The Mad Joy of Creating:
An Interview with Ki Longfellow
Recently, I had the honour of speaking with the ever-fascinating and brutally honest Ki Longfellow, author of the bestselling novels The Secret Magdalene, Flow Down Like Silver, Houdini Heart and the Sam Russo series. Sailing in the waters of Puget Sound on her boat, the Hypatia (named for the character’s own boat in Flow Down Like Silver), Ms. Longfellow has no phone at present, surviving with only a computer to connect her to the outside world. She is currently living on the Hypatia, “for now,” in spite of suffering from Lyme’s Disease, which causes vertigo. As she answered my questions about her work and spiritual beliefs, Ms. Longfellow and I carried on a detailed side discussion about religion and philosophy. She shared her thoughts on mankind’s problems: “We are not allowed to speak the truth about men or religion – especially certain religions. Not only woman, but humanity, has been thoroughly bamboozled by all this hogwash.” Aware that some of her comments might be seen as controversial, Ms. Longfellow nevertheless put them forth and said of the interview itself: “I do hope it made you laugh.” In truth, it is hard not to smile at this lady’s bold and irreverent nature. Entertaining, often amusing and filled with the most unique perspective and unexpected ideas, Ki Longfellow is surely one of the more brilliant writers of our time. Here, without further ado, is what she had to say:
RAG: You initially started out as an actress and fashion model, later moving into the art of playwriting; you were always determined to be a writer and spent a great deal of time with various artists of the Beat Generation in Sausalito in the 1960's. What drove you to become a writer?
KL: I was born that way. If I were a cartoon, I’d be drawn that way.
KL: Ummmm. I once believed I had no imagination. It was my secret. I wanted to be a writer, but I knew it could never be because I didn’t sit in cafes with a notebook nursing a coffee for hours. More damning, I didn’t have stories unraveling in my conscious mind. Of course, as a kid I wasn’t aware that the mind is a vast place and the voice one constantly hears nattering away in one’s inner ear was far from the whole of it. So when I sat down to write China Blues I hadn’t a single thought or image in my head. (I already had an agent because I’d managed to write a short story he liked called "The Lady Collects" – where is that? It was rather good – and because I can really present myself: my oh my, what a con-woman I was, or so I thought). So I just began typing – as a Luddite, I used a typewriter back then – and a story opened itself out on the page. From this, I discovered something crucial… at least for writers like me. GET OUT OF THE WAY. Allow your characters to tell you who they are, allow them to make their own choices, speak in their own voice. When I get up from a day’s writing, I’m back to being Ki, wandering about stubbing my toe, washing the dishes, reading, gardening, admiring a slug, fretting over this and over that. My work does not come with me. I don’t ponder plot or character. But as soon as I sit down at a computer, I fall through the screen and my fingers fly as I try to keep up with the movie I “see”. As for dialogue, I write what I hear them saying. After a day or so with any character, they take control. This means the conscious me can sit down and not have a clue where anyone is going, what they’ll say, or why – and then it begins. At least once a day while writing a book, I find I’ve written myself into a corner. No use trying to reason my way out. I let my characters do that, especially with my Sam Russo noir murder mysteries. I no more know than Sam does (my soft-hearted detective) who did what and when and why. I rely totally on trust, which means I rely on Sam Russo and his dog Jane. It makes for a real mystery if even the creator doesn’t know the facts, ma’am. This reminds me: I don’t know the meaning of writer’s block. I think it must mean fear. Fear of not knowing it’s you, the writer, trying to control the story. Like everyday life, stop trying to be in control. Open up to the magic of your vast and complex mind. Let that part of your brain come aprancin’ and adancin’ out. You could be in for a lovely surprise.
RAG: You had a spiritual experience at age 19 with gnosis. Can you tell us about that and how it influenced your work on The Secret Magdalene?
KL: One doesn’t have an “experience.” It’s the difference between being asleep and being awake. Almost all of us are asleep and are having a vivid dream that we exist on a small planet we call Earth, possess a body we call ours, and live a life of some sort. The stories we tell ourselves in this dream run from horror to exaltation. Almost all of us believe we ARE that body, and when the body sickens or grows old or someone shoots it, we die… and life is over. If we are Materialists, we believe that’s that – we are annihilated. Fade to Black. If we are religious, we believe that what happens next is what our particular religion has taught us. (I love the Muslim belief. Women have no souls so are discounted. But men get a gross of virgins. Bloody hell: men and sex. It pervades all they think they are, all they can imagine worth having, even into an afterlife. I wonder if they ever realize that once they’ve deflowered their quota of virgins, they’ll have run out of virgins? And then we have Mormons. A real hoot. If in life they’ve been good boy Mormons and not transgressed a long list of very silly rules, men get a whole planet to be the sole God of. And guess what the planet is full of? Women for them to enjoy. But I digress. Infantile, male-created, male-dominated religions get me every time.) To wake up scatters the dream of self. To be awake allows the eidolon, the small, chittering, critical, egoic self, to merge with the Daemon, the vast eternal loving accepting SELF. To wake up is to “know” (gnosis = divine knowing) that we’ve been dreaming and that the dream is a marvelous creation created spontaneously, joyfully, and constantly by Mass Consciousness - or ALL THAT IS. It’s a rush beyond description to KNOW you are safe, joyous, eternal and eternally creative. There is no beginning, no end, no loss, no suffering, no punishment, no reward, and no male God waiting to judge you. There is only pure, unalloyed, infinite, and eternal BEING. For thousands of years, those who are awake or who wake up from to time to time have made valiant efforts to speak to others about being awake. It has rarely, if ever, made an impact other than to have listeners hear what they are inclined to hear. As Yeshu said: “… for those who have ears.” It occurred to me that a story would be the only way I, personally, could speak of Waking up, of Knowing, of gnosis, of ALL THAT IS. Not being a Christian, not even being religious (which is not the same as saying I am not spiritual), I cheekily decided to speak through the West’s greatest myth. The story of Jesus is an old old story told by many cultures using many names and is essentially the tale of a Mangod sacrificing himself for US. It began so far back we have yet (in our limited grasp of history) to find the original Womangod or Mangod. And yes, there were once many female sacrificial human/deities. Inanna is the first we are still aware of. (In today’s world, sadly, the word myth has come to mean “lie” or ‘fiction”. Joseph Campbell took on the monumental task of bringing Myth back to its rightful place. He reminded us that myth is more TRUE than a fact is true. As for facts, I don’t know any. Not even the old, but clever, saw: “I think therefore I am.” I follow Socrates who said: “A woman who knows she knows nothing is a wise woman.” Socrates was taught by a woman).
RAG: The Secret Magdalene was initially published by your own small press, Eio Books, yet you were already an established author. Why did you choose to publish it this way?
KL: Because no big publisher showed interest via my old English agent, not even any publisher I’d already worked with, until my new American agent presented it to Random House as a published small press book. And then it was pre-empted fast. I imagine, like most things, I had to dream it into being. But first I had to establish a real bona fide publishing house. (This was before Amazon & Co. with self-publishing and such.) I actually publish other writers from time to time. I’ve learned it ain’t easy. Especially to discover a manuscript I want to spend my precious time on. They’re out there, I know it. But I seldom see them. My House is too small, I guess. And I do understand the desire to be validated by a major press. I’ve been very lucky, and very unlucky with HarperCollins, Doubleday, and Random House. As for foreign publishers, prepare yourselves. Unless you are a big name with a good lawyer, don’t expect to see a royalty, or even a sales report.
RAG: Mary Magdalene is one of history's most mysterious and elusive women. Yet The Secret Magdalene is meticulously researched and very probable. How did you go about the research for the book?
KL: Oh lordy. I read EVERYTHING. Seven years of Christian “history,” Jewish “history,” Middle Eastern “history,” Roman “history,” alternative “history,” the Gnostic Gospels, the Bible, the Koran, materials left out of both, and much of the Dead Sea Scrolls. I spoke with Elaine Pagels, Timothy Freke, a lovely man at the Gnostic Center in L.A. One thing led to another and then to another and then to another. And then – I spun away from it all and relied entirely on my own intuitive feel for what might have happened, if anything happened at all… since I found not one single source for the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth. Or even Nazareth. It did not exist at the time. If it did not exist as a town, what was it? It seems it was a sect of zealots called the Nazorites or the Nazoreans or… depends on your source. There were also Carmelites. I wrote as I researched. When I found something vital, the whole story would take a U turn or a leap. Characters came and went. The original outer story disappeared altogether and good riddance to it. And all this before the publication of Dan Brown’s book which I have never read, but I have seen the movie. I do know he used some of the same books I used. Or one book I used sparingly. Baigent, Leigh & Lincoln’s The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail.
RAG: With The Secret Magdalene, you began a trilogy surrounding women who follow the Divine Feminine aspect of God. For this trilogy, you chose Mary Magdalene and Hypatia of Alexandria (Flow Down Like Silver). What made you choose these women?
KL: Mary came because I chose the myth of the Mangod Jesus. As I researched, my Magdalene grew larger and larger until she WAS the story. Like all characters we think we create, in truth she created herself. It was her book all along. I just had to realize that. As for Hypatia… my god, I must try and remember. I think I ran across mention of her in something I read. It was about, of course, her death. Her death is one of the few things we really know about her – it was a death for the ages. But there is no research one can do on her actual life. The entirety of source material on her life and her work amounts to 16 double spaced typewritten pages, mainly taken from the letters written to her by her most devoted (smitten?) pupil Synesius. All other material is specious crap called the Suda written two hundred years after her death by Christian apologists. People still insist on using the Suda, an attempt at an early encyclopedia – which is totally biased. I’ve gotten bad reviews due to “my misinformation” from people who have read only the Suda but seem not to have noticed when it was written or by whom. What there is we can know is what I researched. Her times, what she taught (big clues about her thinking and therefore her,) who her father was and what he expected of her. Knowing nothing (the Christians not only destroyed her life and her body, but every single thing she ever wrote; they invaded libraries everywhere to gather anything about her and burn it), I had to create her myself, but based on what I did know. Her ideas, her interests, and the amazing world around her in which she was beloved. She was, in her way, a goddess – and a real goddess is a triple goddess. (Another theft by the Christians: the Trinity found in all mystic teachings. Mother, father, child. They left out the feminine entirely. Father, Son, Holy Ghost. What the hell is the Holy Ghost? Sad little boys). So I gave her two sisters, loosely based on the Brontes. The mystic Emily Bronte (who was often “awake” – you’ll find it in her poems) became her pixilated older sister, Lais the poet. Charlotte, the sensible, competent intellectual, became Hypatia. And poor Anne became Jone… a logical extension of the lesser child. (I left out Bramwell, no need for him, but added much of his frustration over his more gifted sisters and his despair over lost love to Jone’s character).
RAG: Can you tell us about the third novel in your trilogy which you are currently working on, The Time of the Bee?
KL: Deary me. I’ve always intended to create a trilogy – a Trinity. At first I thought the third book would be Mariamne’s full awakening. But it came to me (as these things do) that I really wanted to speak of how we, as humans, created the world we live in now. Where did we get our thoroughly mad ideas about life? Where is the Goddess? Why are we male dominated? Why are we so afraid? Why have we no reverence for our planet and other life forms? Why are we so obsessed with possessions and the gathering of what we think of as wealth? Why have we allowed religion a place in our hearts? Why don’t we know what spirituality actually is? There are answers to these questions and the answers are, as they say, mind-blowing. The Time of the Bee was the Golden Age, what the ancient Egyptians called Zep Tepi – the first time. Most of what we think of now as normal human society and “human nature” did not exist. It was destroyed by a massive extinction event (not rare on this planet) 11,500 to 12,000 years ago. Proof of this event is staggering, but ignored by mainstream science (not rare on this planet). We are essentially living right this minute in a Post-Apocalyptic world. To understand this is to begin to understand that we are globally traumatized, and all our insanity is real trauma caused by a real event. Today we face a new extinction event, one of our own doing. No wonder the growing body of dystopian novels. Has anyone noticed that in each of them, we are the cause (which we are), yet in each we struggle to return to the same male-dominated, wealth-seeking, world-harming society that caused our doom? In The Time of the Bee, my heroine struggles to keep the Golden Age alive in a devastated, denuded world. It’s going to task all my assumed skills.
RAG: You are also writing a sequel to The Secret Magdalene, and the novel is being optioned by Hollywood, as well. What can you tell us about the proposed film and the sequel?
KL: I wrote this book. I finished it. I called it The Woman Who Knew the All. But when it was done, I sat back and over time decided it wasn’t good enough. I don’t think I’ll try and “fix” it. My Magdalene has had her say. The Secret Magdalene is optioned. And a few months ago, China Blues (my first published book) was optioned. Perhaps that’s what you’re thinking of. China Blues was also optioned when it was first published (long long ago) by the team of Zanuck & Brown. What a mess that was. Now it is optioned yet again because a TV producer thinks it’ll make a good TV series. I’d love to think she’s right.
RAG: Last December, you published a unique novel about a woman so fed up with her life that she walks into the desert to die, called Walks Away Woman. What was the inspiration behind this story?
KL: The title. I had the title in my head for years. And a vague idea about what kind of story it must be to be called something like Walks Away Woman. And then one day I was driving through Tucson on my way from L.A. to Dallas… and there it was, the place where I would walk away if I were to make that desperate choice. Loved writing that book. Loved being in the Sonoran Desert which I wandered about in for over a month as the story took shape. Love going back into the book just to be there again. Little more difficult to go back into Houdini Heart which was my way of talking about being possessed by your work. Or art itself. How it got called “horror” and wound up being selected for a Bram Stoker Award still puzzles me.
RAG: Finally, what would you like to say to the many aspiring female authors today?
KL: (See my answer to your second question). Also, don’t use adverbs. Don’t use: replied, exclaimed, chuckled, snorted, etc. Use: said. If you can get away with it, don’t even use: she said, he said. (Unless the style of the work calls for it. For instance, in my works of gnosis, I use the passive voice. People aren’t used to it, and some don’t like it. But the books wanted to be written that way, so they were. It was always up to them, in any case). Get rid of the words: always, just, really, actually – and the like. Write. Sit down, and write. Don’t think about selling and bestseller lists and awards and all that jazz. Think about the often mad joy of creating. And then forget that, too – and write. If you want to make a lot of money, I’d rethink your desire to write. Use the time to get a law degree.
For more information about Ki Longfellow and her works and to read her Wordpress blog What Comes, Is Called, please visit the following links:
www.kilongfellow.com (The author’s website)
http://kilongfellow.wordpress.com/ (Wordpres blog, What Comes, Is Called)
www.thesecretmagdalene.com (The Secret Magdalene)
www.flowdownlikesilver.com (Flow Down Like Silver)
http://eiobooks.com/samrusso (Sam Russo)
http://eiobooks.com/waw (Walks Away Woman)
http://www.eiobooks.com/houdini/index.html (Houdini Heart)
http://issuu.com/sciencetosage/docs/women_of_the_divine_sept_2012_final1?e=3268223/2251802 (Feature article on the author’s work in Women of the Divine, September 2012)