Maile Chapman

Maile Chapman is the author of the novel Your Presence is Requested at Suvanto (Graywolf Press, 2010; Jonathan Cape, UK, 2010). Her stories have appeared in literary magazines and anthologies in the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Finland including Public SpacePost Road, and The Mississippi Review, among others. From 2010-2011, she was a fellow at Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library.  She currently teaches in the MFA program at University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

March 8, 2012

Maria Steele: I’m curious how your experience writing short fiction helped your structuring of Your Presence is Requested at Suvanto. I hope I’m pronouncing that correctly.

Maile Chapman: Actually, you did. Jon and I were just talking about this in the car on the way over. He asked, “Is it SuVANto? It’s SUvanto, which is what you said. The Finnish emphasis is on the first syllable, which is counterintuitive for us.

MS: Did it help you write and structure Your Presence is Requested at Suvanto or did you have to learn a completely different method with the novel? If so, please talk about that process.

MC: What ended up being the most helpful was Greek drama. I used a five-act structure that I borrowed from Greek drama.

MS: Yes, the play – and I’m not going to try to pronounce it.

MC: The Bacchai.

MS: The Bacchai. Thank you. Okay, that’s simple.

MC: I started this novel when I was just finishing my MFA. My thesis was a collection of short stories, and I sort of thought I was a short story writer, but I didn’t want to have that gap time after finishing graduate school and then struggling to find a new project to work on. I started writing the novel so that I would have something to keep me busy for a good long time.

And now, when I look back on the short stories I was writing, they’re so boring. They don’t have any resolution. They don’t have any drama. At first I had the same problem with the novel. It was just very quiet. And so the dramatic structure of The Bacchai helped me a lot because I could say, “Okay, something obviously has to happen here. And something has to happen here.” It reminded me that there had to be high points and low points to create some forward motion. And I also had to learn that all the things you exclude in a short story because they pull attention in different directions could actually be included in a novel because there’s so much more room for chaos.

Jason Schuck: Had you been to Finland prior to writing the novel? I was wondering if the novel came from previous experience, or if you had the idea for the novel and then went to Finland to do research?

MC: I hadn’t been. I hadn’t done a whole lot of international traveling at all. I selected topics I knew I wanted to write about, and one of them was Scandinavia. I also wanted to write a book I could apply for grants to go and work on overseas.

JS: Smart.

MC: So that was part of my strategy. And I had a book of architecture called Space, Time, and Architecture, based on a collection of lectures that somebody had given, and one of the little photos in it was a picture of a hospital in Finland, and that interested me because it was just such a cool building. For a while, I wasn’t sure. Should I go to Finland? Should I go to Sweden? I even thought about Norway, but Norway doesn’t really have the same architectural history in that kind of functional way that Finland and Sweden both do. I kept thinking about that hospital and those images, and finally I just said, “Okay, maybe I should try to go to that area.” And then I looked at Fulbright grants, and that was the grant that took me over there for a year. Not as many Americans were applying to go to Finland as to countries like France or Germany because of the language barrier. Because of that, I didn’t have to already speak Finnish in order to apply. So that was also a draw for me. It just all came together: the possibility of getting a Fulbright, and the chance to be near that particular hospital, which is called Paimio.

JS: How much did you write prior to going over there?

MC: I think I had two chapters done and a pretty good idea of where it was going because of the structure of The Bacchae. I knew more or less what the end was going to be without knowing exactly what the end was going to be. I might have had three chapters kind of done when I went over there. I did a lot of the writing there.

JS: How long did you stay in Finland?

MC: I was in Finland for almost a year, but I ended up staying in Europe for five years.

MS: You mentioned that you went to Finland, and that you didn’t have to know the language, but there’s a lot of language in the novel particularly having to do with food, which I really like. I’m curious, did that happen organically – as you were learning the language and inevitably you would learn about food of course as it’s sort a basic thing wherever you go – or is that something that you knew and intentionally wanted to put in?

MC: That’s funny. Nobody’s ever mentioned that it’s all food words before. I had studied Swedish years earlier, and I ended up going to a bilingual area. The school that I asked to be affiliated with was a Swedish-speaking university—the only one in Finland, in the coastal area close to Sweden where both languages are actually used. I could kind of get by on my Swedish in that area, but I also took Finnish classes. It was so difficult. It’s such a hard language. I didn’t do terribly well. I got far enough to get around and have rudimentary conversations, and the food stuff—restaurant Finnish, being able to order in a restaurant, that kind of thing—was what I was able to learn most quickly. And the colors and seasons and things like that. I kind of felt like,a little kid, when your vocabulary is small and you can only talk about things in a rudimentary way. Those daily routine things were what I was learning.

MS: And what Sunny was learning too, which really came out in the novel.

MC: Thank you. I borrowed from my experience of studying Finnish definitely to write those parts with Sunny.

MS: Also, the descriptions of the patients’ diseases are haunting: Julia’s STD, and Laimi’s bleeding, and how Pearl’s mysterious illness is sort of explained at the end. All of this is terrifying for me to read in some parts. But these diseases seem to contribute to the Gothic feeling of the novel and a sense of the uncanny. Please talk about these uncanny prognoses, as it were, of the women at Suvanto.

MC: I had a bunch of old nursing texts for research and I really liked those. Medicine changes so fast that to look at what was once current practice felt very haunting. I’m thinking, “Okay, this represents the best that people could do for each other back then.” And we look now at what they were doing then and it’s terrifyingly old-fashioned. People are having mustard poultices put here and there. And many historical medical and nursing practices don’t seem right to us today because our feelings have changed so much about how to treat patients. So, sometimes our current perspective makes the good intentions of the past seem damaging. That seemed interestingly morally ambiguous, that somebody is really doing her best to help another person, but we feel uncomfortable because we know that better things are yet to come. This is probably how people will look back and think about harsh but important treatments like chemotherapy.  And I noticed that a lot of the material in the nursing text books were compared to domestic objects. Tumors were often compared to fruit, but sometimes they were also compared to things like teacups and thimbles.

MS: Sizes?

MC: Yes, like, “a tumor the size of a teacup.” I thought, “Well, that’s weird,” because [the tea cup] is hollow, and it just didn’t seem like an intuitive thing to compare [the tumor] to at all.

MS: And it’s also large.

MC: Yeah, creepily large. There was something weirdly feminine in the way that some of those things, especially tumors, were compared to the size of a cherry, size of a lemon, size of a teacup, size of a thimble. There seemed to be something beautiful in that, and also terrifying and domestic, but uncanny because those are not things you want in your body. Those images kept sticking with me, and thread too—sewing kits and things like that, and the idea of how much of the work of nursing is similar to other female endeavors of the time or previously, even though nursing is such hard work, such physical work. It’s real labor. It takes so much attention, care, strength and knowledge, yet some of the things being used are still like thread and needles, and scissors, sheets, and towels—things so similar to domestic life.

MS: Wow. That’s very interesting.

MC: There’s a scene in the novel when somebody gets a ring off of a finger…

MS: She uses a string.

MC: She does. And I found that in a nursing textbook. Get two pieces of thread and tuck them under the ring on either side and then you just sort of use even pressure to pull it off. I recently had to re-plumb part of my bathroom. Shouldn’t have done it myself, but I did. And I had to get a particular tool from the hardware store to remove a copper compression ring. This is totally an aside, but it just happened, so it’s fresh in my mind. The compression ring looked exactly like a wedding ring. It was basically a copper, shiny wedding ring inside this other thing, and I had to get the right tool so that I could remove it using the same principle as the thread. It was something that you need the right tool to do. It’s just interesting that the tool in the novel was a sewing kit.

MS: I thought it was interesting how it’s Julia’s rings that she’s pulling off. At the end, one of the things Sunny feels guilty about is that Julia couldn’t die with her rings on. This is also an aside, but it just cropped up in my mind and I really appreciated that because my mom is PTA at a nursing home, and so she talks a lot about the dignity of dying.  So, that really struck a cord with me.

JS: Had you been a nurse before, or was that something else you researched for the novel?

MC: I researched it for the novel. My aunt was an LPN—a Licensed Practical Nurse—at geriatric facilities for my whole childhood. So, for like forty years, she worked nursing homes. That’s where I went the day my little sister was born. I spent the day with Aunt Diane at the hospital. So, the trappings of nursing were always around—her cap and white shoes and all those things before they had more modern uniforms. When I first started writing the novel, I thought I wanted to write about medicine, and then I realized I really wanted to write about nursing. Nursing is so much more believable somehow. It’s such hard work. It really drew me in. And nurses make such a difference. I had an experience many years ago where I had to spend a night in the hospital. The nurse who was there during the day was so helpful, and the nurse who was there during the night was stretched way too thin because she had way too much to do. And it just made such a difference to me. Those overnight hours were awful.

JS: Do you remember the first thing you wrote that was going to be part of this book and if it made it into the book?

MC: I first started writing the book as a collage of architectural texts, newspaper articles, diary entries, and things like that, and all of that fell away. The first image I had, and the first thing that I probably described, is something that did not make it in, which was an image of Sunny at the very end of her life being buried in her nursing uniform with her emblems. That never made it in. I thought that would be the very last scene.

JS: So you started kind of with the end in mind and then tried to work backwards that way?

MC: Yeah

JS: And it changed?

MC: It changed to a different feeling at the very end—maybe more optimistic, I hope. Though I didn’t actually think that her being in her coffin was so bad because it was the end of a life that she had enjoyed living by the time she got there, although that doesn’t sound very cheerful when I say it out loud. And then the first sentence that I had for ages and ages and ages—I worked on it for so long—was the first thing that my editor suggested to remove. And then the second sentence is what is now the first sentence. And he was so right.

JS: How long did you spend on this?

MC: I started it in winter break between 2000 and 2001, and then it was published in 2010. So it was a long time.

JS: That’s great though.

MS: This kind of goes back to what we were just talking about: the nurses and your influence. But it’s not difficult for me to imagine that these women are sisters, or mothers or aunts. They seem very real, yet completely isolated in this place. And I’m just curious how much you relied on actual people—actually characters and character traits that you knew—to apply to these characters, or did you have to invent a lot of it. I’m just curious how you came up with these characterizations because they strike me as very real.

MC: Thank you. That’s great to hear. I originally had a lot more Finnish characters, and then realized I was too far out of my depth. I didn’t know how to write about Finnish women and the psychology of illness in that cultural context and era. But I can write about Americans because I’ve known some older women. I was very lucky when I was younger in that I had lots of older family members. On the radio yesterday I heard a woman who wrote a book about getting older, and it unleashed a floodgate of callers who were outraged that everybody expected them to be so nice just because they were old now. And there’s also an article in the New Yorker—a personal reflection on aging written by a poet—who says that now that he’s in a wheelchair, people treat him differently. He went out to eat with a friend, and afterwards, the waiter or somebody said, “Did you enjoy your din-din?” And he was, like, “Oh my God. I’ve spent my life as a writer and observer of people, and, it comes to this?”

MS: Wow.

MC: A lot of angry, older ladies were calling in and saying, “I am so sick of being called ‘sweetheart’ and ‘deary’ and ‘darling.’” And I have a couple of older family members who were a little bit foul-mouthed, drinking beer and watching Seahawks games on TV in Seattle. [They contradict] this idea that older people become emblematic of some kind of nice, gentle nature.

MS: I’d say this book problematizes the nice, grandmotherly, older woman. And that’s why I think it’s so realistic. Because I think we all have relatives like that, and that’s what makes them three-dimensional. So I really appreciated it. The novel also, I think, trespasses on that still mystical or still taboo subject of the female body. It’s something we’re still arguing about in politics. In writing this, how did you think about your audience in terms of gender? How did it affect males versus females?

MC: I tried not to think about it very much. Who’s going to want to read a book set in a geriatric, gynecological, surgical ward? Male or female of any age, who’s going to want to read that except me? I tried not to think about that very much for fear that it would stop me or persuade me make it a little more accessible and a little less jarring. I looked for an agent for a long time. And the agent who eventually took me on is male. I had a lot of conversations with editors who were kind of maybe thinking about maybe being interested. But the editor who acquired it for Graywolf is male. And he pointed out to me that the two people who really championed the manuscript and made it possible for me to publish this were both men. And when I applied for PhD programs, the two faculty members at University of Nevada, Las Vegas—where I eventually enrolled—who invited me to come were both men.  So actually most of the good results that I’ve had in my life from the book have been from male readers.

MS: That’s really interesting

MC: Weird, huh? I wanted everybody to have this sort of queasy, uncanny feeling about it.

MS: It worked for me.

JS: You actually touched on a couple of things that I was planning on asking. One: you mentioned Seattle – that’s where you’re from?

MC: South of Seattle. Tacoma, Washington.

JS: How did your childhood, or your upbringing, influence your writing? There’s a lot of it—you’ve touched on some of it with your relatives and nursing and things—but I didn’t know if you see a lot of your childhood come out in your writing.

MC: When I step back and look at the Northwest, it’s Gothic in a way that was never really obvious when I was there.  But then there’s “Twin Peaks.” There’s that show “The Killing” that’s a remake of a Danish series about an investigation of a girl’s murder. There’s just a lot of creepy dark wood, dark forest—atmospheric stuff—that definitely came in. This fictional place that I wrote about was set in a pine forest. When I go back to the Pacific Northwest now, especially now that I live in a desert, everything seems to be covered in moss, and there are rust marks on all the walls, and lichen and mildew everywhere. I think it must have affected me. I visited the beach here in Pensacola today, and I took off my shoes immediately, and the sand is like sugar. Where I’m from, the Pacific is freezing. It’s like ice water. There are crabs and barnacles and razor-sharp clamshells everywhere, and rocks. You can’t go barefoot. It’s just a completely different experience.  The beach there is  forbidding, even though it’s so beautiful.

I also wasn’t supervised at all as a reader. And I wonder about whether that’s a good idea or not, to just let a kid read anything from any shelf in the library, because I read a lot of really inappropriate stuff that gave me bad dreams for years and years. And when I was five, a made-for-TV movie called Trilogy of Terror was on TV. I was five years old, I think, six years old. And my parents let me watch it. It was the seventies, I guess. And the first two vignettes are not really very scary at all. But in the third vignette Karen Black buys a Zuni fetish doll with a chain around its waist. You can’t take the chain off or something will happen. You just know that you’re not supposed to, and she gets in the shower, and the chain falls off, and the doll comes alive. It has weapons and these gnashing, horrible teeth, and it immediately scuttles under the couch and waits for her. She comes out, and of course she’s probably in a towel. It’s the most horrifying, warping…

MS: Especially when you’re six.

MC: My parents split when I was six, and we were all watching it, so I think I had to be just barely six. It went on and on, and it made this noise, this awful noise, and there were visual effects of its teeth moving. It’s sort of claymation, and it’s scuttling all over, and then it’s in the oven, and somehow I think it turns off the lights. And it’s awful. It’s awful. I had nightmares for a long time. I couldn’t put my feet near the furniture. I couldn’t walk right up to the bed because there might be a vicious doll under it, and I hated dolls. So that got me going on the Gothic stuff—scary dolls, like Freud’s uncanny. A doll that may or may not be alive is his classic example. Trilogy of Terror came on TV again years later when I was actually in my MFA program, and I thought, “Okay, I’m going to put this to bed forever, I’m going to watch this.” And the first two vignettes were not scary, and then the third one was so scary.

MS: Still scary?

MC: Still scary. It’s even scarier today because the production effects are really disturbing. It’s so Gothic.

JS:  I kind of want to see it now.

MC: You should rent it.

MS: I can’t watch horror movies, so I would not laugh.

JS: Sounds great. Have you seen it again recently?

MC: I should probably watch it every ten years, but I haven’t seen it since then.

JS: Were you always an avid reader from an early age? Did you always know you were going to be a writer? When was the moment you decided to do this seriously?

MC: I thought that reading and writing were extensions of the same thing, when I was little. I was always doodling and reading and writing little things in English class, and entering little writer contests. I was writing consistently but it wasn’t until I was through with undergrad that I even realized MFA programs existed. And that was when I really turned the corner and committed to it.

JS: So your undergrad was creative writing as well?

MC: It was Interdisciplinary Studies.  I did a lot of creative writing and a lot of French. I wasn’t motivated to publish. I drifted around and did other jobs, which, in retrospect, was really perfect. I went to a lot of hospitals and temped at a medical school, and I’m sure those things all fed into what I would write later.

JS: Did you have a backup plan?

MC: No. My friends had studied software development and engineering and things that were useful. It never occurred to me to do that. Being able to read and do what I wanted was great, but I graduated completely unemployable. I temped in Seattle for a long time. I ended up working at the University of Washington in the medical school and then in one of the departments there. But no, I didn’t have a backup plan. And now I teach, which is a good backup plan, because I enjoy it.

MS: How do you balance your time between teaching and writing? Sometimes new writers struggle with [time management]. I would like to hear how a successful writer manages it?

MC: I would also like to know how a successful writer manages it. I just recently started a new job at UNLV, and this is my first year as a tenure-track assistant professor. I got really lucky. They had an opening, and they did a national search and let me apply for it, which is great because Las Vegas was exactly where I wanted to be. With teaching, I gave myself the year off from writing. And that was something my thesis advisor in my MFA program said, that he couldn’t write on Tuesdays and Thursdays because those were the days he taught and he wasn’t going to be hard on himself.  That always stuck with me. I’ve been working mostly on short pieces instead of the novel in the process.

Last year I had a fellowship at the New York Public Library and had nothing to do but write and that was amazing, but kind of hard in the opposite way. I didn’t have anything else to help balance my time. So I think the ideal for me is having just enough of a claim on my attention that I really value my writing time. Teaching three days a week and writing on those other days is going to be perfect.

MS: Congratulations on the job.

MC: Thank you!

MS: You mentioned you were working on some shorter pieces. Can you talk a little bit about what you are working on?

MC: I’m slowly working on two novels. The first is a Gothic novel set in contemporary Ireland. They have a very challenged national health care system. Their infrastructure is not in good shape. Some of their hospital buildings—I lived there for three years before going to Las Vegas—some of their wards don’t have sinks. They had a wave of resistant Staph being acquired in hospitals by people going in for other things. They had to put hand sanitizer at the foot of every patient’s bed. There is not enough money. The father of somebody we knew there had a heart attack in one county, and they had an angioplasty machine nearby but no one was trained to use it.  An expensive, important piece of equipment,, and no one could use it. He was taken by ambulance to a Dublin hospital, over two hours away. He died in the outskirts of Dublin. And that kind of thing happens a lot.

The novel takes place in a rural Irish hospital with budget problems, and it’s about, among other things, pandemic flu virus research. It’s fictionalized, but there is actually a system for predicting which flu strains should be used for the vaccine each year. And I found that interesting, that someone somewhere is gambling on what the flu virus will be next time around.

MS: Where do you go for research? Do you stay atop of current trends? This novel is more current than Suvanto so do you attend medical conferences? Do you talk to people, read medical magazines?

MC: I should be more systematic. But I end up gravitating, and that’s the fun of writing fiction. You can just gravitate to things that are cool and intriguing. I don’t get into topics that are as challenging as I’d like, but someday I’m going to take biology classes at UNLV to help me. During my research year at the library I had access to a books on the history of vaccines or how vaccines are selected for the next year. I also read a fair amount about Ellis Island and the medical facilities there. I was surprised to learn that the hospital at Ellis Island was a cutting edge facility that had access to all this medical talent in New York City at a time when people were coming from all over the world. Immigrants would arrive, sometimes with unknown, unrecognizable problems and the Ellis Island doctors would have access to specialists in Manhattan for Tropical Medicine, Poverty and Medicine, Travel and Medicine, to help figure out the problems.

Of course a lot of what they saw was routine but even the routine problems were upsetting to read about. There was a very contagious eye infection problem that caused scarring and permanent blindness, and if you had it, you wouldn’t be allowed in. You’d be quarantined. There was a hall that people would walk down, and almost before they could know what was happening a nurse or somebody would grab their eyelids with a hook. They would rapidly turn your eyelids inside out to see if you had this problem, and if you did, you’d be quarantined and treated. It was the best they had, and it sounds so awful and barbaric now, but it saved people’s vision. At the hospital on the island they would abrade the inside of your eyelids repeatedly with pumice-like material that produced a blue residue, so you had ink blue tears streaming down your face after being treated.

MS: It sounds like Science Fiction.

MC: Doesn’t it? That was one of the two most contagious problems. The other was a scalp condition, incredibly contagious, and they didn’t want it to spread. If you see pictures of kids with white kerchiefs on their heads they were probably being treated for that scalp condition. It made honeycombed-shaped, deep gold lesions on people’s scalps that caused baldness. It looked like leprosy, and it was sometimes misdiagnosed as leprosy. It was actually a mouse fungus.

MS: It was a regular pattern?

MC: So I’m told. Someone with actual medical training and a systematic way of thinking might be looking at this material in a different way, but as a writer, the mouse fungus and the blue tears are the things that catch my interest. I’m weak on science, but I know enough to follow my instincts.

MS: But what you know is certainly interesting.

MC: I’m great at cocktail parties. No one wants to sit by me.

JS: You mentioned your thesis advisor earlier. Would you consider that person your mentor? Or was there anyone else who helped push you or encouraged your writing before that?

MC: I was lucky. I never had anyone discourage me. My dad writes poetry, and he was always really supportive. He would read everything I wrote if I wanted him to. He would never push if I didn’t. George Saunders was my thesis advisor at Syracuse. When he called to offer me a spot in that program he was a stranger saying we’d like you to come, we like your writing, and that was amazing. For three years I got to say, “Hi, I’m a fiction writer,” because people wanted to know if you were there for fiction or for poetry. You never get to do that in the outside world. That would seem incredibly insufferable: “Hi, I’m a fiction writer.” But it was great to have those years to actually do that, to get into the habit of thinking of oneself as a writer. All of the faculty there were very supportive.

JS: So it was in your MFA program when you started sending out work?

MC: Yes. I had done some playwriting in Seattle and had a few short plays produced but I wasn’t sending out fiction. It was in Syracuse that I started sending submissions out and reading more. There was so much more to discover than I’d ever known about. I thought I was a reader before, and then I got there and people were reading stuff I’d never heard of. It made me a better reader first, and that helped me be a better writer.

JS: As far as reading goes, is there a must read list that you would encourage aspiring writers to read?

MC: That is hard.

JS: Could you put together a list of five maybe?

MC: A list of five? Turn of the Screw by Henry James.

JS: Should we narrow it to three?

MC: I’ll shoot for five. This is totally not systematic. These are just my favorite books. Uncle Silas by Sheridan Le Fanu is my favorite Gothic novel. You never hear anything about it. Poe’s Philosophy of Composition. Angela Carter would be good for her retelling of fairy tales, and A.S. Byatt, off the top of my head. There is a short story called “Raw Material” by A.S. Byatt that is the most harrowing thing that I’ve read in a long time. It is the kind of Gothic that I like, where it’s not the creaking floorboards or creepy closets. It’s Gothic unfolding in broad daylight.

JS: I guess I’ve got a summer list now.

MC: Read The Little Black Book of Short Stories by A.S. Byatt.

MS: Your book has been called a “feminist thriller,” and I was curious as to what your response is to that term?

MC: I wanted the story to havea moral gray area. One review used the phrase misogynistic doctor and that made me sad because I really did not want to present the case of misogynistic doctor experimenting on women. Maybe he is experimenting on them, but it’s from the best of intentions. I wanted there to be moral ambiguity. So “feminist thriller” I don’t mind at all. I kind of liked that, for the word “thriller.” The caveat is that sometimes people describe writing as “feminist” when the writing isn’t very literary or good. Not to say there isn’t any good literary feminist writing—of course there is—but it’s almost like throwing you a bone. It’s like, “Well, we’re going to give you an A for trying to tackle the difficult issues. The writing isn’t that great, but the topics are important”—that kind of thing. I know that sounds like a terrible thing to say.

MS: I appreciate you saying that.

MC: I just moderated a panel two weeks ago in Las Vegas with three writers: Mary Gaitskill, Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, and Cheryl Strayed, titled, “Not Your Grandmother’s Sense and Sensibility: 21st Century Female Novelists.” I put a lot of thought into how to make this an engaging panel that everyone would want to listen to. If you think you know what is going to be said already, it isn’t appealing to go out of your way to hear it being said again. I kept the focus on craft as much as possible—talking about the craft of writing, while allowing for all of those other topics to come in: issues of femaleness, and life vs. work balance, motherhood, and how to write about female characters and male characters, and whether there is a difference between them. My suspicion is that sometimes when words like “feminist” are used to describe writing, that description isn’t about the writing, it’s about the writer, and/or the content, the subject matter, and maybe even where the work is published. It’s not a craft descriptor. I’m not sure that there is such a thing as feminist craft in writing. So that term is external to the actual writing.

JS: You mentioned you are working on two novels. Do you have to go through the process of resubmitting or is Graywolf onboard?

MC: This is all pretty new to me.I will show it to them first. Hopefully they will like it. If they don’t like it, they are not obliged to take it. But I think the etiquette is they would see it first, and I would be thrilled if they want to work with me again because working with Graywolf was really great. It was really good overseas, too. There is such a misconception about American Literature in general. Some Europeans assume that there isn’t a lot of great literature coming out of the States—some of that is due to the odd assortment of literary fiction and garbage that actually makes it over. So people very much respect the choices that Graywolf makes as an independent publisher. Graywolf appeals to certain European sensibilities. My book was picked up by an English publisher, a Spanish publisher, and a Norwegian publisher. That’s not a lot of foreign rights, but it’s a great start.

JS: You mentioned that film you saw at a young age. Do you ever see your writing for film? Is that a goal that you might have?

MC: It’s a good question. I’m so on the page when I’m actually working, but it is cinematic in my head. I had Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining in my mind a lot when I was working on the novel—the isolation, the quiet, the cold, the contained panic.. I am trying to adapt it into a treatment of a screenplay. Apparently it was suggested to a few screenplay writers who were like, “Hmm, I’m not sure I’m interested in trying to do that.” My agent suggested that maybe I should try. Not that anyone wants it or anything, I’m just doing it as an exercise. It’s challenging, but it’s fun.