Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Friday, June 27, 2014

Linda Lappin A Q and A with the Author of Katherine's Wish, TheEtruscan, and Signatures in Stone

Today I am very honored and proud to be able publish a Q and A session with Linda Lappin, 
author of Katherine's WishThe Etruscan, Signatures in Stone and

The Soul of Place A Creative Writing Workbook Idea

and Exercises for Conjuring  the Genius Loci 

I have been an avid reader of Linda Lappin ever since I read her award winning novel, Katherine's Wish, based on the last years of the life of Katherine Mansfield.  I have also read and greatly enjoyed her two novels, both set in Tuscany, The Etruscan and Signatures in Stone, which is a finalist for the Daphne Du Maurier Award from Romance Writers of America, in the history category.  I find a great depth of knowledge combined with a deeply intuitive sensibility in her work that brings what she writes about to life with complete verisimilitude.  Her prose has great elegance, her people are real, her history is right.  She is a master of atmosphere.  Her novels are also exciting and just flat out a lot of fun to read.  Not long ago I read a long article explaining how the internet is killing the literary novel, obviously the author has never read the work of Linda Lappin in whose artistic hands the form very much lives on.

Author Bio

Linda Lappin, poet, novelist, and translator, was born in Tennessee in 1953. She received an MFA from the University of Iowa Writers Workshop in 1978. During her years at Iowa, she specialized in poetry with Florida poet Donald Justice. Her first volume of poetry, Wintering with the Abominable Snowman, was published by the avant-garde press, 'kayak,' of Santa Cruz, California in 1976. She received a Fulbright grant in 1978 to participate in a two-year Fulbright seminar in literary translation held in Rome at the Centro Studi Americani, under the directorship of Frank MacShane of Columbia University and William Weaver, the noted translator from Italian. The project pursued by Lappin in those years, a translation from the Italian of Carmelo Samon...'s novel, Brothers, won two prizes in literary translation in the United States: The Renato Poggioli Award in Translation from Italian given by the New York PEN club and a National Endowment for the Arts grant in translation in 1987. She was awarded a second translation grant from the NEA in 1996 for her work on Tuscan writer Federigo Tozzi. From 1987 to the year 2000, she published essays, poems, reviews, and short stories in many US and European publications, including several essays on women writers and artists of the 1920s, including "Missing Person in Montparnasse," in the Literary Review, dedicated to the life of Jeanne H‚buterne, "Jane Heap and her Circle" in Prairie Schooner, dealing with the lives of Jane Heap and Margaret Anderson, founders of the Little Review and "Dada Queen in the Bad Boys' Club, Baroness Elsa Von Freitag Loringhoven" in Southwest Review. Major themes in Lappin's work include women's biographies and autobiographies, expatriate writers in the 1920s, and displacement.  She is the author of Katherine's Wish, The Etruscan, and Signatures in Stone.

Questions on Katherine Mansfield

1.  What first drew you to the work of Katherine Mansfield and what brings you back after many years reading her work?

2. What three stories would you recommend to a Mansfield neophyte?  Do you have a favorite Mansfield poem?  What are the deepest hungers, longings you see in Mansfield.  

3.  Ida Baker, long standing companion and self appointed slave servant of Mansfield and by all reports in love with her, do you think they ever had anything approximating sex?  Who was the worst parent, her father or her mother?  John Middleton Murry-parasite or the kind of husband she needed?  

4.  How into the occult was Mansfield-  she had a fascination for guru like men- getting Freudian, how much of this is issues from domineering cold super accomplished father and weak mother?

Answers to Mansfield Questions:

My interest in Mansfield goes way back to high school when I first read her collection Bliss.  I have always been very interested in the writers of her period,  TS Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Yeats, DH Lawrence, and lesser known writers like Mary Butts and Vernon Lee, both of whom have influenced me, but something  special clicked in my mid twenties when I discovered her journals and letters thanks to a wonderful Penguin edition, edited by CK Stead. I was drawn to her personality as much as to her writing. At that time in my life, I had just moved to Italy, was eking out a living, often ill, and striving to become a writer, and the letters and journals in which she recorded her struggles  touched a deep chord.  When she writes in her last letters of wanting to become “a child of the sun,” – I think that is the deepest human hunger – once the basic needs of life are fulfilled, one desires ardently to feel that one is a particle of the cosmos, and to feel that the divine creative energy manifested by the sun pulses in our veins, and that somewhere under that sun, we can find a place where we may be nourished and nourish others.  

The characters of Ida, Katherine and Murry make up an archetypal triangle in which they each idealize their love object  from whom they do not receive a satisfactory response. Not receiving the nourishment they crave, they devour each other, in a way. Their letters, diaries, memoirs and the accounts of others (on all of which I drew when creating them as characters) testify pretty much to the complexities and even the peculiarities of their personalities. I didn’t invent anything in shaping them as characters – the interactions, moods, and events I transcribe are patterned on facts which I gleaned by sifting through their own autobiographies, memoirs, etc. Some of the dialogue, even, is inspired by their letters, or snippets of dialogue reported in factual sources.  Sometimes I made a variation on this, but always starting from fact. As Vincent O Sullivan, co/editor of the last OUP volume of her collected letters, said to me “You stuck to what we knew,” which was part of my plan. Another Mansfield scholar praised the book as “creative scholarship.”  There was an interesting reader response to this, especially from those readers unfamiliar with the KM story, or with Ida or Murry.  Some readers of Katherine’s Wish felt that they were totally unbelievable as people, and one reader found the characters and “Plot” so preposterous, she eliminated the book from her kindle. That was a blow of rejection, I admit. My portrait of Murry was also criticized as being too stereotyped and not sympathetic enough, while others found it decently sympathetic.  Ida remains the most likable to the general reader, even though those who knew her said she could be a terribly controlling and possessive person, and I probably downplay those aspects of her character, to sharpen the contrast with Katherine.

(And to answer another question you asked, yes I think they had a physical relationship as young women, which Ida never outgrew.)   

Another reader heavily criticized my portrayal of Koteliansky, claiming that I had him sighing and starry-eyed, when in the scene in question he was stern, ironic, and irritated with her and yet concerned for her health – and in any case the scene being from her point of view, his intimate thoughts at the time weren’t available to the reader.  A Dh Lawrence critic told me he wasn’t sure my view of DHL sounded like DHL, but some of the comments, mannerisms I use come from Lawrence’s own very chatty letters.  So I guess what I am saying is that when you write about such well-known historical figures, you are bound to conflict with your readers’ inner imaginings of them, created through many objective but mostly subjective data picked up along the way, and people will react to that.  More than one amazon and etc. reader has commented that from my portrayal, Katherine seems to be a horrible person.  Even though Katherine could be both cruel and capricious, jealous and demanding, I don’t see that as a negative overall judgment on her person at all, and I also think that there were secret liens of various kinds that knotted the three together that no biographer, reader, or novelist, can understand.  Moreover,  Katherine repeatedly redeemed herself by coolly observing the negativity she expressed, trying to understand where it came from, and often associated it with her illness.  She saw in herself the same tendency to black moods, for example, as Lawrence, another TB victim, sometimes expressed.  

As far as “being into the occult”  --  

Mansfield did believe that there was a connection between her ill health and her feelings of spiritual depletion, and forawhile hoped that she might be able to heal herself physically by making radical changes in the way she lived in order to nourish her inner life, but then became aware that it was too late for that. Gurdjieff has been much maligned by critics who haven’t bothered to understand him or his ideas. But perhaps they shouldn’t be blamed too harshlyGurdjieff did not make it easy for the world at large to understand him, and constructed around himself a sort of castle of thorns todiscourage those moved only by a superficial interest.  He is often considered to be a sort of isolated episode in the history of the New Age, when in actual fact, his ideas and teachings have continued flow through the twentieth centuryup til now like a powerful underground river connecting far flung places, communities, and people and have entered in and fused with other developments in many fields, from performing arts and physical therapy to psychology. A good source to discover Gurdjieff from a more contemporary viewpoint  is perhaps through the writings of Jeanne de Salzmann, his oldest pupil, who died in 1990 and was largely responsible for carrying his work forward after his death. As for Mansfield’s relationship to Gurdjieff and his movement,  I highly recommend James Moore’s  study  Gurdjieff and Mansfield, for anyone who would like to know more about either of them. Interestingly, some of Mansfield’s ideas regarding self and identity which she discusses in her diary anticipate some of Gurdjieff’s own ideas, and clearly show why she would be so attracted to his teachings, since they echo something she herself felt deeply.  I discuss some of this my two essays on Mansfield, The Ghosts of Fontainebleau  and Mansfield and Lawrence A Parallel Quest, which won the first Mansfield Society essay contest.  So to answer your question:  certainly Mansfield felt attracted to older, fatherly men … many women do. With regards to Gurdjieff,  it went deeper than that.

For a first introduction, I would suggest the stories in Bliss,  and then the individual stories of  The Daughters of the Late Colonel,   The Man without a Temperament,  The Escape. And also her journals and letters. But for me those three stories recreate moments, impressions, inklings of her own life in fiction.  It is herself and Murry she ironizes in the latter two stories, while the former is a celebration of Ida.

5.  Tell us a bit about the novels you have translated from Italian please.   What Italian work (s) would you most like to translate.

I translated two novels by contemporary novelist, CarmeloSamona, for which I won an award from PEN and a National Endowment for the Arts grant in translation, but only one of those was published, Brothers, by Carcanet Press in England.  It is a very enigmatic story of two brothers, one healthy, one ill, who live together in a half-empty apartment in Rome.  It is an interesting contemporary take on the doppelganger theme, written in a rich literary style.   I have also translated stories by Federigo Tozzi,  aSienese writer from the early twentieth century, who had an abrasive and grotesque style with a touch of the absurd.  Writers I admire in Italian are Italo Calvino, of course, and NataliaGinzburg, but also Francesca Duranti. I have published a short piece or two of prose by Amelia Rosselli, a fascinating writer, but very difficult, if not impossible to translate. 

University of Iowa Writers Work Shop

6. Iowa.  As you may know, while a graduate student at the writers workshop, I worked for the International Writing Program, which was a separate program from the Writers Workshop, created by Paul Engle, who had previously directed the Workshop, in order to bring foreign writers to the USA and give them stipends and the opportunity to write.  It was a fabulous program and an expensive one to run, and many grants and funds were needed.  I do know that some of that funding came from the State Department.  Writers applied to the program through their embassies, if I recall rightly, through official channels, and looking back, there seemto have been a greater concentration of writers from Eastern Europe, South America, and Asia, than from, say Western Europe, or countries such as Australia or Japan. I have read some of the articles about the Workshop and the CIA, most notably Eric Bennet’s article in the Chronicle  and some others.

It is certainly true that the CIA and the US federal government through various foundations funded cultural activities abroad of various kinds in order to acquaint the rest of the world with American culture, and that these had an ideological purpose. I also think there is no doubt that Engle wanted the writers to return home with a positive view of American culture and that this would be a plus on our side in the tensions of the Cold War. But it is going a bit far to think that theInternational Writing Program was created as a laboratory for indoctrinating foreign intellectuals and writers, in some CIA experiment.  Engle was a big man a literary Iowan with big ideas, who wanted to put Iowa City on the map of literaryculture And most certainly, the University of Iowa owes him quite a lot for the prestige he created for the university. He was also a very canny and shrewd man, part horse trader, and I have no doubts that in convincing private businessmen or government officials or foundations to give him money especially for the IWP that he would emphasize the fact thattheir contributions would help promote the American way of life abroad and stave off the threat of communism – if that served his purpose. And he was a man with vision and a purpose who knew how to bend things towards his ends.  From what I recall of the IWP, and I was friends with many writers and an assistant to Paul’s wife, Hualing Engle  --  I wouldn’t say that the writers were subjected to direct or overt  propaganda or indoctrination, as would have been found in analogous programs in the Eastern bloc at that time.  

The writers were given a marvelous opportunity to visit the US, to write, to meet American writers and especially foreign writers, to travel, to meet students interested in their work, and often to have their work translated, and all they had to do in exchange was attend the meetings where the writers presented their work to each other. Most realized that the political and ideological implications of their presence there, and many were extremely critical of  U S  policies  ….we were embroiled in Viet Nam.  It would be interesting to contact some of the writers who attended in those years to hear their versions of the story and to see how they perceived it.

As for writers who were studied most:   There was a passion for John Cheever, John Barth,  William Gas,  the big names of American literary publishing back then.  Few women, unless  Isabel Allende, Ray Carver was just getting known then, and was teaching summer school, while the work of Ann Beattie was suddenly the rage, and everyone was writing minimalist stories and putting brand name products in their fiction.

7.  Tell us a bit about your methodology and pedagogical philosophy as a director of writer's workshops please.   Are their texts you use as teaching material.  What are the biggest obstacles you see students facing in realizing their potential?  

In my writing classes through the association and also in the literary travel writing class I taught for a number of years for an American University program in Italy,  I have often turned to a few basic sources:  myth and fairy-tale structures, archetypes, and soul of place as an inspiration for creative work,  and in general, an attunement to place as a way to explore new material and “open it up.”    I have written a lot of original craft of writing material and prompts, some of which have appeared in pedagogical journals like TEXT or the AWP Writers Chronicle, and others in The Writer magazine.  A current project is to complete a compilation of this material for a craft  of writing book, which I hope to publish next year.  I rarely use creative writing textbooks for my courses, and tend to select and create material on the basis of my students’ affinities.

As for your question about fulfilling one’s potential,  I think you get from the process what you put into it, but at the same time, processes of crystallization and refinement have to take place—  You put in ten pounds to extract ten ounces. so maybe I’d say, persistence is necessary, being willing to wait for rewards, knowing how to recognize them, and the ability to deal with rejection.

8.  How has your time in Italy changed you as a writer and reader?  

It has been my true birth into the world.

9.  Do you have a new novel in process?

I have three novels on back burners.  One is based on the life of Jeanne Hebuterne, one is a New Adult novel with male protagonist, The Brotherhood of Miguel, and the third carries on with Daphne DuBlanc from Signatures in Stone, and has her tangling with mermaids and Nazis in Lake Bolsena

10.  Favorite restaurant in Rome, in Tuscany, Paris 

Alas, Paris, my favorite restaurant, the Degres de Notre Dame,closed down, although it still operates as a hotel.  So I’d suggest  the Café Charlot, or the Pierre du Marais, just down the street from each other, in the Marais.  Tuscany…hmm, that’s a hard one. Most of my trips to Tuscany are by car to  the area of Siena, though sometimes Florence, and what I like best is, while on a car trip and hunger strikes at lunchtime  is to follow the yellow signs with knife and fork to some little place along a backroad,where you know you aren’t likely to be again,  and stop somewhere for a delightful meal of local cuisine.  In Rome, we are fans of Valentino’s in Via delBoschetto, where we often meet friends, and La Fiaschetteria Marini, near Porta Pia. Both have cheap prices, homey food, and a good wine cellar.

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?

I wish I did all of the above, but I just write when I can.  I always write, but fiction takes a certain gathering of energy that takes me awhile to garner. I do need solitude.  I have a hard time concentrating if someone else is in the room or comes in and out needing something.

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

Study more foreign languages.  Take more risks.  Try to be less self-conscious. 

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?  Does anybody outside of literary academics care about this?

There are many possible interpretations of Barthes notorious announcement, not only academic, which are of great interest probably to few but writers, critics, and the literary minded.  But there are other angles from which to view the question. Look at what is happening nowadays thanks to ebooks, people want books for free, contemporary readers reject the idea of copyright, which in its own way leads to a certain kind of death of the author.

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 'mentorin'’. 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?

This is a very interesting study, and sounds plausible.  But not just gay people suffer from the lack of suitable role models.   It is an issue that affects women, and many other people who find that for whatever reason they are out of sync with dominating modes of their culture, or who don’t fit perfectly with the prevailing trends in their particular sphere of activity.  Homogenization is the key to our culture, marketers strive  make everybody act and think and dress and speak the same way. ( This is a very important part of the global market strategy, to make everybody in the world think they must have the same clothes,  the same ipad or iphone, wear the same brands, crave the same foods, attend the same world class events or at least follow them on tv, ultimately have the same values, which is, madness).  If you don’t conform to the mainstream, you will experience a certain degree of isolation and perhaps that does drive you to create to fill in the gaps. Accepting one’s “difference” whether sexual or anything else is probably always a long journey.

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?  

I am generally pleased or at least have been so far.

Who is your ideal reader?  

An educated, open minded reader, curious about the places I write about.

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

This has been the number one stimulus.

H. Do you perceive a difference in Italian Literature from the north versus Sicily?  

I am not able to make an informed comment on this.  I haven’t studied Italian literature in depth, only picked and chosen from things I like

I.  Do you miss anything besides people you are close to about America?  

There are so many things I miss about America, but I sometimes wonder if they still exist.

What are you glad to be away from?   

People who bring guns to school

J.  Please tell us something about your recent publications and/or works in progress.

Well, Signatures in Stone (2013), my mystery novel which you reviewed here is a finalist for the Daphne Du MaurierAward from Romance Writers of America, in the history category. I am excited about that. It is hard for small press books to get noticed, so I feel very lucky to be on the list.

Recent publications include mainly articles connected to my “writing and the soul of place” research.  I recently published an essay on Lawrence Durrell, “Books  & Islands, On Reading Lawrence Durrell in Greece,”  in the AWP Writers’ Chronicle. The germ was a blog I published on WebdelSol a while earlier. It deals with Durrell’s views of soul of place in his Corfu memoir, Prospero’s Cell.  I also published a pedagogical article on using deep maps, the soul of place, and landscape narratives in creative writing, in the Australian creative writing pedagogy journal, TEXT, and an essay onquest and pilgrim narratives in The Writer Magazine.   I have an upcoming piece in August in The Writer  on Flanerie – the Parisan tradition of strolling and writing. These articles and essays are drawn from my creative writing book on Soul of Place.

1.   how and when did you begin to write? 

 I started as a child, before fourth grade

2.   How impacted is your creativity by the cycles of the seasons? I have a little more time to write in the summer, or at least I used to.

3.   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?

Poets:  Charles Wright, Don Justice, Elizabeth Bishop, A.E. Stallings,  Fiction:  Lawrence Durrell,  Shirley Hazzard, JohnFowles, are writers I return to again and again.  Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Annie Proulx and Francine Prose have good styles, as does memoirist Wallis Wilde Menozzi.   But other classic favorites are Henry James, Charlotte Bronte, Virginia Woolf.

To the neophyte I would probably suggest something that his or her own writing expressed an affinity for.

4.  Frank  O'Connor in The Lonely Voice:  A Study of the Short Story said short stories seem to be about marginalized people, the lonely, those with with little voice in society.   Do you think he is on to something illuminating about the format?  Why is there so much loneliness in the short story?  An interesting theory that merits consideration,

5.  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.

The great classic epics of India, and of Ancient Greece and Mesopotamia, other parts of the Arab world  all produced before the advent of air conditioning,   would rather disprove that notion!  Probably it is necessary to examine the reigning economic systems and the ways in which novels as cultural products fit into these schemes as well as the expansion of the language in which they are written, the driving aesthetic concepts of the period in which they were created, and the role of the writers and readers in the society at the time to make any real evaluations of this issue.

We do have some great writing from hot places, like India, Africa, and even the American south, where it gets very hot, indeed

6.   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?

Anyone who believes in the power of writing believes that shadows of the imagination have real power to influence human life. Characters like Hamlet or Mrs Dalloway or Holden Caulfield have a real presence that endures through time. So if there is a link to other worlds or  parallel worlds, it happens through the imagination. So many things that exit in the real world began as a thought, an image, an idea in the mind that then became manifest.

7.  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?  

All that marketing business takes so much time. It is the death of writing, but you have to do some of it.  I think we need all kinds of reviewers –bloggers, paid reviewers, and amazon reviewers play their part. In all three, you will find people very well prepared who are good at what they do and approach the task with certain standards and values which are shared with their reading public. Often in paid reviewing, reviewers don’t always get to choose what they review, and  they may or may not have an affinity for the genre or particular book being reviewed, but you can be pretty sure that a reputable print venue will turn out a fairly decent review, respectful of the author and the work even when the judgment is negative, and attempting to understand the writer’s intention, which is a key element in reviewing, I think. A good reviewer probably bases part of his judgment on this aspect:  Did the writer fulfill his intention, whether or not we agree with it, or like /dislike it. That is what makes a professional reviewer.

Bloggers offer the option of enthusiastically praising or blaming books/writers in a particular niche, and that has its uses too. If I like women’s mysteries with cats, I will go to those bloggers who review books like that. If I like literary fiction, I will find one who posts on literary fiction. Bloggers who regularly keep up a blog are engaging in a literary operation, and they generally work hard at it, as you know! honing their skills because they know they have to keep their readers’ interest if they want their blog to survive. On the other hand, they may be prejudiced for or against a book and they may have vested interests, they may be paid by the publisher or author to praise a book ( or the opposite, to criticize one) etc.  Amazon reviews are trickier. There are many good reviewers are amazon, people who, like  bloggers or paid reviewers, apply a high standard and take their role seriously.  But there are also other types of reviewers, You will see books given bad reviews by people who have only 2 – 3 reviews to their name, and of non book products, who are inarticulate about what they disliked about a book, except by saying  “it was a waste of time, or waste of money”  and are obviously not qualified to comment on the literary quality of a book. They do not respect the writer, the work, or the form,  they just want to say they don’t like it.  If you look at these reviews, you will see that probably the reviewer expected the book to be completely different from what s/he thought it should be. He was expecting a traditional narrative and it turns out experimental,  she wanted a happy ending romance and it ends tragically. There is mention of some opinion with which the reviewer disagrees intensely. Or simply, s/he thought it was going to be about a dog, and it turns out to be about a cat, and s/ he despises cats, so…. It has supposedly been proven that some amazon reviews are fake, others are paid for by promotional campaigns to promote books, and it may be some reviewers are even paid to produce bad reviews of some titles in some strange algorithm game. I won’t mention the actual trolling that goes on, when some famous authors are insulted by disappointed fans or stalkers. So amazon reviews are a mixed blessing.

 I try to use facebook to promote my books, but I have such a small following, it’s really just sharing things with an intimate circle of friends. I don’t use mass mailings.  They don’t get read, anyway.

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

Just write

9.  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? 

 Very often everything seems futile.  Not dry spells, exactly, but times when I can’t get enough mental space together to work on a longer project, or when shorter projects take over.

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

Hmm, a brave soul,  Most of us are prisoners of an idiot box that we use for just about everything… our computers/ipads/iphones

11.  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?

I sometimes catch TV programs on the computer, ages afterwards.  I liked Lost, Dexter, and Downton Abbey, but those are the only ones I followed via computer. I absolutely adore Bruno Cremer as Maigret! I was so sad when he died.

I just read A Tale for Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki.  Do you know it? A masterpiece!  I am re-reading Lawrence Durrell’s The Dark Labyrinth  and Elizabeth Hardwick’s  Sleepless Nights

The most recent film I saw was Voyage to Cytheria  by Theo Angelopoulous.
I can’t remember the other ones, except the film short my husband Sergio Baldassarre has been working on, called The Party’s Over.  I will send you the link when it is ready

Jane Eyre  and Villette  are with me always, like some of the poems by Sylvia Plath and Elizabeth Bishop.  Mrs Dalloway. The Magus.   Many others.
In dark times, a song by Weird Al.  Do you know him?  It is called “Everything you know is wrong.”

12. 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 sensibilitesshaped by the defeat of the south in the American Civil  War.  Feel free to apply this to your heritage.

I  will pass this one up as I don’t know enough about Ireland, or even of the defeat of the South, though I grew up in the south, though am not Southern.

13.  If you could live any where in the past for six months, or forever, and be rich and safe, where would you pick and why? 

would pick Paris, and then somewhere in Greece, simply because they are my dream landscapes.

14.  Amazon - as a reader I like it a lot-  but is it a monster slowly taking down small publishers and independent book stores, controlling what books succeed? Is it bad for authors?

We are in a storm and you don’t really know which way the wind is blowing.  In the long run it will probably be bad, but in the meantime we scramble to make use of it as long as so many things are free, like KDP and Create Space.

15.  Are you open to  e mail, Facebook or Twitter, contact with your readers.  
Facebook and Twitter

I would love it if anyone who has read The Etruscan or Signatures in Stone would post a comment on my FB pages for those books.  Here they are  The Etruscan
Signatures in Stone  I have had some interaction through Good Reads too.

16.  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.  

Yes, it’s true that there is a certain glamor to being a poet  who leads a reckless life and dies young.   But there are many exceptions. Goethe is one. Wallace Stevens.  Pessoa,  even TS Eliot ( but his wife was mentally ill) Henry James. It doesn’t have to be part of the job description, though it often has been.

17.  Is a certain amount of suffering good for a writer?  

18.  Why do you focus on Etruscan history rather than Roman? 

Visiting the Etruscan area just made it more alive for me, and more mysterious

19.  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.?

This just shows how paranoid we writers are, and how badly we need readers. There is always a clique in every context of human life and location, people and trends who are in, people and trends who are out, and people scrambling to find a position because they haven’t got one. It is very hard to “break in” if you haven’t got some support from someone who is established, but the whole thing whirls along so fast, even those who are established fear they will slide off the stage at any moment.

20. One of the characters in Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano, set in Mexico city and centering on poets, says that the main reason poets, nearly all male in Bolano's book,  read at work shops is to meet the way disproportional number of women who come to them in search of a tortured soul to nourish.  is there truth in this?  Why are attendees preponderantly female, or is that not true?  Male writers, have you ever used the "troubled artist who feels too much" routine on women?  Ladies, does this persona have an appeal to you?

Most readers of books, probably not just fiction, but also poetry are women.  

21.   Who are three dead or living writers you would like to do a q and a session with?
Virginia Woolf   Katherine Mansfield   Rilke

22. Quick Pick Questions

A.  tablets or laptops or smart phones? All 3

B.  E readers or traditional books? both

C.  American Fast Food- love it, hate it, or once and a while?
Haven’t for awhile.  

D.  Cats or dogs?  Definitely dogs  Also donkeys

E.  best city to inspire a writer- Paris, London, Dublin, or?  Paris!
F.  Walt Whitman or Willam Butler Yeats?   Both
G.  Roberto Bolano or Gabriel Cruz Marquez ?   Marquez

K.  Winter or Summer? Day or Night? All four

I.  Would you rather witness opening night for Waiting for Godot, King Lear, Playboy of the Western World or Ubu Roi?
It depends on who is directing.

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

It is important to get feedback, to know that someone else will share your world

24.From Paris Review Interview with Alberto Moravio in which he was asked to talk about the state of the Italian novel-

"That’s a pretty large question, isn’t it? But I’ll try to answer. I think one could say that Italy has had the novel, way back. When the bourgeois was really bourgeois, in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, narrative was fully developed (remember that all that painting was narrative too) but since the Counter-Reformation, Italian society doesn’t like to look at itself in a mirror. The main bulk of narrative literature is, after all, criticism in one form or another. In Italy when they say something is beautiful that’s the last word: Italians prefer beauty to truth. The art of the novel, too, is connected with the growth and development of the European bourgeoisie. Italy hasn’t yet achieved a modern bourgeoisie. Italy is really a very old country; in some ways it looks new because it’s so old. Culturally, now, it follows the rest of Europe: does what the others do, but later. Another thing—in our literary history, there are great writers—titans—but no middle-sized ones. Petrarch wrote in the fourteenth century, then for four centuries everybody imitated him. Boccaccio completely exhausted the possibilities of the Italian short story in the fourteenth century. Our golden centuries were then, our literary language existed then, had crystallized. England and France had their golden centuries much later. Take, for example, Dante. Dante wrote a pure Italian, is still perfectly understandable. But his contemporary Chaucer wrote in a developing tongue: today he must be practically translated for the modern reader. That’s why most modern Italian writers are not very Italian, and must look abroad for their masters: because their tradition is so far back there, is really medieval. In the last ten years, they’ve looked to America for their masters."

My question is designed to draw responses - 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.

I think Moravia has given a very sound and profound analysis of the Italian literature of his era, and I believe it is still true that many Italian writers today continue to imitate American models. But there is no alternative, probably, America imposes its cultural models with great enthusiasm and tons of money to the detriment of the creative arts elsewhere,  hence the crisis in the production of European cinema or theater.
 Only great Italians, no middle-sized. Among the greats, we would have to mention Calvino who sought very different sources, contemporary French literature and critical theory, for example, or the fable-fairy tale tradition of Italian folklore.I find Moravia’s comments very insightful. Particularly about beauty, and the willingness to look at oneself in the mirror as a prime factor in the genesis of the novel.

25. How important is social media in the development of the career of writers?  Do you have your own web page and if so why? Do you suggest your students set up web pages or blogs?  Do you think it is good business savvy to post free samples of your work online?  Can you estimate how many hours a week you are online?

Yes I have a webpage to showcase my work, though I recently took down one dedicated to The Etruscan. Free samples can’t hurt. But one does spend too much time online.  I can’t say how much.  When I am working at the computer, I am always connected, except on the week ends, as I don’t have internet in my getaway place.


I offer my greatest thanks to a Linda for taking the time to provide such interesting, articulate, and illuminating responses to my questions.  

I will read all of her future novels and endorse her work to all lovers of quality fiction.  

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