Friends — I have this idea. Periodically I want to interrupt whatever I’m doing on Magically Real so that I can ask writers I respect and admire 5 questions, which they will then answer. I’m doing this so that we’ll have the opportunity to hear their own unique geniussy take on writing world. Along the way, I can share some of their new writing in the context of their own thoughts about making word-art.
First in this perhaps-series is Stacey Levine. I reviewed Stacey’s story collection The Girl in Brown Fur for the LA Review a few years ago and I loved the book so much I felt that I had to try to meet the author. As luck would have it, I moved to the Pacific Northwest and that happens to be where Stacey is. I met her for coffee a while ago and found talking to her inspiring and energizing. I think you’ll find her energizing too.
You can read Stacey’s latest story, Brown Seaweed Soup online at the Brooklyn Rail.
5 questions for Stacey Levine
1. What was the initial impulse for the Brown Seaweed Soup story? Do you remember the inspiration? If you don’t, please still talk about the process of writing the story.
I remember a student turned in a writing assignment about a certain soup in which the sentences’ and paragraphs’ unwitting repetition and subject-verb structure struck me as very musically beautiful. I wanted to try doing that. I wanted to tie it to something meaningful, as food often is for humans; that was the assignment I’d given to my students, anyway. But I wanted to twist the assignment around further so the narrator would become injured! A tad of research showed me that brown seaweed soup is considered near-medicine in some cultures.
So I began with those notes.
2. When you write are you trying to consciously say something/ask something? If so, what are you saying/asking and if not what are you doing?
When writing, I’m usually setting aside conscious decisions for the time being in order to see what the collective mind spits out! 🙂 After that, I layer on the questions such as: Who is this person (i.e., a narrator or character). How can x or y experience be conveyed without long-winded realistic detail or blatant exposition, so the experience itself can be felt with verbiage less in the way?
3. Why, in your opinion, is writing fun/interesting/maddening/other word here? to make?
A poet friend of mine makes extra money by reading tarot cards. Naturally, I violently pigeonholed and made mirth of her tarot practice, until she explained how very similar the tarot-game is to writing. You pull out random images (cards) from the deck and work/play with the symbol. It’s divine. You can make something, then make it new all over again because the symbolic world of language, sounds, images, ideas, and personhood is so rich. That’s why writing’s fun.
4. When did you know you wanted to be a writer and what authors do you yourself read?
I must’ve known in elementary school, when I wrote a short story in class called “The Washing Machine Bears.”
Like you, I also like Henry James. Lately I’ve been reading and loving Christina Stead, Barbara Comyns, and Robert Aickman.
5. Any advice out there for writers trying to work with expressionism, surrealism, magical realism and other forms of nonrealistic writing?
One reviewer scoffed (in writing) at one of my books, calling it “MFA fiction.” My advice is don’t let those types get you down! Non-realism isn’t something dreamed up by American MFA kids to submit to “indie” magazines. It’s been a major current in world literature (and film) for a hundred years. Oh yeah and I don’t even have an MFA!
6. Bonus question OR substitute this for any one of the previous 5. What question do you WISH someone would ask you about your writing? Then answer it.
I guess I’d like to be asked what fairy tales and dreams have in common. Part of the answer is I think they feel uncanny because they exhibit what we already desire or know, and they employ the same structural gambits like long, involved, nonsensical searches and at least while you’re reading or experiencing them, they appear to lack any psychological meaning or motivation.
THANK YOU STACEY!