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"An Attempt to Connect": An Interview with Teresa Carmody

Teresa Carmody is the author of Maison Femme: a fiction and Requiem. Recently published projects include the chapbook Hide and See (No Press) and DeLand (Container), a view-master book made in collaboration with fiber artist Madison Creech. Carmody is the Editor Emeritus of Les Figues Press and director of Stetson University’s MFA of the Americas.

Her story, "A New Writing Friend," appeared in Issue Eighty-Eight of The Collagist.

Here, she speaks with interviewer Dana Diehl about writing with constraints, friendships in a patriarchal society, and sentence muscles.

Where did this story begin for you?

It really began with the first sentence, which is how my stories often begin: a sentence comes to me that I want to continue exploring in fiction. In this case it was a sentence about William, who is afraid. Well, what is he afraid of? Oh, words. And that got me thinking about how some people (my younger self included) so want to be loved that they’ll say what they believe others want to hear, or even unconsciously mirror or reflect their friends’ affectations or subtle energies, in an attempt to connect. It’s sad because such behavior actually gets in the way of more genuine intimacy; it’s hard to be real with someone who’s performing the person they think you want them to be.

Why do you think it’s important to this story that all of William’s friends are women? How would it change the story if it was instead a story about William and his male friends?

Well, it would be a different story, wouldn’t it? Because in a patriarchal society, the power dynamics of mirroring another’s desire (or presenting for another) is really different for men and women. Not to grossly overgeneralize, but women are regularly expected to conform to and fulfill male desire, while female desire goes unseen, unrecognized, unbelieved. Which isn’t to say that both men and women can’t fall into the trap of saying/being for another, in an attempt to gain love or affection. But it’s another story if a male is performing for men, or a female is performing for women. And this plays out differently, too, in straight or queer communities and friendships.

William is convinced he needs to caretake these strong-willed, creative, and charismatic women in order for them to truly love him. He absents himself by literally not speaking—so to better reflect their desires! Yet at the end of the day, the story still revolves around William. He’s the main character, true, and he’s a male; in a patriarchy, the social narrative always centers (and re-centers) around men.

Does your work as an editor influence your work as a writer? If so, how?

Editing/publishing has filled and broken my heart over 5,000 times, and that’s how I feel about writing. In fact, I wrote a whole book (Maison Femme: a fiction) to explore this and the relationship between editing, publishing, and writing. Maison Femme is a roman à clef; it uses my house in Los Angeles (where we ran Les Figues for 10+ years) as its structure, so each area in the house has a section in the book. There are more constraints, too, such as bibliomancy and a sentence/body constraint. I’ve been writing using constraints for several years now, which is something I first explored through publishing/editing books like The nOulipian Analects (Viegener and Wertheim, eds.) and Cunt Norton (Dodie Bellamy). And of course, Dies: A Sentence (Vanessa Place), which was Les Figues’ first single-author title. And while we’re on the subject of sentences, I do see editing as another way to tone your sentence muscles, and I’m all about the sentence. To me, writing is a practice: a daily habit, a mode of being, and a cognitive and muscular process—which is why if you haven’t done it in a while, it can feel awkward to pick up the pen. The same is true for different modes of writing: critical writing works a different set of muscles/processes than poetry or fiction. Lynda Barry (another big influence) recommends giving yourself three days to get into a project, three days to come out, and I’ve found this to be a good guideline. It’s also the crucifixion/resurrection timeline, that creative process of transmutation by which materiality moves from one form into another into a third. How can we get to—and make space for—the third thing, whatever that is?

What is the last book you read that you absolutely loved?

Dom Casmurro by Machado de Assis. It’s so sly and humorous and charming, with ample amounts of stickiness and a narrative construction that’s as pleasurable as it is rhetorically fascinating.

What projects are you working on now?

I’m working on a few different things, but this week specifically, I’ve been writing a piece that I privately call the animal story (actual title tbd). It draws on language I collected from an audience many months ago (well, in late 2016), during a panel on interspecies communication. As part of my talk, I passed out 3x5 notecards and, after giving several instructions about receiving credit or a copy of the eventual story, I told short animal stories (from life and literature) and asked the audience a question about the animals’ message. After, I had this amazing collection of 3x5 notecards with all kinds of responses, some silly, some scolding, which I brought with me as I moved across the country to Florida, where I live now. The pile of notecards has been sitting on my desk all this time because it’s taken this long to find the story’s opening. I’m pretty sure this will be final story in a larger collection about friendship, gossip, community and writing. Coincidently, “William and His Woman Friends” was one of the first stories I wrote for this same collection. And yes, the collection has a title: A Healthy Interest in the Lives of Others

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