Interview with Spotlight Author Jack Remick!

As part of this month's Spotlight on Jack Remick, author of Gabriela and the Widow, we had the following Q&A exchange - and found him to be every bit as interesting a person as he is a writer!

Q: When did you begin writing? What got you started?
A: Nancy, I think the question isn’t when, but Why? Writing as a novelist, screenwriter, short story writer, and poet, I’ve explored form and structure to see if I can find a way back into my own brain. All writing is not disguised autobiography as Joyce is supposed to have said, but all writing is archetypal extrapolation of the great myths that live in us and derive from our furious and far flung journey to being. In a way I feel some kinship with the scribes in China who wrote on oracle bones, and with the mud-daubers in Babylon who scratched their cuneiform words with reed styluses, and I feel, in my blood, the madness of the stone carvers in Belize who cut their hieroglyphs in such a psychedelic way that at first we didn’t know it was writing. No other beast can write. We were born to write and writing makes us what we are. In her book Proust and the Squid, Marianne Wolf suggests that we first wrote when we looked at animal tracks in the sand and copied the bird tracks, the deer tracks and called them pictographs. So you could say that I got started writing two hundred thousand years ago.

Q: You're writing from the POV of two females - and writing rather intimately about female experiences. How do you manage that?
A: Embryologically men are women. Somewhere in our development men get a double shot of testosterone and we end up with external gonads and a lot of interest in sex. Somehow I’ve maintained my embryological connection to the state before my second shot of male hormone. Am I joking? No. But, the other reality is that I come from a family with four sisters. I’ve watched the changes in my sisters, watched my women age and talk and cry together. I lived in South America where I wore clothing I bought on the street so as to become like the people around me. In my family life, my father was gone a lot. My sisters, my mother, my aunts, my grandmother became my reality. To write Gabriela and The Widow I became them in the same way I became Ecuadorian in Quito or the way I became Mexican in Cosala.

Q: You also write in the character of a young woman who is not a native English speaker. Your "voice" is very authentic. Tell me about that.
A: Guilt. Shame. Fear. Love. Anger. Human. Every language, I am sure—though I’m not a linguist, anthropologist or psychiatrist—has those words. Every human has those feelings. Gabriela is damaged, she’s been ruined. She shows fear, guilt, shame, and love. When I write from that level, that deep, I find an approximation, in words, of emotion. My words are an intermediate step between my feeling and the feeling I evoke in a reader. Writers, sooner or later, come to the conclusion that there are three levels here: To tell (which is a no no); to show (which is good); and Evoke. I capitalize Evoke because it is Truth. Evoking, you never say Love, you evoke it. You show Anger. You evoke fear by action and image. Evoking emotion is such a powerful way to reach into the brain of the reader that if you write from fear, from guilt, from shame then the character in whom you invest becomes a true carrier of those emotions. Someone once asked Samuel Beckett why, if everything was pointless, did he write. His answer: Words are all I have. Words are pathways into emotion. Another way to look at it is from the method actor’s point of view. An actor, it is said, becomes the character and in some cases has a hard time leaving that character. The writer’s job is ten times that—the writer has to be all the characters. If the writer can’t achieve that identity with the characters, then all but one will be wooden. I learned from Ellen Gilchrist, who wrote I Cannot Get You Close Enough, that the writer must render every character strong enough to become the protagonist of the next novel. If you do that, work from the inside, then writing has meaning in the same way meaning in music is not semantic, but evocative. I became Gabriela and I became La Viuda, and I became El SeƱor. When Gabriela stands on the walls of Troy in that blue gown…the breeze on the silk was on my skin. And in the end? The skinny dogs. Man, let me tell you, I could taste the fat…That’s why writers are crazy.

Q: This novel seemed very visual to me - have you ever wondered about seeing this book made into a movie? If so, how would you cast it?
A: A few years ago, I taught in a screenwriting program with Robert J Ray, Stewart Stern, and Randy Sue Coburn. Earlier, Bob Ray and I had worked out a path for our writing in this century. From the beginning, art has been about getting pictures to move. From cave paintings in Chauvet to sculpture at Angkor Wat, art is movement. Movies, one still at a time, realize that long arc of development—the illusion of movement. You could say that we’ve waited a million years for movies. In movies we see stories told with Action and Image. It’s hard to film a “thought” except by flashback or some other direct means. To the screenwriter, the right word is Behavior. What the character does. How do you handle that in writing? When Bob and I settled on Action and Image as our technique, we came to the conclusion, as have other writers, that we needed to speak directly to the visual cortex where images are decoded to emotion and one way to get into your reader’s brain is to attach characters to objects (in Gabriela--the coins, the jewelry, the clothing, the toads) and put them in motion. We “see” everything. In Gabriela, I used this technique in as many ways as I was able—from the image of the two women on the patio watching the meteor showers, to the action of La Viuda’s seduction by the Russian on the sable coat. If film is the highest form of art in our time—in a way film is the logical development of Wagner’s “total theatre” as realized in his Ring Cycle—then it is telling us something about the way our brains decode reality. In this, once a fiction has been read, it shares the brain-space of historical fact as if it were a reality and in a sense it is. Art is stored the same way history is. In memory, there is little difference between fact and fiction, because fiction becomes a fact once internalized. It is our destiny, as writers, to bring visual reality to our readers in the same way the film makers, directors, and actors bring filmic reality to the viewer. We have to “make them see”. When I wrote Gabriela and The Widow I did not see the novel as a mid-point between written word and cinematic image. The novel is itself. I wanted to put into writing what the film makers know. Writing Action and Image is, then, a novelist’s way of getting the pictures to move. If I were to imagine a filmed Gabriela, I would acquiesce to the artistic reality that screenwriters confront—movie-making is a collaboration. In that process, the writer learns not to do the director’s work, not to do the costumer’s work, not to do the actors’ work but to deliver a solid story that can be rendered into moving images using the expertise of each of the collaborators. So, to answer the last part of your question—I wouldn’t cast it. I couldn’t. My vision of Gabriela is just one vision. Other artists will see her as they need to see her. And they will see La Viuda as she exists in her relationship to Gabriela.

Q: Who are your favorite authors and why?
A: I wish I could answer that in a few words. I think a lot about Cormac McCarthy. Not the Cormac of the movies, but Cormac who wrote Blood Meridian. That novel is an American Divine Comedy. It is a novel about a journey through hell. It is, in my view, the best American work since Twain. As you know, in The Green Hills of Africa Hemingway wrote that before Huck, there was nothing. He saw it as the liberation of American writing. And he wasn’t wrong.

Q: What's up next for you?
A: I’m writing a new novel which at the moment has half a dozen working titles. I don’t know enough about it yet to make a coherent statement but I do know that it is, in part, about Western women at a unique time in time and it is about the sisterhood of pain, rape, and the war on vaginas that’s being waged right now. There has to be an accounting.


Jack said…
Hello Nancy: What a good feel this blog has. Simple, beautiful, concise and, of course, loaded with wisdom and writing you so much for helping get Gabriela out in the world.
Jack Remick is so interesting and he always seems to find ways to keep you coming back from his books or guest spotlights on blogs.

Thanks for sharing and hosting Jack!

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