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Elizabeth Hand (born 29 March 1957) is an American writer, whose first story, "Prince of Flowers", was published in 1988 in Twilight Zone magazine, and her first novel, Winterlong, was published in 1990.
- So much fantasy relies on the author's having read Fraser's The Golden Bough or Robert Graves' The White Goddess and nothing else. The White Goddess is a crank book, a crank book of genius of course, but all the same... Mind you, I found Waking the Moon cited in an article in a pagan magazine as an authority for the idea that there was a patriarchal brotherhood, the Benandanti, that have been running things since antiquity, with no mention of the fact that it is a novel, and a fantasy at that. People want to believe something, and so they swallow anything.
- I went to college to study drama where I discovered I had no talent and after a period of dropping out majored in cultural anthropology which of course meant more masks and dancing … I studied what interested me and so I had to become a writer because my education had left me unsuited for a decent well-paying job.
- "Intense Ornate" interview with Amazon.co.uk (1999)
- I find that many modern fantasies explain things away far too easily, which makes a lot of it overly familiar (to me, anyway). Real myths are often strange and startlingly unfamiliar, and don't always give up their meanings easily; you have to tease them out, and for me, that's one of the pleasures of reading older collections of lore.
- I never think about genre when I work. I've written fantasy, science fiction, supernatural fiction, and am now working on a suspense novel. Genres are mostly useful as a marketing tool, and to help booksellers known where to shelve a book.
- "Elizabeth Hand on Mortal Love at HarperCollins (2004)
Apocalypse Descending (2002)
- "Apocalypse Descending" interview with Nick Gevers (July - September 2001) published in Redsine Seven (January 2002)
- I have to say (regretfully) that I've seen very little in my real life to indicate the presence of either the supernatural or the divine.
As for apocalypse, I was imprinted at an early age with the idea of The End of the World (this also courtesy of the Catholic Church). I can remember being terrified of thunderstorms — I'd think, Uh oh, THIS IS IT. I was born in 1957, and grew up in the metropolitan New York area with the Cold War as a backdrop. In kindergarten and first and second grade we had constant air raid drills, sirens going off and that whole "Duck 'n Cover" drill when you cower under your desk or else hide in the classroom cloak closet, waiting for the Atomic Bomb to drop. I had nightmares about that well into my twenties. For a while in the 1970s I lived near a fire station in D.C., and when the fire sirens would go off at night I'd wake up terrified — again — that THIS WAS IT.
Of course it never was, but it was good practice at being scared and thinking about scary stuff.
- I was about ten when I first read 1984 and Lord of the Flies, both of which absolutely terrified me — especially 1984, because I figured out that Julia, Winston Smith's lover, would have been born the same year I was. I knew these books were fiction, but I was far too young to have a grasp on the political or cultural realities behind them — I had no distance or detachment from what I read: it seemed too real to me, too possible.
- I think Washington is a magical place. I lived there for thirteen years, and until the day I left I never wanted to live anywhere else. I went back for the first time two years ago, after over a decade's absence; it was like seeing an old lover and discovering — with great relief — that the flame is still there.
Gore Vidal famously remarked of walking through the city with his grandfather, a senator, and the old man telling him, "Someday all this will make marvelous ruins."
- I've always had numinous dreams, and a lot of them feature a Dionysian character I named The Boy in the Tree. He first came to me when I was seventeen: I had a dream that I was on a flat featureless plane, mist everywhere. Then there was a blinding flash of lightning, deafening thunder, and I fell to the ground. Someone reached out to touch the middle of my forehead with a finger: I opened my eyes, the mist was gone, and there he was: the boy in the tree, this beautiful demonic figure with mocking green eyes. After that he would appear in dreams, sitting up in a tree and talking to me, and I'd have this incredible wave of emotion, a feeling I've only ever had in dreams — the most amazingly intense combination of desire and loss and anticipation. Later I'd think (still dreaming) This is what I will feel when I die. And who knows? Maybe I will.
Then, while researching Winterlong, I found a reference to Dionysios of Boeotia, where the god was called the One in the Tree. So even though I rationally know there's no such thing as a Dionsyian god, or a universal unconscious, it's very, very easy for me to extrapolate them both from my own dream-experience. The roots of these myths of the dying or vegetative god are so ancient and so many that one can wander among them forever, I think, yet never find a single source. And the primary material in Greece is so fascinating and so dark — The Bacchae, what we know of the Dionysian and Eleusinian Mysteries — great stuff for writers.
For me personally, of course, Dionysos embodies all the themes that have always preoccupied me: mutable sexual identity, altered states of consciousness; madness, the theater, ecstacy.
- Mars Hill was inspired by a real place near where I live on the coast of Maine, a 100+ year old Spiritualist community called Temple Heights: little carpenter's gothic cottages tumbling down a hillside overlooking the sea, very picturesque and, tragically, very susceptible to the terrible development pressure that's bearing down on the small towns around here.
So far, however, the spiritualists seem to be winning out. After I wrote "Last Summer at Mars Hill", I visited the place formally and had a reading done by a psychic there. The place was exactly as I'd imagined it, as were its (human) inhabitants. I saw no evidence of supernatural ones, alas.
- I love the notion of there being a single group of Apollonian watchdogs down through the aeons, keeping the world safe from the malign (and far more fun-loving) forces of Dionysos.
- I'm an utterly orthodox feminist in the political or social sense: I want equal rights for women, period, and I vote that way. I support social programs that help women and children; I'm pro-choice, in favor of anything that makes it easier for women to raise their kids, with or without men, in conventional or unconventional family units.
But do I think the world would be a better place if it were run solely by women? No; not any more than I think a solely patriarchal model is an ideal.
- A lot of the revisionist thinking by feminist mythologisers — people who based their projections of ancient "matristic" cultures on work done by folks like Marija Gimbutas — is based on archaeological and anthropological speculation that in some cases has since been proved wrong. The pretty happy flower children who lived at ancient Knossos, for instance, were the result of wishful thinking by the Victorian explorer Arthur Evans (a man, please note). No one actually knows what these cultures were really like, but it's doubtful that they were free of the same problems of sexual inequality that we have today.
- I'm sure one reason that so many Greek myths deal with terrifying, powerful women — Medea, Electra, the Erinyes, the Bacchae, — is that at some point in the misty past, women held a power that was terrifying — terrifying not because they were women whom men felt threatened by, but because they wielded that power in terrifying rituals that almost certainly involved human sacrifice.
This would not be a popular platform on which to base a feminist agenda.
Strange Horizons interview (2004)
- I worked at the Smithsonian for a number of years. I had a very low-level job. I didn't have much responsibility, but I did have a Smithsonian ID badge that gave me access to all of the museums on the mall, and also the National Gallery of Art. In those days, you could go anywhere, which you can't do now. You could get in behind the scenes and wander along these tunnels. There is a scene in "Prince of Flowers" where the characters are in the Paleontology Department of the Museum of Natural History where they really do have this Raiders of the Lost Ark-type vast space filled with all of these unopened cartons. … I was really entranced with the idea of living in a museum. In Winterlong there are two parallel storylines and the one for Raphael takes place among this guild or tribe of curators who live in the ruins of the Smithsonian Institution.
- I don't think all artists are mad, but there is statistical medical evidence that a lot of creative people suffer from various mood disorders. They fall somewhere on the spectrum of being bipolar, of being borderline autistic and so on. These things are there. Now of course these days you can go to college and when you come out you are a professional artist and you can run a gallery as a business and have a career. That is a very valid way for an artist to make a living. But it doesn't make for a very interesting story. It doesn't have a lot of mythic subtext. … For me a lot of the world really is like that. The scenes in my book that people describe as "such a hallucinatory sequence" … I don't see the world like that all the time, but I see the world like that a lot.
So what am I going to do about that? Am I going to go crazy? Am I going to institutionalize myself? Am I going to go and work in a cubicle as a telemarketer so that I don't give vent to that? Or am I going to take that and channel it into my work? It is a gift.
- I try to maintain a balance between having a vision of the world that many readers do not experience for themselves, trying to give them enough grounding in the world we are all familiar with, so they don't feel that they are completely lost in Faerie.
- Faeries might have been wandering around in Victorian England. I can believe that. But it is a more difficult thing to think that they might be wandering around Camden Town now.
It is more of a jump, but I find that more interesting in many ways. The irruption of the supernatural into our world is a much more enticing notion to explore than the same thing happening in some past time, or in a wholly imaginary world.
Generation Loss (2007)
- There's always a moment when everything changes. … If you don't see it coming, if you blink or you're drunk or just looking the other way — well everything changes anyway, it's not like things would have been different.
But for the rest of your life you're fucked, because you blew it. Maybe no one else knows it, but you do. In my case, it was no secret. Everyone knew I'd blown it. Some people can make do in a situation like that. Me, I've never been good at making do. My life, who could pretend there wasn't a big fucking hole in it.
- Ch. 1
- I had from earliest childhood a sense that there was no skin between me and the world. I saw things other people didn't see. Hands that slipped through the gaps in the air like falling leaves; a jagged outline like a branch but there was no branch and no tree. In bed at night I heard a voice repeating my name in a soft, insistent monotone. Cass. Cass. Cass. My father took me to a doctor, who said I'd grow out of it. I never did, really.
- Ch. 1
- I liked being alone. Once when I was fourteen, walking in the woods, I stepped from the trees into a field where the long grasses had been flattened by sleeping deer. I looked up into the sky and saw a mirror image of the grass, black and yellow-gray whorls making a slow clockwise rotation like a hurricane. As I stared the whorl began to move more quickly, drawing a darkness into its center until it resembled a vast striated eye that was all pupil, contracting upon itself yet never disappearing. I stared at it until a low buzzing began to sound in my ears. Then I ran.
I didn't stop until I reached my driveway. When I finally halted and looked back, the eye was still there, turning. I never mentioned it to anyone. No one else ever spoke of seeing it.
- Ch. 1
- Several months later I had this dream. I was kneeling in the field where I'd seen the eye. A figure appeared in front of me: a man with green-flecked eyes, his smile mocking and oddly compassionate. As I stared up at him, he extended his hand until his finger touched the center of my forehead.
There was a blinding flash. I fell on my face, terrified, woke in bed with my ears ringing. It was the morning of my seventeenth birthday
- Ch. 1
- It sounds creepy, but I always liked the idea of disappearing then becoming something new. That of course was before I disappeared.
- Ch. 1
- You read a lot of crap about photographic craftsmanship in those days, and technique; but you didnt hear shit about vision. I knew that I had an eye, a gift for seeing where the ripped edges of the world begin to peel away and something else shows through.
- Ch. 1
Quotes about Hand
- Elizabeth Hand is one of American literature's finest prose poets of the fantastic. Her novels are powerfully lyrical, suffused with visionary agony and dreamlike eroticism; in her hands, myth reattains the nightmare energy of its origins, staining the present and the future with atavistic hues of blood.
- I always thought of muses as sacrificial lambs, tamping down their own unwieldy creative impulses as they offer themselves for delectation by male geniuses. But Elizabeth Hand suggests in a recent essay that the connection is perilous for both parties: "The threat of one being consumed or obliterated by the other is constant. Yet it is precisely this tension, this tango macabre, that underscores the erotic nature of the relationship between artist and muse, suspended as it is between longing and dread, the yearning to possess and the knowledge that capture is so often destructive of the very object of desire."
This tango macabre is the core of Mortal Love, Hand's latest novel. … Calling Mortal Love "an imaginary tree with roots in the real world," Hand laces the novel with real historical figures like Algernon Swinburne and Lady Wilde (Oscar's folktale-spinning mother) and drops in amusing literary allusions and references to artists like Brian Jones and Kurt Cobain, who have themselves been scorched by the muse. … The novel succeeds as both a thriller and a meditation on the mysterious nature of inspiration.
- Winterlong: The Elizabeth Hand Website
- Elizabeth Hand at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database
- Elizabeth Hand at Free Speculative Fiction Online
- The Divine: The Liz Hand Livejournal Community
- Elizabeth Hand interview at Strange Horizons
- Video interview in Northhampton MA (17 May 2007)
- Excerpt from Mortal Love (2004) at HaperCollins