Interviews

The Next Big Thing

Darkroom

I had the pleasure of working with the talented Rebecca Hazelton when D.A. Powell selected her poem “Book of Janus” for Best New Poets 2011. Rebecca was kind enough to tag me to participate in “The Next Big Thing,” in which writers tag other writers to post self-interviews on Wednesdays, until the interwebs are (is?) bursting at the seams with insights into all manner of writerly things. You can read Rebecca’s interview here.

The questions are the same for everyone.

What is the working title of the book?

Darkroom.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

The event at the center is my mother’s suicide, which happened in 1999, one month before I started high school.

So it’s a story about loss, colored by…my time travel obsession? I like thinking about why our culture is interested in chronology and the idea of time travel, and how that might relate to regret, and memory, and grieving.

My time travel thing had been bubbling under the surface since I first saw Flight of the Navigatorand it got pretty serious at UVA when I was taking a course called “Narrative and Time.” We read Chris Ware, whose work says very true, simple, difficult things that no one else seems to say — he gives me knots in my stomach. We read Swann’s Way (the obsessiveness and jealousy and paranoia of “Swann In Love” is so, so wonderfully and painfully disorienting and dreamlike, it’s worth reading over and over again), and Martin Amis’s Time’s Arrow, in which chronology is reversed, thus reframing the atrocities committed by our protagonist — “Tod Friendly,” a Nazi doctor. Because the chronology is reversed, his acts of cruelty become acts of healing.

Time’s Arrow hit me particularly hard. I wrote the poem “Darkroom” immediately after finishing it, and, for me, everything is in that poem – time and the violence of it, but also how it can erase violence, rewrite or obscure our history. That poem is the map for the whole book.

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During that time I also came across Charlie Kaufman’s excellent Synecdoche, New York, where “the end is built into the beginning.” (See my thoughts on Synecdoche in an earlier blog post.) Darkroom’s final poem is called “Beginning” – I wrote the original draft in 2004 after a promising first date. I wrote: “The unfolding of arms / in a dark room. The moment bleeding black / until the meeting of mouths ensures that its beauty, // concluding anticipation, will end the heart.”

Which is to say that I often feel that I’m living in a flattened or compressed chronology, where everything could be happening at once. The promise of anything new – a relationship, a friendship, an opportunity – is already colored by its inevitable end.

Optimistic stuff!

What genre does your book fall under?

Poetry.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I could see a Darkroom film as a series of vignettes – we jump from Florida in the ‘90s, to Missouri in an earthquake, we go inside Winslow Homer and Caravaggio paintings, then to Khartoum, and to Yuri Andropov’s desk.

It would be a great opportunity to pull out some ’90s costumes and set designs. Dressing the mother would be wild.

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As far as casting:

The mother – Michelle Pfieffer, White Oleander-style
Isabella Lombardi, teenage tart – One of the girls from Pretty Little Liars, which I don’t watch.
The redheaded man at the rest stop – A redheaded Benedict Cumberbatch.
Beau, who hates when his friends make art – A young Zak Orth.
The boy heartbreaker from “The Discarded” – Someone with a “jerkface,” like Alex Pettyfer. Though this character certainly need not be pretty.

And many trained animals to play the various dogs, deer, horses and birds that make appearances.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

Is the act of remembering (and re-remembering, and re-remembering…) creative or destructive? (Or both? It certainly isn’t neither.)

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

The bulk of the manuscript was written or revised in the winter of 2009/2010 at C-ville Coffee in Charlottesville. I feel like it was always snowing, but that can’t be true. Several of the poems were written as early as 2004. The manuscript felt “complete” in the spring of 2010, and that’s when I began sending it out.

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Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Any mentor or poet who was able to show me the proper way to filter trauma into something meaningful and not maudlin.

Also, memories of my high school darkroom. (Which I found out has been replaced by a computer lab! Time marches on.) I started thinking about the idea that you can subvert the “reality” of a film negative by projecting that negative onto the photo paper and waving your hand under the projector or covering the paper with a sheet that blocks the light, or adjusting the exposure, or playing with filters, etc. And how that might be an apt metaphor for how we remember, and how we rewrite our stories. Choosing what we want to show or hide.

But of course a negative is not “reality;” it’s a distortion itself. As our our initial experiences of events. But now we’re getting into the question of what truth/reality is.

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

There are appearances by Mark Twain and Hurricane Andrew. There’s a little Hebrew, hormones, religion, teenage angst, politics, all the good stuff. And I get to say a few mean things to my hometown of Orlando.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Darkroom was published by the University of Wisconsin Press in 2012.

My tagged writers for next Wednesday are:

Kelli Allen
Carolyn Creedon
Jonterri Gadson

Darkroom is available in paperback or e-book. Purchase Darkroom at indiebound.org, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or at the University of Wisconsin Press website.

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