A Victorian Dollhousing Ceremony Requires Friends
We have forgotten that we are magical, but all it takes to be is to remember. I tweeted this today, and it really sums up best the way I feel about my latest book project. Some book projects are releases of energy stored inside, toxic energy that needs to be let go. I’ve had plenty of those, and they are therapeutic in the way that they diffuse a situation that seems overwhelming painful in silence.
Some book projects, though, are pure creations — they are spells, ceremonies. They are magic. And by writing them, they whisper to places inside yourself you forget were there. They make you friends, and they help them, too. And if you work hard, maybe their magic will infect and inspire and others to remember that we are nothing but miracles in a mundane, profane world. We just need to give in to our magical origins. When you take a minute to listen, the incantations are whispering in your soul.
A Victorian Dollhousing Ceremony is a dream project because it began as a dream, mine. I woke up processing a vivid dream of being shrunken by a wizard who collects tiny art and crafts dollhouses. My dream life consisted of being handled and chased by these giant fingers in a miniature pine house. The catalyst for my shrinking was that a jealous girl sold me to the wizard to remove me as competition. This dream haunted my brain until I made a sonnet about it, the title of this book and a poem published in December by Mojave Heart Review.
In the sonnet, A Victorian Dollhousing Ceremony, I began to flesh things out a bit more about the shrunken girl. I knew, for example, she was given a potion that shrunk her. She was a troubled young woman, an artist, abused and codependent.
I showed this poem to a friend of mine, the editor of Ghost City Review, Justin Karcher. It was different than a lot of my poetry more fantasy/fairy tale, and he responded to it in a way that made me feel like it was as special as I felt. He eveno referred to the wizard/tiny art collector in the poem as a great male character. It tickled my brain a bit because I’d always wanted to do a poetry book with Justin as we have collaborated on other projects, poetry and an anthology. I made my case to him, and he said he’d considered it.
The Wizard of Oz drawn by L. Frank Baum
Excited by this possibility of this I turned to my Capricorn squared (we are both Capricorns and friends), Tianna Hansen, the editor in chief of Rhythm & Bones. Tianna I are anthology partners, and she’s published me numerous times in her magazine. She’s also the publisher of my forthcoming book Puritan U. I told her about my excitement about this poem, the potential book with Justin and how based on his comment about characters, I felt we were about to write what I was calling a poetry play.
Tianna was very intrigued. We’d both been hard at work on our sexual assault anthology You Are Not Your Rape. It is such a powerful project to give victims of sexual assault, ready and willing to speak on their assault, a dignified forum in print to do so. It also required many hours reading of extremely dark, true stories. It required a lot of time and energy that we might devote to writing. For Tianna, as the publisher it still is.
Speaking to1 her about this whimsical project, I could sense how much it spoke to her. Not just as an editor, publisher but as a writer. Both of us, I think needed a fantasy outlet removed from reality and the confines of normalcy. We needed magic. And when she heard about this, she immediately asked if there were any other characters. As it happened, there was one: my rival who sells me to the wizard to be shrunken and removed from the lead of The Firebird.
Leon Bakst, The Firebird
I had no expectation that Tianna would desire this part. I can’t imagine a character more opposite of her nurturing, positive nature. And the part, I admitted, was small but certainly could blossom.
I was delighted when she not only accepted but was enthused as me to take on the part that came to be called The Firebird. So now with The Wizard (who graciously accepted my offer a few days later) and The Doll, we had our cast of characters. We decided in our initial talks that weekend that the art our two characters were engaged in was dance.
Then the magic began: the poetry. Tianna & I got a head start on the writing over the weekend before Justin joined. Having established our dance theme, we wrote several poems on our ballet background to establish our characters. These poems have been published in journals like Selcouth Station, Constellate Journal and Isacoustic.
By the time Justin joined us, we had a basic geography established of the world we were creating both in the realm of the ballet and the dollhouse. Justin took that map and details and shook them in the magical snow globe glittered with fairy dust that is his brain. What settled from this exercise were road maps to another dimension. We both were inspired to respond and open our minds to use imagery in a way that felt, literally, magical.
Like all magical things, this book is both profoundly simple and complex. I called it a poetry play, but a friend of mine, Michael Miller, who I shared some of my sonnets with during their creation, said, “this is a poetic opera.” I told Justin and Tianna this description, and they both concurred, so now that is how we refer to it. I also find the description apt because as Michael said to me, “It’s an opera with poems instead of songs.” Immediately, I said to him, “Did you know that sonnet comes from the Italian word “sonnetto” which means little song?” The fact that all my poems inside this opera are little songs is magical to me, and my collaborators poems sing in their own voices. One of the most special things about this project is that we all have our unique styles. We are influenced by each other, but we speak in our language to tell a mutual story.
If A Victorian Dollhouse Ceremony is a poetic opera, it is also, I feel, a collage of influence. It’s an adult fairytale quilt composed of many pieces of many fairytales, books, pop cultural references. We have shrinking (Alice in Wonderland), wizards (a la Oz), competing ballerinas (Black Swan), fancy dollhouses owned, potentially, by sociopaths (Starp Objects.) My character I based on a famous artist who suffered with mental illness and hypersexuality as a part of her bipolar disorder (Vivian Leigh) while giving the acting performances of her life. We were inspired by the ballet The Firebird. And the relationships of the women also initially were inspired by David Lynch and the movie Mulholland Drive.
Alice in Wonderland by John Tenniel
We had magical coincidences writing this book. I stayed up late one night working on my sonnet Balletomane that you can read in Constellate Lit soon. Among other images, the poem contains mermaid imagery and the next morning Justin had emailed me his poem The Unfamiliar Music of Mermaids In Snowglobes. You can read here. We hadn’t spoken or consulted each other. It was just meant to be.
Then, recently, discussing The Firebird as an influence on Tianna’s character, she said she was going to a festival near her town centered around burning a wood phoenix. We both noticed another magical coincidence our book had gifted us. We seem to be writing this book under a collective enchantment.
This project is about magic in a modern world. A wizard so old he doesn’t even know his age uses enchantment to appear young, to curate a Victorian dollhouse in need of a doll. A wizard wouldn’t be content with any painted wooden sedentary figurine. He desires a breathing, sentient, dancing doll. He concocts a potion and meets a potential dancer/doll at a party whom he plies with champagne. He learns of her dark intentions towards another more talented dancer. Something about the way she describes her rival intrigues the wizard, and a Victorian Dollhousing Ceremony is planned.
Now, we require another magical coincidence in this project. The visual nature of these poems has overpowered us and whispered to our tiny doll hearts that we require an illustrator. We are having a contest. Tianna told you the details, and Justin provided the first poem the illustrator and all competitors will draw until we find our magic hand. The poem is typical of the quality of his writing in this book. When we read it, we were both so enchanted with the visuals it produced, Tianna and I were inspired to create this contest. I dreamed a world of dolls and fingers that led to words with friends and poems. Now we require the skilled and generous hand of an inspired visual artist. Will it be yours?
Thank you for entering my dream world .