|Photo by Lewis McVey|
Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Seventh Mansion, and for your character Xie?
A: When I saw a photo of the relic of St. Pancratius—which is installed in a church in Wil, Switzerland—I knew I had to write about that body. But it took a few years to figure out who the lover of that body might be.
I was watching the movie Creep 2 and during the credits the song “Botanica de los Angeles” by Xiu Xiu came on and the atmosphere of it kind of exploded my brain and I knew immediately what the feeling for this novel would be and I started to write and immediately Xie was speaking.
The song has nothing to do with my novel in terms of content, but somehow the feeling of it was exactly the feeling I wanted for this book and for this lover of Pancratius—something full of both pain and beauty, love and anguish, violence and the wish for an end to violence. Epic on a small scale, if that makes sense—like a myth, a scary story, a romance. Which is exactly what the novel became.
Q: The Kirkus Review of the book calls it "a contemporary fable of lust, devotion, and transgression that will challenge readers to examine all the ways they move through the world." What do you think of that description?
A: I think it’s a pretty good description as far as these things go. I like the word “lust” because that’s a big part of the book, and when you pair it with “devotion” I think you get the right tone—maybe lust plus devotion is what equals romantic love. “Transgression” fits, because there are certainly a lot of elements in the book that violate social constructs or boundaries, but in many ways the narrative is quite conventional.
If the reader gets something from the book that challenges them to think about their orientation to life and how we live it, that would make me feel the novel was successful.
Q: In our previous interview, you said you usually know how a story will end about halfway through the first draft. Was that the same with this novel?
A: I wrote the first paragraph and then I wrote the last one. Everything got changed a million times during revision, of course, but the basic idea of what would “happen” remained the same throughout.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?
A: I would hope that readers find a safe place in the book to feel anxious—about the future, about climate change, about desire, about whatever. Maybe some of the things in the book might be seen as “extreme” in some way but really it’s all stuff we deal with day-to-day, because our current reality is pretty extreme. And that can make people feel lonely, isolated, confused…and those feelings can be paralyzing.
Maybe I hope that the book makes the reader feel that meaningful action is still possible, that community surrounds us, waits for us, asks us to be a part of a whole or a series of wholes—can we expand or notion of kinship to include non-human creatures? Non-animals? Non-living beings? I think life is everywhere, I think things thrive despite chaos, destruction, uncertainty.
We can help each other. We can be allies not only to our fellow humans but to trees, insects, water, whatever. And those things can be there for us, too, they can provide comfort and give us courage. Life is so fragile and the threat of mass extinction is immense but there is beauty and connection everywhere, all the time: life is built on togetherness.
No being exists in isolation and no being dies alone. It’s not possible. We flourish together and we die together and we read together and so maybe there is some kind of radical inspiration to be got out of all that.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m working on a nonfiction book about bullfighting, a story collection, and a handful of novels.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: There are a lot of great books out now, and a lot of amazing presses putting out superb work: Charco Press, Fitzcarroldo Editions, Dorothy are all impeccable publishers, and I urge readers to check out Pew by Catherine Lacey, The Cipher by Kathe Koja, To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life, by Herve Guibert—read anything, just keep reading and thinking and feeling!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Maryse Meijer.