Saturday, May 27, 2023

Q&A with Caroline Hagood




Caroline Hagood is the author of the new novel Filthy Creation. Her other books include Weird Girls: Writing the Art Monster. She is an assistant professor of literature, writing, and publishing at St. Francis College in Brooklyn.


Q: What inspired you to write Filthy Creation, and how did you create your character Dylan?


A: This book has a rather odd origin story because I have this weird habit of needing to work on two books at the same time. I think part of it is a defense mechanism, or a strange hope that maybe one of them will survive.


It also relates to a rebellious tendency in me to want to work on what I’m not supposed to be working on, so then I rebel against the writing of one by turning to the other. But it also has to do with my love of experimenting/playing with genres.


So, basically, I was working on what would become my book-length essay exploration of the concept of the art monster, Weird Girls: Writing the Art Monster, while I was writing the fictional version that explored some of the same concepts, Filthy Creation.


At first my protagonist was the mother figure, but then I started to see that the character I really found central was the daughter. Dylan is in high school, and she’s trying to find out what it means to be a fiercely dedicated artist at such a young age.


To create Dylan, I thought a lot about how I was at that age (and still am now), but also how I wasn’t. What I mean is that Dylan is and isn’t me. The aspect that we definitely have in common, though, is the drive to be part of something wildly creative.


Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: It’s a quote from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Victor Frankenstein refers to the place where he makes his creature in this way: “In a solitary chamber, or rather cell, at the top of the house, and separated from all the other apartments by a gallery and staircase, I kept my workshop of filthy creation.”

I loved this idea of a space of a sort of dirty creativity that needs to be separated from the rest of the apartments. I have always wanted a workshop of filthy creation for myself. In this novel, I wanted to reflect on these sorts of spaces and the extremes people go to in the name of creativity.


Frankenstein is also Dylan’s favorite book, she’s reading it in class in the novel, and its themes figure deeply in the book.


Q: The writer James Tate Hill said of the book, “It's a shame Mary Shelley isn't around to offer a blurb for this tender, luminous portrait of the art monster as a modern teen.” What do you think of that description, and can you say more about how you see Filthy Creation connecting to Weird Girls?


A: James Tate Hill’s blurb is the kind writers dream of. It gets to the heart of what I was at least attempting to do.


Filthy Creation is sort of the fictional sister of Weird Girls. I wrote them at the same time. Then, after years of rejection, both books were accepted by different presses within a day of each other. I don’t even know how to explain it.


A recent review of Filthy Creation suggests reading the two books together. I don’t know who has that sort of patience, but I’d certainly be interested to hear what this patient, ideal reader gets out of that experience.


Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: I didn’t know how it would end. I do remember the moment I realized how it had to end, though. Few parts of the novel fell into place easily, but that is one part that just felt like it could be no other way.


I would say it wasn’t until the second total overhaul of the novel, after radical outlining (where the first version had little, and it showed) that I really visualized this ending.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m really not sure where this project is headed, but for now it seems to be a work of autofiction. I’ve written poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction but I haven’t done a book yet that really plays with the boundaries between nonfiction and fiction in the way I’d like to. Here’s hoping this mess coalesces one day.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I’m excited about the cover of Filthy Creation. This, too, has a little story. After the wonderful photographer, Alice Teeple, took my headshots, I was looking through her portfolio, and I saw a photo that just felt like it had to be the cover of Filthy Creation, as though she’d created it for this purpose, although of course she hadn’t.


The photo also happened to be of my friend, the very talented writer Patricia Grisafi, so that’s the fun plotline behind my cover.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Caroline Hagood.

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