Interview: Mark Z. Danielewski Plans 27-Volume Series on Girl Who Finds Kitten
Mark Z. Danielewski, author of the grown up ghost story, 'The Fifty Year Sword,' appears for a live reading of the book at Unity Temple in Oak Park tonight. Patch caught up with him beforehand. Here's what he had to say.
Is that headline true?
It is, actually. At least, that's what author Mark Z. Danielewski told us he's currently working on.
However, with authors like Danielewski, it can be hard to say for sure. After all, the man is a writer of 'experimental' fiction (House of Leaves, Only Revolutions), so we can bet it will be about a little more than just that. I mean, come on, there's 27 volumes to fill.
Danielewski will also be accompanied by pianist Chris O'Riley—host of NPR's From the Top—who composed and will play music along with Danielewski's reading of the book.
Hosted by Writers at Wright, attendance will cost $10, which may be redeemed at the event for $10 off your copy of The Fifty Year Sword.
Patch: Mark, what made you decide to sit down and write a ghost story, much less a ghost story for grownups?
Mark Z. Danielewski: I thought it was a love story.
Patch: Did you read a lot of ghost stories growing up?
Danielewski: I loved Dracula, Great Expectations and eventually Calvin and Hobbes.
Patch: Will the book be performed as it has been on Halloween in the past, or will you be reading all the parts?
Danielewski: I will read all the parts myself. Which is absurd. I know there are five extremely willing and talented actors in Chicago—Chicago has so much talent—and right now one of them is reading this and thinking to herself: "Hey, why am I not doing this? I'm even free tonight. I've performed Lady Macbeth in Macbeth and Lear in Lear and Hamlet in Hamlet and all at the same time too. I should be reading that thing instead of feeding raw pasta to my pet jaguar."
Let me just respond: "Yes, you should." But somehow we couldn't get in contact fast enough with you, or anyone for that matter from that now nameless, but very willing quintet of talent.
If there's an upside, it's that I've never publicly read the whole thing before. Still, the abovementioned thespian has every right to hurl tomato packets. She would have been better. Much better.
Patch: How did you approach NPR's Chris O'Riley to be a part of the performances this time around?
Danielewski: Here's a definite upside: Chris will be performing. I've known Chris for a long time. We met long ago in [the] days of Myspace. Not only is he extremely knowledgeable about music, he's one of the best readers I know. More shocking than his participation this year is that I didn't think of approaching him two years ago. He worked tirelessly, the delight of Euterpe in one ear, the buzz saw of deadlines in the other. Whenever he was in L.A. we gathered around his piano. I read aloud, he played. When he was away, we swapped files, managed late night calls to revise themes, tease out new evolutions, devise musical mysteries, which will likely never be discovered let alone solved.
Patch: I enjoyed the use of blank pages, illustrations and the way the words were broken across the pages, sometime at a sentence at a time. Is this technique used wholly to build tension? Or, are there other motivations?
Danielewski: Great questions, but it would be a disservice to the reader to answer them. Sort of like asking Will Shortz on Saturday for the answers to the Sunday Puzzle.
Patch: Fair enough. How did you pick the artists for the illustrations (stitching) that appear in the book? How much direction did you give?
Danielewski: Claire Kohne was one of the original artists who worked on the REDCAT productions. When I presented to her my concept and asked her if she'd like to help out, it turned out, coincidentally—this was definitely a bit weird—that Claire's grandmother had just then given her a sewing machine. Claire had never owned a sewing machine before nor had she asked for one. We ended up sitting side-by-side tearing up paper with needle and thread. Eventually, I gave up my seat to Gina Gonzales who was a much more experienced seamstress, and from then on I served more as an art director, overseeing the stitching of many butterflies, and latches, and thread-swept mountains. Michele Reverte oversaw the digital stitching required to convert the originals into a printable format.
Patch: Did you conceive the work as a performance initially? How did that aspect of the reading come together?
Danielewski: It was always five voices. It didn't need to be realized, but thanks to Steve Erickson who invited me to put on the first REDCAT show, it was anyhow.
Patch: Can you give us an idea of what you're working on now?
Danielewski: A 27-volume about a 12-year-old girl who finds a kitten. I'm on volume 10 now. The first one is slated for a 2014 release.
Patch: What kind of experience do you hope to give a reader of your work?
Danielewski: I strive to give the reader an experience they can't find anywhere else, which lights the fire of their imagination, sounds the depths of their doubts, and most of all fills their heart with something surpassing the tedious quibble between flesh and dust.