If you’re in the Phoenix area, we hope you will join us for our Launch of Issue 13 on Thursday May 1 from 6-8pm at Mesa Arts Center, Contemporary Arts Museum.
The first hour will include cake and a tour of the museum. The second hour will be a program including a reading by SR Issue 13 contributor Melissa Pritchard and presentations from our student interns on their favorite work from the issue.
“She has come to Villa il Palmerino, betrayed and alone, to write about love.”
-Melissa Pritchard, Palmerino
I arrived having only the slightest inclination of what to expect. A former student of Melissa’s, I have grown accustomed to her animated readings and her unbounded enthusiasm towards creation. However, it was on this night that I would finally be hearing my professor read her own work. The evening started as Melissa lit candles, sipped wine, and greeted audience members who came to hear her read at Changing Hands Bookstore. Here, she was no teacher, but rather an artist sharing her work with me, the reader. There was no need to teach or explain and no need to answer questions. There was only Melissa and the page in front of her.
Our audience was about fifty people. We took our seats and quietly discussed what we had in store for the evening: Palmerino. Pritchard’s fourth novel is set in rural Italy and follows the protagonist, a present-day biographer and writer, Sylvia, through a time-transcending journey of discovery that unfolds both her own life and the life of her subject, the poet Vernon Lee. Palmerino explores sexuality and emotion while inviting the reader to get thoroughly lost in the gracefully assembled Italian dreamscape of both past and present.
We enjoyed refreshments and biscotti provided by Pritchard to help further immerse ourselves into her novel’s 19th century Italian setting. She read with power and beauty, adjusting her tone to distinguish between characters and narration. Pritchard’s writing is lyrical. Each word is carefully chosen and allows her to paint deliberate, detailed pictures in the reader’s mind. Throughout the book, tones shift as we slip back and forth through both time and voice.
The poeticism of the writing is obviously characteristic of Pritchard as it worked effortlessly with her theatric reading. From the excerpt she read, we learned of a dinner party with Vernon Lee, her family, and her lover Clementina, or Kit. They dined on sweet antiquities and spoke of passion and truth of the time period.
Pritchard’s voice guided us back in time to this wondrous place of enchantment and poetic love, and with her, if just for a moment, we escaped.
Last month I had the honor of attending a reading at Changing Hands Bookstore with Jamie Quatro. Although I had already finished her entire collection, hearing Jamie read her work was beyond captivating. The energy with which she spoke exemplified the dedication and passion she has for words—using them to create a rhythm and molding them into complex stories. Jamie graciously agreed to do this interview regarding her debut collection, I Want to Show You More, via email.
Superstition Review: At the Changing Hands reading you invited author Melissa Pritchard—one of your professors from ASU—to join you. How has your relationship with Melissa contributed to the literary aesthetic that you have today?
Jamie Quatro: I enrolled in Melissa’s MFA workshop with a BA from Pepperdine and an MA from the College of William and Mary, both in English. When I met Melissa, I was a Princeton PhD dropout and mother of four children under the age of eight. I was writing stories at night, after they were all in bed. I didn’t know if the stories were any good. I had no idea how to edit myself, or how to submit to journals. So I was lucky to land in Melissa’s workshop—I can’t imagine a more supportive teacher. Melissa’s emphases on social responsibility and spirituality meshed with my own aesthetic concerns. And she introduced me to the work of two poets I now call favorites: Jack Gilbert and W.S. Merwin.
S[r]: Many of the stories in your new collection deal with acts of infidelity—where your character never actually crosses a physical boundary. What is it about this type of affair that compelled you to explore it so deeply?
JQ: There’s something inherently erotic about the “almost” in fiction – one can let the imagination take over when the person or thing desired is at a physical remove. To me, erotic urgency in fiction (and in life) resides not in the act itself, but in the build-up. And the longer the space between suggestion and consummation (which fulfills, but also kills, to some degree, the original desire), the more charged the prose becomes. So when a fictional affair carries the suggestion of fulfillment but is, in a physical sense, impossible to consummate, it creates a kind of electrical current on the page. When I was drafting, I found this urgency creatively propulsive. At one point, I did draft a story where my characters actually went through with the proposed meeting at Grand Central—they found the empty car, boarded the train, etc. But in the end, I decided it was best to keep them in the place of not-quite.
S[r]: I came across this Book Notes piece you wrote in largehearted boy discussing the music playlist for your collection. Your stories have a distinct lyrical cadence that drives them forward. Can you expand on the role of music in your own writing process?
JQ: My mother is a concert pianist. Growing up, I’d fall asleep listening to her practice some of the most gorgeous and difficult music ever composed: Liszt’s La Campanella, Chopin’s Premiere Ballade. I grew to know those pieces intimately—the phrasing, dynamics, etc. When the piano stopped—if I was still awake—I’d keep the music going in my head by changing the notes into words. I didn’t realize I was doing it; the words seemed to originate in the piano. My stories often come in a similar fashion: they begin with sound or cadence, a pulse or rhythm to which I begin to attach words.
S[r]: “Ladies and Gentleman of the Pavement” took me to a place I have never been. Obviously it is an alternate reality, but on another level it deals with complex ideas including (but not limited to) resistance and redemption. Where did the idea for this intricate story come from?
JQ: I saw an image online, a distance race somewhere in Europe in which the competitors had giant crucifixes strapped to their backs. The image haunted me. Why? What was the point? If I were going to strap something to my back during a race, what would it be? It’s anyone’s guess how I wound up with phallic statues. Thank goodness there are also objects d’art bobbing around in the runners’ moisture-wicking carriers.
S[r]: In an interview with The Center for Fiction you mentioned that you weren’t thinking about a book until most of the stories were finished; yet there is a strong momentum between your stories. Can you describe the process of selecting these stories and arranging them in the order they are in now? Was that a simple or difficult task?
JQ: I agonized over the story order. I had these self-imposed parameters: start with a flash piece, to hook readers quickly and “break them in” to the voice; disrupt the expected narrative order in the linked stories; intersperse flash pieces among the longer ones; don’t put stories with similar family structures side-by-side; mix surreal and traditional stories. I spread the fifteen stories on the floor and shuffled them around like puzzle pieces until I reached a kind of stasis: I couldn’t move one without disrupting five others. Just before the book went to print, I decided to put “Relatives of God” last. I liked the final image: the parents looking at the children, the children glancing back. It felt both recursive and redemptive.
Now after readings, people will come up and say, “I read your last story first” or “I’m skipping around.” Which is, of course, how many of us read story collections. I read the title story in Saunders’ Tenth of December first, even though it’s the final piece in the book, because everyone kept saying “you have to read this story.” Still, the order is important to me, if only for personal aesthetic reasons. And readers who do move straight through might appreciate the time I spent agonizing.
S[r]: Although a similar underlying current propels your stories, this was one of the most stylistically diverse collections I have ever read. The differences in point of view, tense, quotation styles and chronology were refreshing and impressive. Is there anything you can’t do?! What story took you the most out of your comfort zone and how did you overcome that?
JQ: “Demolition.” No question. I wanted to try a Millhauser-esque “we” narration, and it proved a big challenge. And what actually happens in that story—the cave, the undressing, the kudzu—that all took me by surprise. I didn’t want the ex-parishioners to go in that (deeply unsettling) direction. Alas, by the time they started going there, they were running the show entirely.
S[r]: Despite the diversity in your collection, there are several similarities between the stories involving infidelity. Many of these similar details were so beautifully subtle that I had to go back to make sure I wasn’t imagining them. There is a nameless woman in an emotional affair—some stories divulge that she has been married for seventeen years; others involve her four children, a pastor and most frequently a four year-old son. Is this character indeed the same woman? If so, were these stories once part of a larger one, and how did they evolve into the collection as they are now?
JQ: Yes, they’re meant to be linked: same woman, same lover, same families. My editor and I had to go through and make sure all of those details lined up. And no, they were never part of a longer work. In fact, all of the flash pieces, as well as the three short sections of “What Friends Talk About,” began as poems. I was obsessed with the material and wanted to see how far I could push, how deep into the well I could go.
S[r]: On a similar note, “Georgia the Whole Time” is a prequel to “Here,” and in your collection they appear out of chronological order. Which story did you write first and how did that affect your approach to the other?
JQ: “Georgia” came first, “Here” about a year later. Originally they weren’t linked stories—they had different settings, family make-ups, types of cancer, names/ages/number of kids. When my editor and I began working together, we decided the two stories could, in fact, be about the same family. It took some adjusting: adding a child here, taking one away there, making sure the years added up. It was tricky. I had to do math.
S[r]: You’ve said before that it is important for fiction writers to explore unknown experiences. How do you balance the expectations of fiction with the expectations of family or religion?
JQ: I try not to think about expectations when I draft—moral, familial, aesthetic, or otherwise. To write with anything less than complete moral and aesthetic freedom would be a kind of suffocation. Of course one can make adjustments in the revision stage. But freedom from stricture while drafting is essential to the authentic writing life. I think of what Barry Hannah said about music, its relationship to prose: “it’s ineffable. It is the highest thing you can reach for. It is beyond good and evil; that’s why I don’t like to attach morality or philosophy to the deepest things I feel. They’re just beyond it.”
S[r]: What fabulous advice. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions, we look forward to seeing more from you in the future!
Award-winning authors Jamie Quatro and Melissa Pritchard visit Changing Hands Bookstore at 7 pm on Thursday March 28 with their new books, I Want To Show You More and The Odditorium, respectively.
In I Want To Show You More, Quatro shares stories of lives stretched between spirituality and sexuality in the New American South. A wife comes home with her husband to find her lover’s corpse in their bed; a teenager attends a Bible Camp where he seduces a young cancer survivor with hopes of curing his own rare condition; marathon runners on a Civil War battlefield must carry phallic statues and are punished if they choose to unload their burdens; and a husband asks his wife to show him how she would make love to another man.
In The Odditorium‘s eight short stories, Pritchard transports readers into spine-tingling milieus that range from Robert LeRoy Ripley’s “odditoriums” to the courtyard where Edgar Allan Poe once played as a child. She sets the famed figures of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, including Annie Oakley and Sitting Bull, against the real, genocidal history of the American West; contrasts the luxurious hotel where British writer Somerset Maugham stayed with the modern-day brothels of India; and illuminates the many ways history and architecture exert powerful forces upon human consciousness.
About the Authors:
Jamie Quatro’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Tin House, McSweeney’s, Oxford American, and elsewhere. A finalist for the Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction and the winner of the 2011 American Short Fiction Story Contest, she is the recipient of fellowships from Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony, and was the Georges and Anne Borchardt Scholar at the 2011 Sewanee Writers’ Conference. Quatro holds graduate degrees from the College of William and Mary and Bennington College.
Author of nine books, Melissa Pritchard has received numerous awards for her fiction, including the Flannery O’Connor, Carl Sandburg and Janet Heidinger Kafka Awards and NEA and Howard Foundation Fellowships. Four of her stories have received O. Henry and Pushcart Prizes, and The Odditorium, an Oprah Pick, was one of the San Francisco Chronicle’s Best Books of 2012. Her novel, Palmerino, is forthcoming in 2014. Pritchard teaches creative writing at Arizona State University.
Superstition Review would like to announce that Melissa Pritchard’s collection of short stories, The Odditorium: Stories, is due for release January 10, 2012. It is now available for pre-order from Amazon.
Pritchard was the featured reader in our Superstition Review reading series in November 2010.
Praise for Melissa Pritchard:
“Melissa Pritchard is one of our finest writers.”—Annie Dillard
“Pritchard’s quicksilver ability to blend biting social/political commentary with a rueful analysis of relationships makes [her work a] delight.”—Publishers Weekly
“I have admired Melissa Pritchard’s writing for several years now for its wisdom, its humble elegance, and its earthy comedy.”—Rick Moody
About The Odditorium: Stories:
In each of these eight genre-bending tales, Melissa Pritchard overturns the conventions of mysteries, westerns, gothic horror, and historical fiction to capture surprising and often shocking aspects of her characters’ lives.
In one story, Pritchard creates a pastiche of historical facts, songs, and tall tales, contrasting the famed figures of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, including Annie Oakley and Sitting Bull, with the real, genocidal history of the American West. Other stories are inspired by the mysterious life of Kaspar Hauser, a haunted Victorian hospital where the wounded of D-Day are taken during World War II, and the story of Robert LeRoy Ripley of “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not” and his beguiling “odditoriums,” told from the perspective of his lifelong fact checker. (From Amazon.com)
Congratulations, Melissa. We look forward to this release.