Dame Dragon

Nídhögg rises with the red light
stretching her feathers and climbing 
the air with her wings

away from her bower 
beneath the World Tree 

	where she hoards corpses 
	instead of gold

	where she curls her 
	sinuous body around the roots 
	and squeezes tight

	(where she’d very much like 
	to bite Ratatosk that infernal squirrel
	in half)

She tastes the air 
with her tongue
finding the notes of sulphur 
and ash of Ragnarök
the coming storm 
and destruction
and holds them in her mouth

She grins and swings 
back to her bed

There will be more 
corpses to consume 
soon enough

This poem is part of my Field Guide to Norse Mythology series. It first appeared in Honeyguide Literary Magazine, Issue 2, “Mythical Creatures.”


The Wolves Share Hunting Tips

brother wear the coat with thick fur
warm enough to keep out
the empty chill of space
black and bright as the night sky
and sister wear yours of bright gold
over your shoulders feel your desire 
for the light to crack 
crescendoing down your back
stalk your prey
across the stars
leaping over them
like celestial stepping stones
run to the edge of the horizon
keep your head down 
ears flat be like a whisper
in the long grass
howl and strike
tear the silver wings of the Moon
see Her limping ahead
winking out
climb the sun-beam
snap your jaws
at the Sun’s horses
snap their bones with your teeth
when Ragnarök finally
finally comes
take your first bite
make the sky run red
blot out the Sun
swallow the Moon whole

This poem is part of my “Field Guide to Norse Mythology” series. It first appeared in Honeyguide Literary Magazine, Issue 2, “Mythical Creatures,” and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

Triolet for the Kyrie Eleison

Lord, have mercy upon us.
Christ, have mercy upon us.
Lord, have mercy upon us.
—Book of Common Prayer

Creator Lord, have mercy now,
like leaves caught in the wind, that light
upon our faces, hanging low.
Creator Christ, have mercy now
and shine your stars, a sacred vow
to keep us safely through the night.
Creator Lord, have mercy now,
like leaves caught in the wind and light.

Secrets Not Hidden

Almighty God, 
to you all hearts are open, 
all desires known, 
and from you no secrets are hidden. 
Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts 
by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, 
that we may perfectly love you, 
and worthily magnify your holy name; 
through Christ our Lord. Amen. 
—Book of Common Prayer
The caress of pleasure-petals
between fingers, bright
blueberry-bursts on the tongue,
pine-needle crinkles under
bare foot-soles, nerves 
shimmer-shooting over hips 
and thighs; Creator, these
heart-desires of mine
surge-swell like white-laced waves,
threatening to pull me under
with the weight of wanting.
Or, like flimsy pieces
of paper, they scatter-slink
in the wind. Can You gather
them for me? Keep them safe
and hold me here now,
where I am teetering 
at the turning-point
of joy. 

This is the second poem from my series “The Shape of Our Life: Poems for saint benedict’s table,” written during my artist residency in the summer of 2019.

Religion as a Colonizing Force (Fantasy and Religion Part Two)

Spoilers for Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon.

In this two-part series (read part one here), I’m exploring how fantasy books portray believers and non-believers and the importance of keeping faith versus having an open mind. In today’s post, I’m looking at The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley.

The Women Tell Their Story

Most adaptations of Arthurian legends focus on Arthur, his knights, and Merlin. Guinevere and Morgan le Fay appear as well, but often as side characters: Guinevere as a love interest and Morgan as a villain.

But, in The Mists of Avalon, these heroines finally get a chance to tell their story. Guinevere and Morgan, who are Gwenhwyfar and Morgaine in this book, both prove to be complex and multi-faceted. Morgaine is more than a hateful sorceress, and Gwenhwyfar is more than an adulteress.

So, while I was expecting a close look into the lives of these women when I picked up the book, I was pleasantly surprised to find a secondary conflict: the undercurrent of tension between a colonizing Christianity and a retreating Mother Goddess.

Opposing Religions

Mists takes place in a fictional Britain fresh after the fall of the Roman Empire. In this land, Christianity is still a young religion, but the people of Avalon fear its potential to become great. The Lady of the Lake, Vivienne, sees how the isle of Avalon is pulling away from the world as people start to forsake its ways. She works with Merlin to orchestrate Arthur’s birth in hopes of keeping it that way; they hope he will be the king who brings the people back to Avalon.

The religion of the Mother Goddess could not be more different from Christianity. It’s personified by a female deity, while Christianity is represented by a male. Its highest office is held by the High Priestess, while Christianity is led by the Bishop. It treats women as equal to men, while Christianity teaches that women are inferior to men. In Avalon, women learn to read, write, play music, and ask questions. In Britain, the priests teach women that they are evil; they must listen to their fathers and submit to their husbands.

The people of Avalon also believe that all gods are the Goddess. To them, it doesn’t matter who one worships, for all worship is claimed by the Goddess.

And so we have the conflict between the “feminine” pagan religion and the “masculine” Christianity: one religion retreating and the other pushing it out. Over the course of this book, pagan rituals, like the Beltane Rites, fall away as Christian versions take their place. Characters’ attitudes toward Avalon change from reverence to disinterest to hostility. And Avalon faithfully struggles to hold on.

No two characters embody this conflict more than Morgaine and Gwenhwyfar.

Read more at Mythos & Ink.

The Fallibility of Religion (Fantasy and Religion Part One)

Spoilers for Samantha Shannon’s The Priory of the Orange Tree.

In January, the Wayfarer’s Guide to Worldbuilding Podcast put out an episode on religion. Marketing Director Kyle Rudge, said: “In fiction, religious people are often portrayed in one of two ways: they are either stupid and ignorant, or they are manipulative and using religion to exploit others. But there’s so many other dimensions to faith.”

In the past year, I’ve read two books that dealt with religion in really interesting ways. In this two-part series, I’m going to explore how these books portray believers and non-believers, the importance of keeping faith versus having an open mind.

I’m starting with The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon, which explores the question: what do you do when everything you believe in turns out to be a lie?

Saint George and the Dragon

The Priory of the Orange Tree is a “feminist retelling” of the legend of Saint George and the Dragon. Most people know the bare-bones facts about the legend: a dragon terrorizes a city. The citizens of the city give the dragon sheep to keep it happy, but eventually the sheep aren’t enough: they start to sacrifice humans by drawing names through a lottery. One day, the lottery chooses the name of the beloved princess. Saint George rides by as she awaits her doom, and he saves her by killing the dragon.

What most don’t know is that this story has some problematic roots. In The Golden Legend (1265) by Jacobus da Voragine, Saint George only kills the dragon if the citizens convert to Christianity. He would have left them to die otherwise.

In a text from 1596, The Most Famous History of the Seven Champions of Christendom by Richard Johnson, we learn about Saint George’s childhood. An enchantress named Kalyb stole him from his parents when he was a newborn and raised him for fourteen years. Then, she fell in love with him. 

The princess also plays a bigger part in the legends than we give her credit for. In The Golden Legend, the princess (unnamed), tells George to leave. After he wounds the dragon, she tells him she has the “mettle” to lead the dragon back to the city.

In The Most Famous History, the princess, named Sabra, promises to become a Christian if George will marry her. Later in the tale, after Sabra has borne George three sons and then died, George becomes obsessed with a nun named Lucina; he swears that he and his six companions will kill everyone within the monastery if she doesn’t give herself to him. Aggrieved by the threats, Lucina takes her own life.

Read more at Mythos & Ink.

Rethinking Fanfiction and its Role in Gender Inequality

When I was a 14, I was a member of a Lord of the Rings forum website, where I started reading fanfiction and, eventually, wrote my own. I turned to the forums again when I was breastfeeding my daughter; I needed something to keep me awake and engaged during those 2 a.m. feedings.

Fanfic gets a bad rap. It’s usually derided as something for teenage girls, as trashy romance, or as a silly waste of time. It’s also mostly written by women and LGBTQ2IA+ folks—a factor I don’t think we can ignore when we examine the bias against it.

As with everything, women have had to fight for their place as legitimate writers. In the Victorian era, women’s writing was seen as vulgar and taboo, and was never taken seriously. Writers whom we laud today as trailblazers, like Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters, had trouble getting their manuscripts published because of their gender. The work of a little-known playwright named Aphra Behn was completely erased from existence after her death because it was too “scandalous” for her time. Even J.K. Rowling’s publisher suggested that she hide her gender so that her book would “appeal to boys and girls.”

We also know that LGBTQ representation in mainstream media hasn’t grown very much in recent years. Thor: Ragnarok, for example, came under fire when it failed to include any mention of Valkyrie’s sexuality, even though she is canonically bisexual.

Today, shelves are lined with books written by women, but stereotypes still persist. A study by The New Republic, which examined 10,287 book reviews from the Sunday Book Review of The New York Times, found that reviewers still adhere to the notions that women are sentimental and men are serious. For example, they were more likely to use words like “husband,” “marriage,” “mother,” and “love,” when describing books written by women, and “president,” “leader,” “argument,” and “theory” when describing books written by men.

The implications are clear: men write about ideas and women write about family.

In June 2018, Dana Schwartz, the brain behind the brilliant Twitter handle @GuyInYourMFA, wrote about finding her book of essays on a list of “7 of The Best Guilty Pleasure Beach Reads To Indulge In This Summer.” She writes:

“The phrase ‘guilty pleasure’ has become disproportionately attached to women’s works in a way that serves to diminish them… They are all stories marketed primarily toward women, about women; calling something a guilty pleasure is less often a meaningful descriptor than a knee-jerk apology for daring to discuss something that appeals to women.”

With personal essays about depression and eating disorders, Schwartz’s book, Choose Your Own Disaster, is certainly not beach reading, and yet it was classified as such (but, as Schwartz points out, the same would never happen to David Sedaris or Nick Hornby).

Novels, poetry, plays, fantasy, science fiction, TV, movies: all areas in which men have actively tried to keep women down and ridiculed them for daring to write in the first place. Fanfic is just the latest iteration of that.

In February 2018, Lithub published an interview with Lonely Christopher, author of the book THERE, which is a reimagining of Stephen King’s The Shining. In the interview, Christopher says:

“I took the basic tropes of The Shining and replicated and subverted them, and I also took chunks of language and interwove material pieces of Stephen King’s novel… I’ve never read this book, but when I was writing the first draft of my novel I had a copy of The Shining in my lap and was actively using it to some extent or another the entire time.”

How is that not fanfiction? Christopher has an answer for that too: “I guess the reason why this isn’t ‘fan fiction’ is because, first of all, it’s not enjoyable in the same way and then it’s vaguely academic… Intellectually, it has a relationship to Barthes, Foucault, Derrida, Debord, and especially Baudrillard. So it is having conversations with different texts in different ways.”

THERE has generally received critical acclaim, whereas the myriad of Pride and Prejudice continuations, like Linda Berdoll’s Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife, get passed off as “Chick Lit.” Both of these works could be called fanfic because they tell new stories in a pre-existing world, but they have been received differently; I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the reviews came out in favour for the book written by a man.

Even in fandom, there seems to be a hierarchy among spheres of fan expression, in which cosplay and attending cons come out on top and fanfic sits near the bottom. Fanfic still feels like the “dirty little secret” no one wants to admit to reading or writing.

Well, I’ve read a lot of it. And yes, some of it was not very good, but, for the most part, what I’ve found is a community of writers who just want to tell stories and help each other improve their skills. There have been many times during my years in fandom when I finished reading a book and still wanted to live in that world for a bit, or when I was dissatisfied by something that happened on a TV show and wanted to see how others “corrected” it or filled in the gaps. Fanfic was there for all of that, and it can be a useful tool for writers learning the craft.

Seanan McGuire, a sci-fi writer who has won both the Nebula and Hugo Awards, writes about this in a Twitter thread: “Fanfic taught me pacing. Taught me dialog. Taught me scene, and structure, and what to do when a deadline attacks. Fanfic taught me to take critique, to be edited, to collaborate, to write to spec.”

The reason, she says, why fanfic writers are made up of women and LGBTQ2IA+ folks is because they are not represented in the literary world: “A not inconsiderable number of us started writing fanfic because we wanted to live the stories we love, and then discovered that we loved telling stories. We wanted to do it always and forever and maybe… maybe we wanted to tell OUR OWN STORIES.”

And that’s exactly what I did, too. The fanfic I wrote when I was fourteen was terrible, but it was terrible because I didn’t know what I was doing, not because it was fanfic. And, more importantly, it sowed the early seeds that led me to becoming a professional writer and editor.

I’m encouraged that the conversation about fanfic is more open now and that creators, like Seanan McGuire, are fighting the implications that they should be ashamed; Neil Gaiman himself wrote, “I won the Hugo Award for a piece of Sherlock Holmes/H.P. Lovecraft fanfic, so I’m in favour” in response to a tweet questioning the validity of it. And I love that Terry Jeffords and Ben Wyatt (from Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Parks and Recreation, respectively) are canon fanfic writers.

I won’t fault people who engage in their fandoms by writing fanfic. But I want to challenge those who dismiss fanfic as meaningless or trashy to rethink their perspective in light of the writers who use it to hone their craft—they may go on to be tomorrow’s next bestsellers. And, some fanfic writers simply enjoy playing in someone else’s world, using their creativity for something they’re passionate about; there’s no harm in that either. After all, what are these universes for if not to spark creativity and imagination? If we stamp that out, men and women alike will lose something valuable indeed.

This article was originally published in Area of Effect magazine in 2018. You can now find it in Never Split the Party (And Other Wisdom from Geek Culture that Changed my Life), published by Mythos & Ink.

You can also listen to me talking about fanfic on the Geek4 podcast with Dr. Michael Boyce.


 Soldier-straight pews,
 the stained glass of saints past
 a blue and gold aurora
 (and the dragon under George’s foot),
 the royal red carpet that bears us
 to our seats,
 and the lectern, standing sentinel
 in the middle aisle,
 waiting for the Word among us.
 Throw open the arched doors,
 let the evening light fly
 through the sanctuary
 to the table, heavy laden
 with a feast.
 The bell calls us in
 to worship and to work.
 and sing. 

This is the first poem from my series “The Shape of Our Life: Poems for saint benedict’s table,” written during my artist residency in the summer of 2019.

Wanting Echo

 You whisper
 through the ache of your  
 wretched heart, your reply only  
 a repetition of those words, words  
 spoken in spite—
 I would die before I
 let you touch me—
 because you, your tongue  
 eager to repeat his sweet
 nothings, dared to lay 
 a finger, caress his cheek,  
 to want to touch.
 And he, drowning  
 in his own pride,
 left you with no recourse
 but to repeat (to plead?):
 Touch me.  
 Touch me.

This poem was published in Never Split the Party (And Other Wisdom from Geek Culture that Changed my Life) by Mythos & Ink Publishing.

5 Stories about the Afterlife that Might Surprise You

Every religion and culture has its own ideas about what happens to us after we die; it’s the one question no one can answer, no matter what they believe. One of my favourite things about worldbuilding is seeing how fantasy and sci-fi creators put their own spins on the traditional concepts of eternal rest and peace for good souls, and eternal damnation for bad souls.

Here are five great portrayals of the afterlife.

1. Leaf by Niggle—J.R.R. Tolkien

Leaf by Niggle1 - CopyIn this short story by Tolkien, the artist Niggle wants nothing more than to finish his great work—a painting of a tree in front of a forest. He spends as much time as he can on it, putting incredible detail and attention into every leaf. But, things keep getting in the way of painting: chores, duties, and the constant requests for help from his neighbour, Parish, who can’t walk and whose wife is sick.

Eventually, Niggle has to take a trip, for which he hasn’t prepared. As a result, he is sent to an institution, where he has to perform menial labour everyday.

After some time in the institution, Niggle goes to another place for “a little gentle treatment,” which he discovers is the Tree and Forest of his painting—but finished and fully realized. He reunites with Parish, and together they garden and make the country even more beautiful, before they eventually move on to their final destination of the Mountains in the distance.

One way to interpret this story is through the lens of Death, Purgatory, and Paradise. Niggle’s Death is the unexpected trip he hasn’t prepared for. Next, he spends time in Purgatory, performing menial tasks day in and day out. Finally, he moves on to Paradise, where he fully realizes his great artistic work.

It’s a quiet, allegorical story that depicts Catholic ideas of life after death—a tale you may want to read over again to catch all its implications.

2. The Abhorsen Chronicles—Garth Nix

IGates of Deathn The Abhorsen Chronicles, Death is portrayed as a river. This river carries spirits though nine precincts, each more dangerous than the last, until they reach their final end. The river doesn’t distinguish between good spirits and bad, but, if spirits linger in the river too long, they become twisted versions of what they were in Life.

In this world, both necromancers and the Abhorsen have the ability to walk through Death: necromancers when they raise dead spirits to serve them as slaves, and the Abhorsen when they lay the dead to rest. Dead spirits are constantly trying to claw their way back to Life, afraid of what they’ll find at the end.

And yet, when Lirael walks all the way to the Ninth Precinct in the second book of the series, this is what she finds:

“The Ninth Precinct was utterly different from the other parts of Death… The familiar tug of the river at [Lirael’s] knees disappeared as the current faded away. The river now only splashed gently round her ankles, and the water was warm…

For the first time, she could also look up and see more than a grey, depressing blur. Much more. There was a sky above her, a night sky so thick with stars that they overlapped and merged to form one unimaginably vast and luminous cloud. There were no distinguishable constellations, no patterns to pick out. Just a multitude of stars, casting a light as bright as but softer than the living world’s sun.”

Lirael learns that the end is nothing to be afraid of, which is a refreshing perspective on the afterlife.

Read more at Mythos & Ink.