Interview with Janet McNally

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Janet McNally is the author of the novels The Looking Glass and Girls in the Moon, as well as a prizewinning collection of poems, Some Girls. She has an MFA from the University of Notre Dame, and her stories and poems have been published widely in magazines. She has twice been a fiction fellow with the New York Foundation for the Arts. Janet lives in Buffalo, New York, with her husband and three little girls, in a house full of records and books, and teaches creative writing at Canisius College. (Source)


You incorporated a number of fairy tales into this book. Are these stories ones that were important to you as a child, and/or now?

They’re very important to me now, certainly. I think that I was always drawn to fairy tales, but I can’t tell you when I first read the true fairy tales. I’ve taken courses in fairy tales and now I teach courses in fairy tales, mostly in modern retellings, but we have to revisit the actual fairy tales too. My re-obsession with fairy tales happened when I found out I was pregnant with my first daughter. I have an older daughter who is seven and I have five-year-old twin daughters. When I found out that I was having a girl, I was thinking about the fact that all these stories, or many of the stories, that we tell over and over about girls and women are often about girls who are in trouble or need some kind of saving. I wanted to play with that, so I did that in poems and now I’ve done that in here, too. And, I don’t necessarily want to play with it and make every single one of [the girls] a badass who wins all the time, that’s not it, but I just wanted to give them more of a voice. It’s astounding in some of the original fairy tales how little of a voice they have. You know, I often think about Snow White who literally wakes up and the prince is like, “Gonna marry you!” and she’s like, “Okaay.” Because, you know, she really has no agency at all and that is indicative of how women were treated. They often had no agency as to whom they were going to marry or really in any other way, like the path their life would take.

When it came to writing about a ballerina did you have to do much research? Or did you write through experience? 

I was a dancer when I was younger. I didn’t dance on point because I tried it and didn’t really like it. I preferred more lyrical ballet and then also modern and hip hop and tap and all these other things. I mean, I did everything. But here I felt, I love ballet. I love watching it and I felt that I needed something that would sort of reflect the fairy tale world. The way that ballet is all about illusion and you’re supposed to believe that it’s very easy and effortless. They’re just flying around there, but Sylvie says in the book, have you ever heard what it sounds like? Just knowing what dancers feet look like, what dancing does to your body, that seemed very related to fairy tales. The harm that is done to women’s bodies in them, perhaps.

I did some research because there is no National Ballet Theater, so it’s kind of modeled on American Ballet Theater. I didn’t want it to be the exact same thing, where people would be like that’s not how it ABT works, so I wanted to have it be my own, but it has that model of school into the company, where not every kid in the school is going to go into the company. But, there’s this expectation that Sylvie will because Julia did. There’s precedent for what Julia’s doing but she’s very young to have these chances to dance these principal roles, but there are definitely dancers who have done that.

Sylvie’s relationship to ballet is not dissimilar to Julia’s initial relationship to drugs. What inspired you to draw this parallel? (There is an amount of dedication you need to have to dance and it can sometimes be a toxic relationship. Sylvie is expected to go into this and once she’s in level seven and up she can’t really find her way out. So, it’s kind of like that addiction as it takes you)

I think that that also explains why Julia’s so driven not to lose that, right? Because, at that point, that’s all she has. I think [Julia] talks about going to college or she’s thinking about going to college. But, I know that Julia is doing that in whatever world I’ve created here, so she is trying to take a different path because the original path she thought her life would take has been closed to her by her injury. But it is something, you’re right. You get into [dance] and it can be hard to see a way out and part of that is the expectation that other people have. Even Sylvie and Julia’s mother, who is a pretty decent mom in a lot of ways, she also is just kind of expecting that since it didn’t work out with Julia, it’ll be Sylvie who’s going to be able to do this. I think it’s pretty clear that Sylvie is not so sure that she wants to do that. That makes a lot of sense, that connection.

Fleetwood Mac was a major theme in the second part of the novel. How did you choose the playlist specifically for that part? 

I had this idea that Jack would have this annoying habit of listening to only one band at a time. I mean, I love music and I know a lot of music obsessives and I’m married to one, and he’s never done that, but I could see somebody doing that and just as a way to really get to know someone’s cannon, right? So, I was thinking it needed to be somebody who it would be a little playful. It couldn’t be somebody who was just strictly cool, like the example in the book where she asks about Bowie and he says “I already did that” and she’s like “Err.” It couldn’t be somebody that was that uncomplicated. I wanted it to be something that was playful and kind of funny where she can be like, “Oh, god, Fleetwood Mac,” and then actually end up really liking it.

That’s sort of my relationship with Fleetwood Mac whereas I thought they were just over the top and cheesy and just songs that I barely knew. Then when I had music fan friends who were like, “No, no really listen to this” and I was like “Okay actually, you know, they’re great.” Stevie and Christine are just very cool and the guys are fine, too, I guess  *laughs*. It just made sense because they’re over the top and kind of ridiculous, but also serious music makers and they have their own fairy tale stories within that. [Fleetwood Mac] has done a lot of talking about what it was like when they were at the height of their fame and [Stevie Nicks] has expressed regret for never having children. She’s just a really interesting, open person and so all that was sort of around the edges for me. But mostly, they also have a lot of songs that people know and it was really fun.

I had so much fun with the chapter titles in this book. My last book has numbered titles and I don’t know when’s the next time I’ll do this again, but I had a really fun time pulling out phrases that were the titles of the different chapters. And then the songs, it was fun too to think of what song could fit what chapter.

Sylvie’s subconscious thoughts sometimes appear in parenthesis, what made you choose this format? Why did you utilized it and what can it inform us about Sylvie? 

I think it was just fun for me. It’s something that just happened with her voice. Now, obviously, when you’re writing first person, it’s all internal. They’re telling the story, so this is almost like the internal of internal. I also think that Sylvie has a hard time thinking about and talking about dealing with things that happen, traumatic things that happened, especially the actual overdose or what happened afterward. So that’s a way for her to kind of put it there, but not have to touch it too closely. I think she says at some point that she’s barely told this story even to herself, what it was like that night when they found her on the couch. So, for me, it sort of evolved organically and became a thing. I do believe that characters have to become real in some way and then they kind of tell you what they want to do. So, that was something that she seemed to just want to do and I let her.

Do you consciously write for a young audience? If so, how do you tap into a younger mindset when writing a younger character? 

It’s no trouble for me to tap into a younger mindset because I feel like a perpetual teenager in some ways. And I always say “I’m a grown up?” I think most grown-ups probably feel that way: a lot of my friends seem to. I still feel very connected to my teen years. They were messy and chaotic. In some ways I enjoyed them, so it’s not an upsetting mental space for me to inhabit. I think sometimes people may want to rewrite their teen years the way they wanted it to be. For me it’s not quite like that. It’s kind of like revisiting the feelings that I had at that time, and it’s really fun.

I don’t think there’s a huge difference between writing for teens and writing for grown-ups because I think teenagers are really smart, and I’m not writing down to them, changing my vocabulary. It allows me some things like super-short chapters. It’s something you could do in adult fiction, but it’s not done as much. It’s very common in YA and I like working that way. YA also has those… you want each chapter to have an arc, to end in a place where you really want to turn that page. It’s sort of a thing that happens in YA. And it’s fun to write that way. I have students now — I teach a YA workshop — and right now they’re writing… supposedly they’re beginning novels, so we’re writing two chapters that we’re workshopping throughout the semester. It’s interesting to see them try to do that. Up to this point most of them have only written short stories, and it’s a totally different way of structuring something. But you still have that little teeny climax. YA novels are certainly shorter. And there are certainly other differences, but it’s not a dumbing down or anything along those lines.

You also write poetry. What do you see is the relationship between your poetry and your fiction? Do you have a preference? 

If I had to choose one I would choose fiction because that is the one that is most important to me. But I really love being able to write poems because it feels like play because you can do whatever you want. In fiction you do have to follow some sort of narrative quality. There’s a lot more freedom in poetry, at least for me. I don’t know if every poet feels this way. And it [poetry] is a great way of using my brain in a different way.

Also, I love, with poems, that you can leave so many holes. With fiction you do have to fill in a lot of blanks. And poetry, which I do still use to tell stories, you can do it in a way that’s more loose, which appeals to me very much after having to fill in things when I’m writing a novel. It’s okay if people don’t exactly know what you’re talking about. They come to it and they can bring themselves. I mean, that happens in fiction, too where the reader is really involved in the story, where it’s going to be a different experience for every single reader of the book because you’re going to bring who you are to it and meet me halfway.  But I love both, and I feel really lucky to be able to do both because it’s nice, when I feel I’ve hit a wall in one genre, how I can hop over for a while into the other.

How did the process of writing this book differ from your first novel? 

It differed a lot because I was under contract and I had to write it faster and I had other people’s expectations, and my experiences with the first book… other people’s voices in my head. When you write your first book… Lydia Netzer, she wrote a book that was called Shine, Shine, Shine. That was her first book, which I like, and she said your first novel, it’s like your whole life up to that point you’ve been writing that book. And then your second one you’re supposed to do in a year or two and it’s much harder. So the second book was a lot harder, and there was a time when I thought there’s no way I can do this.

Young adult lit, they want you to produce pretty quickly. The schedule can be very difficult, especially when you’re somebody who has a job and has a family. My dad was dying when I was finishing this book, and that was also really hard — I wasn’t sure what I was doing or who I was or what was even happening, so it was a lot different in that way.

But what was funny was, you write this book, and you do your edits and whatever, and eventually you get what are called pass pages, which is like, they’re photocopied and all laid out and it looks like a book but they’re just 8 by 11 pages. And you have to read through that and make sure things are the way you want. You make manual changes if they’re not. And this is after the copy editor has asked you questions about, “Oh, her eyes are green here but they’re blue here,” and they’re amazing in that way (and you also kind of hate them). But they’re doing their job, and we’re lucky to have them. Anyway, when you get the pass pages… This time it was wild because I thought “oh wow it really is a book. It actually, I think, makes sense.” And I wasn’t sure when I finished it that it was ever going to be that. And so I was pleasantly surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed coming back to this book and reading pieces of it at readings because I had a difficult relationship with this book at one point. We were not getting along.

What was the easiest part of developing the sisters’ relationship? If you could add or take away an element what would it be? 

I don’t think I would add or take away anything. I’m happy with the way they are. I think their relationship is complicated enough for me. I don’t have a sister: I have a younger brother who I love a lot. I read a lot about sisters… I always wanted a sister and I have relationships with other women that are sisterly and especially I think I sought out in my life a lot of older sister figures, and now I’m the older sister figure two younger people which is pretty cool to see that from both sides. So… I love my brother; he’s awesome, and so I would not trade him. There’s one [brother] in here: Everett. Their relationship is really great. Everett’s not like my brother but that closeness and kindness, that comes from our relationship.

I’m interested in sister relationships because of the way that when you have children of the same gender they’re going to be compared to one another maybe more than if they’re not of the same gender. And I have three daughters who, to me, they look very different, but people often say “oh wow they look so much alike,” and “they have the same face.” (They don’t.) But there must be something about them that does look alike. I have twins so I know the way they’re going to be compared to one another, and of course we compare them too even if you try not to, so that’s really interesting to me.

This was a different relationship in some ways because there are seven years between Sylvie and Julia. My last book was also a sister story, and there were 2 years between them. That was more like my girls. The one thing I’m working on, the book for adults, [in that] there are 16 years between the sisters. That’s a whole different thing, where there is a kind of “oh we had another baby” situation.

I can’t stop writing about sisters, which might be a problem.

Is there one character you were very attached to creating? Could you see what that character was doing outside of the story? 

I usually can see what characters are doing outside. It’s hard to say just one. Obviously I’m very attached to Sylvia because she is, in many ways, the me figure.  I definitely look at writing as acting. I almost exclusively write in first person because I want to take on a persona because I have a lot of fun with that. And so my narrators, my main characters, are always different from me in all sorts of ways, but there’s an innate me-ness in them. I have a big soft spot for Sylvie, Jack — I also really love Tommy and Sadie. In this case I think I wrote friends it would have been great to have when I was a teenager. And they are… Tommy, definitely, their [Sylvie and Tommy’s] relationship is based on a friend of mine who I don’t talk to a lot anymore, but at one point we were so close. It’s funny because some of the affection you have for characters could be, in some cases, the affection you have for a real person, for pieces of that person, but they are definitely their own entities. They are separate. For example, I don’t know anyone exactly like Jack. And my friend that I’m thinking… There are elements of my friendship with him in Tommy and Sylvie’s relationship, but he’s very different from Tommy in notable ways.

And our last question: What genre would you consider this book? Is it magical realism, or a fairytale, or something else? 

That’s a good question… One thing is, I’m not super comfortable using the term “magical realism” because I have a writer friend (Anna-Marie McLemore) who has made a convincing case that “magical realism” is rooted in some kind of oppression, so I don’t feel comfortable taking that term on. But the quote on the cover from the Booklist review mentions magical realism. Many people use that term that way. Perhaps it’s just semantics, I tend to call it realism with a touch of magic. I’m most comfortable, I have the most fun, with magic that you’re not quite sure is magic, magic that can be explained away.

I think I would say this is a realistic contemporary novel with elements of possible magic, if I can create my own genre. But certainly a lot of people would call it magical realism, and that’s fine. But I’m not sure: is the magic magic? Is it Sylvia’s desire to see Magic, to have permission to go find her sister? I don’t know. Obviously, since the book was found and since Julia sent it to her, it’s a pretty big coincidence, but in life there are very big coincidences. The universe has sent some things my way that seem unbelievably coincidental, where I think “whoever is writing my story, this is not believable. I could not put this in a book.”


About the authors of this post: This interview was a collaboration between the Fall 2018 staff of 30 North.

Janet McNally Campus Visit

On October 19, 2018 author and poet Janet McNally visited North Central College’s campus. She visited one of our 400 level English classes to answer questions about her latest novel, The Looking Glass, and writing. In addition to this class visit, McNally also did a reading of her novel as well as some poetry. Afterwards she answered more questions and signed copies of her novel.

30 North was lucky enough to interview McNally. The interview will be posted soon, so keep your eye out!

30 North’s 2018 issue has arrived!

It’s official! We have received the new, fresh, and exciting copies of 30 North’s 2018 Issue (check out pictures below). We will be distributing copies around campus and Naperville next week, so if you’re a NCC student, be on the look out.

For our awesome contributors of this years issue, if we don’t have your address already, be on the look out for an email about contributor copies as we will be mailing them to you soon. If we already have your address, please be be on the look out for your copies in the mail!

As always, if there are any questions, comments, or concerns, please contact us at 30north@noctrl.edu

 

Review of “Patience” by Daniel Clowes

Daniel Clowes is considered one of the most notable comic artists of our era and has had a couple of his works made into feature length films. An example of this would be his book “Ghost World,” about two girls and their journey after replying to a man’s newspaper ad for a date, which was turned into a film starring Scarlett Johansson and Thora Birch. He tends to feature lonely, self-loathing men who want to feel connected, but push away those that try to get close; the male ego is a constant in his works. In “Ghost World,” the man from the newspaper ad exemplifies these traits. In “Patience,” Clowes has made subtle changes of this theme, while also still remaining true to his tendencies.

As the story begins, it’s 2012 and Jack Barlow learns that Patience, his wife, is pregnant. As they are discussing their financial worries and how they will make it work, Patience reflects on her early years:

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Page 4

 

Clowes overloads the reader with tons of information in the beginning of the novel. He is purposefully using this tactic to leave the readers confused; it can be difficult to follow what is happening during the first time reading through, so it helps to read a second or even third time to truly capture all of the little intricacies. When Jack goes back to 2012, the readers will also learn more about why things played out the way that they did.

In the scene after the one shown above, Patience starts to talk about her old life, but Jack doesn’t want to talk about it and quickly diverts the subject back to the baby. Everything seems to go well afterwards, but if you’ve read any of Clowes’ other books, you know not to be fooled by this.

One day, Jack comes home to find Patience has been murdered. Clowes takes on the cliche of a woman dying early on in a story to provide momentum for the rest of the story, also known as being “fridged.” There are other occasions in his works where he has used cliches to call attention to them and even parody them to reflect the current state of our culture. While they can at times be subtle jabs at the cliches, Clowes makes his purpose clear by overly drawing on the use of the cliche of Patience being “fridged” and makes it over-the-top. He does this with his use of dramatic language, especially when Jack finds Patience’s body, and his colorful palette.

After being framed for the murder of his wife and unborn child, Jack was sent to prison for 18 months. He was released after evidence appeared that proved him innocent, further giving him fuel for his quest for revenge. It’s suddenly 2029, and Clowes paints a picture of what he envisions the future to be like: inappropriately sexual public displays, monitors projecting a dictator’s speeches on loop, and people dressed in crazy outfits. A lot of this can be considered stereotypical of what people visualize when they think of the future. Clowes has been know to have depicted the future in a similar fashion in previous works of his.

Jack learns of the existence of a time-traveling device, and his hopes of seeing Patience again are hurtled into the forefront of his mind. This is when the “cosmic timewarp deathtrip” part of the tagline comes into play. The novel follows Jack as he is flung around time and space, trying to save Patience. As I mentioned earlier on, Clowes has a type. His protagonists are lonely, self-loathing creatures who have an ego. Jack is no different, and it becomes unclear at times what his true motives are in continuing on with his journey. There is a point in Jack’s journey where he contemplates why he is even doing this anymore. He doesn’t know if he’s even doing it for his wife and unborn child, or gone beyond all of that to a point of pure revenge:

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Page 88

 

The line becomes more and more blurred as Jack keeps leaping through time, being yanked about time and space by the time-traveling device. Jack experiences these strange visions, and his body begins breaking down and reforming. Throughout the graphic novel, Clowes includes these wild, colorful images, and during the evolution of Jack reforming, he really takes advantage of that. He uses a much broader color palette in “Patience” as compared to some of his other works, such as “Ghost World” with its black, white, and green palette and other of his works that have stuck with the more basic black and white template. The vivid colors are very impactful in the scene where Jack’s body is being ravaged by the process of time-travel, his interior organs becoming visible through his exterior flesh.

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Pages 79-80

 

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While “Patience” has a similar thematic style to Daniel Clowes’ other works, there are some interesting differences. His male protagonist, while still a loner with self-deprecating tendencies, goes to great lengths to exact vengeance for his wife’s murder. Fans of his oeuvre may be conflicted about their feelings for this piece. There are several cliches that occur throughout the novel that can give readers pause, but by the end they should be able to see the way that he is using them in a parodic manner. His art style was amped up for this piece as well, so die-hard fans may have a hard time liking the immense color palette that Clowes uses.

“Patience” is a story of love, murder, and self-discovery. Clowes paints a vivid picture of love lost and a man doing whatever it takes to find his wife’s killer while struggling with the morality of changing fate. The visuals are so beautifully executed that Clowes’ storytelling is amplified by their use.

*Images consist of photos taken by Kayla Etherton and images found on Google


Screen Shot 2017-06-25 at 6.14.09 PMAbout the Author: Daniel Clowes was born in Chicago, Illinois, and completed his BFA at the Pratt Institute in New York. He started publishing professionally in 1985, when he debuted his first comic-book series “Lloyd Llewellyn.” He has been the recipient of multiple awards for his seminal comic-book series, “Eightball.” Since the completion of “Eightball” in 2004, Clowes’ comics, graphic novel, and anthologies have been the subject of various international exhibitions. Clowes currently lives in Oakland, California with his wife and son, and their beagle.


About the Author of this Post: Kayla Etherton is a recent graduate of North Central College majoring in Graphic Design with a minor in Marketing. She enjoys reading all kinds of sci-fi/fantasy literature, but has recently been reading mostly graphic novels. She is also an alum of the NCC Women’s Track and Field Team.

A Review of “All the Lives I Want: Essays About My Best Friends Who Happen to be Famous Strangers” by Alana Massey

All the Lives I Want: Essays About My Best Friends Who Happen to be Famous Strangers is a collection of essays written by Alana Massey where she connects the lives of celebrities to her own life. From Winona Ryder to Princess Diana, Massey explores the legacies of these famous women while using them to reveal personal details about herself. She does this to show both that we are not that different from celebrities and how their lives both relate to and have an affect on her own. This book is the first for Alana Massey, but her experience in writing goes beyond this. Her essays, criticism, reviews, and reporting have had regular appearances in publications such as the Guardian, New York Magazine, Buzzfeed, and more.

All the Lives I Want contains fifteen different essays featuring over twenty famous women between them. Her first essay, “Being Winona; Freeing Gwyneth: On the Limitations of Celebrity Type,” discusses Winona Ryder’s shoplifting incident from 2001 and Gwyneth Paltrow’s “conscious uncoupling” from Coldplay singer Chris Martin. Massey created a theory that she was a “Winona in a world made for Gwyneth’s.” As she states, “This theory positions the one time best friends as two distinct categories of white women who are conventionally attractive but whose public images exemplify dramatically different lifestyles and world views.” She identifies herself as a Winona and her ex’s new girlfriend as a “total Gwyneth.” She understands that she used Winona as “an avatar that represented [her] own suffering.” She makes a point here which she makes in later essays that people are their own selves, and even if someone identifies with someone else, that doesn’t mean they are identical.

An essay that wasn’t as strong was “Heavenly Creatures: The Gospels According to Lana, Fiona, and Dolly.” This essay discussed a close comparison between Fiona Apple and Lana Del Ray and a loose comparison to Dolly Parton as a way to discuss how these female artists portray sex and relationships, with Apple and Del Ray being on the racier side and Parton being on the more conservative side. What I gathered her point to be in this essay was sometimes young singers such as Apple were forced to portray a sexuality that was reflective of a person older than themselves while Parton was able to move away from sexuality and focus on hurt in relationships. Maybe it was just me, but I felt Massey focused too much on Apple and Del Ray and portrayals of sexuality and then just threw Parton in there as a way to show not all singers have to do this.

The next essay, one that I looked forward to because of the subjects was, “No She Without Her: On Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen and the Singularity.” Massey discussed a slight personal connections with the twins as they were students with her for a brief time at New York University. “They were not just celebrities, they were our classmates,” she notes while discussing a fellow student who had wall to wall pictures of the twins. Massey also remember how there was a countdown until the Olsens turned eighteen and how that disgusted her: “[The media] wrote as though the only thing in the way of unbridled passion between ordinary sleazes and billionaire teenage performers and entrepreneurs was a pesky statutory rape law that would soon be irrelevant.” While the message of this particular essay was clear—defying and dehumanizing women because they are in the public eye is wrong— getting to Massey’s point was a little difficult. In an essay where she is supposed to be relating these celebrities’ lives to herself, she barely mentions herself. She also never explicitly states her point, only her disgust and judgement. I wanted her to go beyond the concept of them being young and go into the problem with how young girls are made to feel like this dehumanization and degrading of women is okay, when it isn’t, but she never did get beyond the initial disgust.

In several of Massey’s essays, the connections to the particular celebrities felt loose, and the points were difficult to grasp. There were some, such as “Our Sisters Shall Inherit the Sky: On the Lisbon Sisters and the Misnomer of The Virgin Suicides,” an essay in which she discussed Massey’s relationship to her sister and the book and movie The Virgin Suicides, where she seemed to alter too rapidly between casting judgment and admiration on the characters and narrators of the story. She would say things such as, “Though the boys never admit as much, it is crucial that the Lisbon sisters are all thin and beautiful within reason;” however, she also states, “I wanted a boy to look at me and see mystery of my own making,” where she practically applauds the glamorized view the adult male narrators are putting on five girls who took their own lives years ago. She discussed how the characters were wrong but never really focused on the fact that the glamorization of depression and suicide portrayed in the novel is a bad message.

The concepts and points of each of the essays were practical and often relatable in the sense that everyone expresses insecurity and compares themselves to others and makes mistakes, To be honest, I would not recommend this book as a whole because many of the essays felt like they had no bigger point than the fact that the celebrities were living their lives and others were observing. However, I would recommend the essay, “Public Figures: Britney’s Body Is Everybody’s,” an essay that deals with weight issues, eating disorders, and the pressures society puts on women to be the correct weight. In this essay, Massey states “[Men’s] standard calibrations for the weight of a petite woman is between 100 and 115 pounds, an average woman 115 to 125, and tall ones 125 to 135,” clearly stating that they are wrong to assume this and that is a major problem within society.

Another good essay was “All the Lives I Want: Recovering Sylvia,” This one debunked the myth that what we read and who we admire doesn’t necessarily have a major and consequential effect on our person. Just because Sylvia Plath committed suicide doesn’t mean her admirers will as well. As I discussed earlier, regarding “Being Winona; Freeing Gwyneth: On the Limitations of Celebrity Type,” not all women are the same and cannot just be put into two categories.

Lastly, “A Bigger Fairy Tale: On Angelica Huston and the Inheritance of Glamour.” This one shows the power of women. It displays a woman, Angelica Huston and how she was strong even though she was betrayed by a man. She was equally as strong with and without him and that’s the way it should be. She admires Huston, “Angelica’s memories are unapologetically steeped in Hollywood decadence and the class privilege that accompanied her fellow travelers on these journeys.” These four essays were the ones that I found to be the most enjoyable of the collection and also the four that succeeded the best in getting their messages across.


About the Author Alana Massey: I’m a writer covering identity, culture, virtue, and vice. I’m the author of All The Lives I Want, a collection of essays reimagining the lives and legacies of famous women in a way that makes it easier for us to forgive ourselves. My writing appears in Elle, The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York Magazine, Vice, The New Republic, Pacific Standard, BuzzFeed, The New Inquiry, and more. I split my time between Brooklyn and my farmhouse in the Catskills where I write, read, drink champagne, listen to pop music, and Photoshop glamorous collages of myself like the one you see here.


About the author this post: Kate Haley is a sophomore at North Central College where she studies English Writing and Organizational Communication. When she is not spouting off random facts about anything and everything, she fills her time with reading copious amounts of books and writing novels that will hopefully become best-sellers (or at the best, sellers).

Ross White Group Interview Part 3

ross-whiteRoss White is a poet and teacher living in Durham, NC. With Matthew Olzmann, he edited Another & Another: An Anthology from the Grind Daily Writing Series. He was the 2012 winner of the James Larkin Pearson Prize and the Gladys Owings Hughes Prize. His poems have appeared in Best New Poets 2012, Poetry Daily, New England Review, The Southern Review, and others. He is a four-time recipient of work-study and administrative scholarships to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and currently teaches poetry writing and grammar at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics.


You’re a teacher as well as a poet and editor – how do those three jobs affect one another?

I think all three are born of a curiosity about the human condition and an unflappable belief that it is mutable. Mutable in the sense being apt, and perhaps likely, to change, but also in the sense of being inconstant in one’s affections. Editing is the act of allegiance to a manuscript while pushing for it to become something else, whether that something is a set of copy edits or a change in the project that steers it more clearly toward its true intention. Teaching is the act of allegiance to the student as a person, even as the education you provide changes who that person is. Writing is the act of allegiance to the human experience and a desire to transform it into something new.

I try to approach all three with tenderness. I try to approach all three with ruthlessness. The balance between those two is always in flux. What I learn on one side of the equation is often reflected on the other– as soon as I am smart enough to adjust. Though I am often not quick to adjust; so much of each of those roles comes first from the gut, and I often need a lot of time to reflect on what I have learned by doing. Only then can I transfer the knowledge from one discipline to another. Early in my career, I overthought so much of my writing and teaching, but I had so little experience and knowledge that the base of what I was thinking about was narrow. Whatever towers I was building were so easy to topple. The more I read, the more I experiment, the more confident I become in trying things that I haven’t seen before, in trying things where the outcome remains uncertain and mysterious once I’ve begun.

What is one piece that you have accepted for the press that has changed your perspective on reading and writing, and how has it done so?

I can’t say that there’s a book, poem or story we’ve accepted that changed my perspective on reading and writing. I can say that some of the pieces we’ve accepted changed my perspective on what it is to be human. They made the world at once more vast and more intimate, and I’m truly grateful for that. As poetry requires that the reader use imagination and empathy, so too does it provide an imaginative kindling, and the books that have changed me have left me with new space to explore what lived experience might mean. Tommye Blount’s What Are We Not For is a profoundly animate book, one I have savored every time I’ve read it.

What is your personal writing style and preferences, and how does this affect the works you choose for publication?

I always have the hardest time answering questions about my own style. I think that’s because I’d prefer not to have one– if there’s something I can’t do yet, I’m probably trying to learn. I don’t think anyone who reads my poems would call me a formalist, but I aspire to that; I don’t think anyone would accuse me of being an experimentalist, but I aspire to that too. I love reading a little bit of everything and when I sit down to draft poems, I find myself borrowing strategies from whatever has me enthralled at the time.

As a reader, I know I have a bias for the unfamiliar. I love strangeness in its many forms– the grotesque, the absurd, the dissociative, the transgressive– because strange poems are so often, for me, the jumper cables that recharge my own sense of wonder at the world. But when I encounter a poem or a chapbook that gives me that jolt, the editor in my brain almost immediately converts to the role of skeptic. I begin interrogating the poem like it’s a Russian spy. I begin wondering if I’m falling for a misdirection or deception because it supports my pre-existing view of the world.

I also want poems to feel lived in, which is something I try to do in my own work. I mistrust poems that rely on centuries’ worth of someone else’s feeling, and add little to that field of feeling. I generally call these poems “pretty birds and trees” poems out of snarkiness, but really, they’re poems that pretend to join the long poetic conversation, where poets ranging from Lucille Clifton to George Herbert to W. B. Yeats to Emily Dickinson are speaking to each other, without ever adding something new, something vital, about the world as it is today.

Part 2

Review of “Trigger Warning” by Neil Gaiman

With Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning: Short Stories and Disturbances, the author has given us an assorted collection of short stories with a dabble of poetry. In this collection of horror, sci-fi, and fantasy, you can learn about a mysterious American traveler who visits a quaint English town with dark secrets, solve a peculiar mystery with Sherlock Holmes, meet an odd man who claims to have uninvented the jetpack, and even defeat aliens with the eleventh Doctor.

Neil Gaiman is a New York Times #1 bestselling author who has written wide range of books for children and for adults. This collection of short stories is the third published by Gaiman, following Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illustrations (1998) and Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders (2006). Considering how well these past collections were received and how well I believe this one did, Trigger Warning very likely won’t be the last of them.

Gaiman starts off the book with a lengthy preface giving details as to why he choose the title and the meaning and origin behind each story. The use of the phrase “trigger warning” is not quite of traditional usage. Normally this term is used to warn against potentially disturbing context of a writing or a video for people that have experience related trauma. As Gaiman explains, “trigger warning” in this case refers to “images or words or ideas that…[throw] us out of our safe, sane world.” That was one of his goals with putting together this collection, to bring us readers out of our comfort zones and into the deep and dark world of his wonderful, yet twisted imagination. The trigger warning isn’t meant for specified people, it’s meant for all of us because we all have a trigger. After explaining the title meaning, Gaiman goes on to describe in either brief or extended detail as to why each of these stories and poems exist. For example, “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury” was written as a ninetieth birthday present for none other than Ray Bradbury, a writer who Gaiman admires. “The Thing about Cassandra” was inspired by fourteen-year-old Gaiman’s imaginary girlfriend who he gave life by simply writing her name on various notebooks, much like his character Stuart did. He wrote “Adventure Story” for a radio show This American Life, though the producers ended up not being huge fans of it, and because he’d been “thinking a lot about death” and how when people die they “take their stories with them.”

While I enjoyed getting to know further detail about each story than is normally given, I’m not sure the preface was the best placement of them. I felt obligated to go through and read about each story before starting them which took away, only slightly, from the magic of blindly discovering excellent short stories within a collection. I found myself turning back to the beginning to read some of the explanations again once finishing the stories.

Gaiman plays with format in many of his stories, the most noticeable being “Orange.” Under the title of the story there is a note which states “(Third Subject’s Responses to Investigator’s Written Questionnaire.) EYES ONLY.” The story is written as a numbered list of answers without the questions that prompted them and yet, it is still easy for the readers to completely grasp the story because where there are vague answers such as “several times a day” there are more descriptive answers such as the description of where the narrator found “an empty jam jar” under her sister Nerys’ window. This story with the odd format ended up being one of my personal favorites in the collection due to the amazing and interesting way it was told through only a long list. The best part was that the narrator almost seemed bored as she was answering the questions about her sister turning into an entity known as “Her Immanence.” Another story that was interesting format was “A Calendar of Tales” which combined 12 short stories into one, each story representing a month of the year. Every small story within this larger one was written expertly, however each of them ended on a cliffhanger that left me gripping to the last sentence hoping the next story would expand upon the previous one. They never did.

Gaiman did a wonderful job of creating twenty-four (well, actually thirty-five considering “A Calendar of Tales”) different worlds with spectacular imagery which assists the readers in truly experiencing the stories. In “Down to a Sunless Sea,” Gaiman introduces a woman who “does not appear to care about the rain” by writing the story in second person telling us that we “want to pull [a bone necklace] from her neck, to toss it into the river for the mudlarks to find or to lose.” Some of the other worlds presented to the readers were familiar, at least in my case, as I got to visit London and India with the famous Sherlock Holmes in “A Case of Death and Honey,” a story which reimagined the reason he has been a character who has been revived many times since his original death by Arthur Conan Doyle in 1893. I also got to travel to the year 1984 with the eleventh Doctor and his companion Amy, and being a huge Doctor Who fan myself, I enjoyed getting to be with those characters again on a new adventure. I also got to visit worlds that were familiar, but not quite the ones I knew. In “The Sleeper and the Spindle,” we learn about a different version of sleeping beauty with another fairytale princess, now queen, being the fierce heroine of the story.

Being that Neil Gaiman is a spectacular writer, all of his stories and poems, at least in this collection, are written to represent that. While not all of these stories may immediately seem enchanting, they are well worth the read. The fun thing about short story collections is that there is no necessity to read each story in the order that they are printed. You can read the stories front to back, back to front, or in any order that pleases you. You can even go back and reread your favorites, as I did. If you’re looking for creative intelligence that fuels a random assortment of fun, creepy, and interesting stories, this is the book for you.


neil-gaiman-3-smAbout the Author: Neil Gaiman was born in Hampshire, UK, and now lives in the United States near Minneapolis. As a child he discovered his love of books, reading, and stories, devouring the works of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, James Branch Cabell, Edgar Allan Poe, Michael Moorcock, Ursula K. LeGuin, Gene Wolfe, and G.K. Chesterton. A self-described “feral child who was raised in libraries,” Gaiman credits librarians with fostering a life-long love of reading: “I wouldn’t be who I am without libraries. I was the sort of kid who devoured books, and my happiest times as a boy were when I persuaded my parents to drop me off in the local library on their way to work, and I spent the day there. I discovered that librarians actually want to help you: they taught me about interlibrary loans.”


About the Author of this Post: Kate Haley is a sophomore at North Central College where she studies English Writing and Organizational Communication. When she is not spouting off random facts about anything and everything, she fills her time with reading copious amounts of books and writing novels that will hopefully become best-sellers (or at the best, sellers).

Review of “Everything I Never Told You” by Celeste Ng

Everything I Never Told You is a tale of a Chinese-American family in a time when diversity was constantly frowned upon. Set in the 1970’s, the Lees, a family of five, struggle to understand each other. They also struggled to fit into a world that didn’t understand them. The father, James, is of Chinese heritage, while his wife, Marilyn, is white. Their three children stand out as Chinese-Americans in an all white school. They kept one too many secrets from each other and in the end it cost their middle child, Lydia, her life. Ng uses this novel to explore the pressures with which parents weigh their children down, not even knowing they are doing so. Ng writes, “How had it begun? Like everything: with mothers and fathers. Because of Lydia’s mother and father, because of her mother’s and father’s mothers and fathers” (Ng 25). This novel beautifully captured the terrors secrets can keep and just what happens when the web of lies begins to unravel; slipping like water through your fingers so quickly you never even understood how you could possibly have held it all in.

Through a stunning display of multiple point of views, Ng smoothly navigates from one character to the next, letting each story play out until all the secrets the family tried so desperately to keep are brought to light. By switching points of view, the reader can hear the distinctive voice of the mother, the father, Nath, Hannah, and Lydia herself as the reader learns what they never told each other, making the title of the book a clever one.

Normally, a common fault with some novels is not holding the reader’s attention. Ng does not make this mistake. The novel captured my attention right from the start and kept me guessing all the way up until the final word had been read. The text itself has a dazzling introductory line when Ng writes, “Lydia is dead. But they do not know this yet” (Ng 1). The mystery of Lydia’s death had me guessing the entire time. How did this happen? Why did this happen?  One thing I really enjoyed in this novel was how each character was guilty, because at some point they all lied. One example of Nath’s lies is when he said, “All Nath would know, for sure, was this: he pushed Lydia into the water” (Ng 154). It really captured through the characters and family dynamic how many secrets we keep and how many lies we tell to ourselves.

This is a great read for those who have suffered similar pressures of the family dynamic and who want a read that will keep you captured from beginning to end. It was thoroughly enjoyable and will hold its readers captive from the first to last sentence. If you are looking for a quick and enjoyable read that runs your emotions all over like a rollercoaster, then crack open this book and find out just what really happened to Lydia.


celeste-ngAbout the Author: Celeste Ng is a writer in Cambridge, Massachusetts (It’s pronounced “-ing.”) Her debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, has won multiple awards and was a New York Times bestseller, Amazon’s #1 Best Book of 2014, and on the Best Book of the Year lists of over a dozen outletsHer second novel, Little Fires Everywhere, will be published in Fall 2017.

Review of “Manual for Cleaning Ladies” by Lucia Berlin

Lucia Berlin’s collection of short stories, A Manual for Cleaning Ladies, takes you everywhere – from Mexico to Colorado, Texas to Chile. This seems fitting, considering Berlin herself jumped from place to place throughout her life. Berlin is known for having based the stories off of her own life, almost to the point of considering them autobiographical and not fictional, and this book of short stories shows that this is true of her writing. The stories are almost always focused on single, divorced women or young girls struggling through the different situations life throws at us and you can’t help but notice that the characters have recurring thoughts, actions, and surroundings. Characters also reappear throughout different stories and the main characters all maintain a very similar persona, which reinforces the feeling that they are all about the author herself. With the rawness and detail that she uses in writing a variety of experiences, Berlin must have lived a thousand lives in order to tell these tales so accurately.

Berlin writes elegantly, but it is what she writes about that keeps a reader engaged. She is unflinching in describing situations that would make many readers uncomfortable – a young girl pulling the teeth from her grandfather, an alcoholic crawling to the store for a fix, a woman preparing to get an abortion. Berlin does not back down from writing about difficult or gruesome subjects; her stories thrive on them. She turns the disturbing into a scene you cannot stop reading, such as when the main character in “Dr. H.A. Moynihan” describes her grandfather after all his teeth have been self-removed. “Without any teeth, his face was like a skull, white bones above the vivid bloody throat. Scary monster, a teapot come alive, yellow and black Lipton tags dangling like parade decorations.” When Berlin tells the story of an alcoholic mother, the woman’s gradual transformation from a barely functioning human to a halfway decent parent sneaks up on the reader, showing how a drink can be the normalizing element for an alcoholic.

And she is not only a powerful writer, but a funny one (granted, the humor is dark in most cases). In one story, she writes of her mother and sister and the ofrendas — a collection of items to welcome the deceased to the afterlife — that accompany them in death. On her mother’s ofrenda, the main character writes that there are “sleeping pills and guns and knives, since she was always killing herself. No noose . . . she said she couldn’t get the hang of it.” Although you don’t want to, you cannot help but laugh at the obvious joke. In another story, she makes a blatant pun about a character’s mistreatment of a police officer when drunk. “I owe Wong one [an apology]. I wronged Wong for sure.”

Berlin’s stories leave the reader wanting more, but shortening the collection could have made for a greater impact. By the end of the 43 short stories, readers could be burnt out from the onslaught of emotions that they produce. Omitting the less powerful stories would allow for some breathing room for the readers, letting them digest the message of each story individually rather than piling them on until they cannot make sense of how they feel.

However, the conclusion of the book is the most impactful. The final story, “Homing,” follows an older, sick woman who seems to be nearing death. She is reflecting on her past as she studies the crows that inhabit the maple in tree in her yard. As she recalls events in her life, she imagines the alternative paths her life might have taken if she had chosen differently, if an earthquake had hit, if she had married someone else. Some of the imagined events connect to stories from earlier in the book, making it seem as though this woman is the narrator from all of them and the reader has become a character in her story. In closing, she decides that whether she had chosen differently or not, “my life would have ended exactly as it has now, under the limestone rocks of Dakota Ridge, with crows.”

The reader can’t help but agree.


lucia-berlin

About the Author: Lucia Berlin (1936-2004, pronunciation: Lu-see-a) published 77 short stories during her lifetime. Most, but not all, were collected in three volumes from Black Sparrow Press: Homesick (1991), So Long (1993), and Where I Live Now (1999). These gathered from previous collections of 1980, 1984, and 1987, and presented newer work.


About the Author of this Post: Michaela Daly is a junior at North Central College and is majoring in English and Journalism. She enjoys short walks to the couch and refrigerator, and all potato-based foods.

Review of “H is for Hawk” by Helen Macdonald

H is for Hawk is a memoir which confronts themes of depression, obsession, and loneliness; all of which Macdonald artfully highlights in her first scene describing the tumultuous “landscape [she’s] come to love very much indeed.” This English landscape is reminiscent of all the grey-scape dreariness that postmodern authors like Thomas Pynchon evoked when describing industrialized Britain; a land of “twisted pine trees, burned-out cars, shotgun-peppered road signs and US Air Force bases.” Macdonald’s self-proclaimed love of the desolate is explored throughout the memoir, with the motif of a lost and desolate world as a common thread.

In the beginning of the memoir, Macdonald’s father passes away from a sudden accident. Macdonald’s emotional foundations are sundered and she is left longing for “that world already gone, [where she] was going for dinner with Christina . . . who’d been there all along, sitting on the sofa when the phone rang.” The death of her father silently kills the world which she lived in.

Macdonald’s isolation and depression also play out in her own attempts to dampen the natural ferocity of her goshawk, a process which is juxtaposed with the futile attempts of the literary giant T. H. White to train his own hawk. Macdonald digs into the life of White and discovers a past of abuse and despair which played out into White’s search to regain that childhood which he felt he has lost. In Macdonald’s desire to relive that time of innocence in which her father was alive, a feeling of deep empathy is established between the two authors.

In one of the most gripping scenes of Helen Macdonald’s memoir, T. H. White wanders a darkened barn after having spent two sleepless nights attempting to break the will of Gos, his temperamental Goshawk. In a manic fervor, White “had refused the humanity in favour of hawks, but he could not escape himself . . . He found himself in a strange, locked battle with a bird that was all the things he longed for, but had always fought against.” It is a jarring scene, as those who are familiar with White know him as the author of The Once and Future King, the man who forged the modern mythos of King Arthur and inspired the countless medieval dreams of children. In this scene, White’s red-rimmed eyes are facing the deep schism that separates his amiable public self and the insecure child buried in his soul.

Macdonald turns towards her relationship with White’s work, specifically the pseudo-autobiographical novel The Goshawk, to confront her own world split in two by grief. She utilizes her pedigree as a research scholar from the University of Cambridge to present a well-detailed and factual historical analysis of the art of falconry and T. H. White’s literary impact, enriching the memoir with a scholarly depth that pairs well with her evocation of raw emotion. The breadth of topics which Macdonald effortlessly blends together is astounding; she proves to be a true artist who understands both complex philosophy and the potential of memoir. Macdonald deconstructs the invisible wall dividing history from present in her deeply personal analysis of White’s literature. However, it is her emotional vulnerability that will draw most readers in; Macdonald’s candid style paints a beautiful picture of the paradoxical mania which brooding depression can cause. Macdonald’s soaring prose combines with an intoxicating topic that allows H is for Hawk’s to sink its talons into readers of any background.


helen-macdonald

About the Author: Helen Macdonald is a writer, poet, illustrator, historian and affiliate at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge. Her books include Falcon (2006) and Shaler’s Fish (2001)

 


About the Author of this Post: Nathan Leatherman is a junior at North Central College majoring in English with a literature focus. He spends his days reading books, braiding his hair, and relaxing next to bubbling brooks. His goal in life is to own a private library/dog hotel.