From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Berrien C. Henderson, Author of The Nest Building Habits of Children Inclined to Ornithomancy and Other Such Auguries

Berrien C. Henderson lives with his family in southeast Georgia. He was born in a small town and currently lives in a farming community; deer and turkey have been known to wander through his yard. A small cadre of common house Geckos earn their keep by eating the bugs on the carport and front porch. Both Berry and his wife teach — high school English and sixth grade English, respectively. He has a son and daughter who answer to Thing 1 and Thing 2. Ever-elusive free time he spends with family, and late in the evening or late at night, writing speculative fiction and poetry. His writing can be found in Kaleidotrope, The Shantytown Anomaly, The Journal of Asian Martial Arts, Clockwise Cat, and Behind the Wainscot. Forthcoming auctorial ventures include work in the Hatter Bones anthology (ENE Publishing), Drollerie Press, Star*Line, and Clarkesworld Magazine.


Tell me a little about The Nest Building Habits of Children Inclined to Ornithomancy and Other Such Auguries. What was the first image or phrase or impetus that made you sit down and spin it out?

Many of my stories simply begin with that ubiquitous, “What if?” “What if in contemporary society there was a subculture of ornithomancers?” So, yeah, it’s high on the weird radar, but that’s right up my alley. The answer really came in the first sentence: “By the time I was four, my father began teaching me the subtleties of reading crow flight — most other birds, too.” Now, that particular sentence came to me while writing a totally unrelated short story. The idea, the image of a father and son, the fragmented memoir of the nameless narrator all gelled so fast for me that I had to stop mid-stream on that other story to write “The Nest Building Habits of Children Inclined to Ornithomancy and Other Such Auguries.” And the sucker spun me out.

Where do you get your ideas?

Finding the fantastic in the everyday. I want to see one of the Fey Folk in the shadows of a few acres of planted pines. See Celtic triptychs swirled in the dust of a dirt road. Watch some crows light in the trees across the road from my property and wonder… The ideas mostly come as images. Sometimes a snippet of dialogue. Again, in this particular story’s genesis, a first sentence. The ones that start with a last sentence are the most fun to me, though.

Of your current stories, published or unpublished, which is the most important to you and why?

Wow. That’s a tough question. All of them because each is unique as a storytelling artifact. This story is definitely important to me because I find myself layering more parent-child motifs in my writing as a natural outgrowth of parenthood. On the other hand, whatever story I’m currently drafting usually carries much weight in the late evenings and nights, too.

What’s your favorite thing about being a writer? Other than the writing, of course.

When words become more than “just words.” When the idea unspools, and I write and still can’t sleep because a character or image or crisis point won’t let me go. When an emotional issue bothers me because I figure it’ll bother the audience and hopefully not be some cheap parlor trick of the narrative. All of the above. (This quiz is multiple choice, right?)

What natural talent would you like to have that you don’t?

Painting.

Is there a particular painting that’s ever inspired a story, or have you made any of your characters painters?

Well, not necessarily a particular painting, but particular painters: da Vinci, Rembrandt, Monet, and Manet. Alluding to them in a science fiction story accepted at Clarkesworld for sometime around the first of next year allowed me to establish some juxtaposition vital to a scene. Plus, I just sneaked my love of Renaissance era and Impressionist painters into a story. Maybe it fits my overall approach creatively — thinking in broad terms, global terms, shooting for the emotional impression first, then going back and revising/editing for the more finely tuned elements

Do your students know that you’re a writer, and if so, what do they think of it?

Ah. Yes, to the degree they know my passion for writing. The students who enjoy writing the most naturally share their poetry/stories with you, so there’s that rapport with another creative type. Here’s where I say, though, that I try to be very careful not to self-aggrandize about the acceptances/publications because, well, I’m not hired to do that. However, if my love for writing helps turn on a light bulb or encourages students to pursue that talent themselves, then that’s different. Then again, I could be the Construction 1A teacher who also builds cabinets on the side or the band director who plays local gigs. For the second part of the question: Teaching teenagers has taught me many things. One of them is that the new wears off pretty fast. I think it’s viewed more as something I do as opposed to something I am. Maybe a “Oh, yeah, Henderson writes and has some stories and poems published. So, when are we being tested over Alexander Pope?”

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