If you’re going to read Urban Green Man, edited by Adria Laycraft and Janice Blaine, I have to say: ya gotta read this book in summer while sitting under a tree on the shore of the Ottawa River, or some reasonable facsimile. Take it outside with your tea and sit under the broad shade of an umbrella while the rain falls gently on the trees. Anything. But when you read this book, if you don’t read it outside, or if you read this over the winter, you’re going to get such a painful hankering for gardening that you’ll start your seedlings in December, I kid you not.
Urban Green Man is an anthology forwarded onto me by Brian Hades of the book’s publishing house, Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing. Having read a few other anthologies in the recent past by other publishing houses, I will admit some skepticism. I was pleasantly surprised: the stories are well written, they piqued my interest, and most importantly, they actually inspired me to do art work of my own – or at the very least, to spend more time out of doors while the weather holds.
I haven’t finished reading the whole book yet, so I can’t say which story is my favourite, but there are a few stories like “The Green Square” by dvsduncan, Eileen Donaldson’s “Waking the Holly Kin” and “Deer Feet” Michael J. DeLuca have all stuck with me. This set of short stories has a little something for everyone, I think, and it shows the principle character, The Green Man, from a variety of perspectives, which I found refreshing.
But instead of me going on about who – or what – the Green Man is, I’d rather let the two editors take over from here!
By the way: I had the pleasure of reading two other interviews in the wake of the Urban Green Man launch. They’re great interviews! I highly recommend reading them (after reading this one, of course!)
9DW: I’m familiar with the Green Man as an archetype of Celtic mythology as a symbol of regeneration and renewal. Are either of you familiar with analogous beings in other mythologies?
Janice Blaine: I’m aware of several:
– John Barleycorn is a character from a British folksong who represents the Fall wheat and barley harvest & the alcohols created from them.
– The Corn Goddess is a Native American legend. She sacrificed herself to save the people from starving. She asked her husband to kill her and scatter her ashes in a field, and in that place corn and tobacco began to grow.
– Jack in the Green is the May Day King who dresses in a garland of leaves.
Adria Laycraft: The Green Knight, Robin Goodfellow, Puck, Jack in the Green, Peter Pan and even Robin Hood all share common themes with original Green Man stories, and there are many others. There are also myths in Islam of ‘the Green One’ (named Khidr), in Ancient Egypt where Osiris is green, and in the Celtic representation of the Horned God Cernunnos. It’s amazing to find that the deeper one looks, the more you find the Green Man represented in cultures all over the world.
9DW: You received hundreds of submissions for an anthology that could only hold about 30-odd stories, and having read some previous interviews, I get the sense that many of those stories were just stunning. Did you find that there was a lot of cultural and geographic variation between the stories? And does the anthology reflect that diversity?
AL: Yes! The anthology offers great variation: one story is set in England, another in American corn fields, another in an anonymous high rise, another in a famous Calgary park, another in the southeastern states, and so on and so forth. The diversity is part of what makes it so much fun to read!
JB: The diversity that I noticed was in the interpretation of the myth. We received comedies, dystopian stories, and cautionary tales with beautiful glimmers of hope at the end. I also loved that the majority of stories and poems we finally chose focused on a different tree, plant or flower. That gave me the idea of creating a wood engraving styled image to illustrate the predominant flora of each story.
9DW: Most archetypes evolve over time, and artists find new ways of representing old archetypes in new ways. Aside from the garden statuary and in paintings, have you seen the Green Man popping up in new forms in our modern society? i.e. in literature, in artwork, on TV…?
JB: The Green Man makes an appearance in Charles de Lint’s novel Forests of the Heart. I also remember him popping up at least once in a Northern Exposure episode. The DC comic character The Swamp Thing (created by Len Wein and Berni Wrightson) has been described as a modern day Green Man. It tells the story of scientist Alex Holland’s transformation into an elemental plant being after a lab accident. Even the colour green has changed from symbolizing growth and renewal to also representing environmental awareness & activism.
AL: New Age stores love images of the Green Man, and so do artists, and writers, and gardeners, so new renditions seem to appear all the time. What surprised me (and still does) is how many people haven’t heard of the Green Man mythos in our world today. It was the initial discovery of this fact that was the ‘seed’ for the idea.
9DW: The Green Man is one from a host of motifs in Celtic mythology. Since you two are nature-lovers, I can imagine this anthology was a, uh…a ”natural” fit for you both. But if you were to do another anthology with a different Celtic or similar figure, which do you think you would choose?
AL: Yes, definitely a ‘natural’ fit for both of us. We have discussed other possibilities but both feel it’s best to focus on our own work at this time. However, I do have a fascination with gargoyles, and griffins, and the Questing Beast from Arthurian legend…
JB: I would love to work on a literary / artistic exploration of the Celtic Tree Calendar. Not the historical or spiritual works that are quite common, but fictional tales about the trees and their individual personalities.
9DW: Do you see the Green Man as a benevolent figure toward mankind, or malevolent, or aloof?
JB: I see the Green Man as a Guardian, a protector of the natural world. I imagine him as a wild, powerful, generally peaceful being who can become extremely dangerous if a certain line is crossed. Whether that line is crossed by mankind or another species is irrelevant. His wrath would be the same.
AL: I like to hope that the Green Man would help us revive the environment, if we were so inclined, but we’ve done a ton of damage up to this point and don’t seem to be willing to make any big changes to stop it, so if he were to awake in today’s world I worry he wouldn’t be so impressed. That was the whole theme of this anthology, in, well, a nutshell.
9DW: Question for Adria: I love writing novels, but short stories are my downfall. What advice would you give to a long-winded hack like myself who wants to create a compact but deep and thought-provoking story like the ones you showcase in this anthology?
AL: The thing to remember is that a short story can only focus on one incident, especially very short works like flash fiction. Try creating a story around just one event and only 2-3 characters. And be sure to choose your words for maximum effect. I just finished a week-long writer’s workshop with a Master’s class on subtext. Subtext is great because one carefully chosen word has multiple meanings, and can also serve to set mood and foreshadow your ending or character transformation. That said, some stories (and writers) are just better suited to longer works, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
9DW: Question for Janice: not only are you the co-editor of this anthology, but you’re also a commercial artist. I have a friend who is a painter, and not only does he use acrylic and canvas, but he also has an app for his iPad and a specialized stylus that acts as a paintbrush. I know there are all sorts of artistic software packages out there as well. What do you typically use? How are your creations then transferred into a book format?
JB: My paintings begin as traditional sketches. All my brainstorming is done on paper. Then once the drawing is completed, I do the final painting in either traditional watercolour or as a digital piece. All the Urban Green Man illustrations were done digitally with Corel Painter and a pressure sensitive stylus. I scanned the original drawings and imported them into the Painter program. What I love about this software is that it successfully simulates any traditional medium. It’s wonderful! Once all the illustrations were completed, I imported them into the book layout and designed the manuscript around them.
Find ’em and follow ’em!
The other two interviews: