Welcome to Terspischore’s Atrium, where the Hermeneutic Chaos editors find delight in the elfin task of confronting their contributing authors with some really tough questions.
Today Shinjini Bhattacharjee will interview Jeanne Lyet Gassman, whose flash fiction, ‘Nearer, My God, To Thee’ appeared in our inaugural issue. Please visit it here, and then come back to enjoy the interview.
1. Do you think that violins are the best storytellers?
A well-played violin is an excellent story-teller. When I think about the great violin concertos–the Brahms, the Mendelssohn, the Beethoven, or the Tchaikovsky–I am reminded of stories of love, loss, and spiritual enlightenment. Even the pure melodies of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons narrate tales of changing and imperious weather.
2. Do you see RMS Titanic as Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde?
The RMS Titanic is definitely a Mr. Hyde, a tormented being that destroyed the lives of others.
3. Which musical instrument would you like to be in order to please your alarm clock?
If I had to choose, I would be not one instrument, but a full orchestra, with a wide range of dynamics, tempos, harmonies, and melodies. Each instrument serves a purpose to enrich and support the others.
4. How do you think should writers interpret historical events in their works?
History is a set of facts related to an event, but it’s not a story. One shouldn’t change the essential facts, of course, but there is still a certain amount of fluidity in the interpretation and slant of those facts. The writer should view historical events as a springboard for a story about the human condition: How did those events change our characters? What impact did our characters have on the events themselves?
5. Are you more comfortable being a writer or an author?
The term “author” conveys a level of gravitas, of influence and power. Most writers do not call themselves “author” until they have published a book. I have been a “writer” for as long as I can remember, crafting stories and poems, but it would be nice to be called “author” when I have a published book. I like gravitas.
6. Tell us something about your latest literary venture Blood of a Stone. What inspired the title?
My novel, Blood of a Stone, is a literary historical novel set in first century Palestine. The main character, Demetrios of Tiberias, is a child slave who murders his abusive Roman master and creates a new life and identity in Galilee. When his business partner exposes the truth about Demetrios’s past, Demetrios sets out to silence those who could bring him to justice. His quest eventually leads him to fall in love and find redemption in a very unexpected manner. During the revision process for my publisher, Tuscany Press, the book became more textured and complex, with a cast of complicated characters who make dangerous choices. This isn’t the first novel I’ve written, but it will be the first novel I’ve published. The title derives from the inciting incident when Demetrios, after being whipped by his master, fights back by crushing his master’s skull with a stone inscribed with the initials of the master and a former lover.
7. In your writing classes and workshops, how do you manage to synchronize diffident heterogeneous creative ideas?
Perhaps the answer to this question lies in the definition of the brainstorming process. When brainstorming, all ideas are good and worthy of consideration. One doesn’t reject anything until after the brainstorming session is ended, and then one begins to look for the connections. My workshop students write everything from memoir to poetry to science fiction to young adult to literary and almost anything in between. The sheer diversity enriches us all. That said, there are some basic tenets of craft that apply to almost any genre:
1) Does the piece achieve the writer’s goal?
2) Does the writer use metaphor, imagery, dialogue, and narrative effectively?
3) Does the writer have a solid command of language, spelling, syntax, and grammar?
As a teacher, I work to respond to the needs of my students, to make them better writers in whatever genre they pursue.
8. Name a despot sitting on your writing desk.
Ah, this one is easy. My despot is our very cranky cat, who sincerely believes he allows me to use his desk. I have to ask him nicely to move if I need more space to work. My internal despot would be the nefarious deadline–both self-imposed and that of editors and publishers.