M Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction are some of my Literary Interests

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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Mike Phillips A Question and Answer Session with the Author of The World a Below- Chronicles of The Goblin King - including a Guest Post

Today I am very pleased to be able to present a Q and A session with Mike Phillips, a very highly regarded writer in the fantasy genre. In addition to answering a few questions, Mike has provided us with a lot of interesting information on his book.  I think we can gain insight into the creativity behind the creation of literary works about alternative worlds through Mike's guest posts.  

Summery of Mike's latest book from his webpage-

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The World Below by Mike Phillips author bio data

Hello everyone, and thank you for reading my guest post. My name is Mike Phillips and my new book is The World Below. I was asked to share a little something about my personal life. I know lots of you have pets, so I thought I’d talk about that. I grew up on a farm in West Michigan. We grew most of our own food and heated our house with wood, and even made our own furniture. For me, the best part of growing up on a farm was the animals. In addition to the livestock, we always had a dog and an abundance of barn cats. My absolute favorite, however, was my pet duck, Peeper. The poor thing didn’t get off to a good start. I remember that the mother and father duck had a nest of eggs, and we knew that it was about time for them to hatch. I had gone into the barn just before bed and been rewarded with the sound of little duck voices. Well, I didn’t want to disturb their momma, so I let them be and came back excited the next morning. What I found was a tragedy. A weasel had come in the night. Mother and father duck and about three ducklings lay dead on the ground. The dog caught up with weasel. It too met an unfortunate end. I was sick and in tears as I looked at it all, but heard a little voice behind me. A single duckling was left. I took it inside and raised it under a light bulb. All the while, I “peeped” at her so she would feel at home. That was a mistake, because even as an adult, Peeper never quite learned to quack just right. Thank you so much for joining me. I hope you enjoy The World Below. Please visit me at mikephillipsfantasy.com.





MP. Two hours at a time. Rather than listen to music or a recorded book, I think about my writing. When I finally get a chance to sit down, I can usually knock off a thousand words in an hour or so. Then again, there are days when I go to the computer with my mind a blank and have just as much success. Like every other writer, there are days when nothing works.
 
Solitude when writing is certainly best for me. It helps me focus on what I’m doing. If I have music or TV on or if I’m in a public place, the distractions keep me from my best work.
 
B.  if you could give your eighteen year old self one suggestion, what would it be?  
 
MP: What a great question. When I was eighteen, I never listened to anyone. If I knew the advice was coming from some future self, even if I somehow got past the suspicion that it really wasn’t me, I probably would listen to that either. That makes me bull headed, I know. Make up your own mind. Own your mistakes. That’s the best any of us can do.
 
 
MP: Whether it is dance or sculpture or painting or music, what makes the most compelling works of art is the ability to touch others in some way, evoke a thought or emotion. At a gallery or museum, I study the work from every angle. I try to appreciate the technique, the intent, the story that is being told. If others spend the same sort of effort with my work, I would be most flattered.
 
F.   It seems more and more writers have MAs in creative writing, some PhDs.  Education is a great thing but is there a negative side to this, will it produce  in few years a literary culture where lacking this degree will make it hard to get published?. Is it homogenizing writing styles? Will the day of the amateur writer who comes from nowhere and changes everything be over because of this?  Does it give you pause to know the University of Iowa M A in writing scholarships for students from outside the USA, were for years funded by the C. I. A? 
 
MP: When it comes to a creative work, refinement of technique only takes the artist so far. What makes an artist stand out is as much about having a unique perspective, pushing boundaries, being able to share a vision of the world or relate a story. Musicians, sculptors, painters, and yes writers, share this trait. Do I think the true art comes out of nowhere? Sometimes it does.
 
G.  How important is seeing different parts of the world to you in terms of stimulating your creativity?  
 
MP: Travel, seeing new things, meeting new people, is one of my passions. Reading about history in a book is important, but until you’ve walked the meadows of Appomattox Courthouse or scaled the walls of Fort Sumter, it’s hard to understand exactly what the people were facing. It puts into perspective how the people of history didn’t do great things because they were somehow different from the rest of us. They were people too. The first time I toured Ephesus, I couldn’t get over how ordinary life there must have been. There was the famous library, of course, but also bakeries and shops not all that different from modern times.
 
For someone from the United States, I think mission work is important. US citizens are so very fortunate, something that is hard to appreciate unless you’ve experienced firsthand how people in other parts of the world live their lives. Travel, to me, teaches perspective and compassion, lessons that are as important as learning about cultural differences.
 
H.  Where can we find you online?
 
MP: Find me at mikephillipsfantasy.com
 
I.  Besides reading and writing, what are some of your hobbies or interests. ?
 
MP: We already talked about travel and walking, which are the biggest two, so I’ll take a stab at my gardening. Even though I grew up on a farm, I’m not very good at it. Pulling weeds from a row of beans is nothing like making flowers bloom all summer. Spring appeals to me in a strange way, it makes me want to get my hands dirty. As a result, I dig up large portions of my suburban yard and plant things that usually wither and die.
 
1.   how and when did you begin to write? 
 
MP: Writing was never anything I intentionally pursued. I work as a safety engineer. I’ve traveled all over the United States consulting with and educating people on the benefits of risk management and loss prevention. I believe in what I’m doing and it’s important work, but safety is a job that leaves little room for creativity. Shortly after graduating college, I became bored with my new career. To occupy an overactive imagination, I started writing stories. One led to the next and I thought writing a novel might be fun to try. That first manuscript was a crime novel, tucked safely away in the darkest recesses of my hard drive, but it fueled my desire to do more. I now have three novels and over a hundred stories in print and there is no end in sight. Life is so weird.
 
2.   How long did you have the world of your series in your mind before you began to write?
 
MP: The World Below takes place in a real city. It is Traverse City, Michigan, USA. Though I don’t live there, I’m a short drive away and I often have the opportunity to visit for business and pleasure. If you or your readers have never been, Traverse City or TC to us locals, is set on Grand Traverse Bay, which is a part of Lake Michigan. There is a strip of public land that stretches between the City and the lakeshore that is over a mile long. The beaches are white sand and the water is blue and clear. The artist community is thriving. Theatre, music, dance and the arts are a part of everyday life in the summer. There is always something happening, even if you are just taking a walk on Front Street. I paint an idyllic picture, I’m sure, but isn’t that a part of fiction too?
 
Anyway, I had been planning an Urban Fantasy for some time and thought TC would be a perfect place for it. I began scouting out areas for the book. The beach was a natural, as much a part of the city as the buildings and the people. The old cottonwood and the organic foods market and gallery row are actual places. I don’t think I ever named the pizza bar in the book, but if you ever find yourself there, have a slice of Pangea’s best. You’ll love it. Unfortunately for the ladies, Lars doesn’t run the hot dog cart at the bank. The guy who does isn’t exactly a supermodel, but seems like a good guy.
 
The hero of our story, Mitch Hardy, finds himself flat broke and physically deformed after suffering an industrial accident. He moves to TC to start a new life. What he doesn’t realize that this is one of the last refuges for all the magical creatures of legend. After an act of kindness, he is adopted by a crew of goblins. They bring him into the World Below, a sort of refugee camp, a place that lies beneath the city, a place where the enchanted creatures can live in safety. Here, dwarves and fauns and centaurs and orcs live from the cast-offs of human society, making their way the best they can.
 
Anchoring a story in a real place, at least in my mind, makes it more authentic. Wait, that doesn’t explain it very well. I like to have my feet on the ground, so to speak. By using a real place as setting, it disciplines the work, brings it more into reality. Let’s try that another way. I observed sword play and fought with swords so my action sequences would be all the more real. I have spent time working in foundries and know the job and the people. I find it important to draw upon the world for my writing. Though I write fiction, and the more fantastical the better, the non-fantasy parts of what I do are ever the more important. Without the reality, the fantasy doesn’t have impact, it just doesn’t work. Otherwise, you end up with comic book literature, dull and uninteresting. That’s not what I do. So to answer your question, it took a long time.
 

 3.  I sometimes wonder why such a disproportionate amount of the regarded as great literature of the world is written in the colder temperate zones rather than in the tropics.   How big a factor do you think the Irish Weather is in shaping the literary output of its writers.?   I cannot imagine The Brothers Karamazov being written on tropical island, for example. 
 
MP: Here in Michigan, we had one of the coldest, snowiest, winters on record. We had over a hundred and twenty-five inches of snow where I live. There was even more in other parts of the state. It was around zero Fahrenheit for almost two months. You pose an interesting theory about climate and creativity. Personally, I didn’t get anything done.
 
4.  Many cultures are permeated with references to seemingly supernatural creatures, some kind some manavolent.  Do you feel any sense of these entities in the world you look out on in your daily life or in your writings?  Do you sense a continuity between the natural and supernatural worlds.  Is a belief in the supernatural just escapism and wishful thinking?  Is the believe in occult systems the refuge of the powerless?
 
MP: I have always found myself drawn to stories of the supernatural. Since The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, my introduction to the world of fantasy beyond the basic fairy tales, I have sought evidence of other worldly creatures in both literature and in life. That is why it has become such a central aspect of my work. I won’t quote Shakespeare at you and say how many things in heaven and earth are yet unknown to man, but I try to keep an open mind. I’ve never seen any evidence that would suggest pink unicorns or purple hydra are hiding out in the backrooms of Walmart, but you never know. Stranger things have happened. The basis of the World Below is that these creatures exist. Once they were common, but with the spread of humanity over the planet, they were all but erased from existence. Like in my book, maybe the faerie folk are hiding out from us, or maybe it was all just drug induced hallucinations that dreamt them up in the first place.
 
5.  These are loaded question coming from me, but with the decline of print reviews, are book blogs becoming more important?  Professional critics have denigrated book bloggers as reviewers without credentials,book bloggers have replied professional reviewers just don't like bloggers doing for free what they ask money for doing? Reviewers do it for money, bloggers for love.  What is your reaction to this?  Do you join book tours or send bulk mailings out asking for reviews?  
 
MP: I love blogs. All the people I’ve had a chance to work with have been so good to me. I owe them so much of my success. Frankly, there is no better way for a writer to communicate with people. It’s great to be able to talk to people about writing, share insight, and even encourage those that might have a story or two of their own.
 
6..  When you write, do you picture and audience or do you just write?  
 
MP: I just write. I have been fortunate that people like what I do. It supports my publisher and I get a kick out of seeing my work in print. But I write for myself, for the pure pleasure of the experience and the satisfaction of completing a project.
 
7.  Assuming this applies to you, how do you get past creative "dry spells", periods when you have a hard time coming up with ideas or when things seem futile? 
 
MP: Every writer needs a break now and then. I look forward to those times. It allows me to look over what I have done and perhaps catch up on my interviews and other correspondence. After a few days, I return to the computer refreshed and ready to go.
 
8. .  If someone says to you, "I prefer to live life, not just read about it " what is your reaction inside?  (Besides cringing!)
 
MP: Do it all! I fill my life with art. I go to galleries and museums. I read books. I listen to all kinds of music. I go to shows of every stripe. I cook. I explore nature. Reading is as much about living life as hitting the clubs or climbing a mountain. Everything in its own time and place.
 

 
 
Quick Pick Questions
 
A.  tablets or laptops or smart phones? MP: All of the above, but I work on a laptop.
 
B.  E readers or traditional books? MP: Traditional book, absolutely.
 
C.  American Fast Food- love it, hate it, or once and a while? MP: I avoid fast food at all cost. In my travels, finding “Mom and Pop” restaurants is half the fun.
 
D.  Cats or dogs? MP: Both! I love animals. Unfortunately, my wife is allergic to dogs and cats. I have a pet rat. Yuck! I know. Here’s the thing. They are great pets. Sassy is both intelligent and affectionate. She lives in a three level cage with a soft bed and ample food. I let her run around the house in a ball whenever I’m home. It’s a long way from the sewer. The tail, I admit, takes a little getting used to.
 
E.  best city to inspire a writer- Paris, London, Dublin, or?  MP: I’ve not yet made it to Paris, London, or Dublin. Chicago and Detroit are fine but I find them less than inspiring. I grew up on a farm. I’m a small town guy. I find more to write about in a forest or a stream than in skyscrapers and traffic.
F.  Walt Whitman or Willam Butler Yeats? MP: Not Fair! YB Yeats is one of my all-time 
G.  Winter or Summer? Day or Night? MP: After this winter, I can’t wait for summer. I used to love the night, but I’ve strangely become a morning person. I love the peacefulness.
 
 
I.  Would you rather witness opening night for Waiting for Godot, King Lear, Playboy of the Western World or Ubo Roi? MP: 
I’m open to anything, but new productions of Shakespeare will always top my list.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


The World Below by Mike Phillips author bio data
Hello everyone, and thank you for reading my guest post. My name is Mike Phillips and my new book is The World Below. I was asked to share a little something about my personal life. I know lots of you have pets, so I thought I’d talk about that. I grew up on a farm in West Michigan. We grew most of our own food and heated our house with wood, and even made our own furniture. For me, the best part of growing up on a farm was the animals. In addition to the livestock, we always had a dog and an abundance of barn cats. My absolute favorite, however, was my pet duck, Peeper. The poor thing didn’t get off to a good start. I remember that the mother and father duck had a nest of eggs, and we knew that it was about time for them to hatch. I had gone into the barn just before bed and been rewarded with the sound of little duck voices. Well, I didn’t want to disturb their momma, so I let them be and came back excited the next morning. What I found was a tragedy. A weasel had come in the night. Mother and father duck and about three ducklings lay dead on the ground. The dog caught up with weasel. It too met an unfortunate end. I was sick and in tears as I looked at it all, but heard a little voice behind me. A single duckling was left. I took it inside and raised it under a light bulb. All the while, I “peeped” at her so she would feel at home. That was a mistake, because even as an adult, Peeper never quite learned to quack just right. Thank you so much for joining me. I hope you enjoy The World Below. Please visit me at mikephillipsfantasy.com.

 
 . I was asked to talk a little about the characters in the book, so I thought it might be fun to discuss some of the lesser known weirdoes that make an appearance. An important part of the book is that all the fairy tale creatures of legend still exist, hiding in a place known as the World Below, a sort of refugee camp for those creatures that don’t have enough magic to blend into modern society. As a result, the book is absolutely packed with an abundance of odd-ball characters.
 
When our hero, Mitch Hardy, becomes involved with Lady Elizabeth, herself one of the Faerie Folk and a little offbeat, he has no idea what strange people he is bound to meet. The first and most prominent, of course, is Puttygut and the other goblins. After an act of kindness, the goblins adopt Mitch as one of their own. As it turns out, goblins aren’t as all bad as they are made out to be in myth and legend. They are a fun bunch of guys to be around, if they smell bad and behave like fifth grade boys.
 
The first creatures Mitch encounters after he meets Puttygut and his crew are the goblin’s mortal enemies, the Ferikrakneh Imps. The Ferikrakneh have been trying to take over the landfill and get rid of the goblins for as long as either can remember. The Imps are tiny little creatures, vaguely human-shaped, but tough. When Mitch accidentally reveals the location of the goblin hideout, the Ferikrakneh are ready to attack. There are so many of the little buggers, that Mitch and the Goblins are soon overwhelmed, and have to resort to drastic measures to escape their wrath.
 
Later in the story, desperate to find Elizabeth (describing the circumstances surrounding it would be a terrible spoiler) Mitch asks the goblins for help. There are many strange and wondrous creatures in the World Below, but only one that has the information they need. The Mulak is a sorceress and seer of great power. The goblins all fear her, but they know she can be bought. The Mulak has a weakness they can exploit, a serious drug addiction. A case of heroine is her price. After a taste, she tells them what they need to know, changes herself into a spider, and continues her sad decline into oblivion.
 
Baron Finkbeiner is the despotic ruler of the World Below. His dungeon is filled with all sorts of dangerous creatures. To keep them in line, the guard must be equally as formidable. The Baron’s jailer is just such a person, though you wouldn’t know it by looking at him. The jailer is a squat, funny little man. Like many of the inhabitants of the World Below, the jailer is possessed of unusual powers. When the Baron’s henchman throws a tantrum and obliterates part of the dungeon, we find out that the jailer is nearly invincible to physical attack. His body is homogenous, all made up of the same stuff, like a Gollum of clay. Picking debris from his body, he explains to the henchman the importance of being able to get along with others.
Inside Finkbeiner’s dungeon, there is a creature known only as the Blackness. It has no shape or form. It looks like a cloud of black dust. Though it as no physical body, the creature seems to have all the senses that people do. It can even talk. The Blackness is held in prison by an enchanted collar made of silver. The creature has fallen in love with Lady Elizabeth, and when the Baron’s henchman comes to do her harm, it does everything it can to protect her.
 
We end this discussion with one of the strangest creatures of all, the Gooch. It is a shape shifting, pan-dimensional being that is drawn to supernatural creatures as a food source. When it can’t get that, any road kill will do. As the Gooch first appears, it takes the form of a mailbox. People with magical ability may be able to see it, but normal humans can’t. The Gooch is so good at hiding itself from the general public that there must be some sort of magical influence involved. Later on the Gooch takes the form of a basketball, and then a garbage dumpster. Characters in the book often have questions about the Gooch, the typical answer to most of those questions being, “no one really knows what that thing is.” As a writer, it’s fun sometimes to leave things up in the air, allow the reader to fill in the gaps, maybe even give yourself some room for the character to play a wider role in future projects. That is my hope for the Gooch. As I write the sequel to The World Below, the Gooch is already making trouble for our hero, Mitch Hardy. That, however, is a story for another time.
Hello everyone, and thank you for reading my guest post. My name is Mike Phillips and my new book is The World Below. I have been asked to talk about a few of the characters in the novel, so I thought it might be interesting to discuss the major players, the heroes and the villains. Our hero is Mitch Hardy, just an average guy trying to work his way through college and make something out of himself. While working in a foundry, he suffers a terrible accident. A chain snaps on a crucible of iron and he is burned over half his body. He survives, but with no family and few friends, he struggles to put his life back together. On the advice of a friend, he decides to move to a new town to start his life over. That is where he meets Elizabeth. She is more than she seems, and soon Mitch is pulled into a world of magic and mystery he never dreamed of. Lady Elizabeth is looking for a father she never knew. Finding him is somehow tied up with the Blade of Caro. She steals the Blade from its keeper, the despotic ruler of the World Below, Baron Finkbeiner, and sets into motion a series of events that brings Mitch into a place where magical creatures still exist. That brings us to the despotic rule or the World Below, Dragon of Worms, Baron Finbeiner. He is an ancient creature, very secretive about his abilities, hiding his true face from even the citizens of the World Below. As the story begins, the Blade of Caro is stolen from the Baron. It is the only weapon known to be able to destroy him. It turns out that that the Blade was taken by Lady Elizabeth, the Baron’s most hated enemy. Unable to recover the blade on his own, the Baron tricks a sorcerer, Jason Hume, into helping him get the Blade of Caro back. Jason Hume is an interesting guy. He has magical talent, amongst which is the ability to cast lightning bolts. That makes him a formidable opponent, and he likes to throw his weight around. At the beginning of the novel, Baron Finkbeiner tricks Jason into helping him against Lady Elizabeth by kidnapping his sister. As they work together, Jason begins to see how good it is to have someone as powerful as the Baron by his side. Before long, Jason gives into temptation, and begins to see what spoils he can find for himself. Thank you so much for joining me. I hope you enjoy The World Below. Please visit me at mikephillipsfantasy.com.
 



 
Thank you so much for joining me. I hope you check out all the strange characters in The World Below. Please visit me at mikephillipsfantasy.com.
 
General Information:​​​​​​​​​
 
Title:​​​​The World Below
Author:​​​Mike Phillips
Author Website:​​http://mikephillipsfantasy.com
Print ISBN: ​​​978-1-61572-886-2
Digital ISBN:​​​978-1-61572-885-5​
 
Amazon Link:​​​http://www.amazon.com/The-World-Below-ebook/dp/B00BODP3YU/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1381515184&sr=1-1&keywords=world+below+mike+phillips
 
Damnation Books Link:​http://damnationbooks.com/book.php?isbn=9781615728855
Damnation Books Coupon Code:​50worldbelow
 
Video Trailer:​​​http://youtu.be/k8o6lq1ieLk​
Video Trailer Embed Code:​http://www.youtube.com/embed/k8o6lq1ieLk?rel=0
 

 
Synopsis:​​​​​​​​​​​​
 
In ancient times, magical creatures inhabited the earth. They lived on mountaintops, in trees, at the bottom of lakes and rivers. But that was long ago, before the human race declared war on the creatures they feared and hated. Now the enchanted peoples are all but gone. Those few that remain fear being stretched out on an examination table in some secret, governmental facility. The only place they can hide from the ever increasing number of satellites and smart phones is in the World Below.
Mitch Hardy is going through a hard time in his life. In his early twenties, he was working his way through college when he suffered an accident that left him flat broke and physically deformed. When Mitch decides to make a fresh start in a new town, things start looking up. He finds a place to live, a decent job, good friends. He even meets a nice girl. Unknown to Mitch, his new girlfriend is one of the Elder Race, what some call the Faerie Folk. Mitch doesn’t know that Elizabeth is looking for a father she never knew. The key to finding him is somehow tied up with the mysterious Blade of Caro. Desperate, she steals the Blade from its protector, the despotic ruler of the World Below, the Dragon of Worms, Baron Finkbeiner. When Elizabeth is kidnapped by the Baron, Mitch is pulled into a world or magic and monsters he never imagined.
Writing about goblins was a riot! Goblins live on the fringes of human society. They make their homes in junk yards, abandoned buildings, sewer systems, and anywhere else people try to avoid. Once they find a likely spot, the get to work. Goblins are clever with tools and machinery. They will use and repurpose anything they can get their hands on, so many of their dwellings look like they were designed by frat-boys. Not always the best of neighbors, goblins have to take security seriously. They construct elaborate pitfalls to keep themselves safe from enemies like collapsing tunnels, pongee pits, and mechanical traps.
 
Goblins, like their human counterparts, each have a unique personality. They live in what they call crews, a sort of family, a lot like college dorm-mates. Each goblin has a special skill. One might be a bully (a most desirable skill in the goblin world). Another might be crafty at making traps. Some use sorcery or poison. Others are good at machinery. Some just eat a lot (another desirable skill). Goblins, in general, have a loose sense of morality. If it doesn’t hurt another member of the crew, with the obvious exception of fighting, then it’s usually okay. Fighting is always acceptable behavior, though if an enemy is around, a goblin is expected to stop fighting the other crew member and start fighting the enemy. Common sense rules like that are the cornerstone of goblin society.
 
That brings us to the topic of goblin social structure. Goblin society is feudal. They organize in crews, bound by familial ties or friendship. These associations are loosely formed, and if a goblin wants to go it alone, no one holds a grudge. A crew may have two or three leaders at a time. It is not unusual for goblins to disagree, so sometimes they have no real leader at all. Though they fight with each other like crazy, but they are deeply loyal in times of trouble and would do anything for the other members of their crew. No female goblins appear in The World Below, but that is a topic for another time.  ​​
 
Thank you so much for joining me. I hope you enjoy The World Below. Please visit me at mikephillipsfantasy.com.

End

My thanks to Mike for his answers and his interesting guest post

Mel u

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

"Lay My Head" by L. Annette Binder (in O. Henry Prize Stories, 2013)




"Her mother patted the headstone the way she used to brush his jacket.  She was smoothing down his shoulders and whispering in his ears".

As I read these beautiful deeply moving and disturbing lines I cannot help but see my wife one day doing exactly this one day.   

Inclusion in the long standing series of anthologies of The O. Henry Prize Stories is a great honor.  In order to be legible a story must first have been published in an American or Canadian literary journal.

Yesterday, with a reread this morning, I read a very moving and beautifully sad story by L. Annette Binder, "Lay My Head" included in The O. Henry Prize Stories, 2013 (first published in The Fairy Tale Review).  My earliest reading memories are of being read fairy tales.  My youngest daughter saw an edition of The Complete Fairy Tales on my book shelves a couple of years ago and asked if she could keep on the shelves in her room.  She has it booked marked so I know she is reading it.

One of the associations in literature worldwide is that of beautiful people with goodness and unattractive, ugly people with evil.  You see this every where from the latest popular novel to the great works of literature.  I increasingly think this, as it is mostly women who are described as beautiful represents the deeply pervasive image of women as commodities for men to consume.  This prejuduce runs so far down into our consciousness that most repudiate my idea.  Illness as it changes appearances away from standard notions of beauty is seen as a manifestation of evil with the person, either an ancient curse or inherent malignancy coming out for the "beautiful" people and their admirers to fear.  These  are part of what I see as themes of "Lay My Head".

As the story opens Angela, her appearance badly impacted by illness, is on a plane from Los Angeles to her mother's house, where she grew up.  A small child on the plane is fascinated by her appearance, not yet having learned to fear the different.  I do not wish to spoil this story for potential readers but here are some of the other things it is about- living with a disease, waiting for death, existence in a world gone narcorpoliptic, memories of the dead shading over, loving those gone, maybe loving death.  It depicts a dark world where those with the wisdom to see beyond the prepackaged world cannot escape sadness and loneliness.  

From the aurhor's webpage



I was born in Germany and grew up in Colorado. Like many immigrant kids, I learned my English from primetime TV and the Saturday morning cartoons. My parents spoke to me in German, and -- to their dismay -- I started answering in English before the boxes were even unpacked. I have degrees from Harvard, Berkeley, and the Programs in Writing at the University of California, Irvine.
My debut collection of stories, Rise (Sarabande Books), received the 2011 Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction (selected by Laura Kasischke).
My fiction has recently appeared or is forthcoming in The Pushcart Prize XXXVI, The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories, One Story, American Short Fiction, The Southern Review, Third Coast, Fairy Tale Review, Bellingham Review, Beloit Fiction Journal and others. One of my stories was performed as part of NPR's Selected Shorts. I am currently at work on a novel based on my story "Dead Languages," which appeared in The Southern Review.

I hope to be able to read her debut collection of short stories, Rise, soon. 



Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Scott G. F. Bailey A Question and Answer Session with the Author of The Astrologer

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Last August I read and posted on a superb historical novel by Scott G. F. Bailey, The Astrologer. Here is a bit of my thoughts on this work

The Astrologer by Scott G. F. Bailey is a first rate historical novel set in the opening years of the seventeenth century in Denmark, at the royal court.  The lead character, the royal astrologer, Soren Adersmann, was a protege of the pioneering astronomer Tycho Bache (1546 to 1601).  In the period of the novel, there was little or no distinction between observational astronomy and what we called astrology.   The line between science, religion, and superstitions were not just blurred, the concept of the separations between these factors had just begun to evolve.  The Renissance came later to Scandanavia than it did more southern parts of Europe.  The only real way for what we call pure scientists to work was under the patronage of royal courts.  Bailey does a brilliant job of showing how the blurring of distinctions we take for granted impact the thinking of the time.  Tycho Bache was murdered in October 1601, the story line is in part, it begins in December 1601, driven by Soren seeking to discover who killed him as he seeks revenge. 

Much of the plot action revolves around activities at the Royal Danish Court.  What matters most is the will of the king.  It is a blood thirsty time where people die at a whim.   Soren is drawn into conspiracies at court.  In one very interesting segment the Queen demands that Soren cast a horoscope for her son, in his teens, that will persuade the king to keep him out of a forthcoming battle. If he does not do what she wants she could have him killed and if the king finds out he certainly will die a painful death.  

The prose of The Astrologer has an old fashioned majestic feel that fits the setting and time perfectly.  Bailey made court life very real for me.  We can see Soren knows he is an intellectual time of paradigm flux, the old faith based models of understanding the universe no longer seem valid but to openly question them is serious heresy.  

Lots of exciting things happen in the novel and I was kept inthralled by the many intriuquing plot twists and turns.   I learned many  things about Danish history from this very well researched novel. I must admit I did not know Denmark had poisoness snakes and one plays a crucial deadly part and I must say hilariouslly so, in a murder and revenge theme that is central to the novel.

I found The Astrologer a tremendously entertaining novel beautifully crafted by a very aware artist.  There are fights, conspiracies, and we find things, memories and people are not what we first think they are.

I am very happy and honored that Scott has agreed to do a Q and A session for The Reading Life



Author Bio





"Scott Bailey is occasionally a writer of short stories and novels. He is pretty sure he was born in Beaufort, South Carolina. His youth was spent in various Southern cities in houses that no longer stand, in neighborhoods that have radically changed. Bailey currently labors and sleeps in Seattle. He is the author of the 2013 novel "The Astrologer," and is certain that his best work is still ahead 





 
It seems literary cultures are strongly impacted by continuity. The literary culture of American seems to have much more shallow roots, to assume a less cultured audience. Contrasting Indian literature, which has older roots than any other culture, it seems to really begin about 1920. The continuity of Indian literature was destroyed by the British rule and writers at first had to use English formats. So what is a very old culture, has a shallowly rooted literary tradition less than 100 years old. Something similar happened in Ireland which has a new literary culture on top of cut off old roots? Question is just react to this, is it nuts or onto something about the differences in literary culture.?
 
ANSWER: I don't know about Irish literary culture, but I can say that in some segments of American publishing and writing (especially, it seems, in the Manhattan world of publishing/writing), there is a strange desire to establish a particularly "American" literature, to define what "American" writing is and what it means to be an "American" novelist. This sort of Emersonian provincialism, this rejection of Europe and setting up a flag in the New World is tiresome and incestuous. My literary roots go back to Shakespeare, to Cervantes, to Chekhov, to Flaubert, to Chaucer, to Beowulf, to the Mosaic books, all very Western but none American. Faulkner read Dostoyevski, you know? Joyce read Dante and Homer. I think that a lack of roots results in a lot of experimentation that too often only poorly mimics Lawrence Sterne and Miguel Cervantes. "Moby-Dick" owes a tremendous debt to Scripture and to Rabelais. Its status as an "American" novel is really a side issue, one of the least important things about the book.



A.  Please tell us what fascinates you about Tycho Brahe?

SB.  Brahe just sort of came tumbling out of history at me; I had no particular interest in him when I was writing The Astrologer. I was interested in the year 1601, because that's the year Shakespeare wrote "Hamlet," and The Astrologer is a sideways version of "Hamlet." When I saw that Brahe died in 1601 and that some people claim he was murdered, I read up on him, discovering how eccentric he was in real life. It all sort of fell into my lap, and the more I researched Renaissance science, the more interesting it became. Brahe wasn't in any of the first seven drafts of the novel.

B.  What is The Transcendental Detective about?  How is it coming along.

SB.  The Transcendental Detective is a sort of postmodernist novel set on a fictional Oregonian island resort in 1935, and centered around a mad detective named Patience Quince. I think of it as 13 open-ended Chekhovesque short stories through which the detective wanders, in search of the murderer of a Broadway composer. The publisher who was going to put the book out last November went out of business (a sad commentary on the state of small presses in America these days), so I have no idea when or if this book will see the light of day. Currently I'm querying agents about a different novel, called Go Home, Miss America. That's a novel about small-time sinners and small-time saints, and I have no idea how much interest it will generate. You can only talk about Catholicism in a book these days if it's something the protagonist rejects, or if there's a pedophile priest.

C.  There is a lot of research evident in The Astrologer.  Can you tell us a bit about your research methods?

SB. My research is very old-fashioned: books and JSTOR, which is an academic database of scholarly articles (so maybe not all that old-fashioned). I read a lot, half at random, just following what looks interesting. You can spend a month trying to track down a specific fact you want for a scene, like the sort of boots someone wore; in the end you might never find the information so you just make it up for the narrative. So when I do research, I'm looking to get a sort of flavor of places/times, but a lot of what ends up in the stories is pure imagination. The really weird stuff I discover has to go in, though. Always.

D.  As you live in Seattle, how is the creative atmosphere going to be impacted by the legalization of marijuana in the state of Washington?  Do people hang out in marijuana shops writing?  

SB. It's still illegal to smoke pot in public. Seattle isn't Amsterdam. I am not connected to the creative/art scene in Seattle, but I'm willing to bet that legalized marijuana has not raised the level of the artwork produced locally. If someone needs to get fucked up to be creative, they aren't creative; they're just so fucked up that they can't tell the difference. I'm not interested in that sort of art.

E.  You have been trained as a commercial artist and have been involved with music, do you agree with Ford Madox Ford that literature is the primary art?  

SB. I think storytelling is the primary art, but stories can be contained in lots of vessels, not just literature. A Greek bowl or a gothic tapestry tell stories. A Pendleton blanket is a narrative, as is a Buddhist temple. Literature is a form of storytelling. Let's not be more arrogant as novelists than is necessary, right? Literature was FMF's primary art, but not everyone responds directly to literature.

F.  Do you have kind of a reading plan for the next year or so?  Can you please share some of the ideas on your lists with us?

SB. I have a great big pile of books I've bought in the last couple of years, and I plan to read them all through before I buy more books. That's my plan every year, and I keep buying more books so I am clearly a liar.

H.  Do you like the Seattle based American comedy show Frazier?  Are coffee shops as big there as people think?  

SB. No, and yes. Though we used to have coffee carts on every corner, but they've gone the way of the passenger pigeon. I miss the coffee carts. There are a lot of good independent coffee shops, though. A couple of years ago Seattle was saturated with coffee shops; there were some intersections with two or three competing shops on the street corners; you sat in a Tully's and looked across at the SBC and the Starbucks. Absolute madness, but mostly those were big chains which have now shrunk back to less enormous size.
 




A.  Can you tell us a bit about your writing routine? Do you typically set aside a certain period to write, always write in same place, do you listen to music while you write, do you need solitude to write?

SB.  I try to write every weekday. If I'm drafting, then I'll write at lunch and on my commute home via Metro. If I'm revising, I'll work at lunch. I don't write on weekends, as a rule. I don't write at home much, either. I have too many other interests at home. I write in public, usually. I don't care about music or noise; I just don't like to sit near someone with a penetrating voice. The real work of writing happens in my head, so it doesn't so much matter where my body is, as long as I have a place for the pen and notebook (I also don't work on a computer, which makes it easier to be a portable writer).

B.  if you could give your eighteen year old self one suggestion, what would it be?  

SB.  Don't listen to the old guy giving you suggestions. He's as much of an idiot as you are.

C. " in the name of a humanism hypocritically turned champion of the reader’s rights. Classic criticism has never paid any attention to the reader; for it, the writer is the only person in literature. We are now beginning to let ourselves be fooled no longer by the arrogant antiphrastical recriminations of good society in favour of the very thing it sets aside, ignores, smothers, or destroys; we know that to give writing its future, it is necessary to overthrow the myth: the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author."
 
What is your reaction to these very famous lines from "The Death of the Author" by Roland Barthes?  
 
SB. I don't know why either reader or writer has to have primacy, though when a book is being read, the reader is the only person who matters. Readers are the people who read. Barthes' "death of the author" stuff is all about being a critic, not about being a reader. Critics are rarely engaged, useful readers. Barthes doesn't matter. These questions of how to interpret the text, how to bring meaning to literature, usually only contact reality in a few places that don't have much meaning to anyone actually reading literature.

D. UNCHARTED LIVES is a fascinating study by gay psychotherapist Stanley Siegel and straight Newsday columnist Ed Lowe Jr. The text is a mass analysis of how gay men develop through the eight male life passages from 'pre-emergence' to 'mentoring'’. The book is the result of numerous interviews and research. This data is balanced with Siegel's own dramatic mid-life coming out story.
When asked why such a seemingly disproportionate number of creative men are gay this was Siegel's response-  

"I think that because gay men live in a society that is hostile to them, because they are oppressed, have few role models, and in most cases have no legal rights or institutions that support and honor us we became extraordinarily inventive in the ways we live our lives. The process of become gay, of accepting one's sexuality, is a process of living an extremely original life. The apparatus of a creative life begins early, when we feel we are different in some way but have no language to explain the difference. Young gay boys feel that almost always and consequently they often isolate themselves or are isolated by the outside world. Isolation presents a creative world. Sometimes in fantasy we deal with separation by becoming highly productive - drawing, writing, creating. Usually this stays with the person the rest of their life and is only enhanced by the challenges they meet later on."
My question is do you think he is onto something?  Is the creativity of Gay men derivative from growing up without role models, from having to create a sense of self?
 
SB.  I don't know if I believe that there is a higher proportion of creative types among gays than among the general population, but I will say that I think that a sense of isolation in youth seems to be a pretty common denominator among writers. I don't think sexuality is the greatest factor in that sense of isolation. Certainly most sensitive, bookish types will have few role models among their parents no matter who or where they are.

E. "It is the habit of approaching works of art in order to interpret them that sustains the fancy that there really is such a thing as the content of a work of art" - from  "Against Interpetation" by Susan Sontag

As a writer, how do you feel when people Interpet your work, attribute meaning to it?, see things in it you never thought about?  
Who is your ideal reader?  
 
SB.  Well, we do engage with art in order to engage with another active mind, I think, any time we move beyond the "Ooh, pretty pictures and sounds" stage of perception. Most people probably bring more to a work of art than the artwork itself contains, and attempt to use art as a mirror for themselves rather than as a window into another self, but that's probably okay. I don't think 50,000 years of art history is damaged by the way humans actually interact with art, is it? This idea that the author must somehow be perfectly understood by the reader (or the painter by the viewer or whatever) is mere pride, vanity, beside the point. Every reader of every piece of my writing has seen something different than what I see when I am writing. That's just the way of it. Sometimes it's amusing, sometimes vexing, never is it particularly important.
 
My ideal reader buys all of my books, in cloth, the week they come out. Someday, hopefully, I'll have tens of thousands of ideal readers.

F.   It seems more and more writers have MAs in creative writing, some PhDs.  Education is a great thing but is there a negative side to this, will it produce  in few years a literary culture where lacking this degree will make it hard to get published?. Is it homogenizing writing styles? Will the day of the amateur writer who comes from nowhere and changes everything be over because of this?  Does it give you pause to know the University of Iowa M A in writing scholarships for students from outside the USA, were for years funded by the C. I. A? 
 
SB. I have never taken a creative writing class, so I don't know what's going on with them. The subject seems to be pretty hot right now; I think it's a weirdly American phenomenon, probably going back to that search for an "American" literature. Tempest. Teapot.

G.  How important is seeing different parts of the world to you in terms of stimulating your creativity?  

SB. Not much. My stories are about characters, not places or plots. I'm setting a novel-in-progress in Prague and Vienna because last October I was there, but I could as easily set it in Seattle. It's just interesting to write about my vacation spots, to try to get the feel of the places. To create an interesting fictional Prague and a lively fictional Vienna. I think I'm being disingenuous here; this lacks the ring of truth. I guess I don't know what the truth is. I assemble the stories over a long period of time. I have no idea how I get the ideas. I love to travel but I don't think it really helps with the writing, though it's probably true that exposure to anything new is a good thing and might spark ideas.

H.  Where can we find you online?

I.  Besides reading and writing, what are some of your hobbies or interests. ?

SB. I play guitar and violin. We are slowly restoring a 1926 house and sometimes I can be shifted to labor in the garden. Seattle has some excellent parks, the remains of old-growth forests. Seattle also has some excellent micro-distilleries.
 
2.   Who are some of your favorite contemporary short story writers, poets or novelists?  What classic writers do you find your self drawn to reread.  If a neophyte writer in your primary focus were to ask you who to read, what might you suggest?

SB. I like Jaimy Gordon and Andrea Barrett and Hanna Pittard and Jhumpa Lahiri. I read and re-read Chekhov and Henry James. Anyone who wants to write serious novels should read whatever they find beautiful and meaningful, plus a lot of poetry, plus whatever the classics of their culture may be. My personal reading is all over the place, in no particular order. But young writers, I think, should read from all over, not just the work of other young writers they want to be like.

 


3.  I sometimes wonder why such a disproportionate amount of the regarded as great literature of the world is written in the colder temperate zones rather than in the tropics.   How big a factor do you think the Irish Weather is in shaping the literary output of its writers.?   I cannot imagine The Brothers Karamazov being written on tropical island, for example. 

SB. Well, the people in northern Europe have had a couple of centuries to declare their own works to be the foundation of classical writing, haven't they? Meanwhile, equatorial peoples have developed their own literary histories that have mostly gone unnoticed by white folks like me. I'm absolutely failing to answer this, I know.

4.   Many cultures are permeated with references to seemingly supernatural creatures, some kind some malevolent.  Do you feel any sense of these entities in the world you look out on in your daily life or in your writings?  Do you sense a continuity between the natural and supernatural worlds.  Is a belief in the supernatural just escapism and wishful thinking?  Is the believe in occult systems the refuge of the powerless? Your novel The Astrologer deals with a time when the lines between religion and science were blurred or nonexistent.  Do you think the American conservative movement as exemplified by the values of Fox News wants a return to those days? 
 
SB. I don't believe that the American conservative political movement does more than pay lip service to ideas of God and Christ, no matter how loud they are. I can say the same thing about the American liberal political movement. Americans tend to tell pollsters that they "believe in God" or "believe in some sort of spirituality" but then in their daily lives, they do nothing whatsoever to demonstrate any actual faith in anything beyond themselves and their own selfish desires. If Christ came to Earth to redeem mankind, it's the most significant thing any of us can know. It dramatically changes how we should be living. I look around and fail to see that dramatic change in most of the people around me.

5.  These are loaded question coming from me, but with the decline of print reviews, are book blogs becoming more important?  Professional critics have denigrated book bloggers as reviewers without credentials,book bloggers have replied professional reviewers just don't like bloggers doing for free what they ask money for doing? Reviewers do it for money, bloggers for love.  What is your reaction to this?  Do you join book tours or send bulk mailings out asking for reviews?  
 

SB. I don't do any of the blog tour stuff. My publisher requested reviewers for The Astrologer; I think all publishers do that nowadays. Book blogs are very important, probably more to readers than to writers. Writers (and publishers) have no real idea how to get in front of readers, how to get their attention, how to be valuable to book bloggers without being obnoxious salesmen. You are doing a hugely valuable service to writers with your interview series. I can't tell you how important this is to me. As a reader, book blogs have become far more important to me than print reviews, most of which seem to be written by novelists who just want to keep their name in the public eye. I'm increasingly cynical about professional reviews, sad to say.

6.  When you write, do you picture and audience or do you just write?  

SB. I just write. If I picture an audience, it's my partner Mary. She's my primary and best reader. But mostly I picture the work, the flow and balance and clarity or opacity, as needed.

7.  Assuming this applies to you, how do you get past creative "dry spells", periods when you have a hard time coming up with ideas or when things seem futile? 

SB. I have more ideas for books than I will ever write.

8.  If someone says to you, "I prefer to live life, not just read about it " what is your reaction inside?  (Besides cringing!)

SB. if I've had a few, I usually call that person an idiot. Otherwise, I just shrug. The person who does not read fiction does not know how to live.

9.   What are the last three novels you read?  Last three movies?  do you have any favorite TV shows?  Are there literary works you find reverberate in your mind in happy or in dark times?

SB. Novels: "Memories of My Melancholy Whores" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
"Ghosts" by Cesar Aira
"The Return of the Soldier" by Rebecca West
I've been watching the new Dr Who TV show.
I go back to Shakespeare and Chekhov all the time. I would like to write something as fine as "To the Lighthouse" some day. 

10.  William Butler Yeats said in "The Literary Movement"-- "“The popular poetry of England celebrates her victories, but the popular poetry of Ireland remembers only defeats and defeated persons.” I see a similarity of this to the heroes of the Philippines.  American heroes were all victors, they won wars and achieved independence. The national heroes of the Philippines were almost all ultimately failures, most executed by Spanish or American Rulers..  How has the fact Yeats is alluding too, assuming you agree,  shaped Irish literature? In America it seems somehow the best short stories writers like Flannery O'Connor, Eudora Welty, and Carson McCullers, all writers admired by Irish authors,  had their sensibilities shaped by the defeat of the south in the American Civil  War.  Feel free to apply this to your heritage.
 
SB. Humility teaches you about the real world in a way that victory does not. Victors need no compassion; victors need see only themselves and rarely take time to reflect on the meaning of their victory. Et cetera.

11.  Are you open to  e mail, Facebook or Twitter, contact with your readers or do you fear stalkers or don't want to be bothered?
 
SB Anyone can email me at scott@scottgfbailey.com I don't do twitter or facebook.

12.  A while ago i read and posted on a long biography of Hart Crane, author of the Bridge-few read it but many known of his life style as one of the first Gay poets living out a life of rough trade and wealthy older benefactors-he lived a very chaotic life and died young from suicide by jumping off a cruise ship. His father invented Life Saver Candy and wanted Hart to go in the Candy business with him-so if  Hart had done this and died at 75 rich living in Ohio fat bald and married would he still be even much thought about let alone read?  One of the most referenced poets  by Irish writers last year was Arthur Rimbaud who likewise had a short and chaotic life.   Does a poet  need or naturally tend to a chaotic life?  why so much seeming admiration for writers like Jack Kerouac and others who died way to young from alcohol abuse.  If Ezra Pound had not gone mad, would he still be a role model for the contemporary poet?  (I know this is long, please just respond to it as you will.). Some of this may just be a story about a poet with a stable marriage, a job and no substance issues may seem dull compared to wilder lives.  
 
SB I think it's that latter idea; a self-destructive creative genius is simply louder and more visible than a calm creative genius. The quality of Kerouac's work is not as high as a hundred writers I could name, who held down jobs and wrote and did not self-destruct. A lot of the great English poets lived long lives, and most of them wrote better stuff than, say, Percy Shelley. The Romantic notion of a suffering artist is total bullshit. Bach wrote 1,000 pieces of music. He wrote them by sitting down and working every day. I don't give a fig about Rimbaud's short and chaotic life. Anyone can live that way; it's not a creative act to get fucked up and die. 
 
13.  Is a certain amount of suffering good for a writer?  

SB. A great deal of humility is good for anyone. Suffering does not necessarily create anything useful; sometimes it's just pain. See above comments about the Romantic suffering artist myth. I'd rather be happy than suffer for my art. Though I'd rather be good than happy; happiness is not the ultimate goal, despite what jerks like Aristotle tell us.

14. Have you attended creative writing workshops and if you have share your experiences a bit please.
  
SB. No. I have no interest, either. They seem to be mostly ways to make money off of novice writers. I continue to display my cynicism.



15.  Not long ago I was sent several very hostile messages from Irish writers demanding to know why I had posted on the works of other writers and not them.  Some suggested I had been influenced  by some sort of shadowy group to ignore their work. I was informed there is a small elite group who decides who gets reviewed, published or receives grants and it was also  suggested they had sent me negative feedback on writers I should ignore. What is mentally behind this?  Is there anything like a Literary Mafia within your area?

SB. have no idea. I am pretty much completely disconnected to the literary scene in Seattle. I only know a couple of other local novelists, one of whom--a guy named Jonathan Evison--is very successful and does a lot of work to promote and help out other writers.

Quick Pick Questions

A.  tablets or laptops or smart phones?

Pen and paper. I have a cell phone, but I keep it mostly shut off.

B.  E readers or traditional books?

A book is made of bound, printed paper.

C.  American Fast Food- love it, hate it, or once and a while?

Mostly hate it. Though I had a cheeseburger for lunch today. Go figure.

D.  Cats or dogs?

I was raised with dogs, but have lived with cats as an adult. I now prefer cats.

E.  best city to inspire a writer- Paris, London, Dublin, or? 

Omaha
 
F.  Walt Whitman or Willam Butler Yeats?   
Yeats

G.  Roberto Bolano or Gabriel Garcia Marquez ?
Have to be GGM; I've never read any Bolano

K.  Winter or Summer? Day or Night?
Winter, winter at night, very late

I.  Would you rather witness opening night for Waiting for Godot, King Lear, Playboy of the Western World or Ubu Roi?

Ubu Roi! We're seeing Lear in a couple of weeks, and Godot in a couple of months. We just saw "The Importance of Being Ernest." Seattle has a lively theater scene.

J.  Henry James or Marcel Proust?
James, but barely.

16.  How important is it to you to have readers?  Does it matter. ?

SB. A work isn't really complete until it has a reader. It matters terribly much. I'm not sure why, but it does. Writing is a form of reaching out, sort of, of trying to make contact with something. But I don't know with what.

17.  Reading Paul McVeigh's  response to one of my questions, I thought of a new question I wanted to ask.  I know this is kind of a rambling question, it is designed to draw a similar styled response.

I was reading your answers again.  I think there is one sort of big difference between the reader and the writer.  As you know, true reading is not passive but involves a creative process.

Readers do read within a tradition, seeing works as part of a great conversation, part of a hopefully ever deeper culture, writers see themselves as starting from ground zero, without a conscious relation to a tradition.  Also readers or especially reviewers, I am not a reviewer- I just post stuff- put a limit on a writers work when they talk about it or find meaning in it, thus breaking the writes sense of pure creation.  A writer might well truthfully say, "I just write", but you cannot really just read.

Is there a built in divide between writers and readers?  Is this is what the resistance to interpretation is at least in part about?

SB. There's a divide between readers and writers, sure. Most readers are not writers. Most writers are readers (those who aren't should be drowned far off shore somewhere). I think we all try to interpret, to make sense of the world, all the time, even if it's just to pretend that the world makes sense when it doesn't. Just being awake is a creative act. Every book is read by individuals, all unique. Any book that's the least bit complex will be open to interpretation, to more than one meaning. None of is can act without invoking our history. I have no idea if I'm answering this or not.

18.   You have a book blog, as do I.  Why do you think the vast majority, I see it as near 90 percent, of book bloggers are women ?  What does this say about who reads what?  

SB. Most readers of fiction are women. Women are great. I'm all in favor. My blog used to be focused on writers (most writers of fiction turn out to be women as well; that must be indicative of something?), but now it's mostly focused on reading. I think that I get more men commenting now than I used to. When I had a writing blog, most of the commenters were women. I don't know what that means. I'll bet it has something to do with my annoying online manner, forcing my voice into the baritone range, as it were.

19.  Is the notion that someone is a writer of "Women's" literature just one step above calling their work chic lit?  Statistics show that women read much more fiction then men, why is this so?  Is it patronizing to refer to a work as a great work of literature by a woman, a gay, a person of color as no one ever seems to say War and Peace is a great white men's work?

SB.  The culture wars are still being fought, and nobody has yet worked out what it means to have written a valuable (or even a "good") book. As always, a lot of this discussion is political. Surely white men of European origin have not written all the most important works of literature, but just as surely, white men of European origin are widely considered to have done. It's as if art is a zero-sum game, and there's only so much canonical space available. To give room to a woman might mean some man will lose his place. Who will that be? How can we stop this horrible thing, etc? It can't be good for the general culture of literature for some aspects of human experience to be declared unimportant by fiat, especially when we're talking about the experiences of over half the population of the planet. Not that all women lead the same life, of course, and part of the problem with these discussions is that everyone gets reduced to an abstraction based on gender or race. Let's just say that Clarissa Dalloway is as important a literary character as is Ishmael. 

20.   It was recently revealed in the press that the philosopher Martin Heidigger was viciously anti-Semetic. If you found out that a favorite writer of yours was grossly bigitoted would you lose interest in them?

SB. No. I run into objectionable things all the time. An artist, if he's any good, is better than (or at least more than) his prejudices. I adore John Ruskin's writing, despite his occasional insane anti-Catholic rants. Every human has character flaws, some grievous and terrible. That does not poison everything every human touches. We must take the art and leave the artist alone, refusing the temptation to take a moral inventory of every novelist before reading the novels. Just read the damned books.

End.

My great thanks to Scott Bailey for taking the time to provide us with such interesting and insightful responses.  I hope to read much more of his work.


















Monday, April 21, 2014

"Rudali" by Mahashveta Devi (1983, translated from Bengali by Andum Katyal)


Not long ago I read my first short story by Mahasveta Devi (Bangladesh, 1926 ), "Draupadi".  I was so happy to find among the collections of Indian short stories in my possession another story by Devi.  

Frank O'Connor famously said that short stories were about marginalized subgroups of society with no one to speak for them.  By this he meant Chekhov's doctors, Joyce's working class Dubliners, and Issac Babel's Odessa Jews.  Compared to the untouchables, tribal people and prostitutes in the stories of Devi, these groups of people are  rich.   The people in Devi's stories are marginalized by the structures of caste and the weight of traditions thousands of years old.  I really think anyone who can should read at least the two stories I have featured.  

In "Rudali" the story centers on two old women.  Both were widows and their children were either dead or abandoned them.  There is a lot in this rich fairly long story.  Through luck the two old women (one could be seen as an old woman at forty in this culture if your circumstances were unfortunate) move in together, one had a hut and a little land.  They get the opportunity to be paid to be mourners at a funeral.  I was fascinated to learn how this worked.  If you were willing just to cry you might get five rupees but if you would shriek hysterically and beat your self in the face you might get ten.  The professional mourners were almost all old whores (the stories word and using a euphemism is not right here).  They once were the mistresses or higher priced girls of the upper class but when they no longer had a place as this, they had to become low class whores, going with anyone.  These were the professional mourners.  There is a deep irony, to me at least, in imaging the funeral procession of a wealthy Brahmin followed by a 100 wailing whores.  The more mourners, the more prestige accured to the family.  There is an elaborate business to this.  An agent might be paid 500 rupees to line up mourners, what he did not pay the women he kept.  Soon the women in the story become experts at lining up lots of mourners.  They monitor the rich for impending deaths.  

The story presents a picture of a very cruel and corrupt society.  If a woman is not a wife or daughter connected to a man, she is seen as  and often must become a whore.  The rich spend nothing to heal their dying relatives, being eager to inherit but they will happily shell out big money for the funeral ceremony.   One woman did intentionally arrange her own very expensive funeral to deprive her family of money.  One rich son is denigrated for refusing to use expensive ghee for his mother's cremation..

I will look for more stories by this author.  She has no Kindle collections of short stories, as far as I can tell.

I read this story in this excellent anthology.


There is an excellent back ground page on Devi here


Mel u