Archives for category: Interviews

photoSea Creatures is Susanna Daniel’s second novel, and it has been called “a gorgeous story that spans the full experiential spectrum of romantic and parental love, artistic impulse, betrayal, sacrifice, and redemption.” And it has been described as “a rich, languid read. When you’re done savoring the last page, you too will want to take a dip in warm salty water, lie in the sun, and ponder the care you give your loved ones and the limits of your own safe harbor.” I would add that it is a book that struck me as unusually fearless and rich with wisdom and complicated humanity.

It is the story of a Georgia Quinllian and her family, who move to Miami, fleeing an awkward, job-destroying scandal. Her husband has a frightening sleep disorder, her three-year-old refuses to speak, and then Georgia takes job running errands for a remarkable artist who lives in Stiltsville, a small collection of houses raised on stilts the middle of the ocean.

Susanna Daniel’s first novel, Stiltsville, was awarded the PEN/Bingham prize for best debut work published in 2010. Sea Creatures, was named an Amazon Editors’ Top Pick. Her writing has been published in NewsweekSlateOne StoryEpoch, and elsewhere. She is a co-founder of the Madison Writers’ Studio.

The interview below is three questions long, and each question is intended to be answerable with a photograph or other image, and a brief explanation. Rights to all images are held by Susanna Daniel.

Nick: Sea Creatures contains so many wonderful images of places and things, I almost don’t know where to begin — the houseboat where Georgia and her family live, Miami’s canals and the suburban houses and flora, the ocean, Charlie’s art, the hurricane that finally upends everyone’s lives… Can you share any images that inspired your portrayal of any of those things?

Susanna:

imagistic_1a

imagistic_1bI took a friend’s boat down the Coral Gables canal when I was in the early stages of writing this book. So many of my shots look like they could have been taken in the 1950s. This is something about Miami — some pockets, including a lot of the canals, are frozen in time.

Nick: The quandaries and subtle paradoxes of parenthood are wonderfully portrayed in Sea Creatures. One of the things I admired is the way it conveys the obsessive, claustrophobic paranoia involved in parenting a very young child — the anxieties, but also the way that every event and every question is pressed into that peculiar, merciless filter — is this the right thing for my child? For Georgia, it makes it difficult to think at all about the future, and even the pre-child past seems faraway, foreign. Any images that you associate with Georgia’s perspective on parenthood?

Susanna:

imagistic_2a

imagistic_2b

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imagistic_2dI’m struck by this photo of Stiltsville from the 1970s. Look at the upstairs porch, at the dock: there’s almost no true barrier. For a Stiltsville kid in the 1970s, the only way to stay safe was to be a strong swimmer. How would I parent at Stiltsville today? I have no idea.

Nick: In both of your novels, Stiltsville (which was a real place) features prominently. It seems magical in both books, but the magic feels a different this time. In your previous book, Stiltsville was a place of family and nostalgia. But in Sea Creatures, it’s a hermit’s place, isolate, strange, a little ominous. Do you have some pictures of Stiltsville you can share? Do any of them capture the feel of the place as you imagined it while writing Sea Creatures?

Susanna:

imagistic_3a

imagistic_3bWhen writing both books, I thought a lot about the particular loneliness one feels when one is on an island, even if one is not alone. Looking at the ocean is like looking up at the night sky — it reduces you.

See also our previous Imagistic Interviews with Antoine Wilson and Laird Hunt.

Follow Susanna on Twitter.

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Kind One, Laird Hunt’s most recent novel, has received gaudy reviews from many quarters (e.g., “Profoundly imaginative, strikingly original, deeply moving.” Kirkus, starred review; “Laird Hunt’s Kind One is a mesmerizing novel of sin and expiation that plumbs the depths of human depravity and despair, yet hints at the possibility of redemption . . . [O]ne that will resonate long after you turn its last page.”Minneapolis Star Tribune), and it was a Pen/Faulkner finalist and won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award. I admired it greatly myself. Kind One deftly interweaves multiple time periods and points of view, but it all revolves around the story of Ginny, a white woman, who marries a cruel slave master. When he dies, the roles of master and slave become distorted, with consequences that reverberate long afterward.

Laird Hunt is the author of six books, including a short story collection and five novels. He teaches creative writing at the University of Denver.

The interview below is three questions long (+1, in this case), and each question is intended to be answerable with a photograph or other image. The photos and video (including the video of a video of a film) below are by Laird Hunt, and all rights are held by him. Laird told me, “I’ve been snapping photos with a little more attentiveness for a few years now. Some with a digital camera and some with a pinhole. I just got a holga plastic lens camera too although 120 film is expensive to buy and get developed!”

Nick: Is there an image you had in mind when you started Kind One?

Laird:

Doorway 1

Doorway 2

Doorway 3

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(Doorless doorways, windowless windows, dark beyond.)

Nick: The writing throughout the book is beautiful, but I was  particularly struck by the voice of Ginny — the poetry of her language, and also the peculiarities of what she choses to tell and what she choses to elide. Is there an image that captures something of your idea of her character and how she thinks and writes?

Laird:

Laird Reflect Footage

Stalker Footage

(She is coming closer, ever closer, then far again.)

Nick: It seems to me that one of the things Kind One is about is the way that certain events can carry forward in place and character through time. This theme brings to the book a ghostly quality and, often, an unsettling feeling. Any images that you associate with this aspect of the book?

Laird:

Tree

Barn

Cemetery

(Dead tree, wall of light, Indiana cemetery haunted by itself.)

Nick: And I’d like to add a bonus imagistic question: I love the handful of black and white photographs that are included toward the end of the book. They reminded me of W.G. Sebald, of course, but also Wright Morris’s The Home Place. Where did the photos come from?

Laird:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

(Sharan SQ-35 Pinhole on 35mm.)

See also our previous visual interview: Antoine Wilson and Panorama City.

Follow Laird Hunt on Twitter.

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(Cross-posted.)

Antoine Wilson’s recent novel Panorama City earned terrific reviews from the New York Times (“A bracingly humane story whose narrator’s wisdom and forbearance make you see the world afresh”), Vanity FairLA Review of Books, and lots of other places. Panorama City is narrated by a young man, Oppen Porter, into a series of cassette tapes as he lies in a hospital bed, where he believes he will soon die. Into the tapes he speaks to his unborn child, and he tells of his travels in Panorama City (a neighborhood of Los Angeles) and his quest to become a “man of the world.” It’s a wonderful book.

Wilson is also a gifted photographer, with a book of photographs to his credit (The Slow Paparazzo, Ice Plant Press), which made him the perfect writer to ask to try an experiment I’m calling (until I think of a better name) the Imagistic Interviews.

The interview is three questions long, and each question is intended to be answerable with a photograph or other image, and a brief explanation. Rights to all images below belong to Antoine Wilson.

Nick: Panorama City is a book of many delights, but I felt that the most delightful delight was the voice of Oppen Porter. The voice arises partly from the peculiar nature of Oppen’s mind, his openness, his logic, and his curiosity, as well as the fact that he’s speaking to his unborn child. It’s genuinely unique and original, and I wondered if there is an image that captures your idea of that voice?

Antoine:

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A couple of years into writing the book, my father died. My aunt (not-Liz-like) posted this image on his memorial page. It’s c. 1930, probably Hull, Quebec. My father and his father, looking an awful lot like myself and my son. The moment I saw it, it unlocked a whole lot of emotion inside me, vis-a-vis my father. I had never truly imagined him possessing the innocence of a child. This image ended up becoming an enormous inspiration for the grandfather-father-son dynamic in the book. Never before had I felt so much like a link in the human chain.

Nick: Is there a picture that captures your vision of the curious quest that Oppen sets himself, to become “a man of the world”?

Antoine:

Image

This image encapsulates for me the sort of vision Oppen has of himself when he sets out from Madera for the wide world of Panorama City. He’s a puzzle piece in search of his puzzle.

Nick: Panorama City is an actual place. It is the place where Oppen goes to learn to be a “man of the world,” his words. You have to give us a picture of the Panorama City of Panorama City.

Antoine:

Image

I love the way the reflection of the sun off the Merc’s wheel creates an old-school nimbus you’d expect to find above Jesus’ head in a painting. I call it a rimbus. To me, this image resides at the intersection of the sacred and profane–exactly where you’ll find the Panorama City of PANORAMA CITY.

Nick: (Btw, Antoine’s Twitter feed is one of the  one of the cleverest and funniest around. If you’re over there, check it out.)

(Cross-posted.)

This is the first of what I hope will be an occasional series of short interviews with authors with new books out that are worth your attention.

Jeremy Jackson has written three books of fiction; two young adult novels under the pseudonum Alex Bradley; and a pair of cookbooks, one of which, The Cornbread Book, was a finalist for the James Beard Award. He attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop (graduating in 1997; I met him in Iowa City when I arrived there a couple of years later).

I Will Not Leave You Comfortless is Jackson’s first memoir. “The eleventh year of life brings Jeremy Jackson his first love, the loss of his grandmother, and his sister’s departure for collegeseemingly ordinary events that erode his innocence in a way that will never be fully repaired. With storytelling informed by a profound sense of place and an emotional memory startlingly vivid, readers young and old will be transported and transformed by this coming-of-age tale.”

Interview!

Q1. The level of detail in this book is extraordinary, and it creates a deep sense of a very particular time and place. The reader can see that this isn’t just a few memories that you dashed off; you researched this book. It includes any number of quotes from family letters, notes, and journals. How did you go about that research process, and what did it feel like to research your own life?

JJ: First off, thanks for asking these great questions, Nick.
The amount of documentation that my parents have kept from the time period is, well, somewhat preposterous. In addition journals and letters, they kept meticulously labelled and dated photographs, the family calendars that hung on our bulletin board (you know, the calendar with all our dentist appointments and PTA meetings on it), my school papers, cancelled checks, hand-drawn maps of our garden from each year, records of what my parents gave us for Christmas each year, and so on and so forth. I also interviewed my parents at length, and they were tremendous resources.
So, yes, it was a bit odd to be researching my own life, but it was also fascinating, because I discovered things I wouldn’t have remembered on my own, and I also discovered “intersections” between my ten-year-old-boy life and the lives of my other family members. For instance, the night I went on a raccoon hunt with my fellow Cub Scouts turned out to also be the night my grandmother had so much pain from her yet-undiagnosed disease that she got out of bed very early. My friend Craig and I stayed up super-late at the post-coon-hunt sleepover, so probably my grandmother and I overlapped—me up late, she up early. Additionally, my mother and eldest sister had a big fight that night and my sister also got up very early the next morning to drive an hour to go take the SAT test. So I was able to write this big multiple-POV chapter about this night, thanks to the sources I had. I wasn’t guessing or speculating about things based on memories, I had documentation. If this book were an academic book, it would have five or ten footnotes on many pages.

Q2. Was there a particular moment when you knew you needed to write this book?

JJ: In 2003, my mom emailed me a transcript of about three decades of our family calendars; this got me thinking about 1983 and 1984 and how our family changed that year. I started writing, exploring that year. But I had no experience in writing memoir, so I didn’t really know what the heck I was doing, so I took the chapters I’d written (which are indeed the first three chapters of the book) and showed them to Frank Conroy, the late director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, because he’d been an important teacher for me, a fan of mine, and because he’d written a famous childhood memoir of his own.
I asked Frank, What is this I’ve written? Where is it going?
He said, It is what it is, it’s going where it’s going, and you have to write this book.
I took that as a commandment.

Q3. You are a successful novelist and, now, a memoirist — you must know the strengths and weaknesses of each genre very well. If you locked fiction and memoir together in a cage in your mind and made them fight, which one would win?

JJ: It’s a draw! Boring, but true. Though perhaps the prevailing view is that memoir has been ascendant in the past couple of decades and fiction is in a bit of a holding pattern, I don’t see that either genre has any objective advantage. It’s a bit of a muddle anyway: memoir can contain a lot of fiction, and fiction can contain a lot of fact.
I personally like to read fiction more than memoir, and I also happen to think that there are many more “great” works of fiction in the world than “great” works of memoir. Or is this just me? I can easily name twenty amazing novels from the past hundred years, but I’m hard pressed to name five amazing memoirs….