The last booktail
Some favorites from Pick Your Potions' retiring Electric Literature column, "Booktails from the Potions Library," and a sneak preview of the very last booktail! Plus: what's next for The Cauldron?
Welcome back to The Cauldron! (Flippity floppity floo!)
I don’t know about you all, but this summer has been stressful AF. In the midst of my overwhelm, my column in Electric Literature, “Booktails from the Potions Library,” is reaching its natural conclusion, after a year of monthly booktails.
My feelings about this ending are mixed, as my feelings about endings usually are. (In literary form, I like a good gut-punch.) Just as I was looking at the load I was shouldering and asking myself, What can I let go of?, a project I loved SO much but couldn’t really afford to keep investing in came to a close. Is there a word for bittersweet serendipity?
If you’re worried this means no more booktails, don’t. Several are in the works for a certain fabulous sci-fi horror site, plus some commissions for authors and libraries—PRINCESS BRIDE, anyone? I’m just slowing down a bit after logging over 100 booktails in the past three years. (Yeah, really. I counted.)
Re: PRINCESS BRIDE: recently I taught an hour-long mixology 101 class at my local library. We made a PRIDE AND PREJUDICE mocktail I’d designed for the occasion and I spouted all kinds of weird historical facts, like where the word “cocktail” comes from (ginger up a horse’s butt. For realz. Don’t believe me? See Camper English’s DOCTORS AND DISTILLERS), Roxane Gay’s favorite drink, which she named after BAD FEMINIST, plus assorted info about syrups, bitters, liqueurs, drink ratios, how to muddle and shake, and why a martini should be stirred, NOT shaken. Everything about the experience was delightful. Other libraries are now giving my classes a whirl, selecting their own texts to be booktail-ized. Additionally, a friend and clever witch suggested I launch a Demystifying Mocktails class. It seems the future of Pick Your Potions features even more teaching.
Now is the time for pointed direction. And research. Always research. So expect to see more historical-witchy-pagan info in The Cauldron, and fewer recipes. (I’ll continue publishing/sharing recipes in magazines and on Instagram.) The Cauldron will also feature writing prompts!
As a last hurrah before opening this next chapter, here’s a look back at some of my favorite EL booktails. Reminder: I started doing booktails as a way of celebrating and honoring other writers’ achievements. So raise your goblet to ALL the authors working their patooties off for the love of the craft! Cheers to you! Salud!
Favorites from “Booktails from the Potions Library” - Plus a Sneak Peek at the Last EL Booktail!
THE DROWNED WOMAN by Abigail Stewart
Oh how I love a tale of a woman with secrets. A slim, beautiful book, published by Whiskey Tit! Are you a friend of the Tit? You should visit them at the book fair next time you’re at AWP, if that’s your kind of thing. They have whiskey.
PEACES by Helen Oyeyemi
Darjeeling vodka and soju for this wild and wonderful train ride—literally—from a master storyteller. Have you read Oyeyemi’s short fiction? WHAT IS NOT YOURS IS NOT YOURS is one of the best collections I’ve ever read.
FROM THE CAVES by Thea Prieto
Apple-infused vodka and beet shrub! Probably takes longer to make the booktail than it does to read this moving, horrifying, post-apocalyptic novella.
MANNEQUIN AND WIFE by Jen Fawkes
Fawkes probes the stranger than strange with such tenderness. She has a new novel coming out FYI called DAUGHTERS OF CHAOS! Sign me up!
AMERICAN GODS by Neil Gaiman
The brandy infuses with rosemary and orange peel for nine days. Then you add Drambuie. I am STILL trying to share this recipe with Neil Gaiman btw. This failure is my only regret re: leaving Twitter.
SATURNALIA by Stephanie Feldman
This is a fun read set in a dark-ish reality where the elite belong to clubs named for gods. No fires were set during the shooting of this photo fyi.
SHE WOULD BE KING by Wayétu Moore
A devastatingly lush and brilliant novel. Plus sweet potato vodka with coconut, mango, and tamarind! Yes! Try it!
I LOVE YOU BUT I’VE CHOSEN DARKNESS
A mocktail! Could you tell? This novel is a trippy ride about running away from your family, so naturally I chose it for the month of Mother’s Day.
A rock ‘n roll lesbian nun detective investigating a series of deadly fires means break out the torch and brulee that fruit!
The Last EL Booktail: EMPIRE OF WILD
This booktail is the last scheduled post in “Booktails from the Potions Library.” Here’s a sneak peek!
Cherie Dimaline’s novel EMPIRE OF WILD begins with the aftermath of a disappearance: Joan and Victor get in an argument (a rare occurrence for this couple, who are in lust as much as they are in love), over selling Joan’s portion of her family’s ancestral land. Needing time and space to cool off, Victor walks out. And never comes back. A year later, everyone in Arcand, even Joan’s own family, assumes Victor is dead, or has deserted his wife; either way, no one’s ever going to see him again in this life. But Joan can’t quit the search. When a group of fundamentalist Christians rolls into town, Joan happens upon a preacher who looks exactly like Victor. Too much like Victor. He IS Victor, she realizes. Her husband is now playing the part of an evangelist, persuading members of their indigenous community to give up the old ways and turn a blind eye to white men’s profits. But he isn’t pretending—Victor really believes he’s someone else. Some strange malice is at work here, a kind of dark magic that’s somehow tied up with the ancient rogarou, a hybrid man-wolf who traces a shadowy boundary around Joan’s community, devouring transgressors literally or metaphorically, cursing them with their own inescapable transformation. Joan’s search turns into a race against time, or else she’ll lose her soulmate to this dark wilderness forever.
Populated with vibrant characters, including a boy named Zeus, EMPIRE OF WILD is engrossing and dark.
Bourbon serves as the base of this booktail for the bourbon Joan is drinking when Victor first sees her. The drink is sweetened with peach rose syrup for Joan’s scent of rose lip balm, peach, and cotton. The syrup is seasoned with a sprinkle of black salt for the salt bones grown by members of Joan’s family, ground down for protection: “Catholic by habit, they prayed on their knees for the displacement to stop, for the Jesus to step in and draw a line between the halfbreeds and the new people. Those among them who carried medicine also laid down coarse salt as protection against the movement. This salt came from the actual bones of one particular Red River family, who drew boundaries when the hand of God did not reach down to do it for them.”
Charred Cedar bitters, made with Canadian cedar, add a smoky note for Joan’s cigarettes and smudged-eye look. The lemon twist offers a sharp, fresh fragrance and a touch of bitterness, a suggestion of the twists in store for the reader.
The drink is presented against dark, purple-washed woods, speckled with flecks of light, like grains of salt. Vibrant green ferns and soft, puffy blossoms resembling sparklers encroach upon the book and the drink set before it. Adorned with a curl of lemon, the elixir shimmers in a twisted, purple-tinted Aomori rocks glass.
The recipe will be out any day now!
Thanks for reading! Cheers, witches! #readwritedrinkmakemagic