Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Interview With Dana Killmeyer


The following Barfing Frog Press interview took place between Dana Killmeyer, author of Paradise, or the part that dies, and CB Smith. Read on and enjoy the warmth and brilliance of this colorful lady.

CB: The reader has gained instant awareness of you now with the publication of your novel, Paradise, or the part that dies. And with this newfound awareness the pressing question; who are you and why do you write?

Dana: To begin an answer with a question would be too out of character for me, so I'll spare you the rhetoric.  In short, if I were to say who I am today, surely I would contradict myself by morning.  I write because it is one of the few things that comforts me and challenges me and allows me an opportunity to comfort and challenge others.  I can confront the psyche or assuage the senses while remaining otherwise invisible.  Aside from the countless names in literary infamy that would indicate otherwise, writing affords the luxury of anonymity.  The glamour is the work more than the author, though, undoubtedly, they are inseparable. 

But, from a less philosophical stance, I like to dissect things.  I adore the grotesque - what most people turn their noses up at.  It's always fascinating to take something generally considered repulsive or absurd and make it the significant.  Like shit, for example. It is created by living beings by consuming (once) living beings and ultimately returns to the environment to nourish future living beings. Shit and food, like the author and her work, are inseparable.  We flaunt our food, but hide our shit. It embarrasses us.  I like to flaunt what embarrasses us.  So, I guess I write to humble myself.

CB: Classical rhetoric is a personal favorite of mine, despite the fact that its connotation today is used in a pejorative or dismissive sense. As it seems you have a taste for flaunting the embarrassing, does this perhaps extend into your social network where you flaunt the embarrassing purposely? Or is this particular philosophy limited to your writing.

Dana: My immediate response is no.  I don't necessarily go out of my way to encourage embarrassment or incite dialogue that strays from social etiquette, but, yes, sometimes it does happen.  Not quite a philosophy, it is more analogous to nail-biting or chain-smoking.  I am inherently drawn to subject matter that would usually be coined inappropriate. Whatever that means. Perhaps it is because it is so unlady-like that I like it so much.   But that isn't to say I like breaking the rules, or even bending them (when it comes to the Law I'm really a kiss-ass cowardess), but I do have a warped affinity for undermining perception.  The image of the beautiful heroine with a crass vocabulary and the brawn to take on a man twice her size is a personal favorite. 

Also the ability to affect change in others, surreptitiously, to rebuke their evangelical values and anesthetized sensibilities and communicate honestly motivates me creatively and, to a degree, socially. Discussing subject matter traditionally considered embarrassing (taboo?) like divorce and abuse and feces and disease and ambiguous intimate relationships...makes people uncomfortable.  And when people are uncomfortable they tend to become vulnerable.  Who knows what will come out when you open Pandora's Box.  Some people can handle it.  I seem to thrive on it.  But, more precisely, it's the juxtaposition of the sordid with the exceptional, the reality that is permitted to shine forth once the ego is made vulnerable, that rouses me.  Come to think of it, maybe it's more applicable to my social identity than anywhere else.

CB: Your explanation of a love of the odd and unexpected makes complete sense in and of itself, if only for the fact that sometimes people need to be shocked out of their complacent and comfortably ordered universe. And further writing to humble yourself, where this works contrapuntally as equipoise to the ego boosting game of putting others on the social decorum hot seat is quite clear and commendable. Does this inner moral wrestling put you in a place where particular concepts and topics gain primacy in your immediately subsequent creative output?

Dana:  Yes.  Any of the best writing is usually spontaneous - it just comes to you.  It's hard to say I write with any kind of intention, but those kinds of things are subliminally there.

CB: Most writers that I've spoken to or read up on seem to agree on one thing; writing must be performed daily knowing that this is the best way to encourage those wondrous moments of inspiration. What is your perspective on this idea of writing as habit?

Dana: It works for me personally.  Once I stop, it's hard to get that momentum up again.  Granted, sometimes it's frustrating when days pass and I write nothing brilliant.  But I've noticed, especially with writing fiction, that if I take too long a hiatus from a story it almost always never gets finished - I lose touch with the characters or the rhythm doesn't flow anymore.  Usually when I write consistently there's a lot of phlegm.  I think that's necessary for clearing the passages. 

CB: You seem to posses an innate instinct of the rhythms and cadences of writing which suggests an intrinsic talent. So if you haven’t figured it out so far, you have a talent for this. Now we could go on further to discuss the three Ts of writing, namely, Talent, Technique, and Tenacity, technique being the only one which can be taught, but it is not necessary at this point to do more than affirm it as fact. Have you always had an interest in writing, or was there some specific time you decided you would become a writer?

Dana: Thanks CB.  As early has I can remember I've kept a journal and I still have most of them.  Originally writing was purely cathartic.  It was a place where I could be honest with myself. 

When I was very young, I would climb on top of my dresser and talk myself to sleep in the mirror.  I suppose I started writing as a way to reflect and communicate with myself.  It was therapeutic.

But by the time I got to high school I was feeling a bit jaded toward the craft.  It seemed like everyone wanted to be a poet and don a beret and smoke cigarettes in a coffee shop.  It seemed so cliché to me.  And, in some ways, I bought into it - and all the glamour that want along with it.  Fortunately, some of my teachers were encouraging and I had a strong enough interest in literature that by the time I went to college I had decided to major in Writing.  Basically, it was either that or Forensic Science and I thought writing would be the easy way out.  Which, for college, it probably was.  But not for life. 

I declared Business as my second major - a safety net - but that didn't last long.  Freshman year I had to take a composition class.  During the course, and especially afterwards, I had developed a friendship with the instructor.  Without even knowing my major, she praised my writing; I was the only student to "get" the assignment and the only one to receive an A+ at the end of the course.  That cinched the deal for me.  I dropped Business and substituted it with Film.

So much for safety nets.

For a good ten years I was convinced I was going to be a writer.  But then it started to wane.  I graduated college and entered the real world.  I was so dissatisfied with everything that nothing I wrote was worthy of anything. To solve the problem, my then husband and I up and quit our jobs and embarked on a road trip we thought would never end.  This, I was convinced, would give me the material needed.

Ironically enough, 2 years later I was back home in Pittsburgh (where I swore I'd never return), filing for divorce, and working in a grocery store (albeit a health food one).  Although I had a treasure trove of material, I had no inspiration to do anything with it. I was just about plumb done with writing altogether - at least in any way construed as a serious pursuit. 

Somehow my writing made it into the hands of a great and eccentric writer living in Pittsburgh, Che Elias. The relationship with such an uncompromising writer was liberating and gave me the inspiration and perspective I needed to finish a complete work. 

Needless to say, of the three qualities, tenacity would be the one I struggle with most.  Fortunately I have been graced with the support of friends.

CB: Again you amaze me, Dana. And while I may be a self convicted flirt, I am and never will be a kiss ass, as I am predisposed against, so my amazement is legit. The arc of your life has indeed contained a rich variety of experiences and as an integral part an artistic compass which has of its own volition kept you on track. Of course your agreement in this was helpful, but nonessential, as in the words of John Lennon, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”  You have been blessed with a oneness of purpose from the beginning. Given the timelines you have mentioned, it seems you have been seriously pursuing writing as a life choice for maybe 10 to 12 years. This ties in well and seems to be in accordance with the necessary dues paying allocation all writers must bear. So now that you have graduated Dues College, written and released your first novel, what is next for you. Anything planned?

Dana: More than anything, I need a vacation.  I always thought the Black Forest in Germany would be nice - and, of course, Paris.  But until I can get a ticket out of town, I'd settle for a hot bath.  Otherwise, as usual, the rest is up in the air.  I'll keep writing, of course; at this point, it's not a choice.  I'm quite superstitious, so I won't divulge at length, but it's promising that there will be another novel by 2008.


Blogger Liammac said...

Thanks for the copy of Paradise , Che.It looks very promising.

2:54 PM  

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