Holly Cooley, the author of a fantasy for older children, The Palace of Mythical Beasts, agreed to answer some of my questions about her writing. She started out as a journalist and then taught humanities at university and then on-line for a number of years. Her feature articles, scholarly articles and book reviews have appeared in publications ranging from Booklist to the Dictionary of Literary Biography. She has published poems in Mythic Delirium, Strange Horizons, Goblin Fruit and Dragons, Knights & Angels.


1. What is your writing process?

I tend to write in spurts, as my health and the meds for chronic pain allow. I’m always working on a number of pieces, from poetry to nonfiction to fantasy fiction. I have reams of poems, stories and half-finished novels. I love to rewrite and rewrite, playing with language, but the poems I have published are usually the ones I have tinkered with the least. I usually come up with ideas when I am doing physical activities far from my laptop, especially swimming or riding the lawn mower. I work out ideas for longer pieces in my head, while poems usually come out fully formed. I still write poems on lined yellow pads, old school, although everything else I write is on my laptop. I write all the time, but I rarely submit my work for publication. I’m not sure why that is.


2. Have you had to sacrifice anything in the rest of your life to write?

Sacrifice? No more or less than any writer. Writing has always been a priority for me, even if having others read my work has not always been one. I felt differently about my children’s fantasy, though. I published The Palace of Mythical Beasts on Kindle because I wanted to get it out there without waiting to go through the slow traditional publishing route. I felt I had lost too many years already to illness, years during which I was in too much pain or too befuddled by meds to be able to write at all.


3. Can you say a little bit about the genesis of The Palace of Mythical Beasts?

More than 20 years ago I was riding on a train in Wales doing research for my PhD on the Pre-Raphaelite and Victorian revival of all things medieval. Everyone else in the compartment was speaking Welsh and the terrain was rather wild and mountainous. It looked as if anything at all could be behind the next mountain and I imagined there might be a sanctuary there, dating back to the Celts, where mythical beasts were protected from the modern world. I wrote the idea in my reporter’s notebook and thought to myself, one day I’ll write this story. Years later when I became ill and ended up in bed, unable to walk without severe pain, I started writing about that sanctuary. Between the pain and changing meds constantly, the writing took a number of years, but once new meds stabilized the pain, I was able to finish the book and publish it on Kindle.


4. Do you think writing helps you to understand more about yourself and the world, or is advancing as a writer more about learning how to communicate the things you already know?

Both. Writing The Palace of Mythical Beasts in particular made me realize how important myths and folklore are to me and how important using our imaginations is to everyone. While I was a humanities professor, I was shocked to discover how few of my students knew anything about mythology and its great literature. Allusions to Penelope, Cerberus or Charon didn’t enrich their reading of poems and stories: the unfamiliar names just confused them. I found that incredibly sad. As a writer I think I am always trying to communicate what I’ve learned, so my values and what’s important to me will necessarily surface. Thus I both relearn and reaffirm who I am when I write.


This interview is part of Intermittent Visitors: a multi-author blog tour.

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