Always Another Story: Marly Youmans on Writing

Marly Youmans has four books scheduled for release in the next year or so, including two collections of poetry (The Foliate Head, The Throne of Pysche) and two novels.  One of the novels, Maze of Blood, is loosely inspired by the life of Robert E. Howard.  The other novel, Glimmerglass, tells the story of, as Youmans says, “a house set in a hill, a failed painter, a resurrection, a labyrinth and minotaur, a murder, a flood, an embodied muse . . . This is the wildest of dreams, set in an alternate Cooperstown.” 

Yes, you read that correctly.  One novel inspired by the life of the man who created Conan and the other set in an alternate Cooperstown (former home of James Fenimore Cooper, and current home of the Baseball Hall of Fame and Farmer’s Museum.)  It is difficult to know which of these books to be more excited about.  Robert E. Howard!  Alternate Cooperstown!

Therefore, I will sit as patiently as possible and await pre-order on both.

Below, Youmans talks about what she has learned from switching back and forth between poetry and prose.  She also reveals how a piece of bad advice has helped shape some of the most prolific years of her career.



Marly Youmans:  I’m not very fond of the advice “write about what you know” because I think it’s too bald and not nuanced enough. Aren’t we always writing about what we know, whether we are writing about another universe or an Anglo-Saxon mead hall? We can’t get away from what we know, no matter how we try.

But I would rather talk about the worst advice that turned out best. One day when I was teaching—I quit teaching as soon as I got tenure and promotion, being of a contrary turn of mind—one of my colleagues said to me, “What does the world need with another poem?” He had no idea of such a question meaning anything to me at all. It was a joke, and I knew it was a joke. But you see, I was a poet until he said those words to me. Then, abruptly, I could not write a poem. It stopped me up completely! So it seemed, indeed, “bad advice.”

Because I could not see how people live without making things, I had to do something else. On the weekends I began writing stories. A year later I was writing a short novel. I was no longer a poet but a writer of fictions. One day I committed a poem—I was a poet again. But something marvelous had happened during the time when I could write no poems. Writing fiction had changed me a great deal. It seemed to me that all my prior poetry was simply too small. I wanted the new poems to be bigger. Sometimes I wanted them to tell stories or to be dramatic. At the same time, I wanted the poems to be as different from fiction as possible, and I picked up all the old tools that I had been advised not to use—the things that we were too advanced to use anymore—like meter and rhyme and delightful, puzzling forms.

Now I move back and forth from poetry to fiction and back again. Each changes the other. Each brings something to the other. The world is always in need of another story or poem—a living story or poem—even though the world does not know it, for the most part. And that is fine with me.


Jeremy L. C. Jones is a freelance writer, editor, and part-time professor.  Jones is a frequent contributor to Clarkesworld Magainze.  He is also the director of Shared Worlds, a creative writing and world-building camp that he and Jeff VanderMeer designed in 2006.

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