1. Who are you, and what do you do?
I’ve never been happy with pigeonholes, boxes or categories; maybe that’s why I run so many different careers all at once! I’m a fiction writer who’s won a weird range of awards, a public radio host (ditto), and I also love performing live, an itch I scratch with everything from MC’ing live multi-cultural, multi-format music performances to lecturing on a range of subjects. I’ve also written myself two one-woman shows, and most recently have performed in the theatrical adaptation of my own children’s book, The Klezmer Nutcracker, for Vital Theatre . . . next I play Gertrude in a reading of the “bad” quarto of Hamlet for Extant Arts Co.in NYC in June 2010.
After years of trying to avoid any position of responsibility, I’m now doing my time as President of the Interstitial Arts Foundation, with a minor in Publicity, Promotion, and roping others into doing stuff for IAF. Interested?
2. What first attracted you to the interstitial arts?
Years ago I realized that a lot of the work I enjoy most – from novels to music to performance pieces to visual arts/crafts – flies under the radar of the general public. Due, in part, to the Evil (yet unavoidable) Forces of Marketing, which require rigid categorization to tell consumers what they want, wonderful stuff was being missed by people who would love it a lot. And what’s more, once the work got out there, the poor critics & reviewers would waste tons of ink trying to figure out where to place a work, instead of just engaging with it on its own terms. Here are some examples of what ensues:
“I saw the greatest band last night!”
“Really? What was it?”
“Well, kind of trad Celtic folk – but not really, because they also used a Greek bouzouki, only it was electric, and sometimes they sang in Yiddish, only the Romanian gypsy fiddler was also doing these kind of New Music meets Bluegrass riffs…..”
“So what is it?” Argh.
So a few years ago, some friends and I sat down and founded the IAF. I wrote that up here (and maybe this is a good place to say that, while IAF sometimes gets categorized (argh! that word!) as a subset of science fiction/fantasy/fantastic literature, that was never our vision or our intent).
And, yeah, I’m the one who insisted on using the term “interstitial,” despite some opposition – so blame me if it gives you trouble. (Or thank me if you’ve expanded your boundaries!)
3. Do you consider any of your own work to be interstitial?
Most of my work is hard to categorize. I’m one of the lucky ones, in that it still gets published and broadcast, despite that. But it has trouble finding its audience, and sometimes it has meant shoving a rhomboid peg in a round hole.
For instance, my first novel, Swordspoint, was rejected by many “mainstream” publishers; they didn’t know what to call it, but they thought it might be fantasy, while all the fantasy publishers were sure it wasn’t.* It was eventually published and marketed in a fantasy list, and caused a minor critical scandal because it had an ambiguous hero and no magic. To this day, many genre fantasy readers profess themselves genuinely offended by my work because it doesn’t follow genre conventions, genre rhetoric, and doesn’t deliver on genre expectations. But are mainstream readers flocking to read it? Hell, no, because most of them wouldn’t be caught dead in the Fantasy section of their bookstore. And yet . . . Well, over the years, it’s become kind of a ritual: Friends or public radio colleagues or relatives borrow one of my books because they’re curious, and return it with the ritual response: “I don’t usually like this kind of stuff – but this was good!” I’ve learned to say “Thank you” and shut up.
My weekly public radio series Sound & Spirit was similarly hard to place. When it launched nationally in 1996, the first thing program directors would ask was, “Is this a music show or a news & information show?” to which the only right answer, of course, was “Yes.” S&S covers a lot of territory, artistic and emotional. It crosses a lot of boundaries – in fact, in our 7th season I finally got to explore that in an actual show on “Borderlands” (go here, click on Episodes & scroll down)!
*All this was in 1987; by now, there are many such novels, usually published in-genre, and labeled “Historical Fantasy” and/or “Fantasy of Manners” (or even “Mannerpunk”!). So is Swordspoint still “interstitial”? As we like to say in the IAF, “interstitiality’s a moving target” and “it’s on a continuum.” But, hey – there’s a Comments section here if you have an opinion. Interested?