From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Come From A Nameless Island: Samantha Henderson

Samantha Henderson lives in Southern California with her family, corgis, and at the moment a metric ton of mockingbirds. Among the places her fiction and poetry have appeared are Chizine, Realms of Fantasy, Strange Horizons, Lone Star Stories, and Goblin Fruit. Her first novel, Heaven’s Bones, was released in 2008 by Wizards of the Coast. Her story, “Such A Lovely Shade Of Green,” appeared in the print version of Fantasy Magazine and “Shallot” appeared in the Fantasy Sampler. Her most recent story for the magazine is Garkain.

Tell me a little about “Garkain.” What was the first image or phrase or impetus that made you sit down and spin it out?

My mother’s family is Australian, and one of my relatives gave me a book of Aboriginal stories that had wonderfully surreal watercolors illustrating it. The picture of the Garkain, which is a forest spirit who smothers intruders with its skin, always fascinated and frightened me.

Where do you get your ideas?

At the third dark moon of every year I go to a nameless island, where cliffs rear their lowering countenances over a churning black sea. We gather on the narrow shore. We are not allowed to speak each others’ names, although there are some I recognize there; our eyes meet and we quickly turn away. Each time we fear we cannot find the gaping mouth of the cave, each time one or two of the suppliants makes a false step on the slippery black rocks and is seized by the hungry waves.

The cave’s walls are slippery with moss, and we enter one by one. Inside there is a maze of tunnels, dimly lit by the phosphorescent, eldritch growths on the walls and I follow the pattern I was given so long before: left, right, two passages over, left. I enter the chamber of the Thing Without a Face; I am given a small plain wood box, the size of a Bible; I wince away from the sight of the preternaturally long fingers; I nod in acknowledgment and make my way back — right, two passages over, left, right. Perhaps all who go there have a different path to take, perhaps it makes no difference. I’ve never dared to ask.

Home safe again, I sit on the floor of the bathroom, the only room whose door I can lock. I light a single candle, grasp my rosary in my left hand, and open the box with my right.

What author do you admire and hope to be compared to someday?

I admire any author who can tell a good tale. I especially admire novelists such as Jane Austen and Anthony Trollope, who make their narrative method integral to telling their good tales. I would love to be half as good as Elizabeth Bowen in crafting short stories, especially subtle and creepy ghost stories.

What author do you admire yet hope never to be compared to?

H.P. Lovecraft — who was groundbreaking and inventive and sometimes unexpectedly beautiful, but of course dreadfully racist (and sexist).

What are your creative hobbies — other than writing?

Amateur theater, and growing interesting molds in the back of my refrigerator.

What part of theatre productions are you involved with (acting? writing?), and have you done any interesting ones lately?

I work at a church and I’ve ganged up with a few like minded-people and we’ve been fundraising by putting on melodramas, the more ridiculous the better.

Who are your favorite visual artists?

Henri Rousseau and Escher, off the top of my head. Van Gogh, when I can see the actual painting and not a reproduction, which never gets the color right. Edward Hopper, although an artistic friend of mine says that means I’m shallow.

Your favorite musical artists?

At the moment (and with this kind of question I always forget all my favorite whatevers), Loreena McKennitt, Janet Klein and her Parlor Boys, the Cambridge Singers.

You’ve published a novel as well as short stories. Do you find that your writing process is different for the two? Do you prefer one length over the other?

A novel and a short story are two different beasts entirely. I like working on both — after I finished Heaven’s Bones I found I missed writing short stories but I had lost all my short story muscles and it’s been a long time getting them back. With a book-length work you have more space to build world, character and circumstance, whereas with a short I find I tend to cut to the chase and leave much of the worldbuilding to the reader.

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