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The Magical Lives of Carol Goodman 

Shapeshifter

click to enlarge JENNIFER MAY

How many writers live in a modest white house overlooking a field on the outskirts of Red Hook?

Like any riddle worth its salt, it's a trick question. If you're counting physical bodies, just two. But if you're counting bylines, it isn't so simple. There's bestselling novelist writer Carol Goodman, whose latest outing is Arcadia Falls (Ballantine, 2010), and her husband, poet Lee Slominsky (Logician of the Wind, Orchises Press, 2012). These two are joined at the hip—or perhaps fused at the trunk, like a centaur—as urban fantasy author "Lee Carroll" (Black Swan Rising; The Watchtower). And they're now shacking up with one "Juliet Dark" (The Demon Lover, Ballantine, 2011), who writes deliciously literate erotic fantasy.

That's already a houseful. But Slominsky has also penned verse for Goodman's fictional characters Neil Buchwald (The Drowning Tree), Zalman Bronsky (The Ghost Orchid), and an enigmatic 16th-century poet who may have been Shakespeare's Dark Lady (The Sonnet Lover). Goodman has written excerpts from the works of deceased authors K. R. LaFleur (The Seduction of Water) and Lily Eberhardt and Vera Beecher (Arcadia Falls). Add to the mix that her "Juliet Dark" incarnation also created the unexpurgated bodice-rippers of The Demon Lover's Dahlia LaMotte, and things start to verge on Mad Tea Party.

Indeed, Goodman offers tea as soon as her guests cross the threshold, but the tea tray she's prepared—a steaming pot of Harney & Sons' Dragon Pearl Jasmine and a selection of cakes from Bread Alone—seems more maternal than mad. She carries it into her study, lined with built-in bookshelves, a comfortable couch, a large white-brick fireplace, and a writing desk that suggests the helm of an orderly ship.

It seems entirely fitting that Goodman should write in a room that's right next to the hearth and a few steps away from the kitchen. Mothers and daughters are central to her fiction and her life—the plywood Christmas tree leaning against the bookshelves was painted by her daughter Maggie, a student at Bard, because pine needles aggravate Goodman's asthma. She's still readjusting a writing routine that started when she used to walk Maggie to school in the Long Island suburbs. As her daughter grew older and more independent, Goodman's work rhythms changed, but she still likes to compose in her head during walks, memorizing and refining a nugget of prose that she brings back home. "I sit down to write it, and often I just keep on going," she says.

She always writes first drafts longhand, and starts work each Monday by typing the previous week's pages, often revising as she goes along. Typically, she turns out a chapter a week, but The Demon Lover was different.

When folklorist Callie McFay accepts a teaching position at Fairwick College, deep in the Catskills, she starts having vivid and startling erotic dreams. Her Victorian attic contains steamy manuscripts by the last tenant, romance novelist Dahlia LaMotte, and Callie soon realizes the man of their mutual dreams is an incubus—a demon lover—who gains strength by possessing her, body and soul. Luckily, he isn't the only supernatural being around.

"When I got the idea, it was like I was possessed by a demon lover," Goodman reports. "I thought about it all the time." She kept a notebook next to her bed, and would often wake up and start writing at once. She's always enjoyed working in bed ("I call it my Edith Wharton writing"), but the feverish pace was unprecedented: She finished a first draft in four months.

When she came up for air, she realized "my house was a wreck, I hadn't talked to people in months. I looked at my daughter and said, 'Have you gotten your college applications in yet?'" She did three more drafts before publication, and already has two more Juliet Dark novels on tap. The second volume of the Fairwick trilogy, The Water Witch, will come out in 2013; Goodman just finished the third, The Hallow Door, and is starting a new book that features a shapeshifting bear.

Goodman's transition from more realistic fiction to fantasy genres was organic. "I'd often written about fairy tales, and the idea of making the fairies real and going into the supernatural just took hold of me. It seemed like the next logical step," Goodman says. "This feels like what I'm supposed to be doing right now."

It also connects to her first loves as reader and writer. She grew up in a bland Pennsylvania suburb, enlivened by her mother's colorful bedtime stories. In fourth grade, she churned out a 90-page creative writing assignment about a girl who lives with a herd of magical horses. Soon, she was devouring Mary Stewart's The Crystal Cave, Victoria Holt romances, and TV's "Dark Shadows." At 13, she read Jane Eyre, "still probably my favorite book."

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