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« From Coffee House Press | Main | LBC INTERVIEW: NEA DIRECTOR OF LITERATURE DAVID KIPEN »

Feb 23, 2006

Comments

Dan Wickett

Kirstin,

How much more or less do you think the story gives away now as opposed to the manuscript as submitted to CHP?

When Garner began formulating in your mind, was Francis the character you began with? When did Heald arrive during your formulation/writing process?

Thanks!

Kirstin Allio

Dan,

Let's see, you say "gives away," but I don't mean to be withholding, necessarily, only quite restrained, as reflects the characters and place of Garner.

I'm wondering if you think Willard knows what happened?

About Coffee House, Garner is certainly better for the editing process with Chris Fischbach! And yes, there were certainly some logistical quirks that Chris helped straighten out. What a great relief that, unlike some other more mainstream editors, Chris and Coffee House were comfortable with a more elliptical approach to plot.

I'm thinking that poetry so often answers the questions you, the reader, bring to it (poetry's magic, for sure), but a poem might not necessarily be solvable within its own coordinates. At least for lay readers like me. I'm definitely not a poet, but I am drawn to the space between ideas, between words, negative space or what's not said because of what is said.

Yes, I began with Frances, although she began with a contemporary double as well. Initially, I used history as a device to show that time stood still in this eerily annexed town in NH -- characters recurred, girls came of age in one century and in another. But writing in a different time period helped me find a cleaner, clearer, and even perhaps more universal voice (thanks to Kassia for the meditation on voice!). I had to work harder on the details -- which were composed rather than lived, of course -- bread baking or what they wore, not to mention dialogue -- and that forced a kind of rigor, even meta-consciousness of language, as if I were trying to write in a foreign language. Superficial tics were purged . . .
Willard emerged when I committed Garner to history!

Dan Wickett

I see where restrained is a much better description than withheld.

Personally, I do think that Heald knows what happened - though, part of what drew me to him as a character was his unreliability - that actually seemed a trait in all of the characters throughout the novel, making me question what I believed over and over.

I wonder if your own greater awareness of what you were putting down on paper corresponds with what most readers have mentioned, their own greater concentration towards what they were reading - details, voice, beliefs in what they felt they were being told?

Laird Hunt

Hi Kirstin,

Greetings from another Coffee House author and congratulations to you on writing such a terrific novel! I confess that although I have followed the presentation of each of the novels this go around, I didn't realize that anyone could ask questions and participate in the discussion (and may not have been alone in that misperception) so am a couple of days late and a few dollars short with this, but here goes anyway. I "taught" Garner in a graduate fiction workshop at the University of Denver a few weeks ago and one of the things we talked about was how interesting it was to encounter a historical novel in which it could be easily argued that issues to do with place were more important than issues to do with character. In other words it wasn't the customary gambit of historical stage setting in order to play out historical action. This plus the fact that multiple voices present different versions of that place at and from slightly different times seemed to provide a sense of simultaneity to the proceedings, everything seemed to be happening at once (like in one of those grand Bruegel paintings) -- not easy to pull off in fiction. This is part of why for me the whodunnit question wasn't quite as important as it might have been if I had been generally caught up in cause and effect, etc. In fact, I had a vision of Frances over the course of the novel simply sinking below the water, into the earth, and being infused into the groundwater (which perhaps complements the final vision offered of her). Her circumstance seemed to permeate everything, the voice we come to know as Heald not least. What to do with/How to treat the corpse you have created (in fiction!!) is such a tricky question and I think you found a great way to deal with it. I know that some of this has already been addressed, but I wonder if there is anything in this that you would care to comment on.

Kirstin Allio

Hi Laird -- I'm not sure if this is a speeded-up correspondance or a slowed-down conversation, but either way it's very nice to meet you here in space. Thanks so much for using Garner in your workshop.I enjoyed your comments immensely -- your students were most certainly in good hands. Here are a few responses. . . .

Oh yes -- that Frances's body (corpse! I never thought of using that most material, almost ecological word) seeps into the groundwater is perfect. In the same way, Willard's voice insinuates, so that the man of the borders violates the borders.

From earliest pre-drafts of Garner, (no matter what else happened, or what time period) Frances's death was expressed in a naturalistic suggestion of afterlife. That's what Willard senses in those woods -- ghosts from different time periods, superimposed in a collage-like fashion. That leads me to your comment that "everything seemed to be happening at once." I think I mentioned in another post my interest in recurrance in history. I like to imagine nature -- and us, the people -- in a (non-religious!) cycle of reincarnation -- the same kinds of trees come back year after year, century after century. I tried to express this in a collage rather than a timeline.

Finally, about place: I wanted to say that Garner is larger than any of the people, contains them, those recurring types, and is both benevolent and lovely, and restrictive, vindictive, hard as granite. When my family moved from California to New Hampshire, we were horrified to find the well water was so full of iron (and arsenic, as it turned out) that it tasted like blood. It turned all the laundry a shameful, dirty yellow. Domestically speaking, I suppose my mother was the most troubled by this, and she was quite sick our entire first summer. Everyone said, Oh, it's the granite. It tests you. Hmm. I think I knew -- I was almost ten -- that we were just newcomers, the same in every decade, century. Where the real action was, the real power, the real inhospitability, in this case, was in the place -- this small town in New Hampshire.

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