Interview with Stephanie Gangi, Author of THE NEXT

In honor of the paperback release of THE NEXT, one of Library Journal's Best Books of 2016, I am posting our earlier interview with Stephanie Gangi. You can find her lovely personal essay on this website.
First, a few words about her:  Stephanie Gangi lives, writes and goes to her day job in New York City. She is a poet, a fiction writer, and at work on personal essays and her second novel.
SARETT:  It’s hard to believe this is your first novel-- the writing’s so vivid.  Had you written other novels before THE NEXT?
Gangi: Well, thank you, but No! I have made a dozen starts over the years, crates full of beginnings. I always knew I was a writer, but I spent much too long considering it my ‘hobby’. Crazy!
SARETT:  Which came first for you -- the story or the character of Joanna?
Gangi: Joanna came first. I wanted to write about a complicated, complex woman, an angry woman who can not reconcile the disappointments that life delivers, and is determined to finally unleash her rage. I myself am not terribly angry (until the election, of course), or if I am, I manage to redirect or channel that anger, as many women have been trained to do. I wanted to to just let my Joanna rant against heartbreak, aging, sickness, invisibility, inevitability.

SARETT:  The novel is about after-life, of a sort.  Do you believe that we do experience “life” after death?  That we have souls, for example?  
Gangi: I actually don’t believe we experience life after death, but I must say, as I get older and wiser and more reflective, it’s become harder for me to accept that all the energy we’ve generated – all the love – just dissipates. I guess I think – hope – there could be some sort of cosmic consciousness, to where all our best energies – our souls – are drawn when we leave this plane of existence. A giant magnet, pulling the best part of each of us into a big love cloud.
SARETT:  Many writers love ghost stories- and so do I! I’m a huge fan of Edith Wharton’s ghost stories.   Were you a fan of ghost stories before writing THE NEXT?  
Gangi: Honest answer is no, although Wharton is the exception. I thought the ghost concept was a strong metaphor, though, and the more I wrote into it, the more comfortable I became with it. Women of a certain age made invisible by society, existing outside reality when you are sick, technology harboring the ghosts of our many selves in the machines. And I loved the idea of a contemporary ghost in NYC, mingling with all the other ghosts, playing with how she would operate, how she would use her invisibility to take what she wants. Or thinks she wants!

SARETT:  Your angry heroine did bring to mind the great Fay Weldon.  Was she an influence in your writing?  Any other style muses?
Gangi: Thank you for that! There’s a deep morality in her work, and a worldview that is tough and authentic and feminist. On top of that, she’s a satirist and funny, which is so hard to do. I’ve heard from readers that they’ve laughed out loud reading The Next, so if I’ve come close to Weldon stylistically, I’m thrilled.
As far as ‘style muses,’ I can only respond as a reader. I’ve been drawn to an ironical, cynical voice that thinly veils blinding passion and despair! I’m thinking of Heller, Vonnegut, Tom Wolfe, DeLillo, and an heir of theirs, the great Anthony Mara. Combine all that with my love of commercial fiction (Gone Girl comes to mind), and I’d say my “style” lies therein. I aspire, anyway.

SARETT: Joanna, your ghost heroine, is hell-bent on revenge-- and yet the object of her affections is a second rate guy.  To me, that felt like a feminist statement (funny, but biting) about how much time women waste on unworthy men -- was that your intent?
Gangi: I’m not sure I was successful with the Ned character if he comes across as ONLY unworthy. I hoped to show that Ned is driven by his own demons – alcoholic mother, closeted dad, a deep-down romantic streak he tamps down for his ambition. It’s true that ultimately, he is a guy -- non-communicative, selfish, a survivor at all costs. Ned is aware of what he has lost and how he himself is responsible. I hoped he was redeemed somewhat by his awareness?  
And yes, it was my intent to “use” Ned as a feminist’s foil … but also to show that Joanna was complicit. After all, she was pursuing vanity by getting involved with a younger guy, and on a deeper level – his desire helped her feel healthy. Stay alive. Helped her talk herself into believing their love could heal her.
I will say that the verdict is split. Half of my readers hate him, the other half are sympathetic to him.
SARETT:  Most novels have a mix of real and invented details?  What’s the mix in THE NEXT?
Gangi: Maybe, 60/40? The outline is close: I’ve had breast cancer. I have a big dog. I live in Manhattan. My own parents died suddenly. I’ve been divorced. I have daughters. But, I have also had great men in my life. Sure, I’ve had disappointments, but I’ve not experienced the level of betrayal that Joanna does! Unlike Joanna, I’m a blessings-counter. Unlike Joanna, I have no doubt where love lies – I have two wonderful daughters, family and friends that support me and care for me, a world of love I could never neglect to tend to my fury. Unlike Joanna I try and take a hard look at my own part in life’s disappointments. What choices did I make that I don’t want to repeat? She doesn’t wake up to that until it’s too late.

SARETT:  Lots of writing rules out there.  Is there any writing rule that you secretly enjoy breaking?    
Gangi: Yes! I did unleash an angry woman. I knew that would be controversialm and I was worried it would render The Next un-commercial. But the team at St. Martin’s embraced the book from the beginning, never once suggesting I tone Joanna down. Also, I alternated first and third person perspectives. I’ve heard from one illustrious editor that it’s almost impossible to do well, so I’m glad I stuck with the choice. I didn’t want a full-on rant to overtake the story. I needed to head-hop between characters, to show the impact Joanna’s death has on them. Grief is a complicated process – we don’t turn into saints when someone we love dies. We who are left behind remain our messy selves, and I wanted to show that through Jo’s daughters, Ned and even Tom, the dog.

SARETT:  Humor is a tough game-- and there’s that saying death is easy, comedy is hard.  How do you keep it funny?
Gangi: I think I am funny in real life. I can be irreverant and quick, maybe a little bawdy at times. I think life is funny, and people are funny, and even illness is kind of ridiculous. I think women are very very funny, and thankfully, recently, less afraid to reveal it lest men find it unattractive. I tried to channel all that, and then make it less specific to me, more universal. I’m glad you think I’ve succeeded! I wanted The Next to be funny and tragic. Like life.

SARETT:  My blog readers are always looking for new books.  Are there new fiction books that you’d recommend?    
Gangi: These are my most recent reads:
Bad Marie by Marcy Demansky
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolsoy
The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt
The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman
H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald (nonfiction)
Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan (nonfiction)
Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (Poems)

Find her:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/author.stephaniegangi/
Twitter: @gangi_land
Instagram: stephaniegangi

Buy the paperback at Amazon and if you enjoyed The Next, please leave a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads. They are so important for debut authors.



Author Interview with Robin Rule



Today's interview is with Robin Rule, who has written a coming of age novel, TRAILER FOR RENT:  THE REDBUD JANE STORIES.  I first met Robin Rule online, where I fell in love with her poetry.  I have subsequently visited her in "real life" as we say, in her lovely house in Willits, California.  

A few words about her:  Robin Rule has been a writer since she was twelve years old. She has been the recipient of a California Arts Council Fellowship in Literature. She's read at Club des Poesie in Paris. She has also read in colleges, coffeehouses, and bookstores throughout the great Northwest.  Robin has read on radio stations in Mendocino County to Bay Area's  KPFA.



SARETT:  Your heroine in TRAILER FOR RENT:  THE REDBUD JANE STORIES lives in a trailer.  What's the most unusual place you've ever lived?
RULE:  I have lived in a caboose for the last twenty years and it’s a magical kind of living. I have to think about where goes what because there is very little space in a room that is eight feet wide by eighteen feet long. The two ‘rooms’ can be described as parlor and kitchen and that archway truly helps keeps them separate. The parlor is lined with glassed book shelves, some filled with books and some with bird nests, eggs,  fossils, all sorts of wondrous natural history. It was moved to our little town in 1906 as emergency housing after the big San Francisco earthquake and then in 1945, two tiny bedrooms were added on with a jacknjill bathroom between the two.

SARETT:  You're known for your poetry, which I admire greatly.  How was writing this different from writing poetry (or is it the same?)
RULE:  In poetry, I tend to throw out words. In writing prose, I found myself having to write ‘more’, explain in a bigger sense of the world. I have an earlier book of just four short stories that was written more on a poetic bent; so this was entirely different for me and entirely pleasurable to really get to describe. Oh, and dialogue! I love writing dialogue. I hadn’t realized just how exacting it was, but I loved making my characters come alive with talking. I feel like I have a ‘way with words’ when it comes to dialogue.  I seem to know how to become eleven or fifteen and write for that audience; even though my poetry is strictly adult written and for adult-reading.


SARETT:  Are there any writing rules you secretly enjoy breaking?
RULE: I have to confess that I didn’t pay attention in Grammar class. A writer friend says I keep dangling my participles and I don’t even know what that means. I am a lot like my main character, I must say. Kids, pay attention in Grammar is what I ought to say!


SARETT: OK, let's have fun,  if TRAILER FOR RENT gets turned into a movie, who plays the lead?  Music?
RULE: I just saw “Gifted” which stars McKenna Grace and she is so much like Redbud Jane, I was amazed as I watched that very excellent film. Hollywood would have to hurry up, because she’s not going to stop growing and she is just right.  

My novel is set it in the early sixties, though I never say that. It’s obvious only in the music I mention in the stories. I’d love Bob Dylan’s “New Morning” to be the soundtrack if that mythical movie is ever made. 



SARETT: TRAILER FOR RENT is a book about a girl's childhood.  What were some of your favorite books about childhood when you were a kid?  
RULE: My fifth-grade teacher gave me, The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald and I was hooked. My favorite book from back then and in many ways still is, was written by Kate Douglas Wiggins, Mother Carey’s Chickens.  Of course I loved The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, by Frances H. Burnett; and I also loved and have a first edition of Peter and Wendy by Sir James Barrie.  I began collecting Barrie’s books at a young age and have nearly everything he’s ever written. I love Louisa May Alcott as well.  I also loved The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes, and the many children’s books by Rumer Godden.

You can order the paperback through Amazon here:  TRAILER FOR RENT


Special blog offer: order a personally signed copy from RAINY DAY WOMEN PRESS, PO 1085, Willits, CA 95490.  Cost is $17.00, which includes shipping. 
  

Rediscovering Female Authors: Barbara Trapido

I wish I could claim that I "discovered" Barbara Trapido on my own.  But, it seems the Lauren Groff and Maria Semple and Elizabeth Gilbert have beat me to it.  After reading three of her novels, I join the fan club -- Barbara Trapido is now firmly in my personal Canon.

Why?  Well, for one, wit and soul is hard to find, and Trapido offers it in spades.  In these days of self-consciously dark novels, Trapido offers us the gift of a happy ending.  And no, she doesn't skip over the sad, gut-wrenching mis-steps that lead to it.  

No surprise that Trapido is called a latter-day Jane Austen.  For once, that title is well-earned, Trapido gets to the core of Austen, which is her ability to define the changing, slippery shapes of happiness. The world's delicious, but it tastes different from what you expect.

Trapido's first novel, BROTHER OF THE MORE FAMOUS JACK, is a joy.  The heroine, Katherine, meets an eccentric family in whom, she senses, intellectual kinship. Austen fans are not surprised that the family has two attractive sons, and it goes without saying that, like Austen's Emma, Katherine picks the wrong one.  The romance is short, but painful -- and it leads to even more heartbreak.  Trapido could easily dump Katherine in that bleak pit; but that's not what she's about.  In her world, women climb out of pits, and make homes, families, even great art.

Another thing:  in Trapido, first loves and first hurts don't vanish.  First loves aren't about the man, Trapido knows, they are one version of our lives, our selves.  First loves remind us of past selves, and they hang around-- in a good life, we weave them into a new, imperfect reality.  Trapido has no illusions about the political or social imperfections.  Happy endings are not smooth, or predictable, because people aren't-- and Trapido's eager to capture the surprises in store.

Even better, Trapido follows her characters in subsequent novels.  I've already ordered them.



.  

My Interview in The Leaving Years

Author Kathryn Kopple interviews me today for her new blog, The Leaving Years.  Kathryn asked intriguing questions, and I had fun answering them while I waa traveling and contemplating future departures in my life.

You can read the interview in her blog.  http://theleavingyears.blogspot.com/2017/06/interview-with-carla-sarett.html

Case of the Prendergast Blues

Don't get me wrong.  I have nothing against artists, and nothing in particular against Maurice Predergast-- an artist I regard as harmless, and occasionally decorative.  But sometimes, I have to wonder.

This week, I had the ostensibly good fortune to attend The Philadelphia Museum of Art's, American Watercolor in the Age of Homer and Sargent.  The show is an unqualified success for the Museum.  On weekends, lines were long enough to take a half hour before patient museum-goers were rewarded with entry.  Crowds of people squeezed into every room, most of them with their audio-tour glued to their ears.  Seeing the paintings involved a tricky process of delicately peering over shoulders, or strategically waiting for a lull-- a short lull, to be sure, since the crowds were unending.  In short, a blockbuster show.

I imagine most of the show's visitors had come in from Philadelphia's suburbs -- and unsurpisingly, most of the crowd was female.  Unsurprisingly, because watercolors are a favorite of women -- and historically, women have excelled at this form.  In fact, several of America's great watercolorists were female.  It is one form where you do not have to look far to find women.

Except that you would never guess that fact from The Philadelphia Museum's watercolor exhibition.  Their pressing question for visitors was who was the greater?  Winslow Homer or John Singer Sargent?  Talk about questions no one needs to answer.

Artist:  Marion Wachtel 
But stumbling, hot and tired, through the rooms, my friend and I were struck with how few female watercolorists were represented.  Two by the great Massachusetts artist, Fidelia Bridges, one apiece from the Bryn Mawr women (Jessie Wilcox Smith, Elizabeth Shippen Green, Violet Oakley) despite their importance to Philadelphia.  A lively colorful Alice Schille that immediately made me want to see more.  And of course, the requisite Georgia O'Keefe (who had almost no relationship to Homer or Sargent.)

Where, I thought, was Marion Wachtel?


She was born in 1873, the daughter of an artist.  She became a student of  William Merritt Chase, studied at the Art Institute, and later became a member of the New York Watercolor Society.  Her watercolor landscapes are luminous and beautiful.

But need I mention that no one remembers Watchtel.  On the other, Maurice Prendergast (born in 1858 in Canada) is a fixture in America's museums.  He had as many as four (perhaps five) watercolors in the Philadelphia show-- all of them unremarkable to my eyes.  I don't want to pose the question of who was the greater watercolorist, Marion Wachtel or  Maurice Prendergast?

I would simply ask museums to allow us to pose it.





     

Story for April Fool's Month: Leon's Experiment

For April Fool's Month, a comic tale that first appeared in 559 Quarterly. 

Leon’s Experiment
Carla Sarett

Everyone has a worst Christmas present story.  Usually, in my experience, it is the ugly red sweater that you thought only your worst enemy would foist upon you; but instead, it came from your mom, with a kiss.  But my pal Natalie Tinker (now, Dr. Natalie Tinker-Bruner—and a fine dermatologist, should you desire Botox) had the story that topped them all – the very worst gift ever, “in the history of presents, in the history of Mankind.”
Now, Natalie Tinker loved getting presents, and in fairness to her, her gifts were meticulously planned.  She was the type to send a singing pajama-gram on your birthday—yes, I got one.  So, for her first Christmas with her boyfriend, Dr. Leon Blum, the bar was high.  It was their first “holiday season” as a couple.  “Don’t worry,” he said, “you won’t forget this one.” 
Two days before Christmas Eve, Natalie’s wait ended.   “From Leon,” the messenger said in an official manner- and handed her a large, shoebox-like package, wrapped in silvery paper with tiny words on the outside. Natalie skipped the words—since who has time for that?  Inside was another box.  Then there was another, and another; each wrapped in shiny paper and each with words on it.  Finally, she came to a tiny box, wrapped in paper.  She opened it.  
It was empty.  Natalie turned it upside-down and shook it fiercely, for Natalie had quite a temper. Defeated, she re-assembled the boxes, folded the silvery paper, and dumped them in the recycling bin at the end of her hallway. 
She called me and everyone she’d ever known to tell the horror of her Christmas.   “I’m so done with Christmas,” she said.  “I cannot believe this happened.  He said I’d never forget it, and I won’t.” 
Even after she wed Bud Bruner (of Bruner, Bruner and Bruner,) Natalie repeated her tale of the empty box every chance she got.  In fact, to be honest, we all got tired of it. The odd thing was that Leon never called her again--not even a text.  “Men are seriously damaged,” said Natalie, and who could disagree? 
But years later, I heard the real ending from a new faculty member, Sarah.  Sarah, it must be said, was Natalie’s opposite in looks and temperament. Whereas Natalie was impulsive and skinny, Sarah was contemplative and plump.  Natalie raced through life, and Sarah liked to examine things from every angle.  At our Christmas faculty party, Sarah made a strange confession.  She said, “If it weren’t for Christmas, I wouldn’t be married.  It’s a strange story.”
“I’m all ears,” I said.
A few Christmases ago, Sarah was feeling low.  Her boyfriend had left town without a good-bye.  She had no plans except a stack of detective novels, and the prospect of Law and Order re-reruns. Plus, she had forgotten to buy wrapping paper, of all things.  Sarah came upon a happy solution:  use magazines and newspapers and make collages from them.  That would be unique, cost effective, not to mention environmentally sound.  Off she went to the recycling bin – and discovered a fabulous array of boxes and paper, on the very top of the bin.  Scooping them up, she felt triumphant (and virtuous) at having solved her problem.    
Sarah (being Sarah) carefully inspected her booty.  On the boxes, she found quotes from poems—Frost, Donne, Yeats.  The boxes fit together perfectly—and best of all, at the bottom of the innermost box were the words:  if you want your present, be at ___ (the note named a bar) at midnight, Leon.  Sarah threw on a dress and cowboy boots, and showed up at the bar at midnight.
She saw a young bearded man, sitting nervously.  He was wearing a black turtleneck, and looked lonely.  She waited to see if a woman arrived and then she marched over.  “You are Leon?” she said as she sat down. 
“I am Leon,” he said.  “Did Natalie send you?”
“Sorry, I don’t know Natalie,” said Sarah. 
“That’s not good,” he said, morosely. 
“My name is Sarah Holliday.  I guess you’re disappointed.”
“I won’t lie,” he said.  “I expected someone else. But experiments don’t always work out in the way we plan.”
“The ways of mice and men,” agreed Sarah, nodding sadly. 
“My design was overly complicated.  It’s my fault.  I over-think, and everything gets messed up, like this.”
“Well, you have to pick your subjects better.  Whoever threw it out – this Natalie-- wasn’t right for this particular experiment.  She wanted something easy, I think.” 
“Maybe,” he said.  “How did you find the boxes, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“Recycling bin,” she confessed.
“Do you often sort through garbage?  Not that recycled goods are garbage, but…”
“Garbage is a harsh word,” she said.  “There’s great stuff there, and it’s free.  And why waste money on wrapping paper?  That is why they call it recycling, right?”
“And do you read other people’s mail?”
“Hmm, I guess you could call me nosey.  But if it’s in the bin, it’s fair game.  Bins are public.  It’s like digging in a quarry—that’s not snooping. It’s like science.”
“True,” he said. 
  “Anyway, people don’t throw out love letters. I never would, not in a million years, not for all the money in the world.”
“No, you wouldn’t,” he said.  “But how did you know that I’d be here?”
“Oh, easy,” she said.  “The package was on top of the bin. So, I figured the recipient had just thrown it out.  And only a romantic guy would do this, the type that waits around.  It was a logical deduction.”
 “Wow, my experiment worked,” said Leon. 
He handed her a tiny box, in which there was the ring he’d bought for Natalie—and the ring slid on Sarah’s finger as if made for her.  She tried to take it off, but Leon wouldn’t hear of it.  And finally, after some back and forth, they agreed: in exchange for the ring, Sarah would cook him a real Christmas dinner.  Sarah was an excellent cook.
“I make a killer chicken,” said Sarah Blum.  “And you know what they say, the way to a man’s heart…”
“All’s well that ends well,” I said as I opened Sarah’s gift to me—it was some sort of wine gadget that I’d never figure out in a million years.  “I’m glad this didn’t come from a garbage bin.”
“Garbage is a harsh word,” she said, laughing.    

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...