Resource: Stacey D'Erasmo on Intimacy and the Subconscious

Stacey D'Erasmo on the writing moment when your project falls apart:

"Your conscious plan dissolves...and the reason it is dissolving is that your subconscious is beginning to take over, and to shove your conscious out of the way...and your subconscious is certainly smarter than you are."

D'Erasmo's little book, The Art of Intimacy: The Space Between is a resource I highly recommend for writers of narrative.  In it, she analyzes ways to create connection between characters, between characters and reader, between author and reader, riffing on the advice of EM Forster: "only connect."  The connections she cites are familial and romantic, of course, but also the sharing of secrets, and the commitment of violence, and the culpability of standing by while others act.  In other words, the intimacy she presents is not the intimacy one thinks of immediately upon hearing the word.

She addresses, among other things, the problem of cliche and stereotype in written love, in a pop-culture environment where intimacy is practically a commodity, stating,  "It's all too easy to throw a little intimacy, especially damaged intimacy, at a narrative to get it to seem serious and literary.  Like corn syrup, it fills stuff out and makes it tasty."  The problem is one of creating distance from our faith in intimacy as it has been sold to us.  In her words, "piety of any kind is never especially good for art.  Characters can, and should, believe in all kinds of things, passionately and with brilliant wrongheadedness, but the book is, generally speaking, up to something else, something broader, something less sure of itself."

She uses as inspiration not only works of literature, but also visual art, most notably the photos of Nan Goldin, whose intimate gaze is always a heavy presence:  "Goldin invites us to see the men and women she loves as she sees them, to occupy her position as loving eye...We feel, perhaps, closer to, or attracted to, these subjects, but we probably feel closest psychically to Goldin; we understand what her desire feels like to her."

D'Erasmo's book is part of the wonderful Graywolf Press series, The Art of, edited by Charles Baxter, each of which explores a single aspect of craft.



Resource: For Lovers of Small Books

Speaking of Marvels is a frequently-updated blog highlighting poetry chapbooks and novellas. What I love about both is that no one can mistake them for a commercial enterprise.  In the nineties I ran a chapbook imprint, Big Fat Press, publishing poetry and experimental/performance texts.  In my case, it was a purely homegrown venture.  I printed linoleum block covers, did all the editorial work myself, and printed the guts of the books on the sly at my Wall Street day job.  Binding the books was a painstaking sewing and/or gluing project, long hours in front of the TV.  The authors distributed the books at their readings, giving them a little beer money on the road.  The only limitations were time and my ability to stay awake.  

I'm not the only one to take on this kind of project.  Now, with the advent of e-readers, the options are bigger.  The power is with the people.  And often, at this smaller scale, we are able to witness the early, beautifully-wrought efforts of emerging writers, before the world and the marketplace hears of their work.

Speaking of Marvels interviewed me late last year, for my novella, The Beginning of the End of the Beginning, published for Kindle by Ploughshares Solos.  I was grateful that they approached me, which introduced me to an awesome resource, profiling the likes of Anders Carlson-Wee, Meg Pokrass, and Molly Gaudry.