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Vanessa Veselka Q&A > Ask Vanessa

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message 1: by Christina (My Life in Books) (last edited Mar 07, 2012 02:27PM) (new) - added it

Christina (My Life in Books) (mylife-inbooks) Red Lemonade's own Vanessa Veselka will host an author discussion March 15-16. Please post any questions you have about Zazen, Vanessa's influences, the writing process, favorite cereals, why the oxford comma is so great, and others ponderous thoughts for Vanessa to this thread.


Lori (tnbbc) | 4 comments Happy Birthday Week Vanessa! Hope it's been a good one so far. I will be working on the two days that you are scheduled to be here, so I wanted to drop a comment early, if that's cool.

I read Zazen quite a few months back and was completely taken by your prose. I loved the movement of the characters and the story line... it was fluid and poetic and obsessive and unsettling all at the same time.

Where did you get your inspiration for the book's setting and its main characters?


message 3: by Richard (new)

Richard (harborcoat) | 3 comments Hi, Vanessa. Since reading Zazen, I've become far more aware of reports of self-immolations and bomb threat hoaxes, and your novel deeply affected the way I saw last fall's Occupy actions. I know this question might sound super broad (or even unfair), but I was wondering what your thoughts are on the state of the world?


Katy | 1 comments Hi, Vanessa! I was really moved by your comments in the Acknowledgements section that "No first-time novelist knows for sure if they can finish a novel until they do" and sometimes "it's easier to wait tables with part of a novel in the drawer than to try to break through your own mediocrity." Can you talk a little bit about your experience of this process? How developed was the idea for Zazen when you began writing, and how did you know it was time to drop everything else and start? How did you navigate your own self doubt and others'? Now that you've finished (and are published, to acclaim), has this gotten easier, or do you still experience those little crises?


Jessica Dylan Miele (jessicadylanmiele) | 1 comments Vanessa, Happy Birthday to you! I just wanted to say, thanks for writing such an absorbing book. And I was hoping you could talk a little about your revision process. How did you go about revising, and what was on your mind as you went over your work?


Richard Thomas (richardthomas) Hey, Vanessa. Congrats on all of your success with ZAZEN. RL is doing great things. I loved reading and reviewing your title for The Nervous Breakdown.

I was wondering if you've spent any time on a farm or commune like the one you depict in the book.

Also, do you feel that a book can be a tragedy and still succeed? I know there are plenty of examples out there (Of Mice and Men, Romeo & Juliet, as well as recent films such as Requiem for a Dream and Seven) but do you feel that there needs to be some element of hope at the end of a long journey, such as a novel?

Peace,
Richard


Peter (prcizmadia) Happy birthday, Vanessa! I hope it is a good one!

First, many thanks to Red Lemonade for bringing this book to print. I devoured it and found it completely engrossing. The world in the story felt very alien and completely familiar to me at the same time- like the tension and oppression just below the surface in our world, was realized in the book. I was curious as to how your personal experiences informed this world you built.

Beyond that... PLEASE keep on writing! I'm ready for more!


message 8: by Vanessa (new)

Vanessa Veselka (vveselka) | 17 comments Hello folks,

I can only hope that I am posting my responses in the correct manner. But first off, thank you so much for reading Zazen in the first place. I am really looking forward to discussing it with you today and tomorrow. And THANK YOU for all the birthday wishes. 43 is looking good so far.
Vanessa


message 9: by Vanessa (new)

Vanessa Veselka (vveselka) | 17 comments My main inspiration for the setting and characters for Zazen is the world I see around me. I was actually kind of shocked when others read that world as speculative. To me, Della's describing things pretty accurately, which gets to the issue of language. I felt like the terms she used --boxmallchurch, New Honduras etc,,, and characters like the Rat Queen were an attempt to describe what she saw more precisely rather than to create a poetic discourse. But that just shows you how I see the world sometimes, I guess.

I read Zaze..."

Lori wrote: "Happy Birthday Week Vanessa! Hope it's been a good one so far. I will be working on the two days that you are scheduled to be here, so I wanted to drop a comment early, if that's cool.

I read Zaze..."



message 10: by Vanessa (new)

Vanessa Veselka (vveselka) | 17 comments Richard wrote: "Hi, Vanessa. Since reading Zazen, I've become far more aware of reports of self-immolations and bomb threat hoaxes, and your novel deeply affected the way I saw last fall's Occupy actions. I know t..."

Richard,
No question is too broad for me to answer in uncomfortable length. For that, I have a talent. If you don't believe me, go look at the litkicks interview that posted today about Occupy. Levi Asher indulged me terribly.

Anyway, the state of the world. Some have felt Zazen was fairly prescient. If that's so, there's certainly no prize in being "right."At the risk of sounding really geeky, here's some of how I see our place in time/ lit...Modernism, high modernism, post-modernism etc are things we're often taught to think of as sequential movements rather than lenses or general aesthetics. I think of Bovary as a post-modern novel because it deals with a certain kind of cognitive dissonance. The closer Emma gets to the city (the Public, the square) the more her ability to narrate herself fragments and she has to speak in terms of familiar narratives that have become simulacra.

The inability to map space, to bridge gaps in cognition and all that is all present in modernism, too. Though many place the birth of modernism at an art show in 1910, the character of high modernism (to me) reflects a cultural form of PTSD /shell shock from the disruption, both psychic and physical, that leads up to, through, and into the wake of WW1. These writers had to go to figurative territories to redescribe the world they saw. And I mean figurative, not metaphorical. There is a sense that the ground is eroding beneath them. Joyce predates this but it's the same sense. The world is crumbling. At a fundamental level, the norms and systems and technologies are exploding it and they (these writers/ people) don;t know where they're going to land. So they need new language to describe the Fall.

I think we are in an historical moment that is very similar. The systems that developed to answer the structures of power in the 20th century no longer work well to respond to the power structure that is emerging from our currently exploding world. We are beginning to orient our identity to media access rather than class. I am real because 9999 people know I exist and that gives me status and power even if I live on pizza rinds and have no health insurance. We're in flux. Things are a real mess. Partly because the ability to fathom the numbers is beyond us.So many millions and millions, billions of people. I think we're going to need new languages to even start solving the problem. We're going to have to find a way to fight the learning curve. If we have to wait for every single person in every generation to catch up on the discussion of change, god, we're goners. But culture bridges that gap some. Books, songs, movies, they're secrets whispered around the world and they outlive us. I'm not really pointing to my book here, but more to the necessity of creativity, political or otherwise in such dire times.

See? Now you regret asking me a big question ;) that'll teach you.


message 11: by Vanessa (new)

Vanessa Veselka (vveselka) | 17 comments Katy wrote: "Hi, Vanessa! I was really moved by your comments in the Acknowledgements section that "No first-time novelist knows for sure if they can finish a novel until they do" and sometimes "it's easier to..."

Hell, I'm always in crisis. Before I published I was in crisis because I thought no one would like Zazen. Afterward I got all freaked out that no one would like what I did next next because it was NOT like Zazen. Last week I got all distraught because I thought a short story I submitted (that I wrote shortly after Zazen) sounded TOO MUCH like Zazen and people would think I couldn't write anything else. I tell you, there's no winning with me! My point is, we're unreliable witnesses. But that doesn't mean I need to work by committee. Some writers work in groups or workshops. I tend to work alone for the most part. I did show parts of Zazen to people as I went, but mostly the way you would a song or a paining, not for critique. I kept a lot of my growing process as a writer to myself. I learn faster that way. But I still built support and there were a few people I let read.

So I think what you're asking is 'was there ever a point when I knew it was worth it?' and for those of us who are not rich, 'worth it' tends to have a financial meaning as well. Worth quitting a certain kind of job to get more writing time, worth going into debt, worth selling something or paying for a retreat.

For me, it wasn't worth it in financial terms.It was an unholy disaster that happened to an already blighted land (my financial universe). But in reality, I feel like I never even got to make the choice-should I? Shouldn't I?--because in every single case of writing obsessively versus not writing obsessively, the latter lost. Badly. It was more something I couldn't stop rather than something I decided I needed to devote myself to.


message 12: by Vanessa (new)

Vanessa Veselka (vveselka) | 17 comments Jessica Dylan wrote: "Vanessa, Happy Birthday to you! I just wanted to say, thanks for writing such an absorbing book. And I was hoping you could talk a little about your revision process. How did you go about revising,..."

I am an obsessive revisor (I prefer not to think of myself as a revisionist!) but I do it as I go, which is often advised against. This means I write slowly. I tried writing fast 'getting it all down' as they say then going back, but it didn't work. I certainly do go back and make changes, but I can't stand to have something on the page I feel mixed about. I have to feel a hundred percent behind it at the time. Then a month later I just find out I'm wrong and go back and correct it. That's how I experience it anyway. I'm all editing. There's no division between writing and editing to me. I free write a passage then go right back and 'writer' it. It's nearly simultaneous. BUT I do use placeholders. If there's something I don't want to get into because I'm tracking other game (small, slow hens, sick rabbits that they are), I write in a couple of lines to remind me what I wanted. They may say, "need tone shift-a visual to make emotion work second line." Or something more like, "The last time I saw Paul he was--add voice slip." The point is, we develop our own language I think as we go for what we need. I use that language to make my own notes, but revision is ongoing. Ever.


message 13: by Vanessa (new)

Vanessa Veselka (vveselka) | 17 comments Richard wrote: "Hey, Vanessa. Congrats on all of your success with ZAZEN. RL is doing great things. I loved reading and reviewing your title for The Nervous Breakdown.

I was wondering if you've spent any time on..."


Great question! Hope is...tricky. My friend Lidia Yuknavitch said that to me recently. Or I said it to her. I forget. Either way, we agreed. I have noticed that people seem to want hope. Unless they're in MFAs. Just kidding. That's the old joke about how in literature, same story but the dog dies. There's truth in it, but there's a strange part of it that may be about class too...Maybe it's just a numbers game too. Folks (the general populace) want hope. The elite already have hope so who knows what they want, probably absolution through family Sagas that show everybody finds their place over time?? An engaging comedy?? And then there is the set that feels like offering hope is selling out to the man. That hope and art cannot coexist naturally. This is a small sector, but also there. So if we take the Occupy language and apply it...hmm....the "Folks" are the 99% and the elite are the 1% and the the sector that believes hope kills art is statistically insignificant, then no. A novel without hope cannot be hugely successful. There just won't be enough book buyers.

But let's break it down some more. Some of the most amazing books have incredibly hopeless endings. The Sheltering Sky. Can't say there's much hope there. So maybe it has more to do with how a culture relates to their time. I think truly hopeless works rarely are sustainable at novel length but thrive in short stories. What I think may people mean when they say they want hope (sometimes) is that they want drama. It maybe that you need hope to have drama. What about The Hunger?

I should say that I had a great fear that when Zazen came out nobody would like the end. When Evison blurbed it and said "dares to be hopeful in the face of..." I can't remember exactly I thought, well that's awesome! I knew there must be some hope in it somewhere. I'm glad he found it! But what I have seen consistently over the years is that people with a lot of life experience rarely find things that seem hopeless to be so. And often they find them hilarious. Whereas folks with more sheltered backgrounds seem to crave traditional displays of hope more. Hope is in the eye of the beholder, maybe. It's hard to work through a novel without having some at the end. I think that can feel a little like being manipulated. It breaks some kind of unsaid contract. Intellectually, I can't agree with the contract but emotionally I participate in it. I think great tragedies have hope in the end and it is the hope for a more compassionate humanity.

Communes, farms...I've seen a few of them for sure, spent some time there. My dad lived in the hills of Virginia where a lot of people went to get away from the world in the 70s and 80s. I've seen them in other places too. I've lived in various squats. So the Farm in Breaker's Rise and the urban farms and the sex party warehouse scenes--they all came from territories I was familiar with.


message 14: by Vanessa (new)

Vanessa Veselka (vveselka) | 17 comments and...God, you all are all so nice! Your compliments to Zazen are not going unnoticed, I am just trying to respond to the questions. But I am seriously moved by what you have said. Just to be clear.


message 15: by Jael (new)

Jael (gathcreator) | 1 comments Hey! Me again! I've got a couple. Answer whichever you like.

Q1: How long did it take from the initial concept of the story to its completion and eventual publication through Red Lemonade?

Q2: What made you submit the manuscript to Red Lemonade?

Q3: A lot of writers, either out of frustration or in fear of their mediocrity, run away from their story during their writing of it. While you wrote 'Zazen,' did you ever run away from it? What brought you back to the story? How?

Q4:How has your writing process changed since/because of 'Zazen'?

Q5:One of my favorite things about 'Zazen' has been the Rat Queen and its baby rats. How was this idea born and how did you go about choosing the names for the rats?

P.S. I'm not quite finished with Zazen, but I am loving every single sentence of it. It's already become one of my most treasured books! I'm so glad it was at the AWP booth even if you and Richard weren't!


message 16: by Brian (new) - added it

Brian Mcfarland | 6 comments Mod
How do you write about violence?


message 17: by Kio (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kio Stark (kiostark) | 1 comments Hi Red Lemonade comrade! Often when I'm reading, the most gratifying moment in a book is finding a scene or line that I think must have been the seed of it in the writer's mind. Did Zazen have a seed like that?


Christina (My Life in Books) (mylife-inbooks) While going through the list of Goodreads members that have read Zazen, the overwhelming majority were women. I wonder what this says or doesn't (necessarily) say about readership in the current literary community. Does a female protagonist entice both readership genders equally or is that still a battle for writers today? Do novels accumulate a default audience based on the protagonist's gender?


message 19: by Vanessa (new)

Vanessa Veselka (vveselka) | 17 comments Christina wrote: "While going through the list of Goodreads members that have read Zazen, the overwhelming majority were women. I wonder what this says or doesn't (necessarily) say about readership in the current li..."

What's funny to me, and Richard Nash my editor/publisher will attest to this, is that my primary concern pre-publishing was that women wouldn't like it. 90% of the early Zazen fans seemed to be guys. I once made the joke (no offense intended;) that my demographic was basically alcoholic men age 25-45 who were Delillo fans in college and had a secret soft spot for Fight Club. Whereas I noticed my women advocates tended to be far fewer and were more the type to wrap used glad rags around their money as they traveled as a curse from the Goddess to keep thieves at bay. The type that make their own license plates.

The first few months of Zazen's release I heard almost nothing from women about it, with the exception of some kick-ass women booksellers who really made things happen for me (Michele Filgate, Liberty, Emily Pullen etc), but in general it was a fear I had, that it wouldn't be valued by women.

So if I were to hazard a guess, I would say that maybe the demographics on goodreads is heavily female. But I don;t know who to ask. I'm just glad I get any love from anyone, to tell the truth. The whole response has been far more generous than I expected.


message 20: by Vanessa (new)

Vanessa Veselka (vveselka) | 17 comments Proustitute wrote: "While Zazen is one of the most original books I've read in many, many years, I couldn't help but feel the urgent, apocalyptic atmosphere was reminiscent of Anna Kavan's Ice.

Have you read this boo..."


Thank you kindly. I have not read Ice but I will pick it up. As to literary influences, I used books like tone knobs in my revisions. I looked at Della's voice as 4 voices and I used 4 books to dial it in. They were: All Quiet on The Western Front, Sheltering Sky, Journey to the End of the Night, and Blood Meridian. I set them up in opposition like a compass. The idea was that if I went too far in one direction and the voice got strained or repetitive, I would think of what was so great about the opposite pole and bounce back. It's weird and sounds clinical but it was more like a string around my finger reminding me other things I loved about novels when I got to obsessed with one aspect. Dostoyevsky in general meant a lot to me. He may not have affected my writing, but he certainly shaped my sense of humor.


message 21: by Vanessa (new)

Vanessa Veselka (vveselka) | 17 comments Vanessa wrote: "Proustitute wrote: "While Zazen is one of the most original books I've read in many, many years, I couldn't help but feel the urgent, apocalyptic atmosphere was reminiscent of Anna Kavan's Ice.

Ha..."


I should say this process had nothing to do with my original draft. That was written in a vacuum that I nearly stayed in.


message 22: by Vanessa (new)

Vanessa Veselka (vveselka) | 17 comments Jael wrote: "Hey! Me again! I've got a couple. Answer whichever you like.

Q1: How long did it take from the initial concept of the story to its completion and eventual publication through Red Lemonade?

Q2..."



message 23: by Vanessa (new)

Vanessa Veselka (vveselka) | 17 comments Vanessa wrote: "Jael wrote: "Hey! Me again! I've got a couple. Answer whichever you like.

Q1: How long did it take from the initial concept of the story to its completion and eventual publication through Red Lemo..."


Q 1: 5 years total. Actual writing time at 25 hrs a week, 3.5 years.

Q2: Red Lemonade didn't exist when Richard Nash took Zazen. He asked me to be the debut novel on Red Lemonade and that was a great day for me. I had been turned down in many places. Of course, I don't even know if they read it but certainly some did and those that did, also said no. I didn't know Richard. I caught a youtube of him speaking at an event and thought he was so smart he might be able to tell me if I should self-publish or hold out. I wrote him an email out of the blue and he was kind enough to respond. But he was out of Soft skull then and Cursor hadn't started. When it was closer he contacted me and asked to read. My rewrite deadline for myself was Bastille Day 2010. I sent it to Richard that day and within the week he agreed to publish Zazen. It came out May 22nd 2011, so in a few months it will be a year.

Q3: I run away from my work all the time. With Zazen, I spent a lot of time trying to synthesize and understand to radically different seemingly important sets of criticism. Ultimately what I learned was not to show my work to people. Big grin. But seriously, it was a freedom. I write best alone. But that doesn't mean I don't have readers. As I get chunks done, I do, but I treat it more like a five year old showing someone their finger painting--see? It's not an invitation for critique and I make that pretty clear. Those I ask for critique I have to trust deeply. And they are more often readers and thinkers than writers.

Q4: My writing process is clearer to me now than it was before Zazen, but not easier. I'll tell you in a year what that means.

Q5: I have to admit I love the Rat Queen.But I can't remember how the idea came.She was essential to my getting some elbow room in liminal space that I needed to feel free to write Della's voice. My boyfriend, Stefan Jecusco, did a great black and white portrait of her that I used for a small run of chapbooks I did of the 2nd draft for friends. There were about 30 of them. I don't think I can upload it here but I'll got to my blog and upload it in a few minutes if you want to see it. It's just how I pictures her. There are even glass beads and popsicle sticks and pennies in the ground around her. It's the face that gets me though, so feral and alert, sniffing.


message 24: by Vanessa (new)

Vanessa Veselka (vveselka) | 17 comments Brian wrote: "How do you write about violence?"

I'm not sure. Della's violence is largely internal and she's mixed about it. I think part of it is figuring out what violence even means to a character or a writer.We don't all have the same definition and I think I tend to write more about where those kinds of slip faults than violence directly. Maybe I write about violent imagination? I certainly can't read about violence.


message 25: by Vanessa (new)

Vanessa Veselka (vveselka) | 17 comments Kio wrote: "Hi Red Lemonade comrade! Often when I'm reading, the most gratifying moment in a book is finding a scene or line that I think must have been the seed of it in the writer's mind. Did Zazen have a se..."

Hi Kio!!

Yes, Zazen had a seed. I find that I don't recognize it until later, but there is usually a driving question that lasts through the whole mss that shows up in the first pages. In Zazen it's in the conversation between Della and Credence in the first chapter. It's the discussion of sitting still on fire. That question, can you sit still on fire was one that I later used to hone the focus of the book. It's Della's question. So that conversation was a seed. But I had no idea where it was going.


Richard Thomas (richardthomas) "my demographic was basically alcoholic men age 25-45 who were Delillo fans in college and had a secret soft spot for Fight Club"

lol...that's pretty accurate. thanks for the answer to my questions. and glad to have you over at Lit Reactor, too.

sorry, if i missed this, but what are you working on now?


message 27: by Vanessa (new)

Vanessa Veselka (vveselka) | 17 comments I'm psyched about Litreactor, too. And to
Answer your other question, a novel. I'm also doing some short stories and nonfiction but my heart belongs to the novel.

And thanks everyone for coming to talk.


message 28: by Richard (last edited Mar 16, 2012 07:53PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Richard Thomas (richardthomas) can you talk about it (the novel) at all or are you superstitious? of course, keep me in mind for a review at TNB.


message 29: by Vanessa (new)

Vanessa Veselka (vveselka) | 17 comments I am superstitious! But it comes from experience. And I certainly hope you will review it when the time comes. My head will be planted in the sand because I'm a coward, but that's okay too.


Richard Thomas (richardthomas) lol...funny how we come at these thing, yeah? do you have a title? i do like to title my work early. Zazen was such a unique title, kind of like my first book, Transubstantiate. always nice to be the only title that shows up at Google and Amazon, right? well, keep that information to yourself, if you must. you mentioned some stories, can you talk about those, where and when they'll be coming out? would love to check them out. glad to see you writing shorter stuff, too.


message 31: by Vanessa (new)

Vanessa Veselka (vveselka) | 17 comments State secrets, man. If I told you I'd have to--well, you know the drill. I have 3 short stories, which are part of a linked set that will hopefully come out over the next 6 months in three different publications. But I am still waiting to see how it goes. Don't want to jinx it. People seem interested in my work right now, for which I am eternally grateful, but that doesn't mean they'll say yes ultimately.


Richard Thomas (richardthomas) I totally understand. Didn't know everything was still in a state of flux. Speaking of which, maybe put aside a story for me, I might have a project going on soon, and you're on the list, my list. I'd be editing, with a press that I'm sure you know. Not RL. :-) Can't say more, or, you know, I'd have to...


message 33: by Marcus (new)

Marcus Speh (speh) | 1 comments Enjoying this thread, but especially your recounting the history of the novel, which is on my "to-read" list. A story long in the making — looking forward to reading it. I've recently experienced this "being snapped up" process with a novel of mine and it's Bastille Day alright...too bad years will have to pass until this can happen again!


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