The Next Big Thing Interview

I was tagged by my fabulous press-mate Wendy Chin-Tanner to partake in “The Next Big Thing” self-interview series. Wendy’s book Turn is forthcoming from Sibling Rivalry Press in March 2014.

I tweaked the questions a bit as they had a prose writer bent to them, and seemed aimed at an unpublished manuscript (and though I have plenty of those, I figured I’d focus on the book that is published).

What is the title of your book?

Skin Shift

Who is the publisher of your book?

I’m proud to say Skin Shift lives at Sibling Rivalry Press under the careful eye of Bryan Borland.

What genre does your book fall under?

Poetry with a dash of essay, pinch of drama, and side of short-story in verse.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

I think the book jacket copy says it best:

Skin Shift assembles a metamorphosis taxonomy in poems that spider spin, that nimbus twirl into Wonder Woman and leap with the Aboriginal kangaroo woman, that escape from a sub-trunk with Houdini and seduce like the Amazon’s pink river dolphin man. Traditional forms morph into experimental narratives, lyrics and dramatic monologues that present an invitation to slip inside the skins of others and to experience the mythologies that resonate in modern times.

Okay, that’s two sentences. Just ignore that little period pause in the middle.

What inspired you to write this book/where did the idea for the book come from?

It sprung from a deep love of mythology and a desire to track how certain myths still resonate in our times, and the pleasurable creative act of updating and recasting those myths in the modern world.  So the Narcissus story gets updated as a technology myth, Echo becomes a pop starlet of the Britney Spears variety, the construct of Uncle Remus taps into the trickster Anasi tradition to confront an ethnographer, the David and Jonathan and Ruth and Naomi love stories of the Bible are transported both culturally to a modern Hispanic immigrant family dynamic and located on a farm.  I’m a sucker for a good origin story.  Especially proto-queer origin stories, and part of the book’s aim is reclamation: queering myth out of a desire to make sure the long hidden or “exists only in subtext” histories of gays and lesbians are preserved and brought to light.  It’s by no means exhaustive, but I tried to have a good representation of stories from around the world, from the Bufeo Coloardo (pink river dolphins) of the Amazon to the Aboriginal how-the-kangaroo-came-to-be.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

It took about 13 years or so to finish the final draft and write all the book’s parts, but the first draft of it probably dates to 2006 or 07, which puts the number of years at 9 or 10 for the first draft.  The oldest poem in the book dates from 1997; it’s gone through some heavy revision, but many of its core lines remain intact. The last poem was written mid-2009.

What are your influences for this book / what other books would you compare this book to within your genre?

Skin Shift has many sources, but is particularly indebted to Alice Fulton’s fractal poetics and Anne Carson’s mashing of essay, poem, drama, lyric all in the same space.  Both of them engage with myth-recasting, too, Fulton in Sensual Math with her updating of the Apollo & Daphne myth, and Carson in Autobiography of Red (and I’m super-excited for Red Doc>, the sequel coming out this year).

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Good question. There are many dramatic monologues in the book and the response I often get from theatre people is “I have to perform poem X on stage!” I’ve even been chatting with my good friend Troy about possibly adapting it for the stage, which would be fun. But I think I’ll make this a reader participation question. Dear readers, who would you like to see perform the following voices from the book (a partial list)?

  • The Fresco Worker
  • Mateus, the animal scientist
  • Bufeo, the pink river dolphin turned man
  • Uncle Remus
  • Aunt Eloe
  • The Ornithologist
  • The Gypsy Woman
  • The Spelunker
  • The Alchemists
  • The Taxidermist
  • The Astronomer
  • Two-Spirit
  • Narcissus
  • Echo
  • Tiresias
  • Rut
  • David
  • Juan
  • and…the “I” closest to speaker-me?

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

It’s oversized (8×10, roughly the size of a graphic novel) and rocks awesome wrap-around cover art by the artist Michael DiMotta.

My tagged writers for next Wednesday (February 13th) are:

Douglas Ray, author of the poetry collection He Will Laugh (Lethe Press, 2012) and editor of The Queer South (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2014)

RJ Gibson, author of the chapbooks Scavenge (Seven Kitchens Press, 2010) and You Could Learn A Lot (Seven Kitchens Press, 2013)