Another Q and A, this time with the folks at Bookbuzz…
The Writing Blog of Leah Erickson
Another Q and A, this time with the folks at Bookbuzz…
I sat down and talked a bit with HJ Book Blog about my new book, the writing process, and other stuff. Read it here!
There is a Latin saying that sticks in my head these days: Nomen est omen.
The name is the sign.
I suppose it is old school, the idea that your name given at birth can influence your entire destiny. That your name can determine your job, socioeconomic status, your friends, where you live. The theory is dismissed these days as being just more mid-century claptrap, outmoded as Freud or phrenology. But it does seem to be true that one’s name does send out a signal into the world, full of projections, implications, and associations.
I am in the process of changing my surname to my new husband’s: Quackenbush. An Americanized name of Dutch heritage that originally meant, “one who dwells by the croaking forest.” Which I find incredibly compelling, evocative of the rich life of the underbrush, the mysterious creatures that dwell in the night…
I don’t always explain this to the people who do a double take when I tell them what my new name will be. Sometimes there is a blinking and stammering, “Well isn’t that interesting?” Sometimes they will simply suggest, “You can always just keep it Erickson, dear,” and give me a conciliatory pat on the back.
But the thing is, changing it feels deeply right to me. I’m not doing it to be in keeping with patriarchal norms. I kept my maiden name when I married the first time. This would be a free choice, not an obligation. To me it seems appropriate to the profound change in my life that I have a new name. Marrying my husband was like walking through a doorway from one life to another. It feels like a rebirth. The new name feels like a christening.
It has been a very hectic time in my personal life since my last book was out. I was divorced and remarried in quick succession and went through a massive restructuring of my life. My new book, “The Vesper Bell,” was written half in my old life and half in my new one. And now I’m relearning how to do certain things (like book promotion!) and sometimes it feels like learning to eat, talk and walk all over again. It comes slowly at the beginning, then begins to feel natural.
The odd thing is, for such a fraught time in my life, this is my most humorous book, meaning I wrote it to make myself laugh. It seems sometimes that writers can think you can’t be funny and make serious art at the same time. But sometimes laughter is so cathartic, almost orgasmic. It can be a way to get inside through the back way, where there are no defenses. As I get older I value laughter more than most other things.
Anyway. It’s about a Cosima, a young girl who lives in a trailer on a half-developed, abandoned golf course in the middle of a desert with her family. Her mother, Brooke, is a rebellious socialite on the outs with her wealthy family. Her stepfather, Eddie, is a former actor in a B-movie vampire franchise who makes his living attending horror conventions. Cosima dreams of escape, but at the same time feels responsible for her child-like parents.
Life changes irrevocably when the family inherits a storm-damaged vacation house on the tropical island of St. Aurea, and makes a go at living in it full-time. Brooke and Eddie find that life on the island is not as idyllic as they thought it would be. And Cosima finds refuge from family chaos when she becomes involved with a mysterious order of nuns called the Handmaidens of St. Mary, who have a bad reputation on the island. She is welcomed into the convent, which feels like a respite at first, until the dysfunction THERE feels like it hits a little too close to home…
Anyway, it was not easy writing and editing with so much big stuff going on in my life, but I laughed out loud more often writing this book more than any other I had done. And that, to me, seems to have imbued it with life. I am keeping my maiden name on my books, but other than that, I am now Mrs. Quackenbush, which I am very happy about. Your name can be given to you by another, but who you become is up to you.
You can find “The Vesper Bell” in paperback and ebook here:
It’s 2022, but my internal clock doesn’t seem to know it yet. I’m not “vibing” with it. It might be because my household is in Covid quarantine, but it seems the world is moving at an accelerated, hyper-real pace and yet we are moving around, quite literally, very slowly.
The edits are moving along for “The Vesper Bell,” which should be out in the spring/summer. I did publish a new piece of short fiction recently, a story called “Palindrome.” When it came out I felt like I had to preemptively confess that the story was inspired by a dream my significant other had. A dream of a roving band of children setting things on fire. It’s odd that I felt a twinge of guilt about “stealing” the idea, even though whenever he tells me a dream, or an anecdote, that is particularly great I always say, “I’m using that,” or “I’m writing that down,” or simply, “Oooh, that’s MINE.” I’ve just always been a scavenger of parts and scraps, and never had many qualms about whether it was right or wrong. But maybe I’m beginning to feel ambiguity about the back-and-forth flow between personal relationships and making art. There is a continuity between art and life, all the time. A constant conversation.
The maxim has it that “art is theft.” William S. Burroughs made his cut-up poems by scissoring up pages of printed text and rearranging them. But his idea wasn’t even original, the Dadaists did it before him. Then later, Bowie and the Stones made cut-up songs. I guess the best a person can do is scavenge widely and broadly, but remix it. Do your own take. Put a lot of yourself into it, and it will end up resembling nothing you’ve seen before, if you’re doing it right.
You can read “Palindrome” here: https://kgbbarlit.com/content/palindrome
I think I’ve felt estranged from Halloween for most of adulthood. The seasonal merchandise, the booziness, the ironically sexy costumes have felt kind of off putting in my middle age.
But lately, if I see any rubber bats or vials of fake blood or chomp-on vampire teeth, I feel a sort of Proustian dreaminess that takes me by surprise and almost makes me dissociate. A tangible object of the present can summon up the past. That was my favorite kind of stuff when I was a kid. I loved horror and the way it seemed ripe with possibility. Loved vampire stories. Loved the REAL uncensored Grimm’s fairy tales with all of their savagery. There was something about the forbidden, the occult, that was so frightening. And yet it transcended you straight out of the everyday, banal world, in a way that felt magical.
(I feel nostalgia also for the cheap plastic-ness of that era. The smell of the inside of a plastic mask held on with elastic! I also miss the glow-in-the-dark stuff that was all over the place in the late seventies and early eighties. Plastic that was white but that glowed luridly green when you turned out the lights. Still my favorite color.)
It is good to sometimes indulge nostalgia, without falling into the trap of never wanting to leave.
Anyway, the news is, I will have a new book out sometime between April and June of 2022, depending on the publisher’s schedule. It will be called “The Vesper Bell,” and I might even get to see the cover at the end of November. It’s been a couple of years since my last novel, so I’m eager to be back in the game again. I will keep people in the loop.
BTW from what I know the word “boo” comes from a Latin word that means “to alarm,” so when I say “boo!” it means literally “ I am alarming you!”
It’s been a while, and it had occurred to me that I don’t have a tab here for my short fiction and that I should probably create one. The last story I published was called “West Side Highway.” It’s July now. I wrote that story in December. Looking back, it seems so long ago. This winter was a hazy period of inchoate emotions, and this was a story that I wrote to try to give sense and structure to a time that felt brutal and senseless. We had just lost an amazing young man very unexpectedly at the age of nineteen. He was an old friend of my daughter’s. Bright, funny, complex, and irreplaceable. I guess one of the ways I tried to cope was to write him into a story as his younger, middle-school-aged self. I mean, it’s fiction, of course. I’m not even sure what the meaning of the story is. I guess I felt it was a way of making him alive again, even if it was just through a representation. Kind of like one of those old Max Fleischer cartoons from the silent movie age. Where you see the artist’s hand drawing the character as it comes to life. Frame by frame, flickering, like a rotoscope. There’s a certain consolation that making art can give us when nothing else can be controlled. In that way, it’s almost a mystical act. Strange and mysterious even to the one creating it.
Anyway, you can read it here.
I’m back! It has been a long hiatus, but I’m really feeling the energy right now. Like waking up with a huge albatross not weighing around my neck. I’m sure plenty of people have felt the strain of four years of constantly assuming crash position. Four years of waiting for “it” to happen; that sense of dread that never seemed to lift. Things are looking much brighter now, but it is still a lot of transition to process. And a sense of collective Stockholm Syndrome (“Is he gone yet?”) that will take time to disperse.
I myself stepped away for a bit while dealing with the aftermath of an initiated divorce. Which is still unfurling. That in itself has been like stepping through a doorway into another lifetime. It was a long marriage. (Coerced engagement in my teens, etc…) And a very oppressive one. One in which I was held under such control that I was not allowed access to bank information. Or any other account numbers. Or even our WiFi password. It was a marriage of the type more commonly seen in Saudi Arabia than the USA. Now he is gone. The freedom was too much, nearly frightening at first. And then, of course, there was the issue of dealing with my traumatized daughter. But she, for someone of her age, has managed to work on herself and overcome a lot. Though it hasn’t been easy for her.
Anyway, I have been getting my ducks in a row. We have been rebuilding our lives and figuring it all out. First just the two of us, but now with the help of my loving and supportive partner. Things are better. I do have a fourth novel in the finishing stages. And, most curious of all, I’m back into writing short fiction! I never expected THAT. There was just something about the pandemic that got me into it again. The liminal nature of the time. Or maybe that sense of urgency about it. Always that sense that time can’t be taken for granted so I want to get things down, fast!
You can read my latest new story here: https://www.eclectica.org/v24n4/erickson.html
More to come!
WELL, it has been an eventful summer so far, so I am late in posting my pics from the IPPY Awards a while back, where “Blythe of the Gates” was honored with a gold medal! I was excited to attend this one because I knew it was at the Copacabana. Which I knew vaguely to be infamous. I had picked up rogue stories over the years about it being mobbed up, frequented by the Rat Pack, etc. All these bits of hearsay kind of kept expanding and compounding together in my mind until I was convinced that if I went, I would be struck senseless by its aura of epic drama and tragedy. And maybe I would encounter ghosts of 1940s sailors, stogie-chomping mobsters, or Jerry Lewis.
Well, I found out that the original place, and the version where it became a disco, and the present day version, were all different locations. Sigh.
BUT! It WAS still glamorous, the walls were covered with glitter, there were palm tree decorations, and there was more food and free booze than any award ceremony I have been to! I brought my teen daughter Alyx with me and we truly lived it up.
SHRIMP ON A STICK! The minute you walk in!
(It was also really dark in there…atmosphere…but it made it hard to get pics unless we were right under a light, like at our table!) All in all we had a great 24 hours in NYC and even got to head into the Village to hit the weird little niche shops that we like.
Anyway, back at home, last week as a matter of fact, I got to attend and speak at a book party for “Blythe” thrown by the lovely ladies of the Newport Women’s Social Club!
Hope everyone is having a great summer!
One of my greatest writing influences is Vladimir Nabokov, whose magical prose was said to be inspired by his synesthesia, defined in the dictionary as:
For some reason whenever I am in Florida, it gives me the oddest feelings. I guess I would say the place inspires me to feel both unsettled and in awe, and it is hard to put my finger on why. Something about it just seems so mysterious and potent, full of surreal (to me) flora and fauna.
Also surreal is the power and unpredictability of the weather. Add to this the snakes and alligators, and just the sense that you have gone as far as you can go, (it feels like Florida is a place where people go to run away, to disappear or be transformed…) and you get that sense that this is the wildest, and most foreboding, state in our nation. Or at least the most strangely atmospheric!
I was there to attend the Miami Book Fair….
And also to pick up my award for “The Brambles” from Readers’ Favorite. We had a very chic ceremony at the Miami Regency.
And I met so many great and talented writers, and had so much fun! Speaking of The Brambles, I have given her a facelift. (New cover!)
I also have a new one for “Blythe of the Gates!”
(Don’t know why that one turned out huge!)
These are being re-released through the imprint 9MM Press, so look out for them. I love doing new covers. It’s like a wardrobe change. Maybe I will start doing it seasonally!