Category Archives: palimpsest

Vita privata di una sconosciuta

People of northern California!  Listen to me embarrass myself this coming Monday, February 21st at 3 PM!  I will be on KPFA 94.1 ‘s Cover to Cover.  Live radio, dudes.  Yikes!  I got a little bit of practice this week being taped for the Stanford Storytelling Project, but they will be able to edit me to sound articulate!  So, on Monday I will have to watch for my verbal ticks, such as “um,” and “like,” and “fuck.”  (Yes, I have a propensity for saltiness.)

Meanwhile, I am getting published in Italy this week by Garzanti:

They even made a book preview video!  I don’t know what it says, but it looks sexy:

Is that something about “saint or sinner?”  Sweet.  Oh, by the way, the title in Italian means “Private Life of an Unknown Woman.”  I don’t know why they changed it, but I don’t mind it.  I actually find it really interesting how they translate and market stuff in other countries.  I can’t wait to see what the book actually looks like!  Not that I will understand it, but I am still excited.  I just love iterations of stuff.  When the Russians get around to translating it and I see the thing in Cyrillic, I will surely plotz.  So cool.

This week I also bought a lovely black dress that will be perfect for author-type functions (first public reading next Friday EEK!).  I love the way Calvin Klein skates the line between foxy and austere.  (Lest you think I am getting too swank: I bought it at Ross for fifty bucks.  This after cashing a very large publication day check.  I know, I know: I don’t know how to live it up.  But–I did make another one of my giant student loans disappear with that check.  That’s right, I AM COMING FOR YOU, STUDENT LOANS.  SOON YOU WILL ALL DIE.)

Advertisements

History writes history.

Awesome Romanian research stuff:

According to many sources, the pastoral ballad Miorita encapsulates something essential about the Romanian soul.  In the story, three shepherds tend their sheep on the same plain: a Vrancean, a Transylvanian, and a Moldavian.  Since the Moldavian is the wealthiest, the other two decide that they are going to kill him and steal his flock.  The Moldavian’s favorite lamb, Miorita, overhears them, and goes to warn her master.  The Moldavian only wishes to be buried on the heath with his flute, and tells Miorita to tell all the other sheep and his poor old mother that he went away to marry a princess “at Heaven’s doorsill,” that the sun and the moon came down to hold his bridal crown, that the mountain was his priest, the stars his torches, and the birds his fiddlers.

Such stoic submission is totally incomprehensible from an American standpoint, and yet it is undeniably beautiful, and contains its own kind of strength.

Do not piss off Vlad the Impaler.  If you are not sure why, see name.

An uncanny number of consorts of Romanian heads of state have my name.  It’s a little spooky.

Medieval Wallachian king Michael the Brave owed the Ottomans a whole bunch of money. So he was like, “yo dudes, come get your money.” And then they showed up, and he was like, “see that building? Your money’s in there.” So they went in. And then he set the building on fire.

Huh. Think I could pull that off with student loan people?

1858

The Ottoman Porte allowed Moldavia and Wallachia to each elect heads of state, but did not allow them to unify as a nation. In response, the two principalities both elected… the same guy.*

Ha! Well played, Romania. Well played.

* married to one of the Elenas.  Yep.

In ancient times, what is now Romanian territory was inhabited by a people called the Dacians, who were eventually swallowed by the Roman empire.  Very little is known about them–what is most interesting about them is how Romanians have chosen to fit them into their national narrative over the past couple of centuries.  When they wanted to belong to western Europe, they surmised the the Romans had entirely eradicated the Dacians–essentially making modern Romanians descendants of Rome only.  When they wanted to separate themselves from western Europe, they instead cast Rome as the outside oppressor, making modern Romanians plucky Dacian survivors.  In the unwinding years of the Ceaucescu regime, it was affirmed that Romanian is such a heavily Latin language not because Dacians were romanized but because–hang onto your pants–Romans were dacianized.  According to this theory, the Latin language was in fact descended from Dacian, and the origin of western civilization can be traced back to Romanian soil.  The truth is, of course, that the Dacian language is completely lost–its only possible remnants being a small collection of modern Romanian words that are neither Latin nor Slavic.

The truth is that writing down what happened also erases what happened.  The truth is that history writes history.

I don’t know how yet, but it will.

I drafted a short story! It’s been a loooooooong time since I’ve done that. I tend to forget that when you write something, it doesn’t have to be 300 pages long.  I’ve also been doing lots of research, reading up on Romanian history and lore.  I’d forgotten how much fun research can be, how some interesting factoid can lead you onto another interesting factoid then another then another into palimpsestic infinity.  Must have been part of why I pursued academia, back in the day!

For instance, I just learned today that there was a terrifying 7.3 earthquake in Bucharest in 1977 that killed over 1,500 people and hugely damaged the city.  Which created an opportunity for the erection of lots of gigantic stolid Socialist architecture.  And displaced so many people (even more were subsequently displaced to make way for aforementioned gigantic stolid Socialist architecture) who abandoned their dogs that said dogs formed packs and this is why the city had a big stray dog problem up until this decade.  Whoa.

All this research was prompted by my pained realization that In the Red is supposed to be in the third person.  Which in turn made me understand that the novel has to be bigger than just Irina’s story.  So I am pursuing a sort of collective unconscious type of angle.  And let me tell you, the Romanian fairy tales I’ve been reading lately are perfect for that, because they are WEIRD.  They are like a Jungian’s wet dream.  Not to mention the great boon of being able to exploit the tremendous richness of fairy tales that don’t happen to be familiar to a western audience.  No, I should say, “known by a western audience,” because it is the hallmark of fairy tales that they are always familiar.

All this background stuff is going to give me the structure.  I don’t know how yet, but it will.

kill me as many times as you like

Ahoy!  I have been remiss in updating this blog for the last couple of weeks.  There hasn’t been much to report, 13-rue-Thérèse-wise, since the galleys have gone out.  I hover in an anxious Limbo waiting for reviews to start coming in, trying desperately to keep my brain from chewing on itself.  I’ve been reasonably successful at doing that by giving it In the Red to chew on instead.  I have been working on this unyielding book.  It is a very, very testy text but I think eventually some good will come of it.  It is, as I am, obsessed with palimpsest.  So, that is quite expected.  What is less expected is that it has some pungent opinions about American capitalism.  I couldn’t quite describe them as unqualifyingly negative; that would be too simplistic.  Let’s just say the text is working on this problem.

The text also has a lot to say about wedding rituals.  That imagery keeps cropping up all over the place.  Ditto imagery about executions.  The two sets of images are, of course, related.  The link is not a new one–nevertheless there is something weird and compelling at work here.  A preoccupation with ceremony.  Symbolic clothes.  Performed gestures.

Money.  Not just as a concept, but as a physical object.  The cloth-like weave of cash, the smell of it.  The transfer through many hands.  The stolid gazes of dead presidents.

There is less sex than I was expecting in this book.  But in another way there is more sex than I was expecting.  Again, difficult to explain.  I should say: so far there has been less graphic description than I was anticipating about bodies doing what they do, but there is a sort of arrested attention in the gaze of the narrator on the world itself that is very sexual.  Not emotional, but intense in a denuding way.

A trinity of men: Bad, Worse, and Worst.  And the narrator doubles herself infinitely inside all the other female characters, inside allegorical dream figures.  The narrator, the blasted creature named Irina with a name that doubles my own so obviously that it’s embarrassing.  Last week the text introduced yet another double for her, a Russian mail order bride named Elena.  The moment gave me pause.  I looked at the book and said, really, you’re not serious.  It smiled at me quietly.  Radiantly.  And I knew that this frail girl with my name will have to die, given all the execution images.  How that I will happen I don’t know, but the destruction of her body is an inevitability.

So you want to symbolically walk me down a dark hallway and shoot me in the back of the neck, Soviet-style, hm? I said to the book as it showed me the pink dress with tulle overlay Elena had on at her quickie Vegas wedding, the delicacy of her collar bones, her heart-rending youth.  You intend to kill me, do you?  Well, then, kill me as many times as you like.

As long as you make something of it.


a palimpsest, an American myth

I was taken on a time travel journey when my niece posted the following video on her facebook page:

This is the opening to a 1971 TV show called The Persuaders! When I heard the distinctive music, I immediately remembered this airing while I was growing up in France under the title Amicalement vôtre… (The two titles have nothing to do with each other besides both being punctuated.)  When I asked my husband about this show, he did not at all recollect it.  It turns out it was immensely more popular in continental Europe than it ever had been the American/British market.  Why?  Because when it was translated into German, they entirely jettisoned the original script, instead dubbing in much funnier lines that had little to do with the original.  Subsequent versions for other European markets were then translated from the wacky German version, resulting in millions of viewers loving a completely different show than what had been initially intended.  I find this intensely interesting.

After watching this and being transported back to French television in the eighties, I went on an epic nostalgia trip through YouTube.  Much of what I watched as a child were shitty American TV shows dubbed over.  If you want to be thoroughly amused, watch the following:

Whoever translated the shows almost always felt compelled to add violently dorky theme songs that had not been in the originals.  The lyrics to the Starsky & Hutch intro above are so brain-bleachingly stupid that they are almost endearing.  But, Starksy & Hutch was not the best–THIS was the best:

Yes!  It’s Dallas!  And the lyrics here are so fantastic that they bear being translated:

Dallas
your pitiless universe
Dallas
glorifies the law of the strong
Dallas
and beneath your implacable sun
Dallas
you fear only death
Dallas
mother country of the dollar, of petrol
Dallas
you do not know pity

 

Totally.  Freaking.  Awesome.  Speaking of American myth, I also used to watch this cartoon:

I don’t think this aired in the US.  I don’t know where it was made.  It was a very, very loose adaptation of Tom Sawyer.  The theme song features what may possibly be my favorite lyric in the history of lyrics:

He is afraid of nothing; he is an American.

How can you read that and not be tickled silly?

But–let me now make a radical turn and address you seriously.  The song starts with:

Tom Sawyer is America, symbol of liberty.

and later:

Tom Sawyer is America, for all those who love truth.

Do you see those words?  Remember the world in which those words were written.  Look at what America used to mean.  Do you see?

They do not think this of us anymore, and they are right.

Je suis derrière la porte.

My big achievement for today was hiding a picture of myself behind the door on my “about me” page.  Trust me, considering my technological ineptitude, this is indeed an achievement.  I also made a little icon of my book cover for my sidebar that links directly to my novel’s Amazon page.  If I were truly virtuous, it would link to a page that read “be good and buy me from a struggling independent bookstore!”  But, I am not that virtuous.

Oh–I almost forgot: I also added my twitter feed to my sidebar.  Yes, I signed up for twitter.  My editor told me to, and because I am a befuddled virgin author, I acquiesced.  140 characters is bloody short.  It’s an interesting exercise in editing though.  So far I’ve managed to avoid using “2” for “to” or other internety abbreviations that raise my old, obsolete hackles.  I’ve also managed to avoid steering the horseless carriage as it frightens me and I do not enjoy it.  (Dude, I’m totally serious.  I don’t drive.  I’m sure at some point I will have to remedy this situation.  At some point.  But I am very gifted at procrastination.)

I continue on with my new novel, In the Red.  Although it appears that for every page I produce, I must delete two.  I have a plot, but I do not have a structure.  I also have a taciturn protagonist, who is a rather stark contrast from my dear, voluble Trevor.  It appears she will not disclose anything unless I ask her directly.  So, progress is slow.

I am also in the thick of reviewing typeset pages for 13 rue Thérèse.  They look really pretty, although in a lot of places the typesetter misunderstood my instructions so extravagantly that it makes me want to lie down and whimper softly to myself.  Sigh.  The galleys will contain the errors as there will not be enough time to correct them before they are printed.  Double sigh.

Typeset pages are a much different animal than manuscript pages.  For one thing, I must limit my editing as much as I can in order to make as little extra work as possible for the typesetter.  I’ve only changed one word here or there; the time for extensive edits is over.  I’m having a lot of conversations with myself that look like this:

“Oh that paragraph is terrible! We must delete it immediately.”

“Ssssshh calm yourself. Maybe no one will notice.”

“Well, I hope to God nobody quotes it in a review.”

A typeset text is literally set.  It’s like lava that’s solidified into rock.  If you want to change it you have to whip out a chisel, because the stage of flux has ended.  It’s hard to describe the transformation.  It’s not my manuscript anymore; it’s now part of the collective record.  Everything that went into the text is subsumed within it.  The people who inspired the characters are now gone from inside them; only the characters remain.  The sources are immortalized; the sources are expunged.  The text is dead; long live the text.

Sweep away the ash and lay your hand on rock that was once liquid and hot enough to burn you away into the barest wisp of nothing.  From red to black, the flow froze into these furrows and whorls you can follow with your finger.  Yes, if you like you can follow them up all the way to the dark gash whence they came.  If you like you can make yourself dizzy looking down into the fathomless deep, but be careful.  If the earth starts to tremble, you won’t have much time.

Cheez Doodles for my ego

“13 RUE THERESE is a puzzle-novel and gave me the same fizzy satisfaction as completing a Sunday crossword.  It will light up your brain and your heart.”
–David Ebershoff, author of THE 19TH WIFE

Pretty spiff, no?  This here is my first blurb.  I hadn’t even known the publisher was gathering them when I received this, since galleys aren’t out yet.  I will get typset pages  at the end of next week; I’ll have three weeks to turn them around like I did the copyedits.  Then the galleys will materialize on August 6, and the book will start to look like a book!  There will be much squeeing.

Other good news: the London Book Fair has borne fruit.  13 rue Thérèse sold in Russia, Poland, and France.  On top of the previous UK and Italy sales, that is five foreign markets so far.  Sweet.  I hope more are forthcoming; I love the idea of having a nice stack of the same book differently iterated, as I love the idea of not being able to read my own transmogrified prose.

A special Godspeed goes out to the French translator, who will have to translate my translations of French letters that are reproduced in the text.  Good luck with that.  Since a lot of the metafiction in the novel happens in the way Trevor chooses to edit and translate those letters, the French version of the novel will present a huge tension.  The target language will be the same as the original, making the changes especially naked, and also making it obvious that Trevor himself was translated back.  This will make the translator extremely and unusually visible.  I am not opposed to the translator playing around with this bizarre situation, like maybe adding his own set of weird footnotes.  We’ll have to see.  It makes my brain tremble to fathom it.

Speaking of translation, did you know that in England, book blurbs are called “puffs?”  I find that word both apt and adorable.  Plus it makes me kind of hungry, it makes me think of Cheez Doodles.  Nom nom.  Cheez Doodles for my ego.  More please.

Meanwhile I’ve been telling my husband that I’m going to bust some heads if no critic calls my prose “luminous.”   Ooooh, let me tell you one of my most depraved fantasies…  It is to write a terrible book, I mean horrid–the vilest excrescence my suffering body could ever push from itself–and then have it printed with ink expressed from firefly abdomens so that the prose would quite literally be luminous.  Aaaaah I am so perverted.  Maybe in a previous life I knew Huysmans.  Maybe in a previous life I was Huysmans.  Did you know that towards the end of his life, he became a huge Catholic?  That too, I find both apt and adorable.

Huysmans would approve of this. It is definitely in the decadent spirit.