Saturday, March 20, 2010

Author Interview w/ Kelly Lydick

Kelly Lydick is the author of Mastering the Dream, an experimental novel that incorporates many different forms of writing to tell the story of Marie - a mentally disturbed young woman who slips down into the confusing world of depression and attempts to pull herself back out. (See my review here.)

Here is a little about Kelly (copied from her Goodreads Author description):
"Kelly Lydick received her B.A. in Writing and Literature from Burlington College (VT), and her M.A. in Writing and Consciousness from the New College of California (San Francisco). Her photography has appeared in Vista Magazine, Photographer’s Forum Annual, Photographer’s Forum College Annual, and the Queen City Review. Kelly pioneered the ‘Storyboard Wall’ photography project, a permanent display for the Arizona Lost Boys Center. Her writing has appeared in Twittering Machine, the Burlington College Poetry Journal, the New College Review and ditch. Kelly’s work has also been featured on NPR and KQED’s The Writers’ Block. She is the author of the chapbook We Once Were (Pure Carbon Publishing, AZ), and the experimental fiction novel, Mastering the Dream."

According to your bio on Goodreads, you have quite a resume working for you! Which accomplishments are you are most proud of?

The two things I enjoyed the most were the Storyboard Project and the publishing of Mastering the Dream.

Working with the Arizona Lost Boys Center on the Storyboard Wall was really amazing. That was such a great project! It was really a chance for the ‘Lost Boys,’ the Sudanese refugees living in Arizona, to once again become part of a community after having experienced the devastation of war in their country. Many of the boys had been separated from, or had lost members of their family. It helped the boys feel like they belonged again, it let them know that people care about their lives as individuals. It gave them a community when everything they had ever known had been stripped away. It was heartbreaking to hear some of these stories.

And it was also a chance to help people here in the United States to better understand what the experience of being a refugee can be like. As an educational piece, I really felt that it was important for the Lost Boys to share their stories with the community.

Mastering the Dream, because that was a long time coming. I think I was working on this book before I even realized that I was working on this book! To me, Mastering the Dream is in its own way a heavy read. There’s a lot going on with the material in the book and in the way the material is presented. So it feels really great to have all this material in one manuscript, in one story, that—in an experimental form—is really working. It feels great to see the work in a tangible form, and for it to be available for folks to check out.

I really love being able to present my work in person, and to be able to talk with folks about the book, or just about writing and art in general. I love answering questions about the book, and dialoguing with folks about their insights or interpretations that have come from reading it. Publishing Mastering the Dream in its final, printed form has provided me a number of opportunities to present to folks and discuss the topics in the book, and that has been really wonderful.

What was the strangest job you have ever held?

The strangest job I ever held was working at the mall. I think I was 18 or 19. I took a job as one of those consumer marketing people—the people with the clipboards—who ask if you want to take a survey, or try a new shampoo, or eat some crackers that are not yet available at the grocery store.

No one wanted to take the survey, or try the shampoo, or eat the crackers. One guy even yelled at me in expletives. I only worked there for one day.

Who was your role model growing up? Who is your role model now, and why?

My role models growing up were my Grandma and my Mom. My Grandma because she was a visual artist—an oil painter—and she played the piano. She was really creative and I loved anything that had to do with using your imagination. I would play in her spare room—her art room—with art supplies, every kind of glue, confetti or oil crayon, anything I could get my hands on. I could sit in there for hours. Or I would go into the living room where my grandparents had their piano. I began learning to play when I was 5 years old. I loved anything musical or artistic from a very young age.

And my Mom because she was always doing some kind of social work or non-profit work, or charity kind of work. She was always working to help people, and was always working to improve things, which I admire.

Now, I’m not sure if I have any one role model per se. There are a number of folks whose work or achievements I admire or appreciate, or whose life experiences are exceptional examples of what we are all capable of. Some of them are: Anne Frank, Beethoven, Arlene Blum, Shirley MacLaine, Sara Presler, Dennison Smith, Paul Miliotio, Leonard Crow Dog.

How did the idea for Mastering the Dream come about? Does it hold any personal significance for you or is it purely fictional?

Mastering the Dream, I think, is a difficult work to pin down. Officially it’s listed as ‘poetry’. I refer to the work as experimental fiction, but I use this term loosely because I see post-modern, or post-post-modern, or contemporary writing and art, as being in a really interesting place right now. We’re kind of ahead of the curve, so it will be interesting to see 20 years from now what this era of work will be ‘termed’.

Mastering the Dream really is an amalgamation of poetry, memoir (including dreams I have had), and fiction—but it’s as if the genre doesn’t yet exist, so what do we call it? I’ve defaulted to experimental fiction because the aim of the work—to experiment—to break boundaries, to create new forms, is difficult to describe—even if the form is very intentional. Specifically, this work exists within its own framework, and I wouldn’t expect any other book to look like it, or read like it.

When I entered the program at the New College of California, which is now California Institute of Integral Studies, I was working on a project—a fictional work of a more traditional structure. But part of my reason for choosing the Writing and Consciousness Program was that I really wanted to hone my work in experimental form. I’ve always been drawn to experimental form.

I was about halfway through the program and the fiction piece I was working on—which was to be a novel—wasn’t developing the way I would like it to, and I needed a fresh take on my own work. So one of my instructors said to try this exercise in working with characters: have your character write a letter to him or herself, and see where that goes. That way I could work on character development for what would be my novel and thesis.

That exercise opened up so many other new possibilities, that I just ran with it! I quickly realized that I had, unknowingly, already been compiling material in various forms for what would become Mastering the Dream—and that then became the thesis for my graduate degree, instead of the original project I had intended to submit.

I have a strong interest in science, I always have since I was a kid—especially astronomy and geology. Dreams are also a really important part of my life—I’ve been journaling about my dreams for years and years. I’m extremely interested in dreams and psychology, specifically Jungian and transpersonal psychology, and how these modalities can help bring new meanings to our experience of life.

I have also been working with a Rabbi, Michael Shapiro, for quite some time, attending his classes and going to meditation, and that piece had a lot to do with the framework for Mastering the Dream. His work is amazing—it really brings the complicated parts of Jewish mysticism into a practical, accessible form, which is great.

And so, when I started with these writing exercises, the letters, I began to see the connections forming, across disciplines of knowledge and in my personal experiences. I also began to notice how science and dreams and mysticism are really not that different, fundamentally. They are different facets of expression and speak a different language, or are expressed in different ways. Humans, we use a specific set of linguistic terms to describe these things, to put things in a box, to keep them apart. The mystical, that’s all part of the same entity.

So, part of what takes place in Mastering the Dream is a means through which to envision the connections that are inherently present—in science, in esoteric studies, in the life one lives, in psychology and dreams—connections that are sometimes overlooked.

And the larger theme or idea is really that there are two (or potentially more) realities functioning at any given time: the reality of the life we live, what we can see, feel touch; and the reality of the qualities present in our lives that we can’t see—the esoteric, the metaphysical. The ‘waking’ life and the ‘dreaming’ life. With Mastering the Dream I was really working to bring out the understanding that these realities are working simultaneously; the realm of duality as well as the realm that is beyond duality.

What was the writing and publishing process like for you? What reactions, if any, did people have to the style in which the story was written?

Both the writing and publishing processes for this work happened very quickly. As I mentioned, the work was my thesis for my graduate degree, but I didn’t actually begin putting material together until the last semester of my studies. Then after graduation I did some work revising and sent it out for publication. The manuscript was accepted shortly thereafter.

Before the work was published, I brought a small excerpt into workshop at the grad program, and I don’t think folks were really able to grasp the work. That being said, I think that Mastering the Dream is really meant to be read cover to cover—at least that was my intention. The form is very deliberate. Assembling the pieces of this story was a process in and of itself. I think that expecting folks to understand what I was trying to accomplish, by asking them to only read a small excerpt, was maybe not so realistic! I do know that people were intrigued with what I was presenting, so that felt positive.

At the same time, I think the fact that folks weren’t really grasping what I was trying to do with Mastering the Dream ended up being more fuel to my creativity. It was as if—if they didn’t “get it” or if they didn’t understand what I was doing with the work—then I must be on the right track. I know that seems really strange to say, but that was how I felt at the time. It was like “the muse” was speaking its own language! So I think it was more a matter of following my own intuition and trusting my own creative process, knowing that the project would come together cohesively by the time I was done.

I ended up finishing the manuscript in not quite nine months, and the publication process was about a year long, once it was accepted for print.

I am lucky to have a great publisher, Mary Burger, who is also a great writer. I think she has a keen eye, and I’m grateful for having the opportunity to work with her. And in working with her, on behalf of Second Story Books, I was able to benefit from her editorial skills in a way that didn’t feel invasive, or seem like she was trying to change the work in a substantial way. And that, as an artist, I really appreciate. Her seasoned experience with work like this, experimental work, poetic work, shows she was really concerned about preserving the work in its original form. I feel like that’s a pretty perfect scenario. I would not have wanted this manuscript heavily edited, and it wasn’t.

Now that the book is in print, it’s exciting that folks want to know more about the form of Mastering the Dream. I think it’s important to dialogue about art forms, new art forms, because everyone has an opportunity to learn something. I love to hear about the experimental work that other folks are publishing, and learn about others’ creative processes. I’m grateful that my work can now also be part of that conversation.

What are you reading right now?

Right now I’m reading The Next American Essay, which is a new read for me. I’ve also returned to two books I’ve read previously: Jorie Graham’s The Dream of the Unified Field, and Michael Cunningham’s Specimen Days.

I also have a book on Jewish meditation that I browse through almost every night before I go to bed. Almost every night.

Which 5 books would you save if your house were to catch fire?

I love this question! If my house were on fire, I’d save:

1) This hardcover coffee table book I have on the Austrian artist, Friedensreich Hundertwasser. This book is a compilation of his paintings and architecture over the years. Hundertwasser is one of my favorite artists. The Path From You Back to Me is my favorite painting.

2) Another a coffee table art book, on Antonio Possenti. He’s an Italian artist, a contemporary artist still living in Italy, and this book is also a compilation of paintings and drawings. I purchased this book when I was at the Uffizi in Florence, and I’ve never seen it here in the states. Possenti reminds me a bit of Van Gogh and that post-impressionistic sort of style, but in a lighter, happier way.

3) I have an old copy of Anias Nin’s House of Incest. It’s a copy from the 50’s and it’s illustrated with these interesting black and white photos by this artist Val Telberg. Telberg’s photos look like they were developed in some kind of overlay process, and appear like an overlapping montage of multiple images. It’s a very interesting work. I like the idea of illustrating written work with photographs, especially black and white photographs. This book I bought at an antique store years ago, and I’ve never seen another copy again.

4) I have an old hardcover book on Shirley Temple that my grandpa gave to me. I think the exact title is The Illustrated Shirley Temple, the cover has a blue background. This edition is from the 40’s or 50’s. When I was a really little girl, I liked Shirley Temple. This book has sentimental value to me.

5) A book called Reincarnation: The Phoenix Fire Mystery. Another gem I picked up at a used bookstore. It’s an edition from the early 1970’s, so the cover is still reminiscent of that 1960’s psychedelic, rock n’ roll kind of design. It’s a hardcover with a black dust jacket and bright red and orange and white, and it has an interesting Phoenix on it. It’s an anthology of belief systems on reincarnation from cultures around the world.

What is your take on eBooks and eReaders, both as an author and reader?

Hmmm…I think I have mixed feelings about eBooks and eReaders. As someone who is concerned with the environment, I really like the idea that these devices can save paper, save trees.

As an author, eReaders and eBooks have the potential to allow readers more access to your work, so that’s always a good thing.

I don’t have and eReader now. As a reader, there’s something about the tangibility of a book that I really like. I have, however, downloaded quite a few eBooks onto my laptop for my own use, and I really like that accessibility. Google books has a great electronic library. I also find eBooks really great for any kind of research.

I think at this point, some books I would like to read electronically, and some books I still really want a printed copy.

I will be interested to see how these electronics evolve over the next few years. I’ll definitely continue reading eBooks for the time being, but I’ll hold off on purchasing an eReader until the holographic editions are released.

What is your favorite quote or piece of advice?

For me I’ve noticed things like this tend to change with time. Right now it would be advice about focusing and living in the present moment. Not being too caught up in the past or the future.

What authors/books/websites would you recommend to our followers?

There are so many to note! Here are some of my favorites…

Specific books:
All My Friends are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman
The Architextures by Nathaniel Tarn
Paper City by Nathalie Stephens
The Word ‘Desire’ by Rikki Ducornet
My Favorite Apocalypse by Catie Rosemurgy
If There is Something to Desire by Vera Pavlova
Red Ant House by Ann Cummins
Always Looking Up by Michael J. Fox
Super Flat Times by Matthew Derby
The Camino by Shirley MacLaine
Nadja by Andre Breton
The Balloonists by Eula Biss
As She Climbed Across the Table by Jonathan Lethem
Scavenger by Dennison Smith
Monster Spotter’s Guide to North America by Scott Francis

The following authors: Christopher Moore, Ray Bradbury, Bob Kaufman, Kelly Link, Kurt Vonnegut, Nick Flynn, Jerome Rothenberg, Noam Chomsky, Sherman Alexie, Audrey Niffenegger, Neeli Cherkovski, Joy Harjo, Melissa Pritchard, Amy Reed, Neil Gaiman, Edie Meidav, Jonathan Carroll, Aimee Bender, Mordecai Richler, Daphne Gottlieb, Nazim Hikmet, Carole Maso, Carl Jung.

Writers as lyricists and musicians: Nick Drake, Joni Mitchell, Ed Vedder, Don McLean, Conor Oberst, Paul Simon, Jason Mraz, Ani DiFranco, Van Morrison. These I like to read without listening to the accompanying music; they can really be read as poetry.

Magazines and Journals:
Indiana Review, Columbia Poetry Review, and New American Writing are really good print literary journals. Also Make (out of Chicago), Adbusters, BOMB, The Sun, Parabola, National Geographic, Versal, Filling Station, Crazyhorse.

Websites and online journals:
ditch, the poetry that matters, Mad Hatters’ Review, Hot Metal Bridge, GlitterPony, Word Riot, Like Water Burning, Luna Park, The Splinter Generation, Sleeping Fish, Neon, Born Magazine, Exquisite Corpse, Jacket Magazine, NOO, Switched on Gutenberg, shady side review.

Thanks for the opportunity to read and review your experimental fiction novel. It was a very interesting and creative journey. And thanks for participating in this interview.

Thank you! I enjoyed answering your questions!

If you wish to learn more about Kelly or her work, check out her website

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