one, what picture would be on the front?
Dear Anna Lea,
Don’t stop dancing. Don’t be afraid to tell. It’s okay to be angry. Smoking cigarettes really isn’t as cool as you’re going to think it is, just don’t start. And seriously, take care of your teeth. Vegetarianism is stupid. Don’t let your mother throw away your boxes of comic books. Please don’t perm your hair. It’s okay to like girls. And also, repeat after me: Fuck those kids. Trust me, I’ve seen their Facebook profiles. They’re all fucking losers now. I love you.
Her postcard would be of Baryshnikov, or the DeLorean from Back to the Future.
Make a cootie catcher for your future self. What four colors did you choose? What are the eight possible fortunes?
Blue, black, yellow, orange.
Prima Ballerina, Lady Who Dances on the Elephant in the Circus, Saint, Writer, Star of Stage and Screen, Roller Derby Champion, Time Traveler, Egyptologist
What is the last dream you remember?
I come home and pull my car into the driveway, and I see there’s this Japanese guy sitting on the front porch steps with a fishing pole. I tell the kids to wait in the car a minute and I walk up to this dude and I’m like What’s up Japanese Guy on my porch? What’s up with the fishing pole? And he doesn’t say anything but he casts his line into the pavement, and all these sidewalk chalk animals the kids have drawn start biting at the line and he starts reeling them in. I’m like Oh shit, it’s Haruki Murakami! And I say Hold on, I’m going to get a book for you to sign and I run into the house, but when I open the door I’m not inside my house, I’m inside my great-grandmother’s house and she’s in the kitchen with my Grandpap, they’re alive and he’s sitting at the kitchen table in a white undershirt eating a tomato sandwich and I ask her if I can have some orange juice because I always loved to drink her orange juice, she had the classy kind, Minute Maid in a carton, not the frozen kind that got watered down to make it stretch, and she reaches into the refrigerator to get the orange juice and she’s wearing one of her sleeveless house-smocks and I see her armpit hair and I start crying and I’m like I’m so ashamed of myself, I remember seeing your armpit hair and being so repulsed but look, I haven’t shaved in, like, fifteen years and I’m holding up my arm to show her. She’s just like I think it’s time for you to go up to bed and I turn around to my Grandpap and I see that his mouth is hanging open with some sandwich in it but he’s just propped up there at the table, he’s really still dead and I’m like Oh fuck no, things just got creepy, I am not going upstairs but Granny takes me over to the stairs, the living room is dark except for the television light and she points up the stairs but it’s pitch black up there and I’m like No way and I look at her and her eyes aren’t blue, they’re super dark and creepy and I know she isn’t really Granny and I run back into the kitchen and get under the table where I used to play and there is her rag rug, this big rug of concentric rings of colors and I start tracing around the rings with my fingers toward the center because it’s like a labyrinth and I know that if I get to the middle I’ll be safe but she’s pulling at my clothes and there’s sweat dripping in my eyes and I try to sit up under the table to wipe my forehead but I bang my head on the table and I wake up.
Define your childhood, your adolescence, and your current adult life by scent: what smells best capture each period?
Childhood: The smell of my mother: menthol cigarettes, black coffee, strawberry incense. Chicken bones boiling. Saltwater.
Adolescence: NyQuil, weed, patchouli, Aqua Net, leather.
Current adult life: Poops.
If you were a stuffed animal, what would you be?
A gray mouse with red and black shiny plastic eyes and a patchwork jumpsuit. Answers to the name “Sand Pail.” If you ever see me, call, text, or email at once.
Photo by Elena Kalis