• Little Known Facts: A Novel
    Little Known Facts: A Novel
    by Christine Sneed
  • Portraits of a Few of the People I've Made Cry: Stories (Awp)
    Portraits of a Few of the People I've Made Cry: Stories (Awp)
    by Christine Sneed

BLOG-O-RAMA (not to be confused with Illinois's disgraced governor)

Thursday
Apr102014

Q & A with Cris Mazza, author of the new memoir, Something Wrong with Her

Tell us a little about your book.  

Something Wrong With Her is a “real-time” memoir that began as an attempt to probe and explain my experience with female sexual dysfunction and ended up initiating a re-connection with a boy from my past.

This is not a book about overcoming FSD. Rather, it is a memoir about a girl who didn’t feel the sexual awakenings she knew she was supposed to feel, and about the boy who loved her nonetheless. Thirty years later I went back to find that boy, now a man, only to discover that he’d never stopped yearning for me. Worse, in an attempt to numb his feelings for me, he’d sealed himself into an abusive marriage.

Something Wrong With Her may not have completely answered the original questions I set out to explain and find closure for, but it became a real-time testimony of my reconnection with this man during — and within — the writing of this memoir, and our candid wrestling with 30-year-old memories, questions and regrets.

 

You've published 17 books of fiction and nonfiction and are an award-winning author, but each new book poses a challenge for most writers.  What were a couple of things you learned about yourself and/or your writing process while you wrote Something Wrong with Her?

About myself there are too many things learned to adequately provide here (for that I needed a book). But, as you say, it was the process of writing that exposed to me the things I learned (for many of those the word “learned” is too strong; perhaps “saw a glimmering that I could not quite articulate.”)  So since process was what led to any possible form of catharsis, I wanted the reading experience of the book to be, as much as it could be, a repeat of my process, not a report of a finished thought-out product. So one challenge was to capture how thought and personal understanding meanders, circles, obsesses and dwells, sinks into despair, stagnates, leaps ahead, is raw, slippery, and constantly revisable. And yet I also wanted the book be readable, a journey, and have its own form of satisfaction (because it wasn’t a redemption or recovery memoir with built-in resolution). I learned as well to trust digressions, interruptions and new patterns; that it’s okay to not know what a book should be about when wading into it. Figuring out en route and realizing-by-surprise what the focus and important questions are is part of the process, especially when the process is the story. 

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Monday
Mar312014

Writing Process Blog Tour

 

This is a blog post relay, which the lovely and talented Eileen Favorite invited me to join.  (That's Sandy Koropp and me above - Sandy owns Prairie Path Books out in Wheaton.) 

Question #1:  What am I working on now? 

Presently I’m doing a long, nerveracking, global rewrite of a novel set in contemporary Paris, as yet untitled, though for a while its working title was Paris Gare St.-Lazare, after the busy train station in the eighth arrondissement, a fabled northwest quarter of the city where some of the most famous Impressionist painters once lived.  The other day I realized that I’m writing what will likely amount to a new book, but one that shares a cast of characters with the preceding draft.  If we stay on schedule, Bloomsbury will publish it in mid-2015.  

Question #2:  How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I write character-driven fiction, and it’s usually about people trying to understand their thornier desires and those of the people they care about most.  In my second book, Little Known Facts, I wrote about a family that orbits a successful film actor; each, except for one person, has the material and social advantages that we’re told from a young age – by the media especially – that we should have, but they’re still not happy.  I’m interested in characters who are forced to face some unflattering news about themselves and what happens as a result of this unwanted self-knowledge.  I’m not sure if my work is much different from other writers of literary fiction, but the way we each approach characterization, pacing, story structure, and use language and humor, etc. - these are the elements that create an author’s individual voice and style, and I hope there’s something unique about my work.  But I couldn’t say what it is.

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Tuesday
Mar252014

Peggy Shinner Q & A, Author of You Feel So Mortal

This is Peggy's first book, a truly excellent, entertaining and erudite collection of essays is available from University of Chicago Press.  Release party: 4:30 p.m., Women and Children First Bookstore, March 30, 5233 N. Clark St., Chicago

Tell us a little about You Feel So Mortal.  

The book is a collection of essays about the body: my own body, female and Jewish; my parents, the bodies I came from; and the collective body, with all the cultural, historical, and political implications it brings to bear.  “Family Feet,” for example, takes a look at feet through the often-skewed lens of history, and discovers that my flat-footed specimens are, according to some, decidedly and disturbingly Jewish.  “Post-Mortem,” considers my father's autopsy and asks what it means to cut the body open.  "Berenice's Hair" is a time-trip through myth and history, looking at women's hair from ancient Rome to present-day India, with stops in Laos, France, Cuba and my own past along the way.   Various thematic notes sound throughout.  The body as proxy for the soul.  The body as trangressive and transgressed.  What does it mean to live in this body?  And what does it mean to leave it behind?

You wrote a number of essays about your family members, especially your parents.  What were the challenges and pleasures of this experience?

The biggest challenge in writing about my parents was grappling with who they were.  I think as children we often think we own our parents--that our experience of them encompasses their lives.  But of course they're not exclusively ours.  So in "Leopold and Shinner," for instance, which is an investigation of my mother's relationship with "thrill kill" murderer Nathan Leopold who, along with his lover, Richard Loeb, bludgeoned a fourteen-year boy to death in 1924, I encountered a woman who wrote a letter in support of his parole.  This was my mother, a woman I thought I knew.  And yet everything I knew about her would have never indicated that she'd write such a letter.  She wasn't civic-minded.  She wasn't politically involved, although, when she was pregnant with me she watched the HUAC hearings on TV.  In 1957, when she wrote this letter, who was she?  Why did she do it?  She was long dead as I asked these questions and they form a kind of dialogue between us, but they are also a dialogue with the forces that shaped her.  Did she support him because he was Jewish?  Did his Jewishness make him, if not less guilty, more redeemable?  Did she ignore his homosexuality much the way he did in the later years of his life?  The questions are a search for evidence but there is no evidence, only speculation.  

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Wednesday
Mar192014

Barry Gifford, David Lynch, and Wild at Heart

One of the featured events at Columbia College Chicago’s annual Story Week (March 16 – 21) was a reading and discussion with novelist and screenwriter Barry Gifford, who, among numerous other books, is the author of Wild at Heart. In 1990, David Lynch adapted this novel for the screen and turned it into one of the most strange and brilliant films of the last thirty years.  While I was listening to the conversation between Gifford and Joe Meno, a novelist and professor at Columbia College, along with Columbia film professor Michael Caplan, I started to feel nostalgic and sad and wondered what the hell was wrong with me. 

It took me a while to figure out why I was having this response to Gifford’s talk about his writing career, especially his discussion of the experience of making Wild at Heart into a film.  “It was a miracle,” he said at one point.  “Everything came together so well.  You can’t expect that.  Especially because 90% of the books optioned are never made into films.”  

One thing I eventually realized is that Wild at Heart debuted at Cannes at the tail-end of my freshman year in college.  This was more than half my life ago, food for thought, whether I liked it or not.  The film went on to win the Palme d’Or (the biggest prize at what is probably the most prestigious of all annual international film festivals).  It then made its U.S. debut in mid-August of that same year.  I don’t think I saw it until the following summer, 1991, when it was on VHS (twenty-three years ago – no DVDs or Blu-rays yet, and certainly no widely available digital files – this being the dawn of the Internet age.) I remember my father saying that he and my mother had watched Wild at Heart.  He added, “It’s a little too mature for you.”  With that kind of endorsement, I don’t think I waited very long to get a hold of a copy.   I also don't think I’ve seen it more than once or twice, but there are so many striking visual images, so many strange characters and scenes in this film – that I can still recall at least a dozen of them with almost no effort.  

To be able to do this twenty-three years after my first (and maybe only) viewing…frankly, I don’t think there are more than a handful of films, certainly not ones that I’ve seen just once or twice, about which I could say this.  Yet, it makes sense.  David Lynch was a visual artist with an art-school background before he became a well-known director, and his artist’s eye is everywhere in evidence in his films.   

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Sunday
Mar162014

Q & A with Floyd Skloot, author of the new book REVERTIGO: An Off-Kilter Memoir

Tell us a little about your new memoir, REVERTIGO.

At the center of REVERTIGO: An Off-Kilter Memoir is a 138-day attack of unrelenting vertigo that began--out of nowhere--on the morning of March 27, 2009, and ended on the evening of August 12, 2009, as suddenly as it had begun. As I wrote about it,I realized it would make no sense--or rather that it would seem to make too much apparent sense--to tell the story in a traditionally-structured, conventional memoir. With body and world askew, everything familiar was transformed and nothing was ever still. To capture what it felt like to be unceasingly vertiginous required a matching off-kilterness of form, a structure that was tenuous, shifting, unpredictable. I also realized that, for the previous three years, he'd already been writing this book, had been exploring aspects of the skewed and off-kilter life, exploring balance and its loss, how the forces of uncertainty and sudden change and displacement had shaped me since childhood, as it shapes many of us, by repeatedly knocking me awry, requiring me to react and adapt fast, realigning my hopes and plans, even my perceptions. It seemed as though his life, and his writing about my life, had been preparing me for just such a time of radical off-kilterness. The resulting memoir follows a loose chronological sequence from adolescence to the onset of senior citizenship. From the volatile forces within my mercurial, eruptive, shape-shifting early years to my obsession with reading and acting and writing, and from the attack of vertigo to a trio of tenuous, post-vertigo-but-dizzying journeys to real places, Spain and England, and to a place only known in my mother's unhinged fantasies, I was writing to make sense of a life's phantasmagoric unpredictability. 

You've written in past memoirs, E.g. In the Shadow of Memory, World of Light, and The Wink of the Zenith about your recovery from a virus that attacked your brain in 1988.  How does Revertigo fit in with these other three memoirs?  How is it a departure?

 If In the Shadow of Memory was about the attempt to put myself back together in the aftermath of the viral attack, and A World of Light was about the attempt to re-enter the world as a disabled man, and The Wink of the Zenith was about the forces that shaped me as a writer and the way that being a writer shaped me life, then Revertigo is about the way that nothing really prepares you for the sudden changes life presents--is about the ongoing effort to retain balance in a shifting world.  I feel like Revertigo stands alone among my memoirs formally, it shares with its predecessors a sense of gathering from fragments, of writing as an act of discovery as the pieces are assembled.

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