Interview with Christine Stoddard
Interviewer: Jessica Reidy
Christine Stoddard is a writer, artist, and imaginative entrepreneur from Greater Washington. She runs Quail Bell Press and Productions full-time from Richmond, VA. Christine enjoys writing for print and web (wordsmithchristine.com); making comics and doodles (forgetfairytales.com); and working on videos, films, television programs, and other projects involving moving images. Christine loves her family, her boyfriend, her friends, and her community. Learn more at www.worldofchristinestoddard.com.
1. How did Quail Bell come to be? What is the journal’s artistic vision? What kinds of artwork are you looking for?
Quail Bell Magazine came out of Opus Fae, a blog I ran very casually around 2008 or ’09. Opus Fae was just generally about fairy tales. But I wanted to start a blog that explored the meaning and place of fairy tales in different societies, more generally opening up the conversation to art, history, and folklore. So in 2010, I registered the domain name, www.quailbellmagazine.com, and basically ran the blog like Opus Fae, except that I began soliciting submissions. Opus Fae had just been a blog of my own art and writing.
Soon, thanks largely to Craigslist, I began receiving submissions from writers, artists and media makers across the country and even the world. Such response inspired me to take Quail Bell a bit more seriously, so I rounded up the Quail Bell Crew in May 2011. By September 2011, my “fledglings” and I had reworked and re-launched the website. By October 2011, we had released our first print ‘zine. We’re now at the point where we want to rebrand and even commercialize the magazine. Now Quail Bell is a project of my arts and communications firm, Quail Bell Press & Productions, LLC.
I am always interested in publishing creative and journalistic works that deal with questions of art, social justice, history, and folklore. Because most of the Quail Bell Crew is based in the Greater Washington area, we also tend to run pieces that relate to D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.
2. How does surrealism influence your own work?
Hmm, well, I don’t sit down and routinely think about surrealism or anything necessarily influencing my work. It is only in hindsight that I recognize (or at least guess at) my influences. That being said, Dada and Surrealist images, even crudely made ones, have always resonated with me. I like their energy and their invitation for interpretation.
3. Tell us about Comicality. What do you like about creating comics?
Comicality is a comics magazine that David Fuchs and I started at our alma mater, Virginia Commonwealth University, using a grant from the Student Media Commission. The grant allowed us to produce two pilot print issues of the magazine—one for 2010/2011 and another for 2011/2012. While both issues focus mainly on Virginia’s cartoonists and sequential artists, the first issue was especially of local interest. It contained an insert of comics made by 7th grade students at Richmond, VA’s Anna Julia Cooper School. Anna Julia Cooper is a charter school for children of limited resources in the city’s East End, relatively far from VCU’s campus.
After David and I graduated, not a single VCU student applied to make Comicality a permanent campus publication, so it remains a pilot project in our hands, under our control. I would love to make Comicality an accessible Virginia-based publication that promotes talent from across the state. People could pick it up at Metro stations in Northern Virginia, find it on the boardwalk at Virginia Beach, or read it in coffee shops out in Appalachia. Comicality has a lot of potential and I’m confident I can eventually find the funding for it. Intrigued? Check out www.comicalitymagazine.com.
The answer about why I create comics is again not something I completely understand. But at least one facet of that answer is that any form of expression that merges words and images fascinates me. I can caption a doodle and it suddenly becomes something greater—not necessarily “great,” but more than it was.
4. How do culture, ethnicity, and folklore influence your creative work?
Even as a little girl, I experienced nostalgia and a longing for social justice—though I could not articulate those sentiments at the time. So history, folklore, and other cultural studies have always sparked my interest. Perhaps that is largely because I am multicultural and have frequently tried to cobble together some sense of who I am. The process of creation helps me think out answers to questions of identity. On my mother’s side, I am first-generation Salvadorian-American and Catholic. On my father’s side, I am fourth-generation Scottish-American and Protestant. My mother’s side descended from Saphardi Jews, Mayans, and the mestizos who now make up most of Latin America. Meanwhile, my father’s family left Eyre, Scotland and came to the United States in the 1840s, settling in the mountain town of Cumberland, Maryland. Within a generation, they went from coal miners to lawyers.
5. What inspired you to write Once Upon a Body? How do your stories comment on or reinvent gender roles in popular fairy tales? (And when and where can I buy it?)
In truth, Once Upon a Body is simply an anthology of vaguely related works I’ve written over the past several years. I did not set out to write the book; I curated and edited pieces from my collection of poems and short stories to fit a particular theme that came to me in 2010. The book touches upon popular and obscure fairy tales alike, as well as general themes prevalent through fairy tales of all kinds. Honestly, I’d rather let the book speak for itself than go into too much detail! I’m still at the point in my life where I can’t often talk about my work in any point-blank way. (Find your own meaning, darn it!) Six Gallery Press (Pittsburgh, PA) will release the book toward the end of this year. You’ll be able to find it on Six Gallery’s website, Amazon.com, QuailBellMagazine.com, galleries, and independent bookstores.
6. Tell me about the photography show you curated, “Guadalajara in 35mm.”
“Guadalajara in 35mm” was the first photography show I had ever curated and it may well be the most poignant one that I ever do. Last summer, about a dozen students at Virginia Commonwealth University studied public health and Spanish medical interpretation in Guadalajara, Mexico. On a free afternoon, PhD student, Lynn VanderWielen, took us to the shelter for sexually abused children where she had taught a few years earlier. I had spoken to Lynn in advance about doing an art activity with the children and decided to bring them disposable cameras. We spent about an hour playing with the children, teaching them how to turn the camera dial and click away. Ultimately, the children took 270 photos and VCU’s Global Education department had the budget to display ten of them in three sets: one for Virginia and two for Mexico. The U.S. show is currently touring with the Virginia Center for Latin American Art on their mobile gallery, Galería Movimiento. The show will go on permanent display on VCU’s campus in February. You can read more about the project on Quail Bell: http://www.quailbellmagazine.com/3/post/2013/01/curators-statement-guadalajara-in-35mm.html
7. What are you working on now?
Absolutely nothing! No, David Fuchs and I are touring our 22-minute documentary, “The Persistence of Poe” (www.poerichmond.com) in most of the cities where Edgar Allan Poe once lived. The documentary examines Poe’s little-publicized life in Richmond, VA and also explores his continued influence on Richmond’s art and culture today. In other news, Quail Bell Art Director, Kristen Rebelo, and I are plotting the website’s shocking re-design with a graphics
gent in Arlington, VA. We’re looking for a more user-friendly, less “bloggy” feel in time for Quail Bell’s book release. Brandylane Publishers (Richmond, VA) puts out our first anthology, The Nest, later this year. On a related note, I’m writing a book about Richmond’s cemeteries for Images of America, a photo book series by Arcadia Publishing (Charleston, SC), that’s due out in 2014. Lastly, I’m trying to wrap up a photo comic on Richmond’s Mixtec Amerindian community for a grant project funded by The Puffin Foundation.
8.Richmond’s Style Weekly named you one of the top 40 under 40 in Richmond, VA, and remarked on your ability to rock “many hats.” You’re a teacher, editor, founder, artist, performer, volunteer… I know I’m leaving some out. What drives you to work so hard and create so early in life?
It is a matter of two things: respecting my parents’ sacrifices and priding myself in seeking purpose. My parents are both self-starters who practically slaved away to establish themselves. They’ve always encouraged me to work hard and take none of my privileges for granted. Lazing about on the regular would make me feel ungrateful, even a little slimy. But I also believe that everyone has certain talents and that it is our responsibility to use those talents in a productive way that inspires thought, love, and laughter.
9. What would you like to say about your time as a cheese monger?
During the three weeks I worked as a “cheese monger” at a fromagerie, I learned, among other things, that there’s a farm in Sweden that produces moose cheese and sells it for $500/lb. I’ve never tried moose cheese, but, thanks to my cheese mongering days, I am now familiar with about 200 varieties of cow, goat, sheep, and buffalo cheese. A few of my favorites include fleur verte, camembert, St. Angel triple cream, Ewephoria gouda, and chipotle cheddar. (Oh, and Kraft singles, but I’m not supposed to admit that.) Now I’m employed full-time at WETA, just 0.2 miles away from the cheese shop. WETA is the PBS affiliate station for D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. I’m an associate producer, which means I write scripts, go out on shoots, and coordinate tapings. I frequently pack cheese in my lunch.
10. What do you wish people would ask you more often?
If I’d like something to eat because the answer is probably yes, and I never turn down free grub. I’m a foodie, but also a cheapskate—or a “charmingly inconspicuous street urchin.” Take your pick. The best way to woo me into friendship is to cook for me with all the kindness you’d give a charity case.
Jessica Reidy is an MFA candidate at Florida State University, where she teaches about creative writing, rhetoric, and Romani culture and representation. Her work has appeared in Narrative Magazine as Story of the Week, Quail Bell, The Los Angeles Review, and other journals. She is the Art Editor of the Southeast Review, co-founder of The Poet Time e-reading series, and also works with VIDA–Women in Literary Arts. She is currently writing her first novel.