Local author and SUNY Adirondack professor Lâle Davidson will be coming to Northshire Bookstore on December 9 from 5:30-6:30pm to discuss two of her books: Blue Woman Burning, a brand-new magical mystery narrative wrapped up in a loosely autobiographical story, and Strange Appetites, a collection of experimental short stories from 2016 that won the People’s Choice Award from the Adirondack Center for Writing and was republished by Red Penguin books in October 2021. Saratoga Living caught up with Davidson ahead of the Northshire event to find out more about how these two unique works came to be.
How does magic realism help you portray your ideas, and why is this the genre you choose to write in?
Anyone who has heard a woman screaming in the forest and followed the sound into the mouth of a mountain lion will find the origins of fantasy very real. However, fantasy is not the same thing as magic realism. In fantasy, the magic is orderly and even predictable, rules apply. In contrast —and this is why I prefer it—mystery lies at its heart of magic realism. We don’t really know why the tigers come out of the forests with split skins, patiently waiting to be sewn back together by two sisters in Aimee Bender’s “Tiger Mending,” but the trope shimmers in our minds like an image on water, hard to grasp, unforgettable, and necessary.
Is there a certain author or book that has inspired you throughout your writing career?
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Karen Russell (short stories – “Reeling for the Empire”), Aimee Bender (short stories – “Tiger Mending”), Clarice Lispecter, Linda Hogan, Louise Erdrich (specifically her novel Tracks), Toni Morrison (specifically Sula and Beloved), and, more recently, Amber Sparks.
What is the most difficult part of your writing process?
Sitting down to a white page is the hardest part. I avoid it whenever possible. I try never to send my students home with a blank page. It’s always better to scratch out a few ideas fast and doodle on it later. It’s easier to mess around with things you’ve already written. Generating new material can be daunting because you have to press through the bad writing, and you have no idea what’s good and what’s not. On the other hand, doing a deep revision of a novel can be the hardest, because it’s like taking all the stitching out of quilt pieces and moving all the pieces around. I always experience a moment of panic that I won’t be able to piece it back together. However, using a novel writing program like Scrivener has helped me with this enormously because it prompts you to write each scene in a separate file which you can see thumbnail sketches of on the side, and you have to write a title or synopsis of each scene. Then you can just grab the scene and moving it around. So, let’s say I decide to change the age of a character. It’s fairly easy to find all the scenes with that character in it, and change the age.
What are the therapeutic benefits of basing characters on people in your life, and what are the struggles?
Therapeutic benefits: A writer asks themselves, what is the worst thing I can do to this character? Then they do it. So, for me, it’s a way of playing out my worst fear. Usually, I won’t write about a conflict with a friend or family until it has been resolved in real life. I think that’s because I don’t fully understand it or have the necessary objectivity to write about the conflict until it’s over. Another benefit, which is a double-edge sword, is that you get to be the one who frames the narrative… a powerful position. You get the last word, or the most public word, anyway. But that can feel like hubris if, as in my case, you are a middle child or the baby, and the one least likely to be in charge of family matters.
The struggles are the possible insult to your family or friends. If they recognize themselves, they might feel diminished, because a written version of a person can never fully capture the universe that people are… and our understanding is always limited. Most often, when writing semi-autobiographical things, the biggest problem is feeling you have to be true to the event or the person, rather than to making the best story.
How do you celebrate when you publish a book?
Launch parties are a pretty common phenomenon. Invite everyone you know, do a reading, eat, drink and be merry. Do readings at libraries and bookstores. Even though the best reason to write is for the love of it, ultimately, writing is meant to be read, so your fiction is never finished until the reader reads it.
What does your day look like when you’re not writing?
A day without fiction writing is less beautiful and more stressful. Teaching at a community college is basically a huge flex-time job, where we work time-and-a half for 9 months of the year, get a month off, then work then part time the rest of the year. So, in the fall, I’m up at dawn to drive up to school. Then it’s go-go-go-go-go—cramming lunch in at the computer, then come home at 6pm and collapse, then try to recover a bit and squeeze another hour out. I love teaching, but it’s an exhausting dance where, unless you’re grandiose, you’re never quite sure if you’re doing it right, your methodology has to be flexible, and no day is exactly like the other. There’s always room for improvement, just like with writing.
To learn more about Davidson’s books, check out her website.