From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Listening to Sane People Is No Use at All: Catherine J. Gardner

Catherine J. Gardner’s stories have appeared in Necrotic Tissue and Arkham Tales. She has stories forthcoming in Postscripts and Space and Time. Sometime in the not-too-distant future, scientists expect to find her trapped inside her computer hopping from blog to blog. For the moment you can read her thoughts at Read Gardner’s short story, “Trench Foot,” this week on Fantasy Magazine.


“Trench Foot” mixes psychological and fantasy into a mesmerizing world. Will you share with us some of the processes you used to build this world?

Trench Foot” was born in a heady fortnight of writing last summer — two glorious weeks away from the 9 to 5 — during which time I wrote nine short stories. I’m hoping similar magic hits during this year’s holiday. I started each day with a dozen or so prompt words and on that particular day, they took me to Between House and introduced me to some fairies. I believe it’s my first and remains my only story with fairies, I’ll have to think about rectifying that.

Pieces of the story recall a surrealist, playful language reminiscent of Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.

“Scary Sandra loitered on the stairs. Her shoulder bones poked through a faded yellow cardigan as she sat hunched on the top stair. “I’m bored. I’ve picked all the nits out of my hair and licked all of the dead skin off my dressing table and all the ghosts have gone to have tea with the Queen.”

Was Carroll’s work in any way a model for your writing, and if not, who would you choose as writers you would most like to emulate?

I have this gorgeous antique book containing Alice in Wonderland and many, many other classic tales, and I know I dipped in and out of the story over the years, but Enid Blyton and her fabulous Faraway Tree books were my drug of choice as a child. It’s quite a few years since I read them, but I still remember Moonface and Saucepan Man and the fabulous worlds they offered us in the clouds above the Faraway Tree.

A modern day influence, and one of the reasons I strayed into writing for children (I think “Trench Foot” is quite similar in style to a series of books I planned to write for children), is Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events. I love those books.

Amelia and her mother have an interesting dynamic. At times it seems they might almost understand each other then other times are completely at odds. Amelia’s father is absent from the immediate plot of the story. Danger lurks in unlikely places, but a strain of encouragement seems to light within all of this, a beacon for imagination and fantasy. Is “Trench Foot” a proponent of mind over matter, or more specifically stated, a promotion for using the imagination to escape reality?

But it is reality. We all know there are fairies at the bottom of the garden, don’t we? It would be nice to think most people at least hope there are. The saying ‘away with the fairies’ would be well placed here, I think. The thought made me smile anyway.

“Trench Foot” is certainly a fairy tale, but would you also call this a cautionary tale? Why?

Of course it’s a cautionary tale. In fact the moral of the story is ‘listening to sane people is no use at all’. If you want answers go to the crazy folk, they know the truth.

Inkblot, Trench Foot, Ginger Twins and Scary Sandra: Your choice of names has such a lyrical tone, a tone that mirrors the dark and light chiaroscuro nature of the plot. Do you write most of your fiction in this way? Could you suggest another work of the same tone and effect that your readers might enjoy?

Well I am rather partial to a character I created named Frog, so yes I do tend to name most of my characters in this way. I think my story “Uncle Eric’s Leather Bound Tale,” published in Issue 2 of Arkham Tales and available free to read online, is quite similar in style and, picking up from question four, is most certainly cautionary — don’t talk to men wearing shiny blue shoes is advice worth taking.

What works do you have upcoming? What new developments do you foresee in the fall and 2010?
Bucket ‘O’ Guts press are publishing my novelette, “The Sour Aftertaste of Olive Lemon,” as a chapbook later this summer, and I am also excited to have stories forthcoming in Postscripts late this year and early next. In the meantime, I intend to continue my agent search and begin work on my next book.

Thanks for the interview, Rae.

A pleasure, and thank you, too, Cate.

Rae Bryant is a short story author, poet, columnist, assistant editor for Fantasy Magazine, on staff with Weird Tales, and a reviewer for The Fix. She is a 2008 recipient of the Whidbey Writers’ Prize and editor nominated for StorySouth’s Million Writers Award. Her works have appeared or will soon be appearing in Fantasy Magazine, Weird Tales, Whidbey Writers MFA Zine, Literary Traveler, and Southern Fried Weirdness, among others. Rae is currently a graduate student at Johns Hopkins finishing an M.A. in Writing. She lives in a little valley just outside Washington D.C. Read more about Rae at

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