Ordinary Mythopoeia: An Interview With Jonathan Cardew

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Growing up, a neighborhood girl introduced me one summer to Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. I was fascinated with these stories of Greek and Roman gods and goddesses — love and hate, jealousy and murder, immortality and transformation. Myths offer us a way of making sense of the strange, the unknown, the terrifying.

When I read Jonathan Cardew’s first version of Greek Myths in the submission queue I saw potential, something that felt unfinished but left me wanting more. I took a chance on Jonathan and asked if he’d consider developing it further and maybe write more on that theme, and he took a chance on working with me and accepted the proposition. I’m so glad he did.

Jonathan’s stories take place in ordinary settings — nursing home, café, tennis court — with ordinary people, no gods or goddesses, but deal with these universal themes of loss and fear and love and redemption. His characters don’t have all the answers but they go on searching and taking chances. We could all take a page from that book.

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Which character from Greek mythology most closely matches your 10-year-old self and why? How about your current self?

What a question!! I must say I have scratched my head over this one for some time. So I asked my 9-year-old daughter, who inspired me to write the story, Greek Myths, in the first place (she was walking around the house glued to a book of the same name). She said that I was Hermes as a 10-year-old because Hermes was a real joker. And Poseidon as an adult because I love water. I’ll go with those answers. She’s got my number.

What is your earliest memory of a broken heart?

School play: Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. I was Ernest. She was Gwendolyn. It didn’t work.

Imagine your featured stories as fragrances. What is the signature scent of each?

Greek Myths: disinfectant

Hercules: bacon

From the Laurel Flower: cigarette smoke

Create a writing prompt based on at least three of your current obsessions.

Current obsessions: sixth century Sub-Roman Britain/ weight loss/ Detroit

Prompt: Your village of Britons is under attack from Saxon marauders, and you have the fattest, the most beautiful pigs in this part of the country. What do you do to save such a treasure trove from the licking lips of foreigners? Include in your story a Frankish orphan, named Detroit, who plays an important role in saving the pigs. Title the story: Weight Loss.

What book as a child made the greatest impression that has stayed with you over the years? When is the last time you read it?

The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley. I don’t remember exactly how old I was when I first read it — 15 or 16 — but it’s one I’ve come back to a number of times over the years. In fact, I just reread it this past winter. Though it is not my favorite of all time, it’s such a wonderful little book. Perfect description. Huxley writes with clarity and wisdom.

If you could go back in time and leave one message for yourself, what age would you choose, what would the message be, and where would you leave it?

My gosh, interfere with time and history? No way. I was surely doing what I needed to do in the order in which I needed to do it.

What five words do you find the loneliest? The dreamiest?

Lonely: obfuscate, wane, deception, Goole, fallacy

Dreamy: silence, moon, Videodrome, horizon, flux

Please describe your writing routines and revision process.

Write as much as I possibly can! It never used to be that way; I used to wait for the moment and mood. Horse crap to the right moment and mood now! I find that if I write a lot, I’ll catch on to the thing that I am trying to catch on to. A hook of some kind. The thing that isn’t quite the story, but that gives the story its pulse. Makes the story vital. And this often happens in the revision process. You cut and trim away at the extraneous material in the hope that this vitality will shine through (though it can be the case that you cut it dead). Revision is such a thrilling experience when it works. But it takes time.

If you could only look at one piece of art for the rest of your life, what would you choose?

Les Larmes by Man Ray. Though it might annoy me after a while since this photograph is only of a pair of eyes. Perhaps then A Sunday on La Grande Jatte – 1884 by Georges Seurat. There is so much going on in the painting, so many characters and stories to lose yourself in. And dots. To keep you busy.

What writing projects are you working on now?

Mainly stories. Short and very short. I can’t say I have a grand plan or collection in mind just yet; I’m trying to perfect each story as they come. Aside from my own work, I am excited by my involvement in the Phoenix Literary And Arts Magazine at Milwaukee Area Technical College. I have had the privilege of working with really dedicated faculty and students; some of the writing and artwork submissions to the literary magazine have been incredible. Here’s a link to the website (sorry: if you’re reading this in May or June, the new material will not have been put up yet!). The micro story (let’s say 100 words or fewer) is one form that I am particularly interested in (and infuriated by) at the moment. When done well, it can leave you breathless. But condensing is a hard trick, a sleight of hand that must convince the reader. I think I nearly pull off the trick in my latest story, Apres-Ski, which will appear in Edition 8.1 of Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine. (See also a few of my other micro stories in previous editions of this magazine.)

What’s the last dream you remember in vivid detail?

I hardly ever remember dreams; they seem to self-destruct after the morning. A recent dream I still have lingering is one where I am walking through a snowy woods and someone is with me, though I cannot see who it is. There are bent and misshaped trees covering the path. Each time I think I catch sight of this person, he or she disappears. But in the dream, it is not a surprise to me that I cannot see them. It makes sense.

If you were a stuffed animal, what would you be?

Chipmunk? Just love the little bastards.

Photo By: Rita Willaert

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About Author

Georgia Bellas is an editor and artist living in Somerville, Mass. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in Lockjaw Magazine, Synaesthesia, Sundog Lit, Cartridge Lit, Bird’s Thumb, WhiskeyPaper, The Collapsar, and [PANK], among other journals. She is one of the poetry winners for Sundress Publications' 2014 Best of the Net anthology. You can follow her teddy bear, host of the Internet radio show “Mr. Bear’s Violet Hour Saloon,” on Twitter @MrBearStumpy. If you ever meet her, she will probably tell you about her bicycle’s movie star status.

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