An Interview with Lynda Schor, author of "The Body Parts Shop" (FC2 2006) et al.
By Carol Novack
CN: I'm delighted to interview you as our Issue 7 featured author, Lynda. You're a true Mad Hatter writer, unafraid to take stylistic and thematic risks and brilliantly, hysterically, "over the top" satirical. The Mad Hatters adore "over the top" writers who don't play croquet by the rules.
CN: Do you think that offbeat literary women writers have a tougher time than offbeat male writers? How seriously does the publishing and literary world take offbeat satirical writings by women?
LS: I think whatever women are doing—and women are publishing a lot of books, some of which are experimental and offbeat and satirical—we have to remain nice, and we have to be "acceptable." The cuter we are the better. I think that right now the visual art world is way ahead of the literary world in terms of anything wild, weird, difficult, non-narrative, and transgressive. I'm talking about the U. S. now. Transgression in language or ideas will be less accepted from women authors. The male story is still the main story, and the male story structure is still the acceptable story structure.
Satire is often mean, and satirizing sex (from a woman's point of view) can get disgusting and anti-romantic, or anti politically correct. Probably only about 30% of the American population can recognize that satire is funny. And that it might be funny and dark at the same time is too disturbing. People (and I'm generalizing) seem to think they have a right to be protected from being insulted or disturbed, and many feel empowered to censor what's disturbing rather than to just stay away from it. That said, it's hard to tell what people will really accept, as the publishing corporations are the gatekeepers between the writer and the public, and the publishing world is about money and fear, mass markets and bottom lines.
CN: What's the riskiest thing you've ever written? Do tell!
LS: I'm not interested in anything that isn't risky. I've been sued, and I've lost friends. I've written stories that haven't been published until 20 years after they were written. In a story called, "Eva Braun's Last Tragic Abortion," I describe, in great detail, Eva Braun and Adolf Hitler having sex on their final evening alive. It took 25 years for that one to get published.
I'd say, though, that my riskiest story was about race and class. After a number of responses to the story, I decided to hide it away in the dark, somewhere where some of my most unacceptable ideas simmer. Maybe in 20 years I'll send it out.
I am very interested in and influenced by the "bad guys and gals," such as Henry Miller, Kathy Acker, Dennis Cooper, Kafka, Lidia Yuknavitch, William Burroughs. I love Shelley Jackson's writing. I'm attracted to the innovator, the nasty, the bad, the sexy, the dingy and disgusting, the wild and surrealistic.
CN: You have a degree in visual art, not in writing. How has being a visual artist influenced how you write?
LS: I see my writing in images and one of my challenges is using words as a medium to describe visual images. I'd like my stories to be visual and vivid, and to be remembered as if they are films. My story structures are visual to me. I could diagram them as drawings. I love to think about how the medium of paint and the medium of words are alike, and how they are different. I've never wanted any written work of mine to be illustrated. But I have been using photos and drawings and diagrams as elements that need to be understood the way words are. I like photos that are slightly blurred—like in W.G. Sebald's work—that add mystery, rather than adding a pictorial version to something being said. In writing I use the visual art techniques such as pastiche and collage. I also write many stories about visual artists. I want my writing to be like the art of Francis Bacon, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Jim Dine, Jasper Johns, Egon Schiele, etc.
In the past, writing was for a tool for expressing something I wanted to express, and doing visual art (painting, printmaking, photography) was a tool for expressing other aspects of myself. I didn't see that there was much connection. My visual art was also sunnier, prettier, I think. But now the visual and the writing have moved closer. My writing has become as abstract as my visual art, my visual art subjects have become darker and more political, and much more satirical. I am happy with my writing and my visual art when the connections vibrate just above or below the line of comprehension, as in an Ashbery poem or a Bacon painting.
In "Sex for Beginners 2," I used the graphic (visual) material instead of words to say something of their own. The graphic or pictorial sections may be inexplicable, but they say something visceral and visual that is related to the written sections. And they are all related to sex in the same tenuous ways.
CN: All of your stories are spectacular, Lynda, but I read "Coming of Age" [In "The Body Parts Shop"] several times because I loved it so much. I was bowled over by the way you depicted your first-person protagonist's real emotions of maternal love, powerlessness, bewilderment, alarm and self-denigration, in the face of her "tough" teenage "whore" daughter's seeming self-satisfaction and independence, and . . . finally, fragility. But what is remarkable is that this beautifully crafted character study of mother and daughter dwells within what we realize in the end is an absurd surreal landscape. Thus the piece goes beyond the borders of a well-executed "realistic" New Yorker type story into the realm of the experimental.
Can you talk a bit about that story and your earlier classification of its theme as bearing on class? Can you tell us what inspired you to write "Coming of Age?"
LS: If it's OK, I'd like to start with your last question and move backwards.
I wanted to write a story about that hideous moment when one's child is very young and vulnerable, but thinks he/she is very grown up. It's a moment that seems very frightening to the parent, who understands mortality and danger, while the kid feels newly powerful. It's also a moment when the child really doesn't have to listen any more, or follow any of the rules that the parent imagines will keep the child safe. It's a very autobiographical story, though it isn't "realistic." I'm not interested in portraying anything in a "realistic" way—whatever that means. I'm interested in believability. All my stories are somewhat surrealistic, and grossly exaggerated. But that protagonist is me in an incarnation, and the daughter is mine in many ways, though not all ways. My real daughter is not a prostitute dating a senator's son who has graduated from Harvard Business School, for instance. "Coming of Age" is successful, and unusual for me, (I write very long stories and love to add any related material I can find) because it covers a lot of issues, but it's pretty short. It's extremely concentrated.
So still going backward to your question, Carol, about how "Coming of Age" bears on class, I guess I really meant American capitalism. I am always aware of how family members become separated by huge differences in income, as that's one of the stories of my family, but that's only touched on in the story. What IS there is the generational difference between the parent and the child—the different interpretation the child has about all the things her mother did during her youth, and all the things her mother felt were important are nothing to her daughter, who has different morals, different standards and different goals. The child's values are materialistic. Because she has a bigger, better apartment than her mother, it doesn't matter to her that she's a prostitute who the mother feels is being exploited. The daughter thinks her mother has been exploited by not being paid enough for her writing, and for living in a crummy apartment with only one window. The daughter would agree maybe that a prostitute can lead a sordid life—but when she owns a business, exploiting other workers (prostitutes too) and making a lot of money, running her enterprise like a C.E.O., her prostitution is institutionalized, she is a success, and she has the material proof of that success. The daughter says, "How am I exploited? I'm the one earning a great living, who's getting rich, who has great clothes, and a great apartment . . ."
Lynda Schor's piece in Mad Hatter's Review may be accessed HERE.