Below please find another in the reoccurring series of short Q&A’s with authors. This time with Jim Krusoe. Krusoe is the author of five books of poetry, the short story collection Blood Lake, and the novels Iceland and Girl Factory. He is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Fund. Jim Krusoe teaches creative writing at Antioch University and Santa Monica College.
For my review of his latest book Girl Factory see here. And here is a fascinating podcast interview by Michael Silverblatt.
On to the questions:
1) When people ask what you do for a living how do you answer? Teacher, poet, writer, novelist?
I generally say that Iâ€™m a writer who teaches writing. In many ways I donâ€™t find the distinctionsâ€”fiction, poetry and the essayâ€”inside the general activity of writing to be as important as the act itself. Iâ€™ve done all three, and for me they seem equally difficult.
2) Some have used the word Kafkaesque to describe your work. What is your reaction to that? How would you describe your writing style to a first time reader?
Kafkaâ€™s work and mine have in common a shared landscape of dream. That is: not naturalistic, of a limited point of view, and idiosyncratically obsessive. Where we overlap the most is not in the supremely self-contained dreams of The Castle and the later work, but more in Kafkaâ€™s unfinished novel, Amerika, where sections of the unruly real world keep poking through, like drunken strangers at a wake.
3) Does being a poet impact your fiction writing? If so how?
A reason I wrote poetry for twenty years before attempting fiction was that I didnâ€™t feel certain enough of this world to be able to actually describe a real street, with real houses and real neighbors. Iâ€™m not sure I can do that in fiction even now. Fiction implies a world outside the writer; in poetry, the voice of the writer is always present, is always the lens. So my version of fiction has been a sort of compromise between the two worlds, there is a lot of attention to language and to the huge leaps I associate with poetry, mixed with a more-or-less linear narrative and a real, made-up city, St. Nils. I canâ€™t imagine writing a story set in New York or Los Angeles, for example.
4) Is there any science behind yogurt as a life preserving fluid in Girl Factory? Is this the natural alternative to cryogenics?
One of the pleasures of writing this book was to discover how acidophilus can preserve life beyond all imagining, and then also having to invent a way to undo its effects. So if it is a science, Iâ€™d say itâ€™s a very new branch.
5) Why are memory and perception such slippery things? Are we incapable of seeing reality or are we unwilling to face it?
Just the other day I read that the organisms most capable of seeing the universe as it is are probably certain one-celled animals. They have the fewest number of filters between what exists and what they perceive. And then for humans, our memories are even trickier because theyâ€™re so malleable. Given therefore that what we are seeing is most certainly not reality, and out of that (whatever that is) we may remember only a part, mixed in with a lot of wishful thinking, is it any wonder things in humanland are somewhat confused? Thatâ€™s why I have a hard time with words like â€œtruthâ€ and â€œrealityâ€. For me, deliberate lies, and deliberate falsifications of experience are more relevant, and lord knows thereâ€™s enough of those to go around. And as for everything elseâ€”itâ€™s up for grabs.
6) Is there a fine line between being a hero and a fool? Jonathan wants to be a hero but his actions always lead to tragedy.
I suspect that the intentions of a fool and a hero are very similar. Itâ€™s the results that separate one from the other. I think about Oedipus, for example, who spent the first part of his life thinking he was a hero, and then had that taken from him by a mere shift of perspective. Does that seem so different from anyone elseâ€™s life?
7) If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is Jonathan insane? Or is he just a bumbling idiot?
And the rules for insanity are probably much the same as for heroism. Thereâ€™s a great American capitalist tradition of starting business after business until you succeed, and the entrepreneurial fantasy world is littered with stories like this. What they tend to leave out are all those people who go broke a few times and then shoot themselves. Apropos of which, friend of mine observed that reading about Jonathan trying to bring those women back to life was very like her having watched me work on various versions of this novel, which, at the end, topped forty drafts and took seven or eight years. Itâ€™s not a work model that I especially recommend.
8) Girl Factory seems to leave a lot of questions for the reader to answer or that happen off page (Why the girls are in the vats, what happened to Spinner, what happened in Mexico, etc.). Do you know the answer to these questions or does each reader bring an equally valid answer?
Not to harp on it, but in dreams situations are usually a given. I donâ€™t ever remember being in a dream where I tried to figure out how Iâ€™d got there; only that I had to deal with it. I left large parts of this book vague for that reason, and for two other reasons as well. First, if I had detailed the back-story, then I would have an obligation to deal with it, and that would change the novelâ€™s concerns. Second, I rather like the uncertainty because it feels right. When I think about my own lifeâ€”how it happened, how I got here, and what actually went on in a relationshipâ€”I find I canâ€™t answer these questions with any degree of certainty.
And yes, in Girl Factory I did have my opinions about what happened behind the pages in some instances, but I would like to think a nosy readerâ€™s theory is as welcome as mine.
9) Does the average person care about literature or books? Should they?
When a person says, â€œLet me tell you something that happened to me once . . .â€ I can feel every cell in my body relax and my defenses drop; Iâ€™m able to take in new information. Accordingly, stories (told through the medium of literature) contain varying amounts of information about what I need to know. I would hope that others as well wish to understand as much as possible about themselves and our world, and one of the best ways to engage this process is by reading. Admittedly, there are plenty of people who would rather not ask any questions at all, but would prefer to believe they have all the answers they need.
10) If you were given control of the local (meaning most prominent paper in your area) newspaperâ€™s book coverage what are three things you would change or implement?
Ah yes, being a book review editor is one of the several thousand things I am completely unqualified for, and this being the case, here are my suggestions, any one of whichâ€”or allâ€”might prove fatal to an actual paper:
1) Do more theme issues, with the book review using fiction, poetry, and non-fiction, to examine controversial topics and to discuss new concepts and theories.
2) Use more reviewers who are writers, rather than professional reviewers. Not that thereâ€™s anything wrong with professional reviewers, but it is taxing to do these reviews day after day and bring to them a sense of freshness and discovery. Given that there is already a large pool of largely unemployed writers, it shouldnâ€™t be too hard to find new voices. Speaking for myself, I always learn a lot whenever I find myself doing a review even though personally I try to avoid them.
3) Be less reverent.
Ah, the issue of hero or fool raises powerful questions and reveals preconceptions in our own minds.
I think of the Tarot fool about to blithely walk off a cliff, seemingly unaware of the fall ahead. But the hero takes a leap of faith, knowing the risk and braving his fears.
Both may plummet, discover a bridge or even fly. I don’t think it’s the result that defines the fool or the hero. I think it has something more to do with innocence and courage.
Oedipus may have been the fool when he killed his father and married his mother. He may have been the fool at his most wise when he answered the sphinx’ riddles. And he may have been his most heroic when, in his blindness, he was able to see and bear the truth.
Thanks for raising these fascinating issues!
Joanna Poppink, MFT
Los Angeles psychotherapist
author: Healing Your Hungry Heart