Sunday, June 7, 2009

Danel Olson (Interview by Charles Tan)

Danel Olson, editor of Exotic Gothic 2: New Tales of Taboo

In both Exotic Gothic anthologies, there's a focus on stories not just by Western authors but by international authors as well. What made you decide to implement this?

On the one hand, British and Irish DNA must have a strand for writing great Gothic stories. Encouraging this genetic tendency are those countries' histories of royal sexual excess and decapitated queens, disputed estates, curses, revenge cycles, old graveyards, dark streets, thousands of castles, and dependable rain. So, know I love to work with their authors! They certainly do have a home-field advantage, as the Gothic was born there. Don’t you think their peoples' influence on Gothic literature, music, and film is unmatched?

But I'm not from those islands, and my curiosity to hear other voices from the back of beyond is keen. Discussing Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea or teaching Carlos Fuentes's Aura at Lone Star College, I realized how startling a Gothic frame appears outside its traditional home. How alluring but deceptive is the familiar in an exotic place, and how suggestive it is that the observer is wishing alive a reality. Why not then make a collection of out-sourced Gothika? Why not find storytellers from the farthest lands to take us to new castles & new dungeons?

Fortunately there was a publisher given to adventure (Barbara and Christopher Roden's Ash-Tee Press). There were also international artists who loved a challenge, and they smuggled the old Gothic impulse to seven continents. It worked a lot of mayhem, turns out. What Dean Francis Alfar, Edward P. Crandall, Steve Duffy, Milorad Pavić, and John Whitbourn showed happen in Asia shocked and captivated me. Astonishing, too, was a Cambodian retelling of Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" by Genni Gunn. What George Makana Clark and Nicholas Royle let loose in Africa moved me. Three astonishing artists of Australia--Stephen Dedman, Terry Dowling, and Robert Hood--unfolded the mystifying in their homeland, and something heart-stopping there. Even stranger discoveries from my home continent awaited when I read of John Bushore's, Elizabeth Massie's, and Tia V. Travis's North American journeys. An uncanny wandering through one of South America's most desolate landscapes in Adam Golaski's tale--the salt flats of Bolivia-- gave new meaning to the idea of a brief encounter. And in Europe, but still outside of the traditional Gothic settings (of Ireland, UK, Germany, France, & Italy), many dark secrets were illuminated from Peter Bell, Nancy A. Collins, Christopher Fowler, Taylor Kincaid, Kenneth McKenney, Reggie Oliver, Steve Rasnic Tem, and David Wellington. Capping it on ice, an elusive Gothic blood tale of Antarctica was dreamt by Canadian Barbara Roden.

I'm proud that the next book in the original story/novel excerpt series, Exotic Gothic 3 (to be released September 2009) will feature writers of The Czech Republic, Serbia, Australia, Fiji, Malaysia, and Russia, and points beyond.

What was your criteria in selecting the stories? What for you makes a "good, Exotic Gothic" story?

Ever read a story that makes your body so cold no fire can ever warm you? Ever felt physically as if the top of your head were taken off? That story's perfect! That's the only way I know an exceptional Gothic tale. Emily Dickinson said the same when she was asked about how she knew what she read was poetry. I would add that a Gothic work stays with us when it shows a heart, mind, and spirit divided till the very end. All along the tale is mired in ambiguity--this could be Heaven or this could be Hell—even to the last sentence, even unto the character’s last breath.

What's the appeal of gothic fiction for you?

Its appeal is to revisit the delicious dread I felt at another time. My soul caught afire on first reading "Adventures of a German Student" by Washington Irving (when I was six years old), hearing "Hotel California" by the Eagles when it first came out in 1976 (when I was eleven), and writing on Wuthering Heights (at nineteen). So much wildness lives in all three of those! So much death-in-life! Doesn't their attention to physical longing and sudden loss, illusion and desire, remind us that we are merely lanterns carried in blood and skin? The intimate discoveries they share even sometimes encroaches on our real lives: that the one we love we might not really know, that she or he wears a masquerade or may damn us, that we are "prisoners of our own device"--victims partaking in her own victimization, that we shall never run fast enough to get out the door, that we can hate and love with a shameless intensity the same person. And that when she is gone, even gone behind the veil, we will go looking for her. Lovely morbidities, no?

Maybe the Gothic love is a strange nostalgia, too, for when I was little. My mother worked in a mental hospital with twenty-one identical red brick buildings, back in the time when you could still commit your relatives without so many irksome restrictions, and when small magic pills seemed the answer to every quirk. Starting when I was four years old, I would be toted along, as there was no one to care for me at home. I suppose it could be viewed as a slightly-off form of Headstart or Daycare. I spent my days playing in the halls and the dining rooms, and the asylum became a kind of kinder-home. It was very clean, and there were books, too, though mostly on mental diseases. But children generally adjust to abnormalities around them. Well, one lemony morning I saw a softly feminine woman staring out the window as we came in to the hospital; she was there staring off again when we left at 3:00. She would be there many mornings and afternoons after that, looking out the western window of Building 20. She had long hair that was dark and shiny, freckled skin, and blue and vacant eyes. I thought her odd, old (she was probably 20), and lovely. Naturally, I fell in love with all my sincere and bursting boy’s heart.

So here we had a mysteriously imprisoned woman, longing to be free (I thought anyway), but controlled, fed medication, and held within by An Authority Who Knows Best. She was not a figure of fiction that I picked up in college by reading Hardy's heart-breaking "Barbara of the House of Grebe" or Ray Russell's cold "Sardonicus", though she would in time remind me of them. No, this trapped woman--the central feature of the Gothic novel--was a breathing one. I never heard her to have visitors. What could she have done to be stashed there and forgotten? I learned her name was Kimberley, but that was all. And I remember to this day, very gothically, a woman who was made a ghost of the State, and who said nothing to me at all.

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