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Q & A on the Powell’s Blog: “Elastic Realism and Political Fiction; or, A Conversation Between Anca Szilágyi and Susan DeFreitas”

26 Jan
Bookcase brimming with Murakami, Calvino, Woolf, and more...

Not ashamed to admit I have hugged this book case…more than once.

Over on the Powell’s blog, I spoke with Susan DeFreitas, author of Hot Season, about blurring genre boundaries, political fiction, and fairy tales. In the process we touched on a slew of authors: Clarice Lispector, Nikolai Gogol, Kate Bernheimer, Lydia Millet, Denis Johnson, Ralph Ellison, Günter Grass, Angela Carter, Maya Sonenberg, Robert Coover, Rikki Ducornet, Lily Hoang, Anne Carson, and Haruki Murakami. Whew! Makes me want hug a bookcase. You can read the Q & A here.

If you’re in the Portland area, I hope you’ll join us at Powell’s City of Books on Monday, February 19 at 7:30 pm. (And if you can’t make it, you can still preorder a signed edition here to be shipped to you!)

Triangular Relationships

1 Dec

My 15th set of writing prompts for the Ploughshares blog explores triangular relationships in fiction, with discussions of Mavis Gallant’s “Lena”, Gunter Grass’s The Tin Drum, and Peter Mountford’s The Dismal Science, and featuring Kathleen Skeels’ wonderfully suggestive drawings. Here’s how it begins:

In a previous blog post, I mentioned my difficulty with conflict and tension.  For this reason, I love triangular relationships, which bring up conflicting desires, competing loyalties, and dilemmas. All the things that make a juicy story go. When I was just starting out writing fiction, when my writing tended to be a formless blob and I learned that good writing needs a shape, a design, I turned to the idea of things happening in threes, and then I turned to triangles. As I learned along the way, there are many, many ways you might use triangles in your fiction.

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Degenerate Art

19 Jun

Now that I’ve graduated from the MFA (hooray!), I had time this month to catch two exhibits just before they closed. Today, M. made sure I did not miss the Degenerate Art Ensemble at the Frye Art Museum. Metamorphosis and fairy tale play a large role in their work, which is great fuel for my own writing. One installation drew upon Little Red Riding Hood: an enormous fabric statue of Little Red lifting up her hoop skirt formed a stage for projections and videos. Light from the projections shined through her skirt. The concept reminded me of the Anna’s womb-like skirts in The Tin Drum. The video’s dark playfulness and source material also brought me right back to Angela Carter’s various takes on Little Red and werewolves, the subject of my MFA essay, along with Ovid’s tale of Lycaon. (Wolves do seem to keep reappearing now, wherever I go. In Blind Assassin, my first delicious summer read, a character says, “All stories are about wolves.” And there’s also a new exhibit on wolves at the Burke that I should eventually see.)

Another favorite piece was a quiet video of the Slug Princess, in a yellow knit, slightly bulbous costume with a long shimmery trail, dancing among wisps of grayish-green crackling grass and gobbling cabbages. The actual costume on display immediately reminded me of Nick Cave’s sound suits, which I first encountered in the SAM’s permanent collection when M. and I moved here two years ago. There’s something about those sound suits that just make me go: Yes, yes that is completely right. So I was a happy camper taking my folks to the SAM exhibit when they came to town for graduation. One sound suit that stays with me is one made of vintage metal spinning tops – such playful armor! But all the brightly colored knit suits seemed like more accommodating protection.

Eels & Feels

8 Dec

One of my very first publications was an academic essay published by Hotel in 2002, entitled “The Sexual Life of Agnes Matzerath in Gunter Grass’s Tin Drum“. They’ve now made this volume available online as a .pdf. I had wanted to append “Eels and Feels:” to the beginning of the title but opted for something more staid at the time. The essay is on pp.70-76 if you’re into that sort of thing.

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