[This issue, we sit down with Morgan Daimler. An author and scholar, Daimler here discusses their extensive bibliography; their new books on the Norse pantheon and the Aos Sidhe; and their forthcoming projects.]
ev0ke: You have released a number of titles through Moon Books, and self-published others. What are the advantages of one or the other? What do you find appealing about both traditional publishing and doing it yourself?
Morgan Daimler: That’s a great question, and I definitely feel like there are pros and cons to each approach. Traditional publishing has the advantage of a wider market through brick and mortar stores, no cost (to the author) editing and cover design, and prestige because there’s still a stigma against self published material which is seen as lower quality. On the other hand, trad publishing means giving up a lot of control over your work and looking at a very different payment model.
Self publishing has the advantage of complete author control of the material and timeline of publication, which I love, but also requires more work and investment because you are doing everything yourself including finding and hiring editors, creating cover design, and advertising.
I think each one is ideal for different things and it’s a good idea to consider both before deciding which route to go. I’m really happy with Moon Books and I’m glad I have my non-fiction through them. In contrast, I self published my translation work because it’s such a tiny niche market, and I chose to self publish my fiction because I didn’t want future books in the series to be dependent on sales; I wanted to be able to write as much in a series as I felt needed to be there without getting cut off by a publisher that didn’t want to go forward with it.
ev0ke: You will be releasing two new titles through Moon Books later this year: Pantheon — The Norse, and Pagan Portals: Aos Sidhe. First, congratulations! Second, how did these books come about? Why books on the Norse pantheon and on the Irish fairy folk?
MD: Pantheon: The Norse is part of a wider series through Moon Books where each book focuses on the pantheon and beliefs of a specific culture. I wanted to take on the Norse because I thought, with over fifteen years experience in US Heathenry, that I could do the subject justice and present something that offered a fair overview of the beliefs and practices. Pagan Portals: Aos Sidhe was a very different thing altogether; it was something I’d actually felt called to write for many years but I had worried that, as an Irish-American, it wasn’t my place to tackle that topic. However after a lot of back and forth with myself and some long conversations with friends I decided that it was something I had to do — its a subject that there really is a dearth of quality material on and something like a pagan portal, which is a 25k word introduction to a topic, is a great vehicle for the subject that can work well with other longer books. I wanted to offer something that could help disambiguate the confusion around the Irish fairy folk that permeate popular culture and the internet.
ev0ke: If you could correct one common misconception about the Norse Deities, what would it be?
MD: That they are intrinsically part of white supremacy and only for white people. It makes me really sad that I have to say that, but its a hugely common misconception — it’s a big enough problem actually that in all of my books that touch on Heathenry, I make sure I include a discussion of that because it is really upsetting to see people connecting the Norse gods to hateful ideologies or people feeling like they can’t worship them because they have the wrong ancestry. The Norse Gods have been co-opted by those groups but those groups don’t define them, and anyone can worship those deities if they feel called to.
ev0ke: Over the course of your research, was there one fascinating tidbit of information that you just had to include in Pantheon — The Norse?
MD: It’s such a fascinating subject it’s hard to choose one tidbit, but I think the sections on the holidays and the section on ‘Other Spirits’ were both full of info that may surprise some people. A lot of the modern popular ideas around both of those subjects are pretty different from the historic concepts.
ev0ke: Pagan Portals: Aos Sidhe focuses explicitly on the Irish fairy folk. Does that mean there are notable differences between the fairy folk (and beliefs about them) in Wales, Cornwall, Scotland, England, and so on?
MD: Definitely yes. There’s a bad habit in general these days of blurring all the Celtic language speaking folklore together, often in ways that lose important nuance. So like the Irish Aos Sidhe are similar to the Scottish Sìthe, but they aren’t interchangeable and there can be important differences. And the same with the Welsh Tylwyth Teg and so on. I have talked a few times with my friend Mhara Starling, who is Welsh and extremely knowledgable about Welsh folk belief, about the similarities and differences between Welsh and Irish fairy beliefs and it’s really fascinating.
I think there are some general statements we can make about western European fairies as a whole, things that are constant across the beliefs like the motifs around borrowed midwives, stolen brides, changelings, and so on, but there’s also many areas where we find regional and cultural beliefs that are unique or at least significant variations compared to other areas. Even in Ireland there can be differences in regional belief that are important, so that for example in one area you wouldn’t ever bring hawthorn inside a home as it is a fairy tree, but in another hawthorn is sometimes used above doorways to ward off the Good Folk. Or in one area leaving dirty water in a home keeps fairies away while in another it’s believed dirty water allows them to enter a home. So you can imagine if there’s that kind of difference in Irish belief in different areas of Ireland that there would be just as much difference between Ireland and other countries or cultures — and yet we also see those cross-cultural similarities, like the fairy obsession with human musicians. It’s fascinating.
ev0ke: The fairy folk play a large role in contemporary pop culture, most notably in fantasy literature. How closely does the modern depiction of the fairy folk match that of the ancient, primary sources and beliefs? Are there some things that pop culture gets right, but other things very very wrong?
MD: Oh I could — and have — written pages and pages on this subject! Its a hobby horse of mine to be honest. How closely the Good Folk of fiction are to the Good Folk of older belief depends a lot on the specific book we’re looking at because some of them are actually very close: War For The Oaks, The Knowing, The Call, for example; while others are so far off the older folk beliefs they are basically creating something totally new under the old terms.
I will say that in general that a lot of pop culture keeps the aversion to iron, the potential danger, the magic, the shapeshifting. The issues tend to come in with excessive anthropomorphism and places where creativity is hijacking the folklore in excessive ways, which is a big problem because a lot of people treat the fiction like folklore; so if a novel says that being elfshot means obsessively lusting after one of the sidhe rather than being physically injured or ill after being hit by an invisible arrow, or says that a specific English fairy Queen rules a Scottish fairy court, that’s what people then forward as genuine folk belief.
And to be clear people can believe what they want, but it’s a problem when they label it as coming from a culture, historically, and not from modern fiction.
ev0ke: You have released several queer retellings of fairy tales and ballads. How do you select which stories to retell? Are there some that you want to retell, but just haven’t had the opportunity yet?
MD: Yes, that’s a passion project of mine (pun intended). I am working my way through as many of the traditional fairy ballads as I can, retelling them as prose stories featuring LGBTQ characters. I have a f/f version of Tam Lin, a m/m version of Thomas the Rhymer, and a trans version of Alice Brand. I choose the ones that seem to best fit both being reimagined with queer characters and being retold in a prose format.
I have several others in the works, but am partnering with an amazing artist, Valerie Herron, to take the entire project to a new level — I can’t talk too much about that yet as it’s not ready to be announced, but I can say you will see more of these stories in the future.
I feel very strongly about the importance of more diverse and wider representation especially in fantasy and so I try to include as much of it in my fiction as I can. I want everyone to feel like they can find themselves somewhere in these stories, because the genres tend to be really heteronormative as a whole and lacking all sorts of diversity overall. I think there’s ways to do this with the fairy ballads where the core fairy beliefs are kept true, but the characters aren’t limited to the expected m/f tropes. And honestly there’s so much connection between fairies and social outsiders and people who defied social norms across the beliefs and history that it just makes sense to me.
ev0ke: Where can readers find your work?
MD: My books are available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and in brick and mortar stores. I also blog at Lairbhan.blogspot.com/ and I have a patreon under my name, Morgan Daimler, where I post articles and share translation pieces as I am working on them.
ev0ke: Which book fairs, conventions, or other events will you be attending in the foreseeable future? Either in person or online?
MD: I’m hoping to attend Octocon in Dublin this October, but right now that’s a bit up in the air due to the pandemic. Beyond that I’ve been trying to limit my events this year to focus on getting several books out that I am under contract with Moon Books for.
ev0ke: What other projects are you working on?
MD: I just finished up a Pagan Portals on fairies in the 21st century which I am hoping will be out late this year or early next, and am currently working on books about the world of Fairy and Freya for Moon Books. I also recently wrote a high fantasy novel which I’m super excited about: the main character is middle aged, plus sized, and wears glasses to see (needs them to function) which are all things I’d like to see more representation for in fantasy. The book has a lot of diversity in general, I think, including polyamory and lesbian and pansexual characters. It was really fun to write and has gotten some great feedback from beta readers; I have some queries out on it with agents and a publisher but I may end up self publishing it because I think its a bit too niche for the current market.