You were talking a little earlier about the influence of childhood stories. I found it interesting that, since this is a book dealing with gender relations, there’s a repeated image of praying mantises. This might be because I just finished reading a novel in which one praying mantis devouring the other is a set piece in one scene…
Well, the female does after sex. Not always, but enough.
I think for whatever reason I thought it was always, so reading this novel has cleared that up for me. I found that to be a very interesting primal childhood memory, almost reassuring in its place in the narrative.
When you’re creating your character and you’re making that character particular, there are things in that child’s life maybe no other child has experienced, but may have experienced something like it and as unique, or that was inflected in such a way because of the way his or her parents reacted. I’ve always been fascinated by praying mantises but never wrote about them. Then when I did more research about them, I was even more excited. They are prehistoric. They’re like little dragons or something. Then, once I started writing about them, I began seeing them. David and I have a little house upstate and suddenly in the backyard I began seeing one every summer. I actually petted one on the head.
Oh my God.
She or he was on the fence and very still. I was looking at it and of course their heads do turn. It was looking at me. We stayed like this for a while. Then I just did it. It didn’t run away. I’m anthropomorphizing, but it has seem to have this human quality. It was pretty early on in my life when I first saw one, and I thought about it, but then seeing them again was amazing.
The novel’s title and then the ethnographic study that closes it out have titles that echo one another. Did you have both of those titles in mind from the outset?
Not Men In Quotes. That came when I started doing it and I thought, “Well, these really are men in quotes.” It had so many entendres, I couldn’t resist it. One moment I thought, “Maybe I should call the novel Men In Quotes,” but the word “apparitions” doesn’t get used much. There’s something that incorporates photography, the images, fantasy. So, it just seemed right to me.
You know what’s interesting? No one yet has attacked me for writing from a male point of view. No one has said, “Oh, this is not like a guy.” It’s interesting. In fact, it’s almost been taken for granted in the reviews. One woman, I assume she’s a young woman, writing for the Portland Mercury, was really interested that I’d written it from a male point of view and hooked it to the present moment. What did you think about representation?
I found his voice believable. As someone who is, I think, I’m a little older than Zeke is, at no point did I think, “Oh, no. This seems completely off base.”
I’m really glad. I teach writing in Albany in the spring and if you say to your undergraduate students, “I want you to write from the point of view of a boy if you’re a girl or girl if you’re a boy. Young man, young woman, whatever.” It’s the girls who say, “I couldn’t do that. I don’t know what boys think.” I look at them and say, “Of course you do. You don’t know what all boys think, but you can think about a boy. You can create a boy.” The boys, the young men, are less troubled, because they’ve been reading books by men who make female characters for years, for as long as they’ve been reading.
It’s interesting. I do find I think I’ve read far more instances of female writers writing believable men at the center than vice versa. I don’t necessarily know if I would say that’s better than the reverse or just that there have been some really egregiously bad female characters written by men at the center of books.
Can you say why you think?
I think there have been certain books where it’s seemed like a man was writing the object of his desire as a character. I remember reading one book a few years ago, with this young, beautiful woman who was falling for an older writer. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything that shudder-worthy from a woman writing a man in one of her books.
Is it because women censor themselves so much that they would be very careful not to overdo it?
I don’t know.
About writing one’s desires…. There are the Silhouette novels, and I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the outline Silhouette gives, or used to give. I don’t know even if they’re published anymore.
I have not seen them.
The hero has to be dark-haired, the heroine, blond, etc., it’s all mapped out. It’s a long list for that kind of romance novel, playing on a common fantasy of what a man will be, he’ll appear on a white … When you read the Brontës or Jane Austen, they’re writing men. One thing they do so brilliantly is establish point of view, from within a society, class, say. Their men are firmly situated in a position. That in a sense creates the character, along with that character’s psychology, but first, in Austen, you always know the position before you know the individual. It’s always the undoing of the position or the seeing through it or rebuling it which changes the man. Now I’m thinking of George Eliot and how her work factors all of that also. I still haven’t read Daniel Deronda. I must read that sometime. You’ve read that?
I read it a couple of years ago, yeah.
Is it wonderful?
I really enjoyed it.
I reread Middlemarch not too long ago. Amazing how she worked into the novel the problem in the 1840s of a new tax. There are so many possibilities for what a novel can be and can do. I’m consumed with trying to open up that space, the novel, because I think it can handle so much more than what’s usually done with it, now. Thank goodness for independent presses which encourage that, allow for that.
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