the contextual life

thoughts without borders

Location, Metaphor, and Writing in Public: A Conversation with Debut Novelist Vanessa Veselka

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I’d recently seen Vanessa Veselka read from her debut novel, ZAZEN, and was moved to write a review in the hopes that others would pick up her book. But I wasn’t satisfied to end there. Vanessa was kind enough to take some time out of her busy writing and family life to answer a few of my questions. In the following interview we discuss location, metaphor, and writing in public.

Here’s a snippet, follow the link to read the rest on The Faster Times—and while there, read some great essays, reviews, and interviews from other contributors.

Portland, Oregon was instrumental (pardon the pun) in shaping the music scene of the 1990s—it brought grunge to angsty teens all across the country. ZAZEN feels like a natural outgrowth of that era. If this sounds accurate to you, while you were writing the characters did you feel its influence?

I don’t think I related the characters so much to grunge as I did the diasporas of the punk ethos I saw over the years. The Pacific Northwest though, with its cheaper rents and ‘frontierism,’ was a natural place for these various ideologies to take root, so in that way I think the characters are related to the music here. But when I was writing I was listening to way more Radiohead and Brian Eno than Built To Spill or Soundgarden. Still, music affects everything I do. I am a musician and I think in rhythms when I write. Almost all of my writing at the paragraph level is about beats and counter beats. It’s my primary editing tool. As anyone who watches me write—I mutter incessantly. What I’m doing is checking the rhythms against some sonic template I inherited from god knows where. We all have our ways, I suppose.

Not to put too fine a point on it but location is very strong in your book: Rise Up Singing, the restaurant that caters mainly to vegetarians, the cropping up of Corporate America that irks the punk kids, the anarchist farm far from the city center—it’s all very vivid, and familiar. What are some of your thoughts on location—in life and in literature?

The psychogeography of ZAZEN is wrought out of cities like Portland and Seattle, but it is also the Mission District and Williamsburg, the Lower East Side and other places too. I’ve always had dreams of amalgamated cities. When I started writing ZAZEN the city showed up already built. I never said, “I’m going to put this here so that it works for this scene.” It was more like, “Man, I had no idea there was a boarded up International district over that hill, how do I use it?” I didn’t name the city because it was very, very important to me that it be a certain kind of archetypal city and not a solid location, but rather a location that emerged out of a constellation of certain ideas, more like a set of chemical reactions whose compound always contains the same properties. The Situationists Anthology may have marked me for life. I read it when I was eighteen. It was either that or PK Dick.

The rest is here.


Written by Gabrielle

June 28, 2011 at 1:09 pm

Posted in books, interviews

Tagged with ,

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