Yesterday, Jove Belle was kind enough to publish a guest blog on my two books and about me. Here is the text:
Jenny Kidd: Ambiguity Is Good!
January 14, 2012 by Laury A. Egan
Many years ago, at Carnegie Mellon University, I studied with a graphic design professor who frequently intoned, “Ambiguity is good.” He meant this as a criteria for creating visual interest and compositional complexity, but the concept equally applies to literature and, in particular, to the “painting” of primary characters.
For whatever reason, as a writer, I am often drawn to women (and men) who are in process, evolving. In the case of Jenny Kidd, a young American painter in Venice for an extended stay, she is unsure whether she is attracted to men or women. Her identity as an artist is also in the formative stage as is her individuation from her overbearing parents. A protagonist, who is struggling with issues like these, places a fogginess, an indecisiveness in the center of the book’s construction. In order to succeed, this character must be surrounded by dynamic influences who strike against the narrator and cause reactions and movements—kind of like a cue ball in pool—being hit and then careening into other balls and the sides of the table, thus causing a multitude of secondary and tertiary movements.
The construction of an unsure central character isn’t often used in mysteries and thrillers, where the hero is frequently decisive and frantically on the run solving the dangers on hand. And in most lesbian literature (except for characters who are coming out), the women featured have usually resolved their sexual orientation. Though I may be incorrect, it seems that fixing their gay identity is almost a prerequisite, presented early on in the book, so that the character can then sally forth and deal with murders, love interests, or other plot obstacles.
For me, however, I prefer to write about women who don’t quite fit in, who don’t think of themselves in categories, who are more identified with what they do, what they create and think. As a result, though it is an honor to have readers in the LGBT community, when I begin a novel, I don’t aim for those readers specifically. I want to write books that appeal to all sorts of people, with characters of interest to both gay and straight women and men. This in-between position gives me a chance to wander freely, without constraint or narrowness.
In recent years, first with writers such as Michael Cunningham and David Leavitt, mainstream readers have been increasingly accepting and interested in novels featuring gay male characters. The Hours was a pivotal book and film; Brokeback Mountain was another (short story/film). Perhaps because women are generally less valued in our society, novels featuring lesbians have been more marginalized and less likely to break through into the general market, though this is changing—finally. As a writer who works in between audiences, I’ve been very frustrated that agents and publishers have avoided manuscripts like mine because they are categorized as more lesbian than mainstream—which is not universally true–and are therefore relegated to small LGBT presses and readers. Ironically, because of the ambiguous or evolving sexual identity of some of my characters, my work may not be sufficiently “gay” to fully fit there, either. Thankfully, I see a developing interest in more complex, fluid, and less clearly affiliated characters, books appealing to both straight and gay readers. In fact, quite a few men have bought Jenny Kidd, and not for prurient reasons.
Jenny Kidd is a psychological suspense story, yet it also focuses on Jenny’s personal growth—a blend of action with character development. At a masked ball at the Palazzo Barbon, she meets the seductive Caterina Barbon and her brother, Sebastiano, who entice Jenny into a world of glittering façades that cloak sexual perversion, art forgery, and murder. While these things ensnare her, slowly, and the danger rises around her, the story concentrates on the choices Jenny makes, wisely or unwisely, and what she learns about herself as she encounters a byzantine world that challenges and ultimately forges her into a stronger woman. Though the loose ends are tied up at the novel’s close, some ambiguity remains because that felt appropriate.
In my collection, Fog and Other Stories, the ambiguity theme is even more dominant. Most of the 23 stories deal with the metaphorical concept of fog as a state produced by grief, mental illness, love, anger, dementia, pain, prejudice, or dreams and how the human being refracts reality through these diffused prisms. Protagonists struggle with psychological and physical distortions that lead them down problematic paths, much as Jenny Kidd strays into unknown territory. As in the novel, many of the protagonists encounter more powerful characters or are buffeted by events, thus moving them out of their foggy state or into some new place of awareness.
(Both books are available from the publisher, bookstores, and on-line retailers.)
Jenny Kidd, Vagabondage Press: www.vagabondagepress.com
214 pages, $14.95 paperback, $4.99 eBook
Fog and Other Stories, StoneGarden.net Publishing: www.stonegarden.net
256 pages, $12.95 paperback, $2.99 eBook
My website: www.lauryaegan.com (includes information about two poetry collections, Snow, Shadows, a Stranger and Beneath the Lion’s Paw (FootHills Publishing).
I would love to hear comments on my website or blog page: www.lauryaeganblog.wordpress.com
Biography: Laury A. Egan is the author of Jenny Kidd and a collection, Fog and Other Stories. Two books of poetry, Snow, Shadows, a Stranger and Beneath the Lion’s Paw, were published by FootHills Publishing. Laury’s fiction and poetry have appeared in over 35 literary journals and anthologies and received a Pushcart Prize nomination; three stories were selected by Short Story America as “story of the week” and included in their contemporary library and first two volumes. Her story, “The Mime,” was a finalist for the 12th Glass Woman Prize. She lives on the coast of New Jersey and is also a fine arts photographer.