Fairy Tales and Finding Poetic Inspiration: An interview with Ruth Berman

Today we have an interview with one of our award-winning members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association, Ruth Berman, who recently read with all of us this January at the 40th Anniversary Kickoff at Mojo Coffee in Minneapolis. She has helped the SFPA at numerous readings and events across Minnesota.

Ruth Berman

Ruth Berman’s poetry and fiction have appeared in many sf/fantasy, general, and literary magazines and anthologies. Her novel Bradamant’s Quest was published by FTL Publications. She was one of the founding members of the Lady Poetesses from Hell collective in the Midwest. Her translation of two fairy tales by 18th-century writer Louise Cavelier Levesque, “The Prince of the Aquamarines” & “The Invisible Prince,” was published by Aqueduct Press (Seattle, WA), and her translation of “Trilby” and other fantasies by Charles Nodier, by Black Coat Press (Encino CA). She is a previous winner of the SFPA’s Rhysling (2003) and Dwarf Stars (2006) Awards.

How did you get started as a writer?
When I was about five, the family took a train trip to Florida during winter vacation.  Looking out the train window at the full moon shining on a lagoon, I felt that it was so beautiful that had to compose a poem about it. As I did not know how to write, I dictated the result to my oldest brother to write down for me so that I could keep it until I could read. (No, I won’t quote it. Five-year-olds don’t compose very good poetry.)

Who are some of your favorite science fiction and fantasy influences?
The members of the Twin Cities Sf Poetry writing group and of the Aaardvaark writing group. Anthony Boucher, Poul Anderson, Ursula K. LeGuin, J.R.R. Tolkien, Diana Wynne Jones, Avram Davidson, Terry Pratchett, Fritz Leiber, L. Frank Baum, Lewis Carroll.

What keeps you going as a writer?
Sometimes nothing does. But at some point when I haven’t had any ideas for a long time, something will set me off again, so I try not to worry during the dry spells. I read a lot of non-fiction in the fields of mythology, folktales, history, and science, looking for ideas — sometimes find some in the process, sometimes not. Also sometimes get ideas from other people’s fiction, especially if I disagree with a story. Sometimes, if the situation calls for characters to have coats of arms, it helps to stop and ask myself what a character’s coat of arms is — which I seem to find more helpful than the more usual prompts of asking what music the character likes or hates, what foods, books, clothes — that sort of thing.

What are some of your big projects coming ahead for you in 2018?
I hope this year to finish a project I’ve been working on for a couple of years now, of translating the fairytales of a little-known 19th century French writer, Charles Deulin. First draft is completed, and I’ve been gradually typing/revising it. Should finish that part of it soon, but then will want to write some kind of an intro, and don’t know how long that will take. I’ve also been trying to provide notes on each story to discuss source-material and what Deulin was doing with his sources that was different.

When are you most satisfied with a piece you’ve written? When do you feel most challenged?
The obvious for satisfaction — when it seems to have come out particularly well. Challenging is when I have something on hand that just won’t come out, I remember how long (a year or two) it took me to write a poem that I was finally especially happy with, about the enigmatic incident in Exodus when God appears to Moses as a monster and tries to eat him up, but is driven away by Moses’ wife, who circumcises him (not clear in the text if she circumcises Moses or their infant son) and chases the monster away by hitting it with the severed foreskin. This is both horrific and very silly, and I couldn’t find a way to fuse those two sides of it, until it occurred to me to treat it as a bad dream.

Coffee, Tea or Other?
Tea.

What fantastic or legendary creature would you most like to travel with?
Dragon.

What’s your advice for emerging writers?
Read.

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