Let's Get Wyrd
WIP playlists, celebrating Lughnasadh, drink-a-thon for abortion, new booktail-based column in Electric Literature, plus weird and magical booktails for ARIADNE and BUNNY!
Welcome back to The Cauldron! (Yasss witches!)
I’m not gonna lie, it’s been a tough summer. I’m trying to write my ass off while the world (further) falls apart. Somehow I’ve managed to meet my weekly quota of new pages on the next-next book, which is kind of a mess, but I’m struggling to find time to revise the next book. Too many books, not enough time! This is why I need a clone or two of myself, which sounds like a Calvino-esque idea for a next-next-next book. See what I mean?
To get a sense of what I’m writing and just how weird it is, here are the Spotify playlists for my next books, QUEENS OF HEAVEN AND EARTH, (which contains a Sumerian hymn, the oldest piece of music ever discovered. You know I love those Sumerians! Plus songs by Ariana Grande, Billie Eilish, Peaches, Weyes Blood, HAIM, Herizen, be steadwell, and more) and the next-next book, THE HANGING MAN, (get ready for some spooky Nordic chanting and moody covers of “Seven Nation Army!” Totally appropriate for a book about marriage and spirit possession. With appearances from Tori, Tricky, and Florence + the Machine, etc.) Listen and feel the struggle! Or maybe get inspired?
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Meanwhile, in other witchy news, we’re reaching the end of July, which means Lughnasadh is just around the corner! What’s that, you ask?
August 1st is Lughnasadh: aka Jen’s Favorite Sabbat!
Pronounced loo-nah-sah, Lughnasadh or Lughnasa is a Gaelic festival marking the beginning of the harvest season, as the Earth prepares to descend again into winter darkness. The festival honors the god Lugh, (my spouse Jen’s patron deity!) one of the most important figures in the Celtic pantheon, an all-seeing deity of sun and light who is paradoxically a great warrior and poet. (Does that sound like Jen or what? If you know, you know…)
During the May festival of Beltane, the Lady of the Woods and the Green Man engage in ritual coupling. As the fields grow tall and Lughnasadh draws near, the Green Man’s time grows short and he prepares for the ritual harvest/sacrifice that will ensure the health and prosperity of the people: the cut grain will be stored for winter, or made into bread. In some places, the Green Man’s death is mourned with wreaths of poppies or cornflowers.
We celebrate Lughnasadh through ritual offerings of the first-cut grain of the season, along with feasting and dancing. At summer’s end, we honor sacrifice, transformation, as well as the eternal cycle of death and rebirth.
Don’t forget: I’m always available to craft custom elixirs for holidays, weddings and other events, or as a one-of-a-kind gift for engagements, ditto weddings, anniversaries, births, b’nai mitzvahs, etc! Cock(tail)s and mock(tail)s galore!
Announcing Booktails from the Potions Library, my new monthly column in Electric Literature!
Some months ago, I set a goal to land a booktail column in a well-known writerly magazine. My first choice was Electric Literature, (which just won the 2022 Whiting Literary Magazine Prize by the way!) I’ve actually been a fan of EL since it was print-only and run by Brooklyn College MFA grads. When I placed an essay there for the first time in 2015, (the subject of which was, ironically, what it takes to feel like a “real writer”) I was ecstatic. Another piece came out early in the pandemic, and then about a year ago EL published five of my booktail recipes. But the Books editor rejected my next pitch, a piece featuring Mother’s Day-relevant booktails.
Then a chance to pitch a column came along thanks to Grubstreet, who hired me to craft booktails for the 2022 Muse and Marketplace all-conference reads, GRIEVERS and THE NATURAL MOTHER OF THE CHILD. The Grubstreet staff member who commissioned the drinks had formerly worked for Electric Literature and got together with the current editors to request a surprise booktail for Alyssa Songsiridej, the managing editor of Recommended Reading at EL, whose electrifyingly sexy novel LITTLE RABBIT came out on May 3. So here was my chance: I’d been put in direct contact with the editors running EL, plus I’d done custom work for them that they were really happy with. Nevertheless, I hesitated. Pitching an editor I know is harder for me than one I don’t because if they say no or ignore me, I feel doubly embarrassed by the rejection, as if I’ve committed a faux pas by bothering them with my foolish ideas. Maybe EL didn’t want any more booktails from me, maybe that was why they’d rejected my last pitch. When I hit “send” on the email to the editor-in-chief suggesting a monthly column, I honestly thought I would never hear back.
Instead, I immediately got an enthusiastic YES. Then I negotiated terms that met my needs and gave me some flexibility. On Friday, July 15, the first column was published, featuring Abigail Stewart’s novel THE DROWNED WOMAN, selected for its themes of motherhood, choice, autonomy, and art.
All this to say, you should always take your shot and pitch with the confidence of a teenager asking for seconds, as the brilliant and funny Aileen Weintraub says.
Booktails from the Potions Library comes out every third Friday of the month! Stay tuned for August’s pick, PEACES by Helen Oyeyemi.
You’re Invited! Upcoming Events
Drink-a-thon for Abortion Access
Friday, July 22. 7pm EST.
Watch me demo drinks by request LIVE and donate to Planned Parenthood to keep me going! I stop when the money stops! Comment here, DM, or email to submit a drink request, cocktail or mocktail
THIS EVENT IS ON INSTAGRAM LIVE - MARK YOUR CALENDAR!
News from the Library
Featuring news and updates on authors and their booktail-ized books!
Jen Fawkes’ deliciously inventive collection TALES THE DEVIL TOLD ME won silver at the Foreword Indies! Pardon my French but fuck yeah!!!! Congratulation to Jen!
What the potions mistress (moi) had to say about this collection:
In Jen Fawkes’ brilliant and irresistibly inventive collection TALES THE DEVIL TOLD ME, familiar tales are recast from alternate perspectives, with poignancy and wit: meet Rumpelstiltskin as a would-be adoptive parent; Captain Hook as the postal worker stepdad who gave up the sea for love and family; Hamlet’s gentle uncle, hopelessly enamored with his brother’s wife and desperate to put a stop to a mass murderer; the mirror hanging on the wall in the chamber belonging to Snow White’s royal stepmother–rather, the soul inside it; Ahab’s whale: “I glide through the Pacific,” the whale narrates, “throwing a colossal shadow over the sea floor, wondering what volume of the ocean has been displaced by my tears.” The stories are tender and beautifully told, the characters rendered in full color.
And now… some divine, magical, super weird and witchy booktails
In Jennifer Saint’s novel ARIADNE, heroes are not to be trusted, the gods are in turns unfathomably cruel, or kinder than men, and women suffer for the mistakes of them all: “...The price we paid for the resentment, the lust, and the greed of arrogant men was our pain, shining and bright like the blade of a newly honed knife.”
As a princess with an unfeeling father who feeds virgins to her monstrous brother, and a broken, absent mother, all Ariadne has is her sister Phaedra. When by chance she meets Theseus, the righteous prince and warrior, she finds a chance to end the bloody sacrifice to the Minotaur and escape her pompous future husband. But Ariadne’s trusting nature leads her on a path of isolation and self-discovery, touched with divinity. Will it also lead her back to her dear sister? For Phaedra has a dark fate of her own in store.
This re-telling positions female characters, who normally serve as little more than footnotes in the hero’s quest, at the center of an epic narrative, highlighting the ugly ways of proud men, gods, and purported leaders, who leave pain, suffering, and ruin in their wake.
This booktail is made with brandy, which is distilled from wine, for Dionysus and all the sweetened wine drunk throughout. The brandy is mixed with honey liqueur, a nod to the golden honey in the Athenian market Phaedra tours with Theseus, as well as the figs and honey Dionysus and Ariadne enjoy for breakfast before a fateful visit to the god’s brother. Lavender summons the fresh, floral scent that surrounds young Ariadne as she twirls unobserved and unencumbered on the dancing floor in her father’s palace, designed by Daedalus just for her: “All I knew was that I had to get out, back into the fresh air, back to the scent of the lavender and the humming of the bees around my dancing-floor and everything that was natural and pure and sweet.”
Presented atop an island of marble fit for Aegeus’ palace, and scattered with dried lavender, this sweet, mysterious elixir is framed by red flowers, grapes–like those that magically regrow on the isle of Naxos–vines, leaves, and a pomegranate, the food of the dead, a fruit Dionysus likewise plants on his beloved island. Dripping honeycomb perches on the lip of the glass, a reminder of the gold pendant shaped like two bees entwined around a piece of honeycomb that famed, tragic Daedalus gifts Ariadne. On the far right, a grinning white chocolate skull is half-hidden by the leaves, a symbol of chthonic Dionysus and the specter of death that looms large throughout this tale. With the rolling waves of the “wine-dark sea” at her back, crowned Ariadne peers out at the display from the cover of the book, her eyes glowing like stars.
1.5 oz brandy
0.5 oz honey liqueur
0.5 oz lavender syrup (see recipe)
Garnish: honeycomb (optional)
First, prepare the lavender syrup. Meanwhile, set a glass in the freezer or at the back of the fridge to chill. Once cool, fill a mixing glass halfway with ice, then add the brand, liqueur, and the syrup. Gently stir til well-mixed, then strain into a cold glass. Garnish with honeycomb, if desired.
1 cup water
1 cup white sugar
¼ cup dried organic lavender
Stir all ingredients together in a small pot, then bring to a boil. Let simmer for 15-20 minutes uncovered, stirring occasionally. Once cool, strain into a clean glass or jar. Keep refrigerated.
In Mona Awad’s celebrated novel BUNNY, Samatha Heather Mackey (known as Sam, or “Smackie” to best friend Ava) is trapped in a top-tier MFA program, its campus a gentrified oasis in a struggling city. Sam’s peers are a clique of squealing, glittery girl-boss white feminists who like to etch poems on glass and call each other “Bunny.” When their disdain for Sam transforms into an invitation to join their girl group, Sam finds the pull of their wealth and splendor too much to resist, even as she risks losing Ava, her one true friend. She soon learns what the Bunnies are really up to and becomes part of their disturbing rituals disguised as art, performed for the sake of their own gratification.
This novel offers a deftly executed exploration of loneliness and aloneness, a potent reminder of the chasm of need that can never be filled: “I allow the sick need that no degree of revulsion can kill to be picked up out of the cold, wet dark and petted. I melt into it, their hug, allowing, nay, willing myself to be crushed.”
BUNNY is a wild read, like a witchy re-telling of “Mean Girls” crossed with “Suspiria.” It skewers the saccharine, manufactured mermaid pseudo-sisterhood of privileged white feminism and the culture of the smug, masturbatory MFA program both, while offering a nuanced framing of their appeal. As such, the novel itself is a kind of meta response to its own critique of the suffocating, cultish workshop where inaccessible pretension is prized over story. I highly recommend you follow BUNNY down the rabbit hole.
The BUNNY booktail is made with green tea-infused gin for the sexy professor known as “the lion” and his scent of green tea, as well as the green tea Ava is so fond of, including the Gunpowder variety she serves Sam, inviting her bestie to share her home: “ ‘Home,’ I repeat, and the word is like the fresh Chinese sweet buns we will eat at her rickety table, the green tea we will drink…” Gin is also the spirit base for the classic French 75, served in miniature at the Bunnies’ favorite restaurant, its floral notes a lovely pairing with lemongrass syrup, the embodiment of the Bunnies’ “blandly grassy perfume.” Lemon sharpens the flavors and adds a touch of sour to balance the bitter tea and sweet syrup. Champagne tops it all off, a nod to the free champagne Sam drinks with Ava at the Narrative Arts department Demitasse at the start of the novel, and the many fizzy cocktails the Bunnies serve, plus the champagne by the glass found at the chic bistros they frequent. Likewise, champagne evokes Sam’s poignant memory of Ava sipping champagne in a red velvet chair, contrasted against the Bunnies’ “pointed, slow sips.” The drink is garnished with an orchid for “duck-liver crostini topped with little sugared orchids,” and orchid corsages, including those that get eaten during Workshop.
This booktail is presented against a trippy iridescent-pink fur backdrop adorned with pastel candy rocks and a few feathers for Ava’s platinum feathery hair (“White feathers spill from my mouth like snow”). A creepy-cute black outline of a bunny with red-rimmed eyes is displayed to the left of the vintage champagne flute, mirroring the flat black silhouette that appears on the novel’s hot pink cover in the background. A purple-veined edible phalaenopsis orchid decorates the glass, beautiful yet savage-looking.
1 oz Gunpowder green tea-infused gin
1 oz dry champagne
0.5 lemongrass syrup
0.5 oz lemon juice
Garnish: edible orchid
First, add a satchel of Gunpowder green tea to a cup of gin and let sit for 2 hours. Meanwhile, prepare the syrup. Once the syrup is ready, add it to a shaker, along with the gin, lemon juice, and a large cube or chunk of ice. Agitate vigorously til the ice begins to break up, then strain into a stemmed glass and top with champagne. Garnish with an edible orchid if desired.
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
2 Tablespoons lemongrass paste
Stir all ingredients together in a medium pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer on low for five minutes. Strain and store in a bottle or jar, once cool. Keep refrigerated.
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