Melissa Pritchard discusses Superstition Review reading and other works

On November 8th the Superstition Review Reading Series will feature Melissa Pritchard at Arizona State University’s Tempe Campus. Her reading will take place at 7 p.m. in the Memorial Union’s Pima Auditorium. Pritchard has published several books such as Phoenix: A Novel, Late Bloomer and Devotedly, Virginia: The Life of Virginia Galvin Piper. She has also published her essays Finding Ashton and A Woman’s Garden, Sown in Blood in O, The Oprah Magazine, and The Collagist 4, respectively. I had the opportunity to discuss the upcoming reading and Pritchard’s latest novel The Odditorium.

Superstition Review: How is The Odditorium different from your other works?

Melissa Pritchard: The Odditorium is a collection of seven stories and a novella. Most are based on unusual or enigmatic historical figures, all look at the ways architecture exerts subtle or unsubtle pressures on human consciousness. So they are different in those ways from most of my previous stories. More than half of them do not approach narrative in a traditional or conventional way. I experiment in one story, “Watanya Cicilia,” with a pastiche of historical documents, songs, research and fiction, contrasting the Wild West Show and the real, genocidal story of the West. “The Hauser Variations,” based on the life of Kaspar Hauser, a German boy kept in an underground dungeon throughout his childhood and then mysteriously released into a second tragic fate, is based, in terms of narrative strategy, on Bach’s Goldberg Variations. In another story, “Patricide,” two sisters meet in a haunted hotel in Richmond, Virginia, its courtyard said to be a place where Edgar Allen Poe once played as a child. In this hotel, one of the sisters goes mad. So I was less interested in the traditional structure of plot and expected emotional release than in ethics, history, architecture and the effects of these upon both historically based and purely imagined characters.

SR: What has in been like working with Bellevue Literary Press?

MP: We are in the earliest phases; I accepted their offer to publish The Odditorium in January, 2012, and had a lengthy phone conversation with the publisher, Erika Goldman. I was so impressed with her aesthetic understanding of the collection, her excitement over the departures I had taken in terms of subject and form, I became convinced this was the proper home for these pieces. The BLP website is terrific, too, as is their history with Bellevue Hospital and New York University’s Medical Center. They publish elegant books at the nexus of art, science and medicine, and only publish two fiction titles a year. One of this year’s fiction titles, Tinkers, by Paul Harding, won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize, resulting in a flurry of attention for the press, with articles and interviews in The New York Times, NPR, The Wall Street Journal, and other media venues. It’s a tiny press operating out of Bellevue Hospital, and they do terrific work. I come from a family of surgeons, doctors and nurses, and have always been fascinated by science, medicine and the history of medicine, so this could not be a better place for this book, as a number of the stories deal with medical histories, issues and questions.

SR: How has your time at ASU influenced your writing?

MP: Because my time to write is limited, I have to be disciplined. Sometimes I find it quite difficult, having time and energy to both write and teach. A fragile balance at best. On the other hand, teaching keeps me awake to current trends in literature, to remaining relevant to students year after year, and I am blessed to work with some incredibly gifted students, both graduates and undergraduates. I always say my students teach me in equal proportion to what I teach them. At least I feel that. Also, ASU has always been tremendously supportive of my outside work–traveling for research, traveling to conferences, traveling for reportage or for humanitarian work, which I also do. I am extremely grateful for the university’s support.

SR: What are you most looking forward to as the Superstition Review reading draws near?

MP: I have a background in theater, in acting, so I always love reading my work aloud in a public setting…for me, it is as close to performance as I come these days. I love an audience and I love hearing the piece I’ve chosen come alive in the room, seeing the reactions of the listeners, answering questions afterwards. It is truly a wonderful exchange. This past summer at The Glen, a writing workshop in Santa Fe, New Mexico, part of Seattle Pacific University’s MFA Program, I read my collection’s title story, “The Odditorium,” to a full house. It is a comic piece about Robert Ripley of Believe It or Not fame, and other audiences have responded with laughter and lively commentary afterwards. This audience was dead silent. The room was dark, I couldn’t see anyone. I kept reading, on and on, by the little glow from the podium light. Afterwards, no one even asked questions! I was horrified, sure I had failed, sure the story had been a failure…I wanted to crawl under a carpet had there been one. What I found out later, was that the story had gone over so well, people couldn’t react, they went silent–stunned. I won’t repeat the praises I later heard, but then I became overwhelmed the other direction–was my story really that good? So one never knows, and one always doubts. Also, I’m always a little nervous before a reading, hoping it goes well, that I don’t disappoint people who made the time and effort to come to my reading when there are dozens of other things for them to do….I am also always scared no one will show up, and thrilled to pieces when they do. Finally, I’m looking forward to meeting all the staff and interns at Superstition Review. They’ve even managed to arrange to have copies of A Public Space #11 mailed from New York to be available for sale on the night of the reading. (I’ll be reading a story, “Ecorche, The Flayed Man,” from that issue.)

SR: What are you currently working on creatively?

MP: I’m in between three pieces right now…a non-fiction piece about my miniature dachshund, Simon, a speech about Sr. Airman Ashton Goodman and the Afghan Women’s Writing Project that I will be giving at the Air Force Institute of Technology in December, and a novella set in 19th century Florence, Italy.

SR: What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

MP: Read voraciously. Read the best work you can find. Read what interests you. Be observant. Practice empathy and compassion. Know that what you write ultimately reflects who you are. Write every day, even if only for an hour and be humble in your practice while aspiring to greatness. Be gentle with yourself, and always reward yourself in some small way after a writing session. Leave the writing at a place where you are eager to return the next day.

 

Craig Childs At Changing Hands Bookstore

On Monday September 27th, author Craig Childs will be reading at Changing Hands Bookstore from his latest book, Finders Keepers: A Tale of Archaeological Plunder and Obsession.

If you read and enjoyed Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer, Craig Childs’ nonfiction would fit well into your list of reading interests. Childs writes from his personal experiences in nature, and in Finders Keepers, he explores the clandestine side of archaeology. Of the nonfiction I have had the opportunity to read, Childs writing stands out as creative and bold.

Since the publication of his first book in 2000, Childs has published nonfiction including The Secret Knowledge of WaterHouse of Rain, and The Animal Dialogues. His writing has also been feature in The New York TimesLos Angeles Times and Men’s Journal. In addition, he frequently provides commentary for National Public Radio’s Morning Edition.

While reading his website (http://www.houseofrain.com/) I discovered that you can listen to some of Childs’ NPR broadcasts and audio clips from his travels using iTunes. His website also offers a complete list of his published works as well as an anecdotal “about the author” written by Childs.

For more information about the Craig Childs reading and other upcoming events at Changing Hands Bookstore go to http://changinghands.com/.

Superstition Review Reading 3

What: Superstition Review Reading 3: Featuring Carol Ann Bassett
When: Monday, November 30, 2009 from 6:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Where: ASU Memorial Union Building, Pima Auditorium (Room 230)

In conjunction with the ASU School of Life Sciences and the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing, Superstition Review proudly announces its final reading of the Issue 4 Reading Series featuring renowned nonfiction writer and journalist Carol Ann Bassett. Author of three books of literary nonfiction, including her most recent release Galapagos at the Crossroads, Bassett’s work has received high acclaim, being anthologized in the American Nature Writing series. She was a regular contributor to The New York Times and Time Life Inc. and her work has appeared in such national publications as The Nation and The Los Angeles Times. Her work focuses on natural history, the environment, and traditional cultures in transition.

Meet the Interns: Samantha Novak, Reading Series Editor

samanthanovak_0Reading Series Editor Samantha Novak is a sophomore at Arizona State University majoring in Global Studies and minoring in Spanish and Urban Planning.

Superstition Review: How did you hear about or get involved with Superstition Review?

Samantha Novak: I actually came to the Review by a slightly unconventional route. I am not an English major, but I heard about Superstition Review from my Honors English 102 teacher. She proposed it as a really neat opportunity and said that any of us interested should apply. I did, and here I am!

SR: What is your favorite section of SR? Why?

SN: I think my favorite section of SR is probably the art section, I have always found photography incredibly powerful and enjoy having the opportunity to be exposed to new and different artists.

SR: Who is your dream contributor to the journal?

SN: My dream contributor would probably be Ruth Reichl. She has written some extremely powerful stories about her relationship with her family and with food (Reichl was a New York Times food critic and the editor-in-chief of Gourmet). I can really relate to this relationship since I also love food so much.

SR: What job, other than your own, would you like to try out in the journal?

SN: I really enjoy the job I am working at right now, but if I was doing something else I think I would like to try out being the blogger. It would force me to be more methodical with my blogging, which I think would bleed over to increased blogging in my other blogs.

SR: What are you most excited for in the upcoming issue?

SN: I am really excited to be able to experience new artists and writers. I am always looking for new work to read.

SR: What was the first book you remember falling in love with and what made it so special?

SN: I fell in love with The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede. The novels feature a really strong, feisty princess protagonist that would rather swordfight than do embroidery. When her parents try to set her up in an arranged marriage she runs away to be a dragon’s princess. Magic, dragons, pretty dresses, sly references and humor–what’s not to love? I brought the books with me to college and still read them when I’m feeling down.

SR: What are you currently reading?

SN: I am bout to start The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson.

SR: What are some of your favorite websites to waste time on or distract you from homework?

SN: I love mentalfloss.com, cakewrecks.com, Facebook and various food blogs.

SR: Do you create art? Tell us about a project you’re working on.

SN: I do photography, and I am currently in the post processing stage of some photographs I took this summer when I spent a month in China.