Marie Mockett's first novel, Picking Bones from Ash, was just published by Graywolf Press. She reads tonight as part of Graywolf's 35th anniversary celebration, at the Mercantile Library Center for Fiction.
For our readers who may not be familiar with your work, what's the most accurate thing someone else has said about it?
Maud Newton said my book is "deeply preoccupied with girls, talent and power. That's pretty much where my head was. And, yes, the book takes place in Japan, but there are no helpless geishas, though later on in the book, there's some Miyazaki-inspired surrealism. Also, a ghost and some demons.
What have you read/watched/listened to/looked at/ate recently that will permanently change our readers' lives for the better?
Listened to: Kurt Elling's "Dedicated to You" on Concord Records and Laurence Hobgood's "When the Heart Dances" on Naim. Real, complex, not-schlocky-but-still-romantic, accessible and sophisticated jazz.
Watched: The new Tosca at the Met. I loved the theatricality and the eerie men in black and the very padded torture room. The The new Toscabooers have no imagination.
Food: I still mourn the closing of the Burmese Café in Jackson Heights and hope for its revival. For authentic Japanese food, there is still nothing like Aburiya Kinnosuke, though it's a little Tokyo-salty. I remain amused by the beffudled New York Times reviewer's experience at Aburiya; we aren't used to real Japanese food in the US.
Whose ghostwritten celebrity tell-all (or novel) would you sprint to the store to buy (along with a copy of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius so that the checkout clerk doesn't look at you screwy)?
It's none of my business of course, but I'd love to know about AS Byatt's youthful affair with Cecil Day-Lewis and how much of that went into the writing of Possession.
Also, what exactly went on between Nureyev and Fonteyn? Both are dead, so chances are we won't find out. But these muse-like, passionate relationships that border on the romantic are fascinating to me. Maybe the Greeks were right and inspiration is always borne of love. Except historically, it seems to me, most women get screwed over by these arrangements.
Have you ever been a Starving Artist, and did it make you brilliant, or just hungry?
Who is ever helped by starvation and poverty? This is a fantasy of rich people, or people who want artists to represent something for them and don't think through the reality of what is really required to create—and sell—art. My mother tells me she grew up after the war eating crickets and catching minnows like a lot of Japanese, many of whom were less resourceful and starved to death. I have a ways to go before life is truly that awful. As for being poor; aren't most of us poor in New York City, except for the bankers (and, really, despite their whining, they don't have it as bad as they think they do)?
What would you characterize as an ideal interaction with a reader?
The ideal interaction is between the reader and the book—and does not involve the writer. It worries me that books are becoming calling cards for the writer as celebrity. If celebrity as an end is so important, then why should any of us bother writing books at all? It takes a long time to write a thoughtful novel—a lot of solitary, inward thinking time. This has nothing to do with the artist up on a stage at a later date "standing for something," and using his work or life as a "teachable life moment." We are too hungry for gurus.
Have you ever written anything that you'd like to take back?
I tend to be obsessive. It's not good for me to engage in too much regret.