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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

imagistic_2c

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.

Follow me on Twitter.

clouds in morning sky

At 32nd and Sheridan, Denver.

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.

Follow me on Twitter.

(Cross-posted.)

checkpoint charlie berlin 1996

I took the photo above in 1996 in Berlin. The location is Checkpoint Charlie, the most famous of the guardhouses that monitored crossings between East and West Berlin. The sign in the foreground was a warning that stood in front of the checkpoint. In 1996, Checkpoint Charlie was slated for demolition so that the site could be redeveloped. Artist John Powers obtained permission to place a large, gold-painted replica of the Statue of Liberty on top of the checkpoint and leave it there for a few months before it would be scraped. He named the piece Checkpoint Liberty.

The Berlin Wall had come down seven years earlier, and now only a couple of short sections of wall remained standing. Half of Berlin had been turned into a vast, extraordinary construction project; looking east, construction cranes towered everywhere across the horizon. A friend told me, “It feels like I’ll go to sleep, and in the morning I’ll come out and find that all the streets around me have been rearranged overnight.”

Below are a couple more photos I took during that visit.

building

brandenberg gate 1996

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:

Image

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.)

I took these photos of the Heidelberg Project in 1998 (-ish?), but I just now got around to scanning them. The Heidelberg Project was created by artist Tyree Guyton along a mostly abandoned block in Detroit. The project still exists, but some parts shown here were demolished by the city in 1999.

It’s one of the most remarkable works of art I’ve ever seen, and it stuck itself deep in my memory.