There is an amazing economy of language in your short stories and novel. How different--if at all--is the process of writing each?
So different! It's nice to hear that there's an economy in the novel, because there were yards and yards of pages that got cut, so for so long it felt intensely cluttered. Mainly, it just feels like tolerating the unknown of a story is easier for me than tolerating the massive unknown of a novel. I couldn't hold the pieces of the novel in my head at all for the longest time and it made it so scary and anxiety-provoking and then so exciting when finally it started to feel like an actual whole.
Do you study/believe in numerology? To what extent does numerology or that concept of numbers and their meaning inform your use of numbers in An Invisible Sign of My Own?
I love the idea of numerology but I don't really believe in it. But I like thinking about what numbers convey. The singer Jane Siberry, who I greatly admire, did a workshop/performance a year or so ago, and part of the workshop was on numbers and how they are formed--sort of a history of number writing. It was so interesting, and really well-timed for what I was working on. Which numbers are more feminine, which more masculine, like that. She also did this great thing where she said a number, and asked if it came to the door with a glass of water, if we'd let it in. We said yes, we'd probably let in 2. Half let in 3, some were scared of 3. 4 was considered aloof, or demanding. It was so interesting to see what emotional stuff was placed so vehemently on these seemingly objective things.
What is your favorite number, and why?
I am fond of 9. I changed my favorite number every year as I got older and around 9 I thought I should have some loyalty.
It's interesting how, in the small town, the most significant cultural institution is the hospital in all it's shimmering, blue glory. This speaks to the major themes in the book--death, or rather, not living, quitting life, however you want to put it. I'd love to hear more about this building, and the process you went through to develop it.
That blue hospital really had a grip on me; I wrote it as a tiny aside and then kept returning to it, kept wanting to write more. I like the idea of a place that is dealing with painful, messy, frightening, and very human events that is also so beautiful and ethereal. It's hard to reconcile. It got clearer visually to me as I wrote it, that the elevator was blue too, that they use Windex to clean it, since Windex is blue.
This would make a wonderful movie. Is that something you'd like to see? Which actress do you envision as the perfect Mona? I can't think of anyone, which leads me to believe that it would be an unknown actress, someone as unique and captivating as your prose.
It'd be fun to see as a movie, sure. I also feel safe having the book be my book, so my part is done. I'm not sure which actress... there's a woman named Jane Horrocks who was in this wonderful Mike Leigh movie, Life is Sweet, and she played a character with many tics and an inner fight that is hidden beneath all the weirdness. She was so fantastic in that movie, so passionate and stuck at the same time, and has lived in my head ever since. So of course I think she would be wonderful. But I think she was around 20 then, which was ten years ago, so humph.
Which of the children In An Invisible Sign of My Own most resembles you as a child?
What a good question! I wish I could say of course Lisa Venus, who is the type of kid I would've wished to be more like--the Squeaky Wheel. I noticed, when I taught elementary school, how true the squeaky wheel thing is, and how endearing squeaky wheels can be! Because when you're being a squeaky wheel, you're also really letting people know who you are. As a kid, I often figured it was good to be patient to a fault. So I had a bit of Lisa in me, but not enough. Too little Lisa. I had a little bit of all of them, definitely including Ellen, the non-last name, silent, obedient in-the-background kid. The one I'm least like is John Beeze, super-athletic sports kid. I always made those kids mad when I dropped the ball.
What are you working on next?
Fiddling around. Seeing what sticks. I do have a long short story I'm hunting around to get illustrated and find a home for as its own book, which would be an exciting project. I'm all for illustrations, as can be plainly seen in this Web site!
interview by Alison Dorfman and Larry Weissman