Magdalen Powers Interview

What's your earliest memory of writing?

I wrote a play based on "The Ghost of Windy Hill," by Clyde Robert Bulla, when I was four or five or so. I know this seems annoyingly precocious. But I'd tried to read some Shakespeare, and I really liked the idea of writing plays. "The Ghost of Windy Hill" is a terrific story -- as I recall, there's a gruff, possibly evil caretaker guy, his crippled son, a woman in white wandering the grounds in a big hat. My first sewing project, a few years later, was based on that book, too, so I could wander the woods in a long white dress, smiling mysteriously.

What's the strangest writing or editing job you've had to do?

Oh wow, there have been a few. I edited a CD-ROM version of "Dr. Ruth's Encyclopedia of Sex" in the early '90s. She came out to visit, and a few of my coworkers and I took her up to Multnomah Falls. She is totally adorable and a really fast walker. She shook hands and kissed babies and bought me an ice cream cone.

Which do you enjoy writing more, romance or heartbreak?

Well, I find -- at least in my writing -- that they tend to go hand in hand, or just that in romantic situations, there's always the possibility of heartbreak. How's that for optimism?

As for which I enjoy writing more, I guess I'd have to say heartbreak. Happiness, I think, is only interesting in private. (Then, of course, it is extremely interesting.)

List your favorites:

This is no way a complete or conclusive list. I am on vacation, and thus sleeping more weirdly than usual, which is saying something. But here is three of each -- in alphabetical order, even!


Penelope Fitzgerald, James Joyce, pre-"Blood Meridian" Cormac McCarthy


E. E. Cummings, Michael Lally, Li-Young Lee


John Darnielle (the Mountain Goats), Jeff Mangum (Neutral Milk Hotel), Karen and Don Peris (the Innocence Mission)


"Beauty and the Beast" (Jean Cocteau, 1946, not Disney!), "Head-On" ("Gegen die Wand"), "Wings of Desire"

What are your favorite travel destinations?

I really just love to travel, period. But if pressed, I'd have to say New York (where I'm writing from now), Paris, Halifax, Berlin ... I had a great time hiking in the High Tatras a few years ago -- that's the branch of the Carpathian Mountains that runs along the Polish-Slovakian border -- and I've been plotting to get back there ever since. Krakow, a few hours from the mountains, is a lovely, lovely town that I'd like to spend more time in. They have really good salads there, which is rare for that neck of the woods.

I just love the sense of movement, of trying to navigate a new city. I love trains and would love to travel extensively by sea. Airplanes are fast, but dull.

What's the difference between Portland and New York?

Is this a trick question?

What do you think the afterlife is like?

I have long been of the opinion that everyone should get the kind of afterlife they want and/or think they're going to get. Different religions have such different ideas of what happens after you die, and I don't think any of them can possibly apply universally. (Stand back; cue lightning.)

Really, though, I get the feeling it's just quiet and nice -- a sort of pre-conscious state at best. A big nothing, but a pleasant one, like before you're born.