Category Archives: Books & Literature

Jessie Mann Interview

Jessie Mann is a Virginia-based writer and artist. Her artwork has been exhibited in galleries such as Zone Chelsea (New York), The Reynolds Gallery (Richmond, VA), as well as Nelson Fine Arts (Lexington, VA), and XYZ (Blacksburg, VA). Her writing has appeared in Aperture and Shots magazine. Jessie is also one of the best known models and muses of our generation, known for her collaboration with her mother, the photographer Sally Mann, and photographer Len Prince. (The collaboration with Prince is represented by Danziger Projects.) Jessie is a graduate of Washington & Lee University.

Wayne: Photographer Walker Evans originally wanted to be a writer; Zola was an avid photographer, though obviously, we best know him as a writer. Why is it difficult to be great as both a writer and a visual artist? Why do you have aspirations to be both?

Jessie: I don’t think it is particularly ‘hard’ to be a great writer and visual artist, but it is hard to be recognized for doing both. The public needs to be able to conceive of its public figures in discrete categories. Furthermore, I think there is a prejudicial need for creative energy to be in discrete quanta. The romantic notions we have of creation and the creative individual are such that a painter is a painter, and was born to be a painter, and therefore how could they also be able to write or perform? There is a sense that being an artist is like being a chess savant, it is an inexplicable and slightly alienating skill, one which does not arise out of the normal psychological makeup of an individual but rather is something akin to psychic ability; that it comes from somewhere else, from outside of the mind. In that way it is seen as an assignment, rather than a choice of expression. Therefore to attempt to express oneself in a variety of media challenges both people’s ability to hold the artist and their form of expression neatly in a category but also their conceptions of artistic creativity itself. I do not have aspirations to do both, I just do both. I have found that I have no choice in my expression. It pours out of me like water over falls, I just try to find the nearest bucket, when one overflows, or is full already, I find another. It is necessity, not planned intention.

Wayne: In the past, there was much less of a line between visual art and text: the illuminated manuscripts of medieval times, notably – Asian calligraphy also. Why do you think text and art have diverged so much? Why do we sometimes see text in your paintings? You have credited Cy Twombly for influencing you; how so? Besides Twombly , what other literary references do we see in your paintings?

Jessie: I think it might have started, like so many other things, with the printing press. Maybe, when the application of words to paper became automated and in a way institutional, the process no longer required the physical act of writing and it became separated from our direct creativity. Furthermore, I think that the separation has been part of the abovementioned need to put artistic expression, a messy and unorganized concept, into neat boxes. Therefore words were words and not a visual experience, visual art became more itself, and so became both more exclusive but also more self aware and self consciously developed. In that way it was a good thing, I don’t know if we could have had artists like Flavin who deal with the visual experience in such an isolated way had we not isolated the visual experience. The drawbacks to this phenomenon are now just an opportunity to reunite and reexamine.

Twombly influenced me in two main ways, the first being that he is a family friend, and so he was the first successful painter I was able to watch and study on a personal level. He taught me about what a painter does, how they live and what the personal consequences of such a lifestyle are. Secondly his work, I think, is the first to have self consciously included consciousness. It is as if he has applied, like a glaze to the surface of a painting, thought. That is revolutionary and, given my background in psychology, it is very appealing to me. The study of consciousness is an exploding field, and he predicted that with his work. For the first time we are scientifically studying consciousness itself, and it seems appropriate that our art should reflect that direct stare. I bring everything that I read to my work, and am often inspired to paint by what I am reading, for example I read Heidegger’s Introduction to Metaphysics when I first moved into this house, and then began a series about the concept of Dasein, often incorporating his words into my paintings, as if I could, like Twombly, both present the image and to some extent that thought which provoked it. Which is an interesting synthesis: it asserts a connection between thought and image, or even the primacy of thought over image or maybe vice versa, that’s a whole other matter I am not going to get into. Given that my paintings also deal with landscapes, it is a way to remind people that the image is not a representation of the world out there, but a representation of my digestion and perception of the world out there, sort of perception meets consciousness.

Wayne: You have said before that you live with “just me and my books.” What kind of reading habits do you have? Why is literature so important to you? Can you talk about your favorite authors? Who are your biggest influences? What are your writing ambitions, and in which forms are you working most heavily?

Jessie: This is a very full question. I live, technically, with my dog, Noble Mann, and my cats, Lilly, Pitch, and Alia. What I meant by that statement, is that I live 20 minutes from the nearest store and work at the greenhouses across the river from my house, so the life I have chosen for myself is a very isolated one. That choice was made with a desire to read in mind. I have my painting studio upstairs, but no T.V and the slowest possible internet connection, so when I am not painting or working, I am reading. My life goals include a massive consumption of knowledge, and that takes dedication, one has to just make the time and space to read and think. I have always felt that everything you could ever need to know is in the books already written, all one has to do is just find it, anything you might need to know- it is out there. That is one of my comforting delusions.

Each winter I try to read one major work of fiction and one major work of non-fiction. So my first winter here, I read The Brothers Karamazov and the works of Heidegger. Now I am trying to read one volume of Remembrance of Things Past each winter (I am finishing up Within a Budding Grove now), and this winter I got half way through Ken Wilber’s Sex, Ecology and Spirituality, but it’s a huge and dense book, so it will probably hold me over through the summer. In the summer I read minor works, but I tried to get as much in as I can, so for example last summer I read Henry James’s Daisy Miller, Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others, Roland Barthes’s Camera Lucida, and Antonia Fraser’s Marie Antoinette. I also have a side bar of what I call work reading, and that is the books I have to read or reread for my writing about my art. So I read a selection of myths from Plato’s dialogues and Tarkovsky’s autobiography last month to prepare for a talk at the Art Institute of Chicago. Also every year I read Love in the Time of Cholera, Ada, Art and Physics (by Shlaine), and selections from Jung’s complete library. I also, and finally, read poetry. Among the poetic prose artists, my latest obsession is Elizabeth Smart.

Literature is so important to me, I suppose, because of my above-stated belief that within the world of knowledge and creation which exists in our collective book, so to speak, there is an absolute truth. Somehow, in literature is a grand allegory of humanity; we have created an abstract world, in which we have recreated ourselves, recreated our stories, and have even recreated our imaginations, by filling our pages not only with our unique creations and spaces, but also have recently imbued our characters with a generative consciousness of their own. And this can be my segue to the next two questions, who are my favorite authors and who are my biggest influences. My biggest influences and some of my favorite authors include Nabokov, Rushdie and Bellow. Rushdie I think is the best to illustrate the above point. His work self-consciously acknowledges its fictionhood, but asserts also the righteous domain of that sphere. His fictions are treated more like the embodiment of the collective unconscious than falsehoods. His worlds are influenced by our collective thought, they share archetypes and forms, like Jung’s mirror world (my greatest influence), and they seem to have some tenuous connection with and dependence on our consciousness. Or like Bellow’s characters who have that creepy feeling that they are characters, playing out archetypes, in some sort of collective story, but feel it just as subtly and mysteriously as we do. So literature most richly informs our mirror world, and is the closest to acknowledging its status as such. Photography though I think is close behind.

As to my writing ambitions, I am not even sure what they are yet. I am working very hard on my poetry right now, and hope to get a slim volume together soon. I suppose my greatest writing ambition would be to write one major work of fiction and one major work of non-fiction. I know what I want to write about and I have rather substantial notes and outlines, but I have to say I am a bit afraid of how much of myself I have to put into my writing, and so I am taking it slow. I consider my writing a very long-term project, and besides I have so much more I need to read first.

Wayne: I remember reading that you made a conscious decision not to study the visual arts as heavily as you could have. Why is that?

Jessie: There were a few reasons, the first is that going on the advice of Cy, my mother enabled me to learn how to paint but would not let me take lessons. I had a painting studio by middle school, and apprenticed with a few artists, but the goal was to make me teach myself, and never dilute my style. The second is that I also felt that I should teach myself what I could, and study what I couldn’t teach myself, so I focused heavily on the sciences in school. On my own, through reading and study, I taught myself art and art theory. Of course my family exposed me to a lot of art as it was, so it would make sense that I study something else in school.

Wayne: You have been a model and a muse for various artists throughout your life. How has that influenced your own thoughts on the relationship between artist and subject? How much is collaboration? How much is confrontation?

Jessie: It has certainly focused my thoughts on the relationship between the subject and the artist, but more than that it has brought me most fully to an examination of the role of the subject period. It has been through my experiences as a model/muse that I have been able to look upon directly what is exchanged between the artist and the subject but also, what is exchanged between the subject and the art, and the subject and the collective unconscious. I find that none of it is really confrontation, because we are always both, whoever it is, reaching for the same goal, and that is a beautiful image. Anytime there is a difference of opinion it is somehow worked out in the process, and sometimes determined by the process. One time, Len and I disagreed about a picture, and we took it two ways, only one came out due to a freak error, and it was a great picture. What really inspired me to do this project is two-fold. The interest in the model/muse-artist relationship came secondarily. The first fork of my motivation was my experience growing up, not as my mother’s model, but as a public character and the subject of mass speculation. The second was Jung. This should actually sum up the interview as your next question is about my interest in Jung and my study of psychology in college.

When the flap about my mother’s work occurred what shocked me most was that the public rarely thought to assume that we might have really enjoyed make art with our mother. This interesting social phenomenon led me to study the ways we conceive of the subject in art. This led me to consider the artist model relationship, and also to an awareness of an interesting assumption of exploitation. It is our fallback position when considering the individual turned character to assume some sort of tragedy or even some sort of danger to the spirit. Marilyn Monroe offers the best and most mass-scale example of this phenomenon. I think that this paradigm is shifting and as usual the first signs of this shift are showing in art. Starting with Warhol there was this idea that the individual could make this transition themselves, could make characters of themselves, or in literature, could make their characters self-aware of the fact that they are characters. In this facet of post-modernity I found a wonderful opportunity to use my life experience to finish the post-modern sentence. After Warhol, Sherman took it a step farther by not turning herself into a character, an art icon, but to turn abstract characters and archetypes into selves. With her movie stills she shined the spotlight on the abstracted anima, and by applying herself to the character, like the voice of the author in the character’s mind, she gives her, the ‘girl’, the anima, a moment of consciousness. And this is where Jung comes in.

I started reading Jung in sixth grade and haven’t quit. I think that his theories are some of the most influential of the decade and also some of the least fully digested. In his writing he was very specific, the collective unconscious was not a personal system of symbols, nor even a collection of thoughts and stories, but was rather a pre-existing system of symbols and mythic forms to which he pointedly and repeatedly assigns a form of consciousness- he refers to it as the psychic substrate of consciousness, which itself is conscious and generative. If that is not the best explanation for the allegory which is literature and artistic creation, then I don’t know what is. But given his definition of the collective unconscious, the role of the subject becomes much more interesting, and one begins to wonder what the effect of immersion in our collective thought and story telling does. What does the muse give of herself, what is being taken, if something is being taken at all, and then where does it go? I began to ask myself, what does it really mean, ontologically, when a person says, you don’t know me, but I know you, as happens to me often given that I am a character in people’s minds as much as I am myself. Recently a book came out that is said to be loosely based on the imagined lives of one of Sally Mann’s daughters. What I intend to do with the pictures Len and I have created, is take the theoretical implications of that freeing and abstracting of character, which is implied when novels like that are written, and add that to the sum of the artistic examination of the character and its interaction with the anima, and see if I can be the conscious anima first, the self-conscious narrator second. And so you see, my position has allowed me theoretically to explore that mirror world, from the mirror at the interface. I can look back as a character, as the subject (exploited, self-possessed, fictional, historical, or referential) – with this new post modern awareness of subjectivity, and I can begin to answer the question, what does this immersion do: it makes one believe in the metaphysical significance of our imaginings.

In Character: Actors Acting

When we want to say that someone is duplicitous, we say they are “two-faced.” We might use the word “muti-faceted” to describe a well-rounded person, to say that there are many sides, or “faces” to him. Rainer Maria Rilke once said that: “there are quantities of human beings, but there are many more faces, for each person has several.” In his book In Character: Actors Acting, Howard Schatz portrays those who make a living presenting different faces.

In portraiture, the photographer is often asked to capture and distill the many faces of a person to a single image. There are really two main approaches to portraiture: portraiture as collaboration between photographer and subject, and portraiture in which the photographer acts upon a subject. The latter can be illustrated by photographers like Richard Avedon, who famously confronted subjects like writer Isaak Dinesen and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, to portray them in ways that were less than flattering, but in ways that he felt showed them stripped of veneer. (Ironic for someone who fashioned much of his reputation initially as a fashion photographer.) Avedon has been described as being more akin philosophically to a sculptor, working on subjects almost as if they were stone or clay, to be struck or molded in his vision.

Arnold Newman, whose affection for his subjects was often palpable, represents the more collaborative tradition—his portrait of the German industrialist Alfried Krupp being a notable exception. Which way presents the greater truth? A person is usually neither the person he himself sees, nor is he exclusively the person seen by others. More likely, he is a combination of the two: artistic collaboration can be a powerful tool in revealing that identity. Schatz takes that form of collaboration to an interesting place. In his book, Schatz gives each actor a direction, “a character to play, a scene, and at times, even dialogue. Photographs were made as each actor creatively developed the part.”

A pleasure of Shatz’s book is that it allows us to really see the physical skills of some of these actors. It is no accident that many contemporary actors still admire the genius of silent actors like Charlie Chaplin. Likewise, who better than an accomplished still photographer to believe in the ability of a person to emote without words or sounds? Theater and film directors giving actors guidance, but also give them space in which to interpret their characters. Richard Dreyfus, Jason Alexander, Danny Glover, Hal Holbrook, Ellen Burstyn, James Earl Jones, Peter Falk and Kelsey Gramer are among the actors that headline Schatz’s project.

As Roger Ebert notes in his introduction to the book, Schatz works close to the actors on this project, in closer quarters than we might even see them on the small (television) and large (movie) screens. The way the actors’ faces fill Schatz’s lens is as if we were sitting in a café or diner across from them. It is a distance that at once calls for both clarity and subtlety. (Ebert admits that those absorbing the book might find a bit of overacting in an actor or two.) In some of the “performances,” the actors’ visages fill and bleed off the page, for instance, when Elliot Gould is in a “high stakes poker game, holding four aces.” The best spreads, though, are those where you see expression after expression after expression, as in the multiple poses of Melissa Leo or Nestor Serrano, which show us their acting ranges. We gain further insight from the actors’ notes that accompany each profile. Schatz’s project is wonderful, his photos enthralling, but many of the directions are more like the scenarios an instructor might give an acting class. This might be a quibble, but would we have seen an even higher level of acting if Schatz had taken his acting challenges from well-known scripts?

The opportunity to see the many sides of a person gives us fuller insight into that person. People live through both guarded and unguarded moments. In actors, however, we see people who are able to emote more quickly, to get “into character” more easily than the rest of us. Yet even actors struggle to balance the covering and uncovering of their emotions. As Scott Glenn says, acting for him combines “100 percent concentration with 100 percent relaxation.” Despite the artifice, acting come at least partially from somewhere inside; performance contains at least one kernel. In his direction, Schatz calls this forth, but how much of the real person can you call from those who make a living from “getting into character?” A lot, according to Ebert, who notes that film, and, presumably by extension, photography, “looks into their eyes and souls and shows us not only what they can control of their presentation, but, crucially, what they cannot.”

This book review first appeared on Takegreatpictures.com.

Publicity

Writer Sue Henderson posts tips from “cool publicist” Lauren Cerand.

Velibor Bozovic Interview

Velibor Bozovic is a Montreal-based photographer and a native of Sarajevo. He has collaborated on the Lazarus project and Nowhere Man with the writer Aleksandar Hemon. His photography has appeared in The Paris Review.

Wayne: You have been working on a collaboration called Lazarus with the writer Aleksandar Hemon. Can you talk about how you both came to work on the project? What was its genesis, and where are you taking the project? How much does it relate to the collaborative work that appeared in The Paris Review?

Velibor: The writer Aleksandar Hemon, who happens to [have been] my best friend for more than 20 years, asked me to accompany him on a research trip to Eastern Europe and document it with my camera. Hemon’s book will be partially based on the life of Lazarus Averbuch, a young Jewish immigrant who at the age of 19 was killed by the Chicago chief of police, only months after his arrival to America in 1908. We were going back to where Lazarus came from, trying to understand the places he left behind.

The Lazarus story is very interesting and eerily familiar almost 100 years later. After the incident when he was killed under mysterious circumstances. Based on the story version by [the Chicago chief of police] the man who killed him, the press started the hype labelling dead Lazarus as an “anarchist,” emphasizing his body features (his curly hair, low forehead… his brain was taken out and examined by scientists to ‘understand’ the mind of an anarchist) and triggering hysteria among ‘decent’ citizens towards the immigrants. (Everyone who looked different, if not an anarchist/terrorist already, is a potential anarchist/terrorist and has to be closely monitored… This was in 1908. All of this is well documented in Chicago historical archives and in a book by Walter Roth and Joe Kraus “An Accidental Anarchist: How the Killing of a Humble Jewish Immigrant by Chicago’s Chief of Police Exposed the Conflict Between Law and Order and Civil Rights in Early Twentieth America.”

Lazarus Averbuch was born in Kishinev, today Chisinau, the capital of Moldova. There, as a child he survived the pogrom and escaped with his family to Chernivtsi, today in Ukraine, and then continued his journey to Chicago where he got killed. We went in the opposite direction. We were not going to solve the mystery of Lazarus’s life and death and that was not the intent behind the trip. Aleksandar needed to see, hear, sense the remaining fragments of the times and locations Lazarus went through on his journey from Chisinau to Chicago. We were not in search of the history (as historians would) but rather in search of the story. The resulting photo essay is not pretending to be an objective photo journalistic portrait of the region, it is more a personal reflection on places we visited and people we met during the trip. In retrospect, while Aleksandar was looking for his story I was looking for myself.

Wayne: You have also created The Pronek Guide to Chicago in response to Hemon’s novel Nowhere Man. How and why was that project launched?

Velibor: At the time when Nowhere Man was coming out the editor / publisher wanted to do a web-based interactive Pronek’s guide to Chicago. (Pronek is the main character in the book, and there are lots of references to contemporary Chicago). It was a great idea, but it never got completed since the editor moved to another publishing house, and the author followed, and the project stalled. But parts of it can still be seen on the author’s website.

Wayne: Your Montreal project you call a “Fiction: Life/Discreet.” You describe the project in this way: “Everyone in this city, as in any other, creates and lives in a city of their own, built on personal paths, streets, sites, realities and dreams, perhaps. We do not follow the same routes and we do not experience the same emotions, even though it might often seem as if we do. Here are the fragments of the city I build, the one I create so it could belong to me.” Why do you think there is that much separation in how each of us sees and uses (visual) space?

Velibor: I wouldn’t call it separation. Seems too harsh of a word. I am a city person and couldn’t imagine living in suburbs or anywhere outside the city. Cities bring people together. Where I live, just in that one block, there are about 150 to 200 apartments. The only thing we all (300 to 400 of us) have in common for sure is that we all hit the same traffic lights every morning when leaving the house, whether we walk or drive or bike. Beyond that point, it’s a big mystery. We work in different places, we shop at different places, we enjoy different spots in town, every day we come back home feeling one way or another, we occasionally stumble upon each other somewhere. We dream different dreams. I have places in town I visit every single day. Some I visit from time to time, and many I’ll never see. Often, I see someone, often just in passing, who provokes my interest and I think how the chances are I’ll never see this person again, as long as I live. There are a few million people in this city, even more in yours. Yet, we tend to say New Yorkers are like this, Parisians are like that, but in essence, we are all individuals. The cities do not shape people, it is the people who shape and build cities. This city didn’t embrace me when I arrived, I embraced this city.

Wayne: Your project “Soul Neighborhood” is in reaction to your first visit back to Sarajevo after you left in 1998. Can you share what it felt like emotionally to return to the city? How do we see this in the photographs of your project? How intentional was it to shoot the return in black and white?

Velibor: There was no intention. Black and white was the only way I took pictures at the time. For the longest time I could only think of photography as black and white. Only since I got my first digital camera a few months ago, I started creating color images. It’s still a struggle.

[My] return to Bosnia was emotional, and I was kind of frozen—didn’t take many pictures. I was in Sarajevo during the siege, lived with the city through its hardest times. That’s where my family still is, that’s where I have friends, there are all these places I have deep feelings for, the memories of my childhood and the memories of the war. I still have dreams set in Sarajevo, and I have nightmares. In 2005 I went back with my children for the first time, and they are the only faces you can see from that series. I almost didn’t take any photographs of people. I took photos of trees, flowers, asphalt and clouds, mostly. I guess I was pretty screwed up at the time.

Wayne: Your life has taken you from Slovenia to Bosnia-Herzegovina to Canada. How do you think these moves have colored your visual outlook? What early interests did you have in photography, what waylaid them (and sent you into a career as an engineer instead), and why do you say its only recently that you’re starting to push your work out?

Velibor: Had my parents decided to stay in Slovenia, instead of moving to Sarajevo when I was four years old—I would have been someone else now, most probably someone very different, and what would have been the chances that I would be photographing at all? The move to Sarajevo I consider the most fortunate thing in my life, since Sarajevo was the best place on the planet to grow up in. I have nothing but great memories of my childhood, I have a great group of friends and, while dispersed all over the world because of the war, we still deeply care for each other and use every opportunity to get together. The war was so terrible to send hundreds of thousands of people to death and millions [seeking] refuge, but [it] couldn’t break this circle of friendship. My visual outlook has been the product of life experience […] and that always includes experiences of others.

While I always loved looking at photographs I don’t think I had an early interest to be a photographer. My interests layered on each other, very slowly—[…] at one point my only interest was pure survival. It took more than 30 years for this photography layer to settle and for me to realize this is what I want to do in life. Some people know what they want to do at the age of six, some at the age of 15, but for me it took much longer and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Wayne: What photographic or artistic training have you had? What spurred you to promote your work more heavily, and what are you doing to promote it?

I had no formal training. When I was in high school, a good friend of mine would lock himself in the school darkroom, and it seemed to be a nice place to hide from the crowd and professors. So I would join him, and he showed me the basics of darkroom magic. It was the same friend who was doing the same thing when we were at university, so I would accompany him again. But I didn’t photograph at the time. I knew how to print, but didn’t even have a camera.

Both my photographic and artistic training came from [my] interest in music, movies and art. And literature, of course. It came from my friends, as we would share what we had discovered, and we talked and discussed and fought. We were a curious bunch. We were growing up in a communist run country but the borders were open, and people would travel, foreigners were coming. Compared to our peers in Montreal, or in London, we had to do a little bit extra to get the latest XTC or Birthday Party LP records, and we did. There was no store down the street that carried the latest punk or new wave records, or rather, there was a store but no XTC records in it. So we did that little extra effort to get what we needed. No training, just life.

I only started taking photographs once I moved to Montreal, some eight years ago. All along, I had been working as engineer in a big aerospace corporation and the photography kept me sane. But I had a very limited time for photography—only after my kids would go to bed—so I didn’t have much sleep in the last few years, which is a very familiar story to many photographers.

My discomfort with the corporate world resulted in growing internal conflicts with myself—ethical, moral, human—and finally led me to take time off from work and dedicate all my time to photography. This is a period of my life where some big decisions have to be made. I’m terrible in promoting anything, especially myself, and I make all the mistakes beginners do. But I try with some simple steps: set up the website, opened a Digital Railroad account, finally started to submit some of the stories to some magazines and getting to know people from the photography world, even if only virtual. I discovered the Lightstalkers forum from where I learn (I hope) a great deal of all the aspects of photography, including how to promote oneself.

In the photography world, I’m a complete outsider, from a different academic background, doing the type of photography that will never be of interest to popular media or the broad public. I’m 40 years old, therefore by most standards I can’t be an “emerging” photographer. (Emerging photographers can’t be more than 25 or sometimes 35 years old?! Who sets up those limits anyway? They seem to be unable to foresee the possibility of someone emerging when 40.) Well, I’m emerging, even if only from my own personal set of mind and boundaries, I’m emerging. It’s good to be an outsider.

Wayne: You have the two collaborations with Hemon; your Montreal project is called a “fiction.” How does literature otherwise influence your photography? What are your thoughts on the interplay of image and text?

Velibor: Literature is so powerful, sometimes it just blows me away together with my photography. Literature has a huge influence on everything I do, not only on my photography.

Depending on what are you trying to do with your photography the interplay of image and text can play huge importance. Photography was always about storytelling, but sometimes I think that nothing is as capable of storytelling as literature; every art medium’s story telling capability is very limited when compared to literature. The reason is that literature always leaves some space for reader’s imagination. The great photography works have the same power since, while depicting the scene in details, it’s often about what’s left out of the frame, or what has just slipped out of the frame that draws us in.

While looking at the photograph I think about what led to the scene or what happened moments after, things I anticipate further down the road or about things that can’t be photographed at all, it’s a viewer’s imagination that plays a gigantic role. I want to look at your photograph for as long as I feel like it, and I want to leave that space with this whole new world your photograph created in my mind. What worries me a lot is today’s tendency for a photo essay, in order to be taken seriously and eventually published in any form, to be accompanied by a well-written text as if it requires an explanation. Pictures that are well ”packaged” with good statement/writing are a priori taken more seriously than a body of work not “packaged,” however good it is. Photography doesn’t need explanation. Two examples that come first to mind, since I saw them recently, is Andy Levin’s Coney Island series and Stefan Rohner’s Humans which I only saw in multimedia format. Fantastic photographs, no captions or voiceover (at least in the presentations I saw), just photography at its best. It is so refreshing to see someone today having the courage to call his photo series simply ‘Humans’ and present it without wrapping. And it is beautiful. When introducing his series to Lightstalkers forum Stefan wrote something like “no big theme, just bunch of pictures together…,” knowing, I guess, that people expect big themes and explanation. I’m not judging anything and, of course, I’m not taking about the news photography, I’m only afraid that we will never see some great photography work because it is not packaged and will not be taken seriously. Most of us fall right into this trap, I often do.

Recently I had this correspondence with a photo editor of a magazine. He was obviously interested in my project after seeing the pictures, but then he started asking me to talk (write) about my project, which I did, but then he wanted more and more. No matter how much he liked the photographs, he needed to come up with the explanation, I assume, for the viewers on how, why, who… As if everything has to be explained. (Don’t give a viewer a chance to make his own conclusions or story), there is hardly any space for photography as a product of photographer’s emotions, perception and inner self references… At the end, I believe, only photography that stands on its own ground has a chance to be timeless.

[See also Part II, a brief continuation of the interview.]

Susan Henderson Interview, Part II

Part II of the interview with writer/editor Susan Henderson.

Wayne: You once wrote a magical realism flash for Smokelong. You quipped in an interview that you were unsure what magical realism is. How do you see the genre? Have you tried more experiments in that vein?

Sue: To be honest, it’s not one of my favorite pieces. The writing feels forced and overly dramatic. It was useful to try something new (if only to better appreciate those who get it right!), but it’s not very representative of my work.

A better example of magical realism is a gorgeous short story by Gabriel Garcia Marquez called “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World.” I’ve read it a dozen times because it inspires me. Whenever I feel boxed in with where I can take my characters, this story shows how you can blow a hole through the wall of your story and go somewhere completely unexpected and magical.

I guess, some years after writing that flash you mentioned, I am just as unsure what magical realism is. I mean, does it also include Gulliver’s Travels? And what of fairy tales with gingerbread houses and Wee Free Men living just out of our consciousness and all those wonderful Greek myths – are these examples of magical realism, too? I don’t know. But they’re wonderful stories that bridge the worlds of fantasy with what we know, and in the end, all I care about is whether I enjoyed reading a story or not.

Wayne: What about flash fiction? How does it differ from the sketch or vignette–or poem for that matter? In what way does your affinity for poetry draw you to the form? For what kind of writer is the form suited?

Sue: I love flash fiction. Except for Mary Robison, I haven’t seen anyone try it in book form, but I’m looking forward to the day it’s an accepted form of mainstream publishing. I’ve read flash that has a beginning, middle, and end; and I’ve read flash that’s more like a poem in that it stays with an image or a scene. I think the jury’s still out on how exactly it ought to be defined. And again, I’m always in favor of less rules and more gut – does it feel finished and satisfying and wonderful? Good.

I remember Bob Thurber had once posted somewhere online a wonderful definition of flash fiction. I can’t find it (maybe one of your readers can?), though this [Wikipedia] link is interesting. Thurber is someone I see as a trailblazer in this field, and if I’m not mistaken, he was instrumental in getting the flash fiction wing opened at the Zoetrope workshop. Diane Williams is another trailblazer in the flash fiction movement. She’s be a great person to interview about this. Same with Kim Chinquee, who will be moderating a panel on flash fiction at the Atlanta AWP conference.

Personally, I find flash fiction is the number one way to work myself out of writer’s block. I grab a handful of random words, see what pops into my mind when I imagine those words together, and then try to write a paragraph or two that has movement and feels whole. Often, I’ll publish the flash on it’s own, but eventually, a flash piece tends to wind up as a part of a longer story or novel.

Wayne: You are well respected as an editor, can you share your thoughts on what beginning and emerging writers need to do to best improve themselves as writers?

Sue: Read! Read at least a book a month. Read different genres. You’ll start to fine-tune your ear, you’ll get an instinctual sense of pacing. You’ll learn why you can value Homer and Stephen King and James Baldwin and Alice Munro and PG Wodehouse, even though they seem to have nothing in common. That was an absolutely random and apparently male-dominated list off the top of my head, but you know what I mean. The more you read, and the more varied styles you read, the more you understand the many different ways a good story can unfold.

Wayne: Can you talk about your book projects? Besides the obvious difference in length, how are they different from your shorter works?

Sue: I’ve written two books, and I’ve outlined (sort of) and started (sort of) two others.

I’ve found that I love having the space and time a novel allows me to tell a story. The writing feels so much more grounded and coherent and satisfying. It’s a freeing form for me.

Short stories are very tricky things to write. There’s such an intensity of focus, and often the time span is so tight. You feel at any moment you might lose your audience. You’re trying to say so much so quickly. You have to introduce your characters immediately and write in ways that people understand them or form opinions of them instantly. But you have to write it in a way that doesn’t feel crammed with information because the plot has to race forward and there’s very little time to pause.

Writing a novel allows me to write what seems more like the truth as I know it – that people don’t often evolve in an instant, that the very dramatic events in our lives are rarely the ones that change us the most, and that it’s more often an accumulation of choices rather than a single choice that gets us backed into corners.

I thought novels would be like writing very long short stories, but they’re really a different form all together.

Sue Interviews Wayne

And Sue Henderson calls me a geek.

Susan Henderson Interview, Part I

Susan Henderson is a Pushcart nominee, a recipient of an Academy of American Poets award and a grant from the Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation. She recently helped judge the “20-Minute Stories Contest” at McSweeney’s. She is the former managing editor of literary magazine Night Train. Her work has appeared in Zoetrope: All-Story Extra, The Pittsburgh Quarterly, North Dakota Quarterly, Bellevue Literary Review, South Dakota Review, The MacGuffin, Arkansas Review: A Journal of Delta Studies, North Atlantic Review, The Green Hills Literary Lantern, Opium, Other Voices, Amazon Shorts, The World Trade Center Memorial, and The Future Dictionary of America (McSweeney’s Books, 2004), edited by Jonathan Safran Foer, Nicole Krauss, and Dave Eggers. Her husband is a costume designer, filmmaker, and professor. They live in New York with their two boys.

Wayne: When you were managing editor at Night Train, you were instrumental in getting the journal to write detailed responses to those writers who submitted manuscripts, regardless of whether their stories were being considered. Why was that important to you as an editor? As a writer?

Sue: Just the sheer volume of writers compared to a puny pool of readers makes publishing a mean game. And what you learn right away when you become an editor is that you’ll have to reject almost every story that comes your way. I “considered” maybe one in every 800 submissions, and only a small fraction of those stories were published. There’s no way around sending out thousands of rejections if you’re putting out a great magazine.

But before you’re an editor, you’re a human being–and a human being who knows what goes into writing a story. That submission you get is a little corner of someone’s life or imagination, and it just seems like you want to treat that with care.

Submitting to a magazine, for a lot of people, is like being in the junior high cafeteria, holding a lunch tray, and there’s nowhere to sit, and you’re afraid if you ask for a seat no one will scoot over. I didn’t want to be a part of making anyone feel that way. So, if I laughed when I read someone’s story, I told them so. And if I noticed that sentence they worked on for three days, I let them know. Why not?

The other thing I tried to do via my rejection letters was to open doors. I know 60 or 70 literary magazines like the back of my hand. If someone sent us a story that was a perfect fit for some contest I knew of, it took all of two minutes of my time to give them the contact information. If I can help save someone another year of knocking on the wrong doors, I’d feel like some kind of a jerk for not speaking up.

It’s also good business sense to be kind. Everyone who submits to you is a potential reader and subscriber to your magazine. The trick, of course, is balancing all of this with how it burdens the staff. The hardest thing about running a magazine, harder than raising the funds, is keeping the morale and work production high with the staff. The editors need as much care as the writers.

Wayne: What are the biggest misconceptions most writers have about the submission process? On the other hand, what could most journals do better?

Sue: I think the biggest misconception is that print magazines carry more weight than online magazines. I can’t tell you how many people found agents and big fan bases through the most unlikely web publications. The thing is, people will actually read those magazines. You get into, say Prairie Schooner, and people will shout hooray for you, but how many go and buy that issue when it comes out two years later with your story in it?

Most magazines fall apart in marketing. My feeling is that if you take a writer’s story, you owe it to them to find an audience.

Wayne: In your short story “Motorhead,” there are a lot of what we might call mementos: songs, titles, recollection of memories. Donato, for instance, at one point asks Lucy: “Why do you keep everything?” Can you talk about how mementos are important to you as a writer, both in how you embed them in stories and how you use them in the actual creative/writing process?

Sue: Most every character I write about is emotionally repressed. I love to write about stoics who are not physically affectionate, not real talkers. So how they treat and store and clean various objects becomes part of the dialogue. And in Motorhead, Lucy expresses her affection for Donato by what she steals from him, what she hoards. She’ll lose that relationship because she can’t say that she cares, but the reader knows she’s saying what she can in her own way.

Wayne: There are a number of books and authors mentioned in the story, but can I ask you why you choose specifically to make “The Lottery” and Let Us Praise Famous Men two of Lucy’s reading touchstones?

Sue: I started having a lot of trouble in school beginning around third grade. I finished my work too soon and then all hell would break loose. So my teachers started pulling me out of class and just giving me books to read. Those were the first two books that really struck me, when I said, Wow! But in elementary school, there’s not a lot of kids who want to spend recess talking about Shirley Jackson or James Agee. I wanted to show that dissonance in Motorhead, how books both save this girl and make her odd and separate from her peers.

This is a pattern I noticed repeating itself with my oldest son. He would stand there in his pull-ups, wanting to talk about the issues of time warp in the Narnia books. This didn’t make him many friends, and it hurts when you see your kid on the outside wanting to be invited in but not wanting to play soldiers or Hoppity-Hop. The funny thing is, the moment–years and years later–when he finally made a best friend who was just like him, all they wanted to do was tell potty jokes together.

Wayne: Can you talk about why you decided to make Motorhead available through Amazon? How has the experience been so far?

Sue: Knowing me, it was an impulsive decision in the middle of the night. I will say that John Hart, who runs the Amazon Shorts program, is a really lovely guy, all the way through the process. That you found and read Motorhead is probably a sign that it’s successful. Availability is half the battle of getting read. Most of my stuff just sits as a comp on one of my bookshelves.

Wayne: You say you caused a lot of trouble in third grade. You’ve said before that this was also the time when you realized you wanted to be a writer. What was it about your teachers and your reading that planted this seed in your head?

Sue: I don’t know what makes a person become a writer–if you’re born a little wonky or if it’s some alignment of external factors. I was just a kid who noticed everything from eraser marks to pencil-holding styles to foot-tapping to baby powder dust to vacuum lines to ripped edges and so on, but often missed the lesson while I was invested in the random detail around me.

Third grade happened to be the year we learned how to write poetry and autobiographies. We watched the movie Animal Farm that year. And I was deeply in love with my teacher who was everything I still fall for today – a wounded soul who feels protective of me.

Wayne: Which other writers were influencing you then? Who do you include among your favorites now, and why?

Sue: My first influences were Laura Ingalls Wilder and Robert Louis Stevenson. Early on, I loved Dylan Thomas and James Dickey. My house was full of Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan, who are master writers. And Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway, who are masters of pacing and emotional _expression. All of these people grounded my ear for story and rhythm.

My favorites now? I love too many. My number one is probably William Maxwell.

Wayne: I know you’re a huge fan of poetry. Can you talk about your favorite poets, and why they are important to you? I know you’re also inclusive enough in your definition of poetry to include a couple popular singers–and rappers! Can you also talk about why your concept of poetry is more inclusionary?

Sue: I have to say Dylan Thomas because he was my first. I love the Hemingway-like bluster of Dickey, the incisiveness of Cornealeus Eady, the tension between gruff and tender of Jim Daniels, the playfulness of Dr. Seuss, the boldness of Nikki Giovanni. Who’s the woman who wrote Vesper Sparrows? She’s wonderful. Homer and Virgil – I get absolutely dizzy over them.

I’ve loved rap since my first two Public Enemy albums, and love Eminem, especially when he’s tongue-in-cheek. Bob Dylan’s a genius. Kim Ritchie, Shawn Mullins, Lucinda Williams – incredible. And Cameron McGill. All great songwriters and wordsmiths.

As far as emerging writers, I’m a big fan of Tiff Holland and the crazy deadpan of Tao Lin. Not into obscure or plodding poetry, though. There’s a lot of it out there and I’m too impatient to wade through it.

Flashes of the Other World

My friend Julie Ann Shapiro has come out with her short story collection Flashes of the Other World.

Thomas Abercrombie: A Geographic Life

I finally received my copy of the August 2006 issue of National Geographic, which has a tribute, written by Don Belt, to writer / photographer Tom Abercrombie. The Geographic’s web site has a photo gallery.

I love this story that Bob Dale recounts about Abercrombie.

Some time ago, while flying with Joe Judge and a bush pilot to a remote part of Alaska, we came to a mountain range enshrouded in clouds. We circled for a while waiting for the clouds to lift when I noticed a small cabin on a lake below us. Smoke was coming from the chimney. I suggested we land to kill some time and find out who lived there. As our seaplane taxied towards the cabin, an old-timer stood on shore and beckoned us to come in. He was the perfect stereotype of an Alaskan homesteader or trapper. I mean – this was really wilderness. Outside his cabin in the trees was a large cache where he kept his supplies. I thought, Wow! What a find! He invited us inside and he had coffee and a bowl of freshly baked cookies waiting – as though he were expecting us. I wondered to myself if he ever heard of National Geographic. Finally, I could not contain myself and asked him if he ever heard of the Geographic. He replied, “Heck yes, how’s my good friend Tom Abercrombie?”

More links in this April entry I posted to note Abercrombie’s passing.

Michael Standaert Interview

Michael Standaert is the author of the recently-released Skipping Toward Armageddon: The Politics and Propaganda of the Left Behind Novels and the LaHaye Empire. He is a founder of the news site Eurocorrespondent.com, and he is a frequent book reviewer for the Los Angeles Times. His novel The Adventures of the Pisco Kid is due out soon from Arriviste Press.

Wayne: What was it like growing up in Northern Illinois?

Michael: I grew up in Rock Island, Illinois, which is about two and a half hours west of Chicago, along the Mississippi River. The area went though difficulties in the 80s when many of the farm machinery manufacturers shut down there or scaled back. Since there is a large armory there, it was supposedly in the top ten places the Soviets would have struck first in a nuclear strike. For some reason that weighed on me a lot, knowing that at any moment you could be obliterated. I think a lot of people everywhere thought about that from time to time, but since my area had a special designation, I think the idea that it could happen was more present. For me at least. Part of me thinks this type of “paranoia” is similar to how fundamentalist children may relate to the “Rapture” in that it’s like you could be “obliterated” at any moment, taken away, pied piper fashion. I had a pretty normal upbringing, I guess. My parents had five children and I was the last, with eight years difference between myself and my next sibling. So that was a bit different, since my brother and three sisters were all eight to twelve years older from me. Maybe this is a reason I always felt a little older than I was. I went to Catholic school all the way from kindergarten through high school. My father was an insurance executive and my mother a nurse. I wasn’t into sports until later in middle school when I started playing football, which I did all the way through high school. Before that I was a bit bookish, geeky and always fantasizing about different things. I once built a little raft a la Huck Finn but it sank in the Rock River, luckily for me since I wasn’t a great swimmer and if I would have been on it we probably wouldn’t be doing this interview.

Wayne: How did you end up going to school in Wales?

Michael: This is a long story, but to cut it short, I met a girl from the Netherlands while I was studying at the University of Iowa, dated her for a while, took a couple trips to Holland, and while there the second time I visited with a M.A. program in Utrecht, that was partnered with Cardiff University in Wales. So I applied and was accepted to the program and by that time had broken up with the Dutch girl. But I’d always wanted to work as a foreign correspondent, so thought this program would help me realize that goal. The program was in European Journalism. Three months in the Netherlands, three in Denmark, and the final five months working on the dissertation in Wales. So it was a bit of a traveling circus. I was the only American out of 18 students. Six or so were African, and the rest from Europe. It was a great program and a great year, though I’m not sure if Cardiff is doing it anymore since it is difficult to organize. After that year I went to Brussels and freelanced for about a year, in 2002.

Wayne: What later brought you to Brussels?

Michael: Basically a couple of us in the MA program were trying to figure out what to do and four of us decided to move to Brussels to try to either freelance or find work. I freelanced most of the year doing just about whatever I could to get by, but in the end ran too low on money and decided to come back to the U.S. It was a difficult transition coming back.

Wayne: How did you get the drive to become a journalist who seems to like covering political developments?

Michael: I’d much rather write fiction than journalism, but if I can’t do that, I’d like most to cover international news. Everything else has been about finding opportunities to write, and in the end, make a living, or at least surviving. For the past several years I’ve survived as a freelance writer and only this last year did I take a full-time job, but then that was as a writer for a foundation, and I worked from home, so it felt like freelancing. As far as politics, and this might seem funny coming from someone writing for a left wing publisher Soft Skull, but I’d consider myself pretty independent, more something of a progressive libertarian, whatever that means.

Wayne: Why did you decide to write about the Left Behind novels and the moral majority movement for your first book?

Michael: I had been in touch with Soft Skull [Press] about writing a book on issues not covered much in the Midwest by the mainstream press, things like the Meth problem and small family farmers losing their farms out in the rural areas. Anyway, they liked the idea, but the problem with a press like Soft Skull is that they can’t give a big advance, and what they could give wasn’t enough to give me the time to roam around and write and keep myself alive at the same time. This is nothing against Soft Skull, just a matter of facts. I’d seen something on the Left Behind books and had an interest in the nihilism of these beliefs for a long time, so I sent it along to Soft Skull. Richard Nash said he’d love to do something on the books, and I volunteered to do it. So that’s where it basically developed. After that it was a matter of figuring out how to do the research and write the books. Since they don’t have the budget to support a lot of traveling, it turned into a book mainly of criticism looking at the Left Behind books themselves, as well as a lot of secondary research done online and at the University of Iowa library’s special collections department, the Social Documents collection. It’s a wonderful resource if anyone wants to check it out. There’s enough material on American rightwing political movements from 1918 onward for dozens of books. I came across strange publications out of San Francisco during the early 70s that were seemingly gay-baiting neo-Nazi homosexual magazines with photos of naked Aryan types and erotic Hitler depictions. Very strange stuff. I don’t know if anyone has written about those types of publications.

Wayne: Had you heard of the novels before your former landlord introduced them to you, and how surprised were you with their popularity?

Michael: I’d heard of these types of beliefs before meeting the landlord, but hadn’t given them much deep thought until then. I’m half-surprised with the popularity, since I think they’re pretty bad fiction (if we can call it that), but also not surprised because people do like to read things that either stoke or back up their own paranoia and fear, or that make them able to claim the winning side in the fiction, here the “Godly” triumphing over the “Godless” … ie. secular, Jews, Catholics, humanists, liberals, etc., etc., that the Left Behind books depict. It’s a bloody revenge fantasy basically, easily read paint by numbers type books.

Wayne: Out of curiosity, have you heard from your former landlord since the book was published?

Michael: No, I haven’t heard from him since I moved out, other than once to see if he was still getting some of my mail.

Wayne: You noted that only the Harry Potter books and the Da Vinci Code have outsold the Left Behind Books in recent years. Why haven’t we heard more about the Left Behind novels in the mainstream press?

Michael: I think the coverage is there if you look. But a lot of coverage treats the Left Behind books as just fiction, not as a social issue surrounding the larger movement of people that buy these books. But it is a social issue, since the novels reflect the thinking of a large group of religious people in the U.S., and is basically a mirror on their theology and politics. The trouble is a lot of the critical coverage comes from a mainstream media that these people consider either evil or “liberal” or whatever, so those who could use some self-reflection automatically shut them out. An alternative “Christian” media has sprung up to inform these same people, and I put quotes around “Christian” because it is not widely Christian, but more sectarian, usually, and politically right wing Christianity, not embracing the wide viewpoints of a wide range of Christians. That media actively promotes the books. So you have either a critical mainstream media or a half-interested one, and then an alternative Christian media that pushes the books. Myself I don’t think “Christianity” should be considered Left or Right politically, but over the past thirty years, people like Tim LaHaye have worked actively to link a very conservative religiousity with a political movement, the Religious Right. There have of course been politically left leaning religious movements in U.S. history, along with political language being mixed with religious language on either the left or the right, sometimes to extreme ends. John Brown type abolitionists used a very charged political and religious language, militantly at times. Someone like Martin Luther King used less militant and more positive religious jeremiads to support change. I fear the more militant type of religiousity being used, say in the anti-abortion movement, to where doctors or nurses are attacked and killed, which has already happened. I think change can be made through more positive and aspirational language. Fear mongering and scapegoating, on the other hand, often leads to anger and violence.

Wayne: If mainstream churches have been critical of—what you call the “beam me up” theology of the premillenialists, why haven’t we heard these critical voices more on the topic as well?

Michael: We hear it from time to time, but not as actively as you’d think. I know that some Christian faiths have had to issue reports to their flocks about the theology, Catholics for one. It’s funny that the Da Vinci Code gets so much critical press from “Christians” while the Left Behind books don’t as much. While I think they have every right to be critical of the Da Vinci Code, one big thing they miss here is that Dan Brown wrote the book as fiction and has no political activist role that I’m aware of. Tim LaHaye had never been interested in fiction before coming up with the idea for the Left Behind books. Before he found someone to write the books for him, he’d been mainly involved in Religious Right politics, along with his wife Beverly who heads the conservative woman’s group Concerned Women for America. So it’s like if the husband of the head of the feminist National Organization for Women would come along and write a series of novels that portray conservatives as evil and that they be destroyed and such. If something like that was done from the left, I’d be critical of it as well.

Wayne: You call the novels “thinly-veiled works of political propaganda,” and you go on to great lengths to outline the connections among LaHaye and Jenkins (the writers behind the series), their political groups and the more mainstream Republican party (their early anointing of George Bush’s presidential candidacy, for instance). Despite this propagandistic quality, how much of the appeal of the novels actually stems from their political viewpoints?

Michael: Basically it plays into identity politics of people who have the same or similar ideas to LaHaye on gays, abortion, “liberals” etc. So it ends up reinforcing those ideas, and I think people often read things that reinforce their ideas, not challenge them. So I don’t think you can separate the political and the religious in this sense, since that group of people doesn’t separate it themselves. Everything is religious and everything is political for them. They are energized. The popularity feeds on those beliefs.

Wayne: You argue that the Left Behind series is different from the works of religiously devout writers like J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, because those writers started with more of an artistic purpose. How different, though, is the purpose of the Left Behind novels from, say, the novels of Robert Ludlum and John Le Carre, whose works could be characterized as “anti-corporate” by some?

Michael: Interesting points. Like I mention above with Dan Brown though, LaHaye is coming from a position as an activist, and not at the fiction as a fiction writer. If you look at how LaHaye and his cohorts view other writing and media, they think that it is all propaganda. They don’t look at whether it has artistic merit or not, so naturally they produce propaganda themselves. As far as Ludlum or Le Carre, while they may have political views and that may seep into their fiction, I don’t think they set out writing the books in the first place with a political motivation in mind. Nor are they activists first and fiction writers second. That’s the big difference here I think. I go into some of these things more in a recent essay I’ve written, and these are things I’ve been thinking about quite a bit more since writing my book, which was finished about a year ago. I’ve been coming up with new ideas, and things I wished I could have written about in the book if I’d thought of them then. It was a very difficult subject to wrap my head around, and I think some of the flaws in the book are because of that. I wasn’t exactly sure which way to go with the book, but I do hope at the very least it is an overview and maybe a critical crib notes of the Left Behind series. There are more writers out there, more knowledgeable than myself, who are writing about the Left Behind books, that come at them in their own ways. I think all these are valuable as a whole. All that being said, I don’t think novels with political messages in them are necessarily bad, though if that outweighs the novel’s more important aspect, which is looking at character, it will take away from its importance as a novel. Satire, I think, is a bit different in that respect. As satire, the Left Behind books work extremely well. They can be read as self-parody, which is actually much more enjoyable.

Wayne: All politics aside, how good or bad is the writing in the novels itself?

Michael: To me, it’s pretty bad. In the forefront is that LaHaye gives Jenkins an outline, then Jenkins has to fit the characters into this, reducing the characters to mere pawns of a Biblically “literalist” authority first (it’s a pick and choose literalism though), as well as the authority of LaHaye, and then finally the authority of Jenkins. So you have three levels of authority over the characters before they can even get out on the page. The characters come out as much, cardboard and dead, with no independence of their own as characters. I’ve been reading more literary theory lately, and this has been influencing my thoughts on how authoritative the ‘authors’ are on the fictional characters in the books, to a point where I wonder if we can even call the Left Behind novels fiction or novels at all.

Wayne: You quote Richard Hofstadter a number of times in Skipping Towards Armageddon. Why does Hofstadter resonate with you?

Michael: I think he was right on when he was discussing the politics of paranoia in the U.S. We get it all the time, from terrorism, to nuclear war, to immigration, to fears of just about anything. We do paranoia very well. Fear is a galvanizing political tool, and the Left Behind novels play off fear. Fear of not being saved. Fear of being “Left Behind.” Fears of others. Fears of liberals, of the UN, fear of secularists, Jews, Muslims, Catholics or others not in the same theology or political ideology of LaHaye. So I thought Hofstader’s remarks on the paranoid style of American politics are as relevant now as they have ever been.

Wayne: The fear of globalization that characterizes the Left Behind movement seems hardly limited to the moral majority movement alone. Anti-globalization sentiment, what you called the fear of the clash of modernity with traditional values, seems to be common from left to right, and across East and West. Can you comment further on why those feelings are becoming widespread throughout the globe?

Michael: Wow, that’s a tough question and I don’t know if I could go into it in just a few lines. But the simple answer is that globalization affects people’s lives, for good and bad, and there is always a fear of change. People have the right to be afraid of change, as long as they can articulate why they are afraid of it. I tend to think a lot of anti-globalization fears are not articulated well, where they just become anti-for-being-anti sake, or anti-just-to-protect-my-interests sake. For example, anti-globalization farmers in France striking because the EU wants to reduce subsidies on their products. They want those subsidies, but those subsidies hurt farmers in the third world who find it hard to compete because their governments can’t offer the same support, but then if those farmers in France weren’t subsidized, they’d go under pretty fast because they couldn’t compete with the farmer in say Africa. What to do? There are so many pluses and minuses to globalization, but to simplify it into totally accentuating the negative as anti-globalization activists do or totally accentuating the positive as extreme free marketers do, misses the murky middle where the real truths lie. I, for instance, would love to see many more locally grown foods and small family farmers being supported, but I’d also like to see that farmer in Africa not have to compete with the big subsidies to export his goods. I think the bigger problem here is subsidies for unsustainable large scale farming, industrialized farming, instead of more humane and “loving” farming that individual farmers bring to their small farms. But I’m getting off the subject here …

Wayne: You noted the recent popularity of other apocalyptic works like Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow. How popular will these themes remain the further we get from the beginning of this millenium?

Michael: I think apocalyptic works will continue to be popular as long as we have big things to be afraid of. God, war, natural disaster, asteroids, global warming, etc. I would however like to see people be a bit more stoic and pragmatic than wasting their time being afraid. There are a lot better things to do with your life than living in fear. Also, as a side note, I think stories of individual apocalypse are interesting and perhaps beneficial. We all face our own apocalypse at the end anyway, our own destruction. Every moment is a little apocalypse I think, but also a moment of creation. It is where the larger apocalyptic religious ideas are used to support ideologies and movements where I get quite wary. People get hooked, do things they wouldn’t usually do, drink the bad kool-aid (whether that be a real poisoned drink or a few hundred dollars to Left Behind merchandise), and lose their sense of self, thus losing their power to someone in authority.

Wayne: You mention your childhood interest in the military and survivalism. How far, if at all, have you outgrown those interests?

Michael: I’ve outgrown this. I remember telling my mom I wanted to be a five-star general and it made her cry. I was like five or six years old. I could sit and look at guns and tanks for hours and hours. I would draw intricate tunnels with underground cities where I think I expected we’d all be living in a few years. Some crazy shit. I used to be really into ninjas as well, not in a teen-age-mutant ninja turtles sense, but into actually doing ninjitsu meditation and getting in pretty deep when I was about 12 years old. But puberty helped all that, I think.

Wayne: Can you tell us about your novel Pisco Kid and when you expect it to come out?

Michael: The Adventures of the Pisco Kid is a satirical adventure novel to be published by Arriviste Press, though not sure when exactly. I think they were going to start moving forward on this right about now. Supposedly hard cover, which I’d be all for, just for the sheer usefulness of the hard spine of the book as a ninjitsu killing device. The novel is about a young man whose mother (she named him Moses) thinks he has a mission to be some sort of messiah to the world, though he really doesn’t like this burden. He works as a rodent exterminator. That’s about all I’ll say, though I will say it was probably the thing I had the most fun writing.