A few months ago, CR staff member Don Peteroy announced he was going to conduct an interviewing experiment. His idea was to contact writers he admires (he is an intrepid, yea tireless, journal reader) and ask them each an absurd (yea, downright ridiculous) question—a question designed to throw said writer off balance and elicit an unrehearsed, fresh (yea, sometimes silly) response. The results were crazy good fun, and in support of that spirit—as well as in support of writing and writers everywhere (not just in our pages)—we asked Don’s permission to post these questions and answers on CR’s blog. I mean, any clown can ask an author what writers influenced him/her, but only Don Peteroy would ask something like “If you were an item on the McDonald’s value menu, which one would you be and why?” And so, here is the first installment of Don Peteroy’s Irrelevant Questions for Relevant Writers.
Valerie Fioravanti’s linked story collection, Garbage Night at the Opera, won the 2011 G. S. Sharat Chandra Prize for Short Fiction and is forthcoming from BkMk Press. Her work has appeared in many literary journals, including North American Review and Cimarron Review. She received a Fulbright Fellowship to Italy to research her novel, Bel Casino. She lives in Sacramento, where she teaches private workshops from her home and runs the Stories on Stage reading series.
Question: Let’s say the ghost of Herman Melville appears in your bedroom. You’re completely sober and sane, by the way. He tells you that you must write Moby Dick II: It Lives, or else he will haunt your family for ten generations. Everyone in your family will go nuts. He also tells you that the book will ruin your career. What are you going to do?
VF: I’d say, “I would prefer not to,” of course. He deserves to be on the receiving end of that line, don’t you think? After that, I’d just tell him to bring it. I’m an Italian girl from Brooklyn, and ghosts wouldn’t exactly faze my family. They’d just commiserate with him about how much I hate being told what to do, and make room. That’s apartment life—there’s not space enough for everyone to go to private corners where stuff festers. You learn to confront your demons, living or dead, and find a way to coexist.
Besides, Moby Dick already has a sequel. It’s Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body. I’d read Hank some gorgeous bone passages, point out how homosexuality no longer needs to be a latent theme, and encourage him to rest easy in his afterlife. Art is legacy. It’s Ahab and his whale-sized obsession. Career is the middle-aged guy with the stressball, and who willingly chooses him? If Melville still needed placating (’cause really, what’s with all the threats?), I’d mention how “Bartleby the Scrivener” made my throat constrict from claustrophobia, and how much I loved Benjamin Britten’s all-male opera Billy Budd. Second generation innovation. The guy with the stressball can’t touch that.
Mary Hamilton is a writer and optician living in Los Angeles. Her debut book, We Know What We Are, was released last year from Rose Metal Press.
MH: To be a total nerd about this, the truth is a star “disappears” at least every day. Such is the way of the universe. But, if it was really up to me, like, if it was my fault, well, yes, I would use one verb a day. Just to keep the balance going. I think I would feel important, having such responsibility. Of course, what calamity if, one day, my verb makes our sun disappear. That would suck. But, such is the way of the universe.