The Mutation of Fortune
THE MUTATION OF FORTUNE documents the parallel fortunes of one protagonist living multiple lives. As she navigates her Märchen landscape, she goes through varied transformations, becoming at times a wolf, a thief, an amputee, a hunter, a rabbit and a runaway. She sleeps with swans and suffers a sister that bites the back of her knees. The world of this book is unstable, delicious and carries with it an inexplicit sense of danger. Printed in an edition of 500 with silk screen covers by Aay Preston-Myint, this book hosts a series of color plate collages made by the author.
Cover art by: Aay Preston-Myint
Design by: Caroline Picard
I have been working with Erica for the last year (at least) on her book. It’s been a really amazing process of reading and discussing and re-reading. Over that time I feel like I’ve gotten to know Erica and her work better and better and each time I come away with more admiration for the work and the author. I feel like this book is like a truffle, maybe, or a plate you want to drop because you’re pretty sure the sound of all that broken glass would be worth the subsequent damage. There are a number of color plates in the interior, collages by the Adams that (for me) reflect the same revisionary approach to the fairy tale that is evident in the text. She draws on old Christian mythologies as well, weaving those threads in and out of multiple short stories so that the whole book resonates with a kind of mysticism. What I love most of all is that Erica’s first person protagonist seems unaware of those references just as she is undeterred by acts of violence. She is subject to her environment: grammatically passive, nevertheless destructive and always surviving. She suffers violence as she inflicts it through a muted, Grimm-like voice. The nuance is not in any vivid explication of consequence but rather in the subsequent (and inferred) psychological drama. As always, The Green Lantern Press, works to integrate visual and textual elements. The covers were silk screened by hand by local artist Aay Preston-Myint who incorporated the diamond as a way to reflect the various stages of the first person narrative. I don’t mean to make the book sound so high and fancy, either. I’m just so thrilled to meet it in person. I was even more thrilled to get the chance to talk to Erica about where the book came from and how she thinks about it.
Caroline Picard: How did you happen upon The Mutation Of Fortune as a project? Did you set out to write this book? Or did it come to you?
Erica Adams: I think the first story I wrote for this collection was back in 1997– I was taking a Creative Writing class in college, and I had been looking at the work of female surrealists, and really got inspired by the hybrids — females and animals. Those bodies seemed like a much more accurate representation of my inner landscape, not what I was seeing out in the world. The bodies that I identify with are the bodies that cross borders. This can be taken in so many different ways, obviously. As someone who spent a large part of their adolescence in a “different” body — I was always going to doctors, missing school, wearing tons of layers, long sleeves, long skirts to hide what was wrong with me — the metaphors I had given my body were always animal in nature. Which is not to devalue animals, but to say that the bodies I knew that were different (as a child) were animal bodies, covered in fur or scales. So I wanted to explore this place, this junction of “unreal,” dangerous bodies.
CP: I feel like some danger always lurks in the ground of your TMOF stories, even though it doesn’t often make itself explicit–or, when it does (when the brother is thrown into the well, for instance), the consequences seem muted. My experience of “danger” never fully comes into focus. It stays peripheral and pervasive. What is your experience of danger in the book?
EA: With fairy tales, there’s usually a terrible thing that happens, like a father who wants to marry his daughter or someone being put into a barrel full of nails and tossed into the ocean. I think our mind’s ability to fill in the details– the cramped space of the barrel, the O of the screaming mouth– is what makes danger present for us, as readers. I have always wanted to tread lightly in writing stories; let the reader participate by adding those details that come from their own past. What elements of our personal psychic heritage do we bring as readers? That’s an exciting space, the intimacy of fleshing out a story in your mind. The danger in the story becomes the reader’s danger — the coloring in of those crucial details — maybe you give the attacker in the story that soft, sandy hair of your pervert 2nd grade science teacher. So the danger unfolding is coupled with your own, personal, recollection of danger. The consequence of that combination becomes the sensation– ‘Das Unheimliche’– Freud’s uncanny.
There’s all these different kinds of danger lurking in the stories. There’s the danger of bodily harm, which is more obvious in places, and of psychic harm, but also the danger that other’s feel when confronted with difference. The parents in the story Oestrus feel danger because their daughters don’t fit their idea of how daughters should act. The protagonist is confronted with difference in The Animal Rubs and she’s overcome with horror and revulsion. The protagonist is disgusted by a chronic masturbator — but eventually decides to mirror her.
So stories like The Well, where the brother is tossed in… I think the danger is not really what we expect from the basic idea of danger. It’s not really about her brother being hurt, but the fact that her action of tossing him into the well has created this fractal of the situation — the situation inside the situation– and that’s a deeply symbolic thing, it’s not easy to digest. There’s no rational exterior phenomenon. Alejandro Jodorowsky writes in his book, Psychomagic: “There is not a subject-observer and an object-observed; there is the world as a dream swarming with signs and symbols, a field of interaction where multiple forces and influences meet.”
And I think my only concern with the protagonist has been when she lashes out. Maybe it’s from being raised Catholic, you know, turn the other cheek, but I was always surprised by [the protagonist's] acts of revenge. That was more difficult, more dangerous for me than the trauma. I’m not exactly sure why. Maybe because so much of her experience is my experience, in different words/worlds, and there’s an understanding there for me, that might not be there for readers. When she lashes out — or even, in the end, when she chooses to alter her body, completely — that’s the dangerous thing to me — her experiences of agency differing from my own. I think, unconsciously, that’s a place I wanted to explore, to move out of myself and into her.
What happens to people who have been broken down? How do they survive? That’s a huge part of the book — surviving. I want to know how people survive. Do they repeat the same actions as their abusers, perpetuating the cycle? Do they kill themselves? Do they retreat into a world of fantasy? Do they give up? Of course, there’s not just one thing anyone does to survive. Survival is an ongoing process. But those big acts, like Lorena Bobbit taking the knife into her own hand, they stick with me. Children in particular — they are given such little agency. So maybe that’s why sometimes the protagonist gets a tool of relief — like the crying cloth — that can help her. Because I don’t know how people survive. It has to be an act of imagination, often times. The will to imagine that things can be different.
CP: What is your experience of magic in your book? Would you say this was a consistent element running throughout?
EA: I think the magic in this book often times comes in the moments of desperation — when the will to imagine becomes so strong that it alters the situation. The brother that turns into a deer isn’t really the magic part of the story, the magic is the imagining– coming up with a plan, wearing the roe skin. And this imagining can really make the difference in the stories. It’s switching modes of thought, dreaming possibility. I think though, in our world, if you are being held captive, you are not going to turn into a dog. But what do you do in those moments when it seems all your agency has been taken away? I don’t know the answer to that question, because every situation is totally different. But it’s a question I can’t get out of my head. I wonder if that’s why I’m so compelled to write about that threshold — when it seems like there’s no hope left — and that change, any change at all, is magic in it’s own right.
Magic to me is so much about action, moving outside of the familiar. When the protagonist goes to see the woman in the woods, because she doesn’t have anyone to talk to, she gives a gift of rhubarb jam — rhubarb that can only be gathered using the thumb and pinky finger. It’s a ritual gift, and that’s magic. Or when the protagonist buries the egg, has a funeral for it, that’s when things really change. She’s done a mourning ritual. The burial is a means of purification — and it’s reflected in the outcome of the story.
CP: What about the runes on the side? Where did those come from and how did you go about categorizing the each story under that system?
EA: I was reading Maya Deren’s Divine Horsemen: Living Gods of Haiti and Jodorowsky’s Psychomagic, and both books are deeply concerned with spiritual inheritance– what we are passed down from our ancestors. This made a lot of sense to me, but I also wondered if a soul, a specific soul, could have its own inheritance that it carries from life to life. In all the protagonist’s lives she’s confronted with these situations that have a certain energy to them, archetypal principals. It felt like the tarot– tarot cards she was dealt and had to deal with, but could also change. And the title of the book speaks to that– The Mutation of Fortune. So I imagined she was given these 12 inheritances, or runes, to work with pre-birth. Which isn’t saying that she is bound by fortune or fate, just that she has this inheritance upon entering the world. And in each story, each life, she’s contending with these different archetypal principles. It seemed the book was inherently ordered by these archetypes, not by the typical story arc: exposition, climax, denouement. I wanted to explore that pattern of embodiment — because the stories are very much about having a body, being a body — outside of linear time.
I was also influenced by the concept of soul retrieval, where you journey (spiritually) to a trauma that caused your soul to split, fracture. You go back to that place and collect the piece or pieces you lost. I started thinking of the runes as guideposts on the journey back. I was also thinking about the movie Inception, and how Leonardo DiCaprio’s character has this little spinning top that he carries into the dream world with him. He knows he’s dreaming if he spins this top. So I went to each story and tried to find out what rune or runes could be the guideposts, reminders of the journey, and assigned them that way.
CP: Can you talk a little bit about the images in the book? I notice that they are collages, many of them. How do you find your source material?
EA: The images in the book come from this period of time when I was writing the stories, and were just another way of processing the writing and the place I was in psychologically. There’s a sense of journeying in some of the psychedelic collages, which it felt like the protagonist was doing: opening doors into different lives. Some of the images were just ways for me to “work out” a story, to ground myself to it. Like with The Roosters, I wrote the story but also just felt compelled to make the image. Or with Opening, I wanted to express that seeing of mouths everywhere, and it seemed natural to make an image that went along with it. I had gone to the Newberry Library and looked at this ethnographer’s journal from the 1800′s– he had documented all these pipes of an American Indian tribe, and there were just pages and pages of pipe drawing. So I went home and drew some mouth-type things in a similar style.
I get most of my materials from old thrift store books and magazines, but I also collect old photographs. Once I was in an antique mall, sorting through a shoebox of photos with a sign on it that said “Instant Relatives.” I like that, and I have a lot of pictures of people I don’t know in my apartment, and they feel like family.
With collages there’s an ease of assemblage: you can be really light. It’s like when writing and the words just sort of flow out of your fingers, the pen doesn’t stop moving and you’re not thinking about outcome, you’re just there, letting the words come out. With collage, you get a background and move something into the foreground — a picture of a tooth, a crying child — and there’s a new universe, right before your eyes.
Erica Adams reads for the Orange Alert podcast
About the Authors
Erica Adams is a 500 year old witch.