Friday, September 30, 2022

Q&A with Suzanne Feldman




Suzanne Feldman is the author of the new story collection The Witch Bottle & Other Stories. Her other books include the novel Sisters of the Great War. She lives in Frederick, Maryland.


Q: Over how long a period did you write the stories in your new collection?


A: At least one of these stories is at least 10 years old—The Lapedo Child—which was published previously in Narrative Magazine. Another one, Goat Island, took me about 10 years to get right. Those are the two novellas in the collection, and novellas, I find, take a long time to get right.


The other stories are shorter and took a LOT less time, but overall, I’d have to say I spent the last decade putting this collection together—slowly but surely. It was so gratifying, especially after the pandemic, to win the Washington Writers’ Publishing House 2022 Prize for fiction with this collection. I feel like all that work has gotten some wonderful recognition.


Q: The writer Dennis Danvers said of the book, “The self, art, the self as a work of art--The Witch Bottle explores these journeys with wisdom, humor, compassion, and more often than not, hope.” What do you think of that description?


A: Well, I like to think of myself as wise, humorous, and compassionate, and as long as I stay off Twitter, I’m fairly optimistic.


Many, many of these stories are about artists struggling with the choice between making a living or making their art, which is a struggle I’m pretty familiar with. I went to art school in the ‘70s, and it wasn’t until I was ready to graduate that I realized I had zero job skills. I went into teaching (high school) art because there were so few options at the time.

Over the 30 years I spent in the classroom, I tried to convey to my students that they could pursue both a career and their artistic path, but I’m certain that some of them faced the exact same problem I did—how do you make a living doing what you love when there’s no way to make a living? It’s a persistent conundrum in the arts.


Q: How did you decide on the order in which the stories would appear in the book?


A: The title story, “The Witch Bottle,” used to be first, but the wise folks at Washington Writers’ Publishing House suggested I move it to the middle and put the novellas at the end. I think the pacing of the stories works better now. Plus you have the hilarity of the title story followed by the sorrow of “The Stages.” There’s a nice contrast between the pieces the way they’re arranged right now.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Currently I’m finishing a novel called The Marble Art Palace (it may eventually be called something else) which revisits the theme of young women in art school in the mid-1970s, trying to make a name for themselves in what was a male-dominated art world.


There are three characters—two young women who’re students, and one who was a student—but because it was the only job she could get in the arts, she’s now a model. The three of them are out there on the front lines of fame against a background of wonderful, gritty Baltimore, and a world of punk rock. It’s a fun book to write…and not quite autobiographical.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Come to a reading! Anthony Moll, who won the WWPH prize for poetry, and I will be reading in DC, Baltimore, and Frederick during the month of October. Here’s the schedule:


         10/2 - Politics & Prose (Connecticut Ave) 3 pm

         10/13 – The Ivy Bookshop (Baltimore 7 pm

         10/18 – Inner Loop Bookstore (DC) 7 pm

         10/25 – The Writers Center (Bethesda) 2 pm

         10/30 – Gravel & Grind (Frederick, MD) 3-5 pm


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Suzanne Feldman.

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