Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Andrew Stancek Challenges MaryAnne to an Interview!

Andrew Stancek grew up in Bratislava, then Czechoslovakia, now Slovakia. As a teenager he saw tanks rolling through the streets of his hometown. That encounter, that betrayal led to many stories much later. Those then led to others and a vocation was born.
He now writes, translates and dreams in southwestern Ontario. Recent work has appeared in Bartleby SnopesApollo’s Lyre52/250 A Year of Flash and Istanbul Literary ReviewHis novel and interconnected story collection are both nearing completion.

AS  First question.  In Lorrie Moore's story Real Estate; Noel breaks into people's homes and asks them at gunpoint to sing him one song, any song, by heart.  What would your song be?  And can you tell us why that song is so memorable and meaningful to you?

MAK   Andrew, how nice that you would begin with one of my favorite authors.  My song would be I Fall In Love Too Easily and Tony Bennett would be singing it.  You can listen to an old version by clicking the title.  As to why - hmm, it has to do with an old love story, an ancient relationship.  That was "our" song and will probably always remain the one that can most easily move me to tears.  Plus, it's true.  I'm such a romantic in so many ways and tend to give my heart away without doing a thorough background investigation.  Timeless lyrics have so much in common with a well-written story.  They both have the power to evoke an emotional response.  Great first question!

AS   Many people have a recurring dream or a motif in their dreams.  What is yours and what do you think it means?  If you don't have one, or don't remember your dreams, what recurring motif in your subconscious would an analyst find after years of probing?

MAK   In my recurring dream I'm always lost. I'm walking in an area I'm quite familiar with, but for some reason I keep taking wrong turns and end up lost and don't know how to get home. I have several theories about this dream.  Some are too personal to share. However, I do believe that the years I was unable to write and had no outlet for those creative abilities that beg to be satisfied is part of the reason for that particular dream.  

I worked for a time with a wonderful Jungian therapist who taught me a simple way to explore dreams.  Upon waking, immediately write down every thing you remember about your dream.  Don't edit or add to in any way.  Then add the words "part of me" to the most significant words.  For example -  I dreamt that the house I lived in was beautiful on the outside but the inside was all unfinished. The working translation would be - I dreamt that the house part of me was a beautiful part of me on the outside part of me.  The inside part of me was an unfinished part of me.  

I still do this sometimes when I am puzzling over a dream - and not surprisingly - an idea for a story often comes to me.

AS   Kierkegaard says “Since my earliest childhood a barb of sorrow has lodged in my heart.  As long as it stays I am ironic—if it is pulled out I shall die.”

Frank McCourt says “When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived at all.  It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while.  Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.”

Tell us about your childhood and the role it has played in your writing.

MAK   Wow!  I had not heard the Kierkegaard quote. It is so lovely and resonates so powerfully with me, it quite literally moved me to tears.

Even after all this time, I find myself too tangled in the roots of my childhood to write about it effectively.  It was not a happy one.  I always thought it would make fine fodder for stories, but when written, they are unrelentingly bleak and not-fiction-like.  I think a reader would find them boring after awhile, as there is never an examined bright moment, never a relief from the despair.

The closest I came to writing about those years is a story entitled Beth which is even now wandering the world in search of a home it may never find.

However, I am, in totality, a product of those years and all the others that came after.  Perhaps the bright side is the deep empathy and compassion I possess for humanity in general.  

Charles Baxter once described my writing as "wise and sensitive, and sometimes layered with a texture of sweetness.  Often strong in atmosphere and strong in wit".  Sounds like a writer who had an idyllic childhood - mine was not - so I often marvel at "what a long and strange trip it has been". 

AS   I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron's point there seemed to be a little fire.  He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire...;  St. Teresa

Can you talk to us about what inspires you, how you get inspired?

MAK   If you are talking about the inspiration to write, there are so many triggers for me.  A really tasty piece of music, anything from Saint SaĆ«ns to Lady Gaga and everything in between.  Artwork, an overheard conversation, a poem read aloud, a memory, the change of seasons.  See what I mean?  

Excellent work from another author does tend to generate the need to create in me more than anything else.  There are some writers who just do it for me. I often read novels or short story collections straight through without stopping.  I can't do that with the ones that truly capture me.  I have to stop after a chapter or so, put down the book, and let the evocation of emotion and the writer's choice of words, form, setting etc. sit with me for a bit.  

It would be as if someone prepared an astonishing six course meal for me.  I would want to savor each bite, experience the seasonings and ingredients.  Rest a bit between courses.  Usually, the way a certain phrase or paragraph is executed just resonates so strongly with my aesthetic that I can't wait to get to the computer and start free associating.

AS   This has been a lot of fun and your answers have been terrific.  My final question looks out.  Tell us about your future, your aspirations in terms of your writing. Where do you see yourself in a year, five years, ten years?  Is it best-selling novelist on the New York Times bestseller list, or published numerous times in The New Yorker and Glimmer Train, or author of numerous short story/flash collections...all or none of the above?  What do you hope for?

MAK   Ah, Andrew.  I try not to look too far into the future.  Somebody shared a wonderful quote with me.  "How much of each day are you willing to sacrifice to regrets about the past and worry about the future?"  I'm so busy now that the answer would have to be - not much.  I'm in such a good place at this point. My work is being published, people are actually reading my interviews at THIS magazine, JLD is here and finally, after much resistance, I am active on Facebook.  The hours fly by.

Still I think everyone should have a dream.  I'm not much for five or ten year plans.  But a dream is something I can manage.  I would like to get one story published in Glimmer Train.  I would love to, eventually, be able to create a collection of short stories and flash fiction, that someone would be interested in publishing.  However, these are dreams.  For the present, I am happy to be writing again, knowing that my work will get read someplace and perhaps provoke some kind of emotional response.  The truth is even if no one ever reads one word I write, I couldn't stop writing now even if I wanted to.

Andrew, your questions really made me think!  I hope I answered them to your satisfaction.  I really enjoyed this so much!  Thank you.


  1. Great interview Andrew & MaryAnn! So many wonderful quotes.

  2. That's all Andrew! What wonderful, thought-provoking questions!

  3. Very interesting! Good luck with Glimmertrain - and lovely to hear you're so busy. It's great seeing your work get the recognition it deserves, and your names popping up all over the place. To your continued success, the pair of you! *clink*

  4. fantastic read. appreciated especially the sequence on jung & dreaming (maryanne, who'd have thunk it! i love jungian theory!) will tweet (hours do fly by, with or without all that gadgetry). you were a great pair on the screen for me, this morning. keep it up, maryanne and andrew!

  5. I really enjoyed this so much! The fantastic, probing, thoughtful questions and amazing quotes from Andrew, and your salient, insightful responses, MaryAnne! What a wonderful, inspiring way to start my day. Thanks!

  6. Outstanding interview, MaryAnne and Andrew!! The questions were well-thought out and intriguing, as were you answers. Loved this and yes, good luck with all your continued success, MaryAnne!!

  7. So the whole world now knows what I've known for years. You're a special person, MaryAnne, a secret well-kept for too long. Glad it's been finally exposed.

  8. Many thanks to all of you. Once again I have to say Andrew's brilliant questions prodded me to come up with the answers. Thank you, Andrew.

  9. Beautiful job, both you and Andrew, MaryAnne! I think I will try the Jungian dream process. Also, I appreciate your honesty about your childhood. Tangled in the roots indeed. I resonate with that.

  10. Powerful interview! The questions were probing and interesting, and the answers certainly were up to the task! I like the dream stuff very much, MaryAnne, will have to try doing that, for sure. Congrats to you both!

  11. Interesting stuff. Not your average interview and all the better for it. I can't imagine you not writing MaryAnne, it would be a loss and I'm so happy something spurred you to begin again. Enjoyed this.

  12. Great (and insightful!) interview. I know you so much better now..... -Lacey