Toni Mirosevich is the author of the new book Spell Heaven and Other Stories. Her other books include Pink Harvest. She is a professor emerita at San Francisco State University, and she lives in Pacifica, California.
Q: How long did it take you to write the stories in Spell Heaven?
A; This book had a long gestation period. One of the early stories, “Murderer’s Bread,” about a gay couple’s move to a sketchy neighborhood, was inspired by the move my wife and I made to a Northern California town 30 years ago.
A phrase my Croatian grandmother often used may be the best way to describe how long it took. There was a piece of advice she’d always give as a remedy for whatever ailed you. If you were blue or depressed or didn’t know which way to turn.
She’d say to go out and work in the garden, to dig in the dirt, malo po malo, which in Croatian translates as “little by little.” That phrase could be the silent subtitle of this collection. Malo po malo, little by little, over time the stories accumulated. You could say I dug around in the dirt of the imagination and stories grew and ultimately turned into Spell Heaven.
Q: The writer Aimee Phan said of the book, “I would like to wrap myself inside of Toni Mirosevich's words, so that their warmth, vitality, and haunting insights into our humanity will somehow absorb into my thoughts and skin, and I will become a better person.” What do you think of that description?
A: Aimee Phan is an extraordinary writer. That’s a generous and lovely description which are the same two words I’d use to describe the author of that blurb!
Q: How was the book's title (also the title of one of the stories) chosen, and what does it signify for you?
A: Many of the stories were triggered by real life events.
The title came about this way: One day I was walking along a local pier and looking down at the walkway spied a piece of note paper with writing scribbled on it. So I picked it up.
In what looked like a child’s shaky scrawl the note began Dear God. What followed was a list, an attempt to spell the word heaven. Haven, Heavin, the word was misspelled over and over as the kid tried to find what looked like the correct spelling.
From there an idea for a story emerged of a narrator who starts to think about all the ways people spell heaven, what they think constitutes their version of heaven on earth. A new car, a new lover, traveling to some desert island. But often acquisitions don’t turn out to be the answer. So, we may be misspelling heaven all the time. In the story, we find out there a few different ways to spell hell too.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?
A: That once a search is in progress something will be found. That line is my favorite Oblique Strategy card from Brian Eno/Peter Schmidt’s game where you select at random from a deck of cards and apply that strategy to whatever dilemma you are facing.
I hope readers take away the idea that once you go searching, even if you don’t know what you’re searching there, especially if you don’t know what you’re searching for. Something--or someone--will be found if you keep your eyes open, say, if you search past your assumptions of who that person is who is right now walking your way.
In the book, I meet a man who flies kites from a fishing pole while riding his bike, who may be selling drugs on the side. A woman who dislikes living by the sea with her gay son and his lover and wants to go “where people are people.” A guy on a fishing pier who believes our scars are evidence of our happiness.
When the narrator meets each of these characters she initially has assumptions of who they are and yet, through a search to move past her assumptions she discovers something she is looking for: connection, community, meaning.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: A memoir, a type of search and rescue mission for the family fishing boat. I was raised in a Croatian American fishing family and the family boat was sold after my father’s early death.
For many years we had no idea where it ended up though we would hear of sightings; it was seen up in Alaska’s Bering Sea or in the waters off of Astoria, Oregon. Someone heard the boat sunk off a rocky coast, only to have been raised and then, to sink again somewhere else.
The memoir is not only about seeking to find this vessel but a desire to find what buoys us over time through turbulent seas and calm waters, through good times and bad. And who know what memories may still be locked in the hold of that boat?
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: One of my favorite quotes in the book is from the poet C.D. Wright: You will wake in a dear yet unfamiliar place.
The book is in some way a return to the past, as the narrator recalls what drew her to the sea in the first place. When she and her wife move to a coastal town she wakes up to a dear yet unfamiliar place, a new community of outsiders by the sea who ultimately welcome her to join them.
The past, the future, the present all finally combine and, to use another quote in the book by Jhumpa Lahiri: Then one by one she released the things that fettered her.
I love that quote, how it suggests the possibility of freeing oneself up from what contains or constrains you, the “fetters” that slowly fall away so one can go forward into a new life.
More information at www.tonimirosevich.com
Reading events for Spell Heaven:
Monday, May 9, 7pm, Odd Mondays Reading Series, SF, CA, virtual, Folio Books, SF, CA
Wednesday, May 25, 7pm, Green Apple Books, SF, CA
Tuesday, June 7, 7pm, Fabulosa Books, SF, CA
Sunday, June 12, 2pm, Browser's Books, Olympia, WA.
Wednesday, June 15, 7pm, Elliot Bay Books, Seattle, WA
Friday, June 17, 7pm, Village Bookstore, Bellingham, WA,
Saturday, June 18, 4pm, Everett Public Library, Everett, WA
--Interview with Deborah Kalb