Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Interview with Stacey Levine

1. Is Munson a real place? Is it completely imaginary or did your personal past experiences create Munson?

Munson is fictional—-a representation of a small town. I intended the representation to both echo and tweak/play with the lived experience of living in a place like that. Writers brings their experiences to writing—it’s unavoidable. It’s preferable that this happen, in any case. So yes, of course I considered, drew on, my own experiences in order to create the setting.

Did you design the appearance of the book? What is the significance of the size and appearance of the book?

I did not design the book, though I was asked if I preferred the fuchsia color on the cover to a brown/tan cover. I said I preferred the brown one and they ignored me! The book was one of many interesting volumes published by Clear Cut Press ( www.clearcutpress.com ) between 2003-2006 or so. It is/was an endeavor that experimented with business models and sought unique ways to get books into readers’ hands. Clear Cut developed a very specific aesthetic regarding their books, designing pocket-sized volumes similar to paperback books in Japan. They were edited and designed by some very talented folks. The books were printed in Asia and distributed through not only networks of friends and small businesses, but through some major distributors.

Do you consider yourself and/or Frances Johnson avant garde? If so, what about the book makes it avant garde?
I have serious doubts as to whether the avant-garde really exists in today’s culture of hypercapitalism. In order for the avant-garde to exist, there would need to be a space in the culture for provocative, outsider art that has no overt goal of gaining publicity or monetary worth. This culture doesn’t support that. In addition, the society would need to be more uniform, less fragmented, in order to support a renegade or underground aesthetic. Did you touch on things like this in class?

What is the significance of Munson and Little Munson?

I am interested in fictional expressions of dominance/deference and strength/weakness, as in litters of rats or cats in which one baby tends to grow fatter while others grow leaner or runtish. This can happen in personal, social, business, and other relationships too.

Why is Frances Johnson the only person in Munson who questions her life and her surroundings?
She’s really not the only person who questions these things: Ray and Kenny do, to some degree, too. Frances is a version of the stereotypic young person who embarks on the stereotypic journey to discover who he/she is, and that requires questioning the life she has led up to that point. The book is meant to slightly spoof “coming-of-age” novels and also old romance novels.

A few symbols seem to repeat in the book: volcano, annual town dance, oil, and the raisin in Nancy's car. What is their significance?

I try to not think of these as symbols; I was trying to get away from that. Instead, I wished these to contain the oddness of things we encounter in our lives and culture, weird features of the world that we try to make sense of. The struggle here for me as a writer is that it is impossible to avoid symbols. History and culture has trained us in the art of seeing/interpreting them. So it was a fun but failed experiment. That said, all these elements you mention, such as the volcano, have qualities that correlate to the characters in a psychological way. I wouldn’t pin it down to a specific meaning, like the volcano = pent-up anger, but more to a dream-like sense that these features kind of suit the characters and story.

Why are the townfolks so obsessed with Doctor Carol's marriage to Frances?
The townfolks are the resistance to Frances’ growth as an individual. I’m sure if you’re around 17-22 years old, you may have experienced something like this--some force in your world that asks you not to do the things you want, and proposes another plan that is disappointing or frustrating to you.

What is the purpose of asking rhetorical questions about Frances.
The rhetorical questions are partly compositional. I thought the narrative would look prettier with the interruptions of these sentences. They are so different-looking from the rest of the book’s declarative sentences. The questions also simply echo and/or refract the theme of the book, which has to do with Frances becoming individuated, whole, and separate from the town of her origin.

What is the purpose of the ballerina? Is she a reflection of Frances' feelings?
Doesn’t the ballerina, Linda Del-Adam, inspire the admiration of Frances’ mother? If so, how do you think Frances would react to another girl gaining her mother’s approval, while the mother is simultaneously critical of Frances?

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