Thursday, June 17, 2010

Interview with Mayra Calvani

Today's guest is Belgian based author, reviewer and freelance writer Mayra Calvani, who has dropped by to chat about her new book Sunstruck a book described as "Salvador Dali meets Terry Gilliam".  Who could resist that combination!

Tell me about the origins of Sunstruck – where did the idea for the novel come from; what was the impetus?

The conception of this book stemmed from two factors: my personal observations of Puerto Rican artists when I was a teen and my love for satiric writing, a taste I developed in college. My mother was—and still is—an artist, and although she’s retired now, back in the early eighties she was an active painter in San Juan, showing her works at art exhibits and galleries regularly. She took me everywhere with her, so I attended all these shows and activities and I observed. Let me tell you something, the art scene can be extremely interesting and that is because so many artists are eccentric, unconventional people. And there’s so much jealousy and gossip!

SunstruckI guess all these experiences must have made an impression on me. When the time came to write my book, I knew these were the people and situations I wanted to write about. I decided I would make the book a parody, this way I could keep it light and have the freedom to exaggerate to the point of being ridiculous. I decided an upbeat, sharp, satiric, darkly humorous approach would be perfect for In the Time of Dinosaurs, so that’s the style I went for. There are a lot of absurd situations in the book. For instance, one of the characters dresses as Zorro and slashes women’s behinds; another starts a hotel where people can share a room with the animal of their choice; another, a nun, rides in a motorcycle wearing cool black glasses and carrying a six pack; another uses fresh human blood to keep her skin looking young. There’s a lot of crazy stuff like that. Ultimately, though, is about a confused young woman looking for meaning among chaos.

Tell me a bit about your protagonist, Daniella.

Daniella is in her mid twenties and already divorced. She’s trying to complete her architecture degree. She’s closest to her mom and her overweight Turkish cat. She doesn’t study as much as she should and drinks a lot more than she should. She’s naive and a bit scattered and keeps falling for the wrong kind of guy—the good-looking, irresponsible, bohemian artist type. She’s a nice girl, but she needs some serious reality check if she’s going to take control of her life. When she starts working at her ex-husband’s animal lovers hotel, she begins to realize there’s something very bizarre going on. At the same time, she’s trying to support her talented, crazy jealous boyfriend Tony, whose ego makes him blind and who doesn’t care about anybody but himself. Then something happens that changes Daniella’s life forever.

Your narrative style is an unusual one. Talk to me a bit about the point of view you chose and the structure and why it fit your characters.

I chose first person, present tense, and multiple points of view separated by chapters. So in each chapter the reader gets in the head of a different character. To be honest, I didn’t choose this consciously, it just happened automatically as I began to write. I should mention, though, that I wrote this book in my early twenties, so my writing style has changed a lot during the years. I first self published the book in Puerto Rico in the late eighties. Only 500 copies which, surprisingly, I managed to sell at local bookstores. Eventually the manuscript went through various edits until I decided to submit it to an American publisher. The editor at Zumaya Publications liked it and offered me a contract.

But to go back to your question, I think the style fits the tone and the story and gave me the freedom to explore the bizarre psychology and motivation of the characters.

What’s next for you? Are you working on a new book or do you have a wish list of projects that you’re hoping to get to soon.

Gosh, I have so many things going on at the moment. I’m a multi-tasker kind of person (sometimes I think this is a curse). I’m working on a YA novel, a MG nonfiction book, and various children’s books in different stages of development. At the same time I’m trying to find a home for a horror novel, an MG novel, and about 15 picture book manuscripts already completed. My friends don’t call me a busy bee for nothing.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Literature for Father’s Day

Imagining the Future: Ruminations on Fathers and Other Masculine Apparitions (Volume 1)How about literature for Father’s Day instead of ties or dinner?

We know ties are a cliché and in a few years, Dad won’t remember one Father’s Day dinner from another. Let’s face it, not all literature is created equal -- some books are just as fleeting, though most would be a step up from a gift certificate and certainly would help support the industry that we believe important for the future. I’m proposing poetry.

First, you may have never given your father, grandfather, or a favorite father figure in your life a book of poetry. Thus, it will be memorable. A small book of poetry will also be flattering. He will appreciate being treated tenderly. In fact, present a small chapbook with a single rose or gladiolus spray. Who says that only women want romance and tenderness in their lives! You could write your own beautiful and unique poem.

You might choose to tuck it inside the cover of the Chapbook Imagining the Future: Ruminations on Fathers and Other Masculine Apparitions that Carolyn Howard-Johnson and I wrote for our Celebration Series of chapbooks. Our idea for this series is to have small books written for those who prefer something a little a little more literary than the typical greeting card, but still accessible for those who didn’t study literature in school. And at an affordable price. With cover art (and sometimes interior art) chosen from among our circle of talented writing and artist friends.

Most of our booklets are $6.95. In addition to our newist father oriented book, we now have one for mothers (She Wore Emerald Then: Reflections on Motherhood), one that says love (Cherished Pulse: Unconventional Love Poetry), and are currently working on one for Christmas. It will be called Blooming Red (drop me a line if you'd like a sample or two!)

Think of your poetry presentation to Dad as a Father’s Day card; it costs little more than one. Or think of it as a tuck-in gift or a tie-on as part of the wrap. Any poetry book you choose can be made more personal if you tie in a little grosgrain or satin ribbon inside the crease of the book to be used as a bookmark.
And don’t forget the hug.

Here is a sample poem from Imagining the Future, and if you're a father, happy Father's Day to you!

Horizon Scanning

Your eyes squint at glare
wavering between dreams

imaginary lines
or clear delineations

from this point
it’s not possible to judge

take a stand from your degraded platform
speaker’s corner cardboard soapbox

microwave radiation
blocking your ears

you can shout your head off
until everyone gathers

it won’t change reality
or will it?

28 billion light years
one edge to the other

there you are
explorer without a map

scratching your head
the horizon problem flakes those broad shoulders

Atlas in messy hair
and bell bottoms

every mystery you solve
invokes another.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

In praise of the slow read, or why we need longer attention spans

Attention spans are shortening. I hear it all the time, and don’t doubt it either. People are bombarded with fact paced moving imagery on television, in computer games, in media of all types and we scan, cram, multitask, grab a quick bite and move on. From a literary perspective, Noah Lukeman tells us that we get five pages to capture an agent or publisher’s attention, and there is evidence that the same is true for readers. If you don’t grab their interest quickly, well, there are plenty of other books out there that will, besides, we only have 5 minutes to read. But is this good? From the perspective of a reader, is it wise? There are some novels that will grab you from the first page and hold on until the last. Some of the more successful young adult books have developed the “cliffhanger” to the point of perfection. But just because a book is slow or languid, doesn’t necessarily mean that it isn’t engaging. Sometimes engagement takes time and effort, and complex meaning needs space to unfold. Good poetry often takes several readings before the denouement hits or the meaning becomes clear. I find that, even on re-reading, anything by Virginia Woolf needs a reading of the entire book before the full power and meaning becomes clear. Judge too quickly and you’ll miss the big picture. The last book I read (re-read) – Life of Pi – was the same. The bigger picture required the entire space of the book. I simply was unable to judge it adequately on the first five pages. Now I’m a busy gal, to be sure. I run everywhere and multitask constantly. But I’m still in favour of reading (and to be honest, writing) slowly. I don’t believe that it’s healthy to consume everything so quickly, and discard so readily. Surely there’s still value in teaching our children (and ourselves) to wait for gratification? If we don’t at least occasionally learn to wait a little we’re in danger or making judgement too soon, and allowing our desire for constant external stimulation to stop us from experiencing the beautiful in favour of the quick.