Sarah Lippmann gave RE:Telling a good read and wrote a really nice review over at the PANK BLOG.
Sarah Lippmann gave RE:Telling a good read and wrote a really nice review over at the PANK BLOG.
Peter Jurmu gave Re:Telling a thorough reading over at Open Letters Monthly, pairing us with Robert Coover’s collection A Child Again (McSweeney’s Books, 2005). Strange coincidence that I gave Coover a copy of RE:Telling when he read with us in Providence back in April. The reading was in a bar, so Coover offered to buy me a beer. I said I’d have a Bud Light. He said, If you really want one. He wasn’t pleased with my order. So I said, I’ll have a Guinness. Coover said, That’s better.
Please read Peter Jurmu’s review of RE:Telling and A Child Again at Open Letters Monthly. And please buy me a Guinness next time you see me. Thanks.
In addition to collecting fiction and poetry from thirty accomplished writers, RE: Telling features a folio of acrylic paintings by Teresa Buzzard that re-tell da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” ten times. Buzzard’s work is bold and bright. She mixes exuberance with a sweet humor, and she brings a narrative quality to her subjects.
Your “Mona Teresa” series re-tells da Vinci’s famous portrait. You apply a Mona Lisa treatment to ten iconic figures, Princess Leah from Star Wars, Alex from A Clockwork Orange, Mrs. Potato Head, SpongeBob SquarePants, and others. What was your thinking process behind this series and how did you select your subjects? Is the series ongoing, and if so, who else will get Mona Teresa’d?
My thinking process behind these paintings? I looked at the original Mona Lisa, (which we all know is pretty realistic and warm-toned) and I aimed for the complete opposite. I wanted to get as stylistically far away from the original as possible, yet still have it somewhat recognisable (ergo the kept pose)- and what better re:tells a Renaissance treasure than goofy distorted cartoons? :) Regarding the subject selection, it was purely silly and selfish: I nicked ideas and influences from a few of my favorite things! Initially, the idea was to create a lot of mixed media Mona Lisas from all walks of life… However, once the canvas was cut and primed and had its first taste of acrylic, nearly all of my intentions were abandoned in favor of a new creative creature…
If Ampersand Books has another batch of Re:Tellings as well as a desire to see more Mona Teresas, then count me in for round two! This seems an appropriate place to mourn the Mona Teresas lost in the Great Coffee Spill of 2010; Rest in Peace (or until future restoration) to the Missing Mona Lisa (background fully intact) the Mad Hatter, the Jazz-Inspired, the Pee Wee Herman, the Mardi Gras femme fatale, a Native American beauty, and the Punk Mona Teresa (complete with a mohawk, safety pins, and CBGB shirt). Damn that list, methinks a revival may be in order…
What are the specs on these pieces, that is, what are their sizes, what media did you use, etc? And are the originals for sale (or already sold)?
All of the Mona Teresas are acrylic on canvas, finished with Kamar varnish. I hadn’t originally intended for these paintings to live anywhere but my studio, so the pieces are all various (and somewhat awkward) sizes: The Hollywood inspired is 19x24, Woodstock and Star Wars inspired are 18x24, the Flapper inspired is 16x24, Rainbow Brite and Mrs. Potato Head inspired are 13x15, the Geisha, Burqua-shrouded and Clockwork Orange inspired pieces are 12x16 and the would-be Mr. Squarepants is a diminutive 8x10 on canvas board. There are a few originals still available for purchase, and there will also be prints of all of the paintings available online soon!
Are you primarily a portraitist? If so, can you talk about that? And if not, can you talk about your other painting interests?
Am I primarily a portraitist? Not exactly. I dabble here and there with class assignments- I’m aiming to eventually obtain a Master’s Degree in Art Therapy-it’s a long way away, and I started school a lot later in life than the kids in my classes, but damnit I’m there…that counts, right? I also attend as many local Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School events as I possibly can (life drawing meets burlesque, how can you go wrong? www.drsketchy.com find one near you!)… so, I’m learning new things everyday. Abstract paintings have been fun to create, I love that nearly anything goes with those. I took my first painting class last semester, so I still have a LOT of styles and exercises to explore… I’m excited for new creative adventures!
I like the typewriter still life that you did, but you say that you hate painting still lifes. What do you hate about it? Is there anything in still life painting that you can apply to your portrait work?
Thanks much for digging on the typewriter still life! I’m glad you enjoy it! I suppose I should have been a little less harsh with my wording, hate is a mighty strong word- though I do sincerely dislike still lifes. If I can take a photograph of something, I don’t want to draw or paint it. I want to add my own flair to it, I want to create something new, I want to make it mine. Additionally, I don’t believe I have the patience for details. However, still life sessions are a good lesson in patience and attention to detail, both of which should certainly be applied to portraiture.
What are you working on these days and/or what’s next?
These days I continue to juggle part time work, full time school, family time, creative projects and play. I have an opportunity to assist in teaching a cartooning class at a local art center, with a cool cat I met at a Dr. Sketchy event: Len Peralta (very talented and lots of fun: www.lenperalta.com ). Modeling for and sitting in on his classes have been a blast, and I feel privileged to be able to have an opportunity to do more in this line. I have a few other creative projects swirling around my head, waiting for their chance at fruition. The only tough thing about all of these wonderful things is the honesty in the label “starving artist”- damn the man! One of these days, all will balance out.
Bonus question, I understand that you’ve know Ampersand Books publisher Jason Cook since fourth grade. Has he matured at all since fourth grade? And what stories of his should be re-told?
Like a fine wine, baby! Cook is a rockstar and a monkey fightin’ role model! True story. What’s your definition of “matured” by the way? ;) Seriously though, that kid is a ninja-he makes things happen. Working with him is a great privilege, and being able to call him one of my best friends is even better. All of our adventures the past two decades are in need of some re-telling…Europe, New Orleans, and each of our current ‘hometowns’…no city or continent is safe. Of course, this time with a lot more funding, alcohol and bellydancers.
Read Spencer Dew’s comprehensive review of RE:Telling at decomP.
“The variety of engagement with retelling as act and idea makes this an exciting and intriguing volume.”
Special mentions of retellings by contributors Jim Ruland, Molly Gaudry, Shya Scanlon, and Henry Jenkins.
MICHAEL MARTONE is the author of twelve books of fiction and non-fiction, including Unconventions: Attempting the Art of Craft and the Craft of Art and Double-Wide: Collected Fiction of Michael Martone. His work has been recognized with two NEA Fellowships and the AWP Book Award for Non-Fiction. He teaches in the program for Creative Writing at the University of Alabama.
His contribution to the RE:Telling anthology is “Borges in Indiana,” which is equally about Borges and Indiana. I misled Michael Martone when I requested this Q&A. I promised him a few “softballs,” but then I started him off with a question about his life as a fictional character named Michael Martone. Fortunately, there are no questions that Michael Martone cannot answer. I should have asked more…
In addition to being a contributor to the anthology, you are also one of its subjects. Quoting from Josh Maday’s “Distractus Refractus Ontologicus: The Dissemination of Michael Martone”: “Michael Martone is a mantra, a rosary, a repetition, an incantation that grows slippery…” How does it feel to be the product of another writer’s imagination? Particularly, a “mantra, rosary, incantation”?
How does it feel? And this, you suggest, is a softball question I am to hit out of the park? This semester in Alabama, I offered a graduate class in plagiarism. So your question arrives not just with an anthology that appropriates appropriation but also as another zephyr in the zeitgeist. We are just reading Lewis Hyde’s new book As Common as Air that worries the notion of the cultural commons and intellectual property. Most striking to me is the true radical history of Adams, Jefferson, Franklin who went so far as to write, invent, think things in order to give them away before someone else could copyright or patent those same things. Jefferson’s metaphor is of lighting a candle with the flame of another not diminishing the light, not taking, but adding to the light. It is about the exchange, the transmission. I have felt, for a while, that the machine I am using right now and this network it is connected to will far more efficiently deconstruct the author than any continental essay ever could. Subject? Object? Author? It feels like a warm bath to me, moving from the personal to the massed mass. I feel of the new magazine, The New Anonymous, with its namelessnesses. It feels like the future to me. I just checked. There are 62 Michael Martones on the Facebook right now. I have friended them all. They are all my friends. A Michael Martone, not this Michael Martone, granted an interview published in Meridian. There is another one in Hayden’s Ferry. They are not me, it seems, but they are me. Or they are not I but they are I. I think that if we do this—me, you, Josh—if we are artists at all, the work we do is along the borders, between the boundaries, and the spaces in between. We redraw them. Redefine them. Break and shape the spaces in between. I love the smell of osmosis in the morning. It feels like iodine. It feels like CO2. It feels sublime.
You’ve written stories from the point of view of Derek Jeter, Dan Quayle, Mark Spitz, Audie Murphy, and other figures from pop culture. How do you develop an interior voice for a living character who is so familiar to readers? The Spitz voice is very childlike. Where did that come from?
See above. I steal the voice or perhaps more accurately I tap into the one voice that runs through us all. I like to think that what I do is mythology. I am a mythologist. I am not a writer of new things but only a shaper of shared things already here. No one owned or originated or copyrighted Oedipus and so Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and all the unnamed playwrights could use the circulating story, shape its sonic wave. Oedipus is essentially voiceless, a vessel to be filled. We only think we know someone’s voice. It is ventriloquism and the desire on the audiences’ part to provide the inflection. Spitz, the character himself, is body surfing the wave. His child-like voice is being downloaded from the magazine he is reading, Highlights. Osmosis again. Permeable.
One of the archetypal characters from “Borges in Indiana” is The Comp Lit Student Who Had a Car. I’ve met maybe a dozen writers who have stories of picking up visiting writers at the airport or train station and driving them to campus. Did you ever taxi any famous authors when you were a student? (If not, can you talk about a younger Michael Martone meeting a writer that he admired?)
I drove Czeslaw Milosz from Des Moines to Ames, Iowa, who spoke only in Polish with the Iowa State math professor who came along for the ride. I drove Wendell Berry out to Maurice Talleen’s draft horse farm in the middle of winter, there to inspect Percheron mares and their yearlings steaming in the middle of the night, snow swirling through the flashlight beams. I smuggled Tomaz Salamun across the Mexican border. Driving Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., to a commencement speech in Syracuse. I am sorry I missed a chance to hear John Barth and James Michener talk about the Maryland blue crab.
What are you working on now or what’s on the horizon for you, writerwise?
Four for a Quarter, a book of fictions, comes out this fall. I am finishing a project called Winesburg, Indiana, a hybrid book that is anthology and collection of stories that take place in the town of Winesburg on the Fork River in Northeastern Indiana. I am working on science fiction fictions called Amish in Space. I am working on a book called Philo T. Farnsworth in Fort Wayne. The inventor of electronic television lived in my hometown. A play, Alive and Dead in Indiana,will be produced in several Indiana cities over the next few years. I have begun a new book that rewrites and re-imagines southern icons like the battles of the Civil War and books like To Kill a Mockingbird. And I want to do a book of interviews I have done. I am thinking of calling it You Can Say That Again.
LILY HOANG’S first book, Parabola, won the Chiasmus Press UnDoing the Novel Contest. She is also the author of the novels Changling (Fairy Tale Review Press), which received a PEN Beyond Margins Award, and The Evolutionary Revolution (Les Figues Press). Her newest book is a collaborative collection of short stories called Unfinished (Jaded Ibis Press). This fall she will be joining the faculty at New Mexico State University’s MFA Program. You can find her virtually at HTMLGiant.
KATHLEEN ROONEY is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press and the author of the memoir Live Nude Girl: My Life as an Object (University of Arkansas Press) and the essay collection For You, For You I Am Trilling These Songs (Counterpoint). Her first book of poetry, Oneiromance (an epithalamion) was released by the feminist publisher Switchback Books.
Their story in RE: Telling is “So Cold and Far Away,” a contemporary reimagining of The Book of Ruth with a camera.
WW: Lily, “So Cold and Far Away” is part of your series of collaborative stories called Unfinished (Jaded Ibis). You asked a number of writers to send you their unfinished stories and you finished them. Pretty amazing concept. Can you talk a bit about the project?
LH: A few summers ago, as I was struggling to come up with a new book project, I went through my “trash/story starts” folder and realized that everything I had was really trash, but then, I figured out that if I had so many bad story starts I wanted to throw out, every other writer must too. On a whim, I asked 30 or so of my favorite writers to give me their abandoned stories. I didn’t think it would work. I didn’t really think anyone would send me their unfinished stories. But, within the hour, the ever-generous Brian Evenson gave me four story starts, and each one was more than promising. And so, I started writing.
After I finished each story, I emailed it to the original writer, and depending on the writer’s preference, we either did collaborative edits or the writer completely signed the story over to me.
Unfinished also displays “finished” art. Artist Anne Austin Pearce completed unfinished art by her favorite artists, and they are truly splendid.
WW: Kathleen, what was it like, entering into a collaboration like this?
KR: Lily is an amazing writer in her own right, and a total joy to work with. She is the person you would have wanted to work with you on every group project in grade school ever because she has a ton of energy and completely pulls her weight and then some. A-plus. The first phase of the project was incredibly simple since all Lily needed was the beginning of an abandoned short story, based on which she drafted a completely new piece. Then she and I revised back and forth fairly extensively, and that was super-simple, too, since Lily’s quick on the e-reply and not at all opposed to edits and suggestions.
WW: Your story is a contemporary retelling of the Ruth-Boaz-Naomi story from the Old Testament and the Hebrew Bible. Some biblical scholars see the Book of Ruth as Naomi’s story. But would you say that your re-telling is Ruth’s story? Is it Ruth’s story because she has the camera? How does she possess the power in each relationship?
KR: Lily might answer differently, but I’d say our version is definitely Ruth’s story. Susan Sontag—and lots of other intelligent people who observe such things—has written that the camera can be a stand-in for both a penis and a weapon, specifically a gun. So if you look at it that way (or even if you don’t, and the camera’s “just” a camera) Ruth’s being a photographer does give her a measure of control and at least partial invulnerability in each relationship, even though the relationships are unequal (and not in Ruth’s favor) in other ways.
LH: I love Kathleen’s response, and I agree with it completely. Reading the Book of Ruth growing up, I always wondered why it wasn’t called the Book of Naomi. Throughout our story, Ruth takes back that power, whether it is through the camera—yes! A weapon!—or how she denies Boaz sexual fulfillment. Even with Naomi, Ruth is the one with power.
WW: What other retelling(s) have you done? (If none, can you name a few stories that you think are ripe for retelling?)
KR: On and off for the past ten years or so, since I was finishing up undergrad, I’ve been working on a novel-in-verse based on the life and work of the poet and mysterious disappearee Weldon Kees, using his fictional character, Robinson, as a biographical stand-in for the man himself. The project is finished now, and part of it—the first section, set in New York in the 1940s and early 1950s—was published recently by Greying Ghost Press as a chapbook called After Robinson Has Gone. This project felt like a re-telling, definitely, since I’m actively reimagining Kees’ life and using his own creation to do so, but it also felt like a collaboration or even a translation. Kees is no longer around, obviously—he vanished in 1955—and he and I have never had a conversation, per se, but it feels sort of like I’ve been talking to and working with him for a decade.
LH: In my first book Parabola, I wrote a re-telling of the Adam-Eve-Lilith love triangle. Arguably, my second book Changing is a complete re-telling of the I Ching or Chinese Book of Changes. I also have a forthcoming book called Invisible Women, which is a feminist re-telling of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities.
In general, I’m a big fan of appropriation and often use it as writing exercise in my fiction workshops. Re-tellings engage in an explicit dialogue and offer opportunities to collaborate and pay homage to our writer-heroes.
WW: What are you working on now? What’s next?
KR: Hardly a day goes by that I don’t do some collaborative writing over Gmail with Elisa Gabbert , so I’m always working on a poem of some sort. In terms of solo stuff, I’m in the process of revising the manuscript that I hope will be my first novel, a political coming of age story called (provisionally, anyway) O, Democracy! That’s what’s next from me personally. And Rose Metal Press has just finished an Open Reading Period, so Abby Beckel and I are working on reading submissions for that to figure out what will be next from RMP.
LH: I’m working on a collaborative novel with Molly Gaudry. It’s a long love letter. It’s a funny story because the whole project started because Molly appropriated three love sentences I wrote a year ago. A month ago, we discussed the possibility of doing a big collaborative project and it began with her sentence, which was a mash-up of my three sentences.
Other than collaborations, I only write once a year, during the summer, so I’m just now beginning to think of ideas for a novel, but I’ve recently been pretty obsessed with remote islands. That’s where I think I’m headed, eventually.
Just as a quick pitch: Please look for this anthology I co-edited with Blake Butler called Thirty Under Thirty, due out this summer with Starcherone Books. We have 30 fabulous stories by 32 hot young writers (originally submitted when they were) under 30. It’s been three years since then, so…you know…we age.
Another quick pitch: The gorgeous full color version of Unfinished is available now at Jaded Ibis Press. The black/white version will be released later this summer!
Necessary Fiction is running a RE:Telling contest. Visit their site and post an idea for a story re-telling. Your re-telling can be of a movie, a book, a tv show, a video game, a cartoon, or whatever.The best re-telling idea will win copy of the RE:Telling anthology, courtesy of Steve Himmer, Necessary Fiction Editor.
Entries close at noon, this Saturday, April 2.
Nice review of RE:Telling featured in the new issue of Prick of the Spindle.
Cynthia Reeser, founder/publisher of Prick of the Spindle and Aqueous Books, highlights stories by contributors Matt Bell, Alicia Gifford, Michael Martone, Josh Maday, and Corey Mesler, saying: “(stories) in the collection…refract and distort the original stories as they interpret, re-purpose, and frame anew.”
COREY MESLER has published in numerous journals and anthologies. He has published four novels, a book of short stories, numerous chapbooks and one full-length poetry collection. His workhas been nominated for a Pushcart numerous times, and two of his poems have been chosen for Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac. He and his wife run a bookstore in Memphis.
Your retelling, “The Plot to Kidnap Stonehenge”, features characters from King Arthur, and it’s part of a larger series. What attracted you to these characters?
The Arthurian legends run so deeply through our literature. I think I already had absorbed their wisdom before I even read The Poky Little Puppy. I liked T. H. White’s Once and Future King, but I loved the modern retellings of Thomas Berger (Arthur Rex) and John Steinbeck (The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights), not to mention perhaps the greatest reworking of the myths, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Also, in high school, we did Camelot and two of my best friends were the leads. I learned that play from their rehearsals. The most intriguing element in the legends, to me, has always been the idea that Merlin is living backwards, coming from his old age and the future and moving toward the past and his birth. That spark led to my little bit of frippery.
“The Plot to Kidnap Stonehenge” is told almost entirely in dialogue. I know you’ve used this constraint quite a bit in your writing. What are the benefits to this approach, and what are the challenges?
I fell in love with dialogue, I guess, from reading plays. Pinter, Albee, Beckett, Mamet, these guys were really telling stories as rich as any novel, through dialogue. When I started working on my first novel, Talk, and I hit on the idea of writing the entire thing in unattributed dialogue, I thought, well, this is fun but no one will want to read it. Dialogue is all rhythm. I think I always wanted to be a musician and dialogue is as close to music as writing gets. The real challenge is, of course, to actually tell a story with well-defined characters, and something of a plot. I am still not sure whether I succeeded or not, though some overly kind folks have said I did.
Can you talk about owning and operating an independent bookstore (esp. a bookstore with such history)?
My wife and I bought Burke’s Book Store, a Memphis institution for 125 years, in 2000. This was right before the bottom fell out of the bookselling world. Two things happened simultaneously. The internet was busy being born and the attacks of 9/11 occurred and suddenly brick and mortar businesses, especially ones selling books, especially bookstores built for browsing (like all good used bookstores are), were experiencing a dramatic decrease in foot traffic. We almost went under. With the help of donations from the community, and from the community of writers, we managed to survive. We moved the store 5 years ago to a neighborhood with more pedestrians and, for now, we are doing ok. Not great but ok. The irony of our business, as it stands right now, is that little guys like us are still alive and the big bullies, who moved into the book business and shuttered many small independent stores, are failing. I have no idea where the book business is going right now but it’s a little frightening.
What are you working on now (or what’s up next for you)?
I am readying a few manuscripts for submitting: an Altmanesque novel called Memphis Movie, a crazy-quilt book about Beale Street called Diddy-Wah-Diddy, and another full-length collection of poems. Thanks for asking.