Cynthia Reeser, writer, artist, and editor of Aqueous Books and Prick of the Spindle, has graciously tagged me to write a Next Big Thing blog post, in which writers chat through internet-land about an upcoming project. You can read about Cynthia’s new book in progress, a short story collection called Lefenstrausse, over here at her blog.And as for me:
What is your working title of your book? A Child Is Being Killed.
Where did the idea come from for the book? I began writing this book immediately after I finished reading Kathy Acker’s Blood and Guts in High School for the first time, which is a radically shattered text about sexual abuse, trafficking, and bodies. Later, I read Maurice Blanchot’s The Writing of the Disaster, in which Blanchot ruminates over the impossibility of truly representing trauma through language. He writes, for instance, that it might be impossible to say the sentence “A child is being killed” and have that sentence really mean anything– that it might even be an erasure or betrayal of the trauma. I took this as a challenge to say the unsayable–the disaster–even when you know your words must be incomplete. Words cannot capture trauma because trauma is, by definition, that which explodes all of our systems of meaning and coherent narrative. But the challenge is to speak anyways, for the sake of bearing witness. We cannot have a new society without people who are willing to compassionately witness violence, however incomplete our ability to understand it. That witness will be the floor upon which a radically liberated society is placed.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? Unknown actors with blurry faces.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? A teenager named Shrap is attempting to tell you the story of how she was sold into sex slavery in exchange for her father’s business.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? It is being published by the lovely Aqueous Books in June, 2013.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? Several years. I wrote it in fits and starts, in all kinds of notebooks and on several different computers, and finally finished it when I did my MFA.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? I have strong relationships with the work of Kathy Acker, Bhanu Kapil, Selah Saterstrom, and Helene Cixous, four writers whose books I was eating up while I was writing this. I see those relationships as strongly reflected in my book, but god knows if anybody else would agree with me there.
Who or what inspired you to write this book? This musing is long, but indulge me, for this is actually something I hardly ever talk about due precisely to my own perceived inability to do it justice. In 2004, I spent a summer working at an anti-sex trafficking organization in Kolkata, India’s red light districts. The women and children I worked with had all been rescued from sex trafficking and/or lived their entire lives in brothels. Most of them, some as young as eight, had been drugged, beaten, and sold across borders in Southeast Asia under the watch of police, soldiers, border patrol, business people, and various other folks in positions of national and international power.
Part of my job there, aside from watching and teaching kids at shelters in Sonagachi, one of Asia’s largest red light districts, was to research hundreds of pages of news articles for the English education outreach department. So it was day after day of reading story after story about human trafficking. My mind became a veritable clearinghouse of these narratives– police officers, government officials, and millionaires running massive international trafficking rings; family members selling their children overseas so they could eat; people raped tens of times every day for years in tiny rooms, then murdered when their bodies were no longer useful; women and children performing unspeakable feats of creative survival for themselves and others. The incredible things that peoples’ minds and spirits do when they are physically, sexually, or mentally unable to pivot away from hell.
I had always wanted to write about these beings but I did not quite know how to do it without co-opting their voices. They are perfectly capable of telling their own stories, and have. But after I read Acker, and later, Blanchot and other theorists of trauma and language, I realized there were lots of ways that violence can be fictionalized while still retaining that critical aspect of being a radical witness to the real world. Though much of the violence that happens in A Child Is Being Killed seems extreme or unbelievable, almost everything that happens in the book is a version of true story.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? I am interested in what it means to be a reader-witness. If books are bodies and bodies are made of story and time, I consider A Child Is Being Killed to be a traumatized text–a violated body of language. I want to know what it means to hold the space of the traumatized body as that body is trying valiantly to tell itself. To assist that telling simply through meeting and seeing it as a reader. To tolerate and trust the dissociation, hyperarousal, compulsion, and panic of that birth process. To be a witness and decide what we are going to do about how the text, and our relationship to it, reflects the real world, where there are more slaves currently than in all of human history. I write about this more extensively here. But that is my invitation.
Thanks again to Cynthia for tagging me and please tune into these writers’ blogs the week of January 18-25 to hear about what they’re up to:
Stacy Opalewski Walsh will be writing about her new collection of non-fiction stories, How Film Destroyed My Life, which details her experiences in the film industry.
Pampi, digital mixed media performance artist, poet, and activist, will be discussing some of her performance work.
Nancy Stohlman, author of Searching for Suzi, will be discussing her new book, The Monster Opera and Other Bible Stories.