Monday, October 05, 2009
Interview with Fiction Writer Susan Tepper: Author of “Deer and Other Stories”
Susan Tepper has been described as a “dear” person by many people I have talked with. She also likes to use “Deer” and other animals in her work. Tepper is the author of the newly released “Deer and Other Stories” (Wilderness House Press). Tepper has a book of poetry published by the Cervana Barva Press “Blue Edge,” she has been nominated for three Pushcart Prizes, and her writings have appeared in such journals as: Salt Hill, American Letters& Commentary, Ibbetson Street and others. She has worn many hats; a hat of the actor, singer, TV producer, etc… I talked with her on my Somerville Community Access TV show “Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.
Doug Holder: Susan in an interview you said that your early influences were playwright Eugene O'Neill and Tennessee Williams. What do you bring to your own writing from these men?
Susan Tepper: I think playwrights are all about dialogue. I think playwrights capture how people speak naturally. I love to write dialogue. I love the dialogue of Pinter and Mamet for instance.
DH: So you write down snippets of conversations that you overhear in cafes for instance?
ST: No. I never write down anything. I write spontaneously. I think my years of acting on the stage, makes me multi-dimensional as a writer. I write a lot about male protagonists, Gay guys, and straight guys. I think I am trying to struggle to solve the enigma of men. They are very confusing! I just write whatever comes into my mind, in the end.
DH: You have described "loss" as one of the main themes of your writing. Did life events spur you on to explore this theme?
ST: It is interesting. I was teaching last night in Boston at Grub St., and I told my students that I started a story that read, “It should have been the start of a perfect morning on one of the worst days in my life." Something was happening that was terrible in my life, so my story began that way. But what happened was the story took on a life of its own, and became a very black story in a funny way. I was also laughing over my computer about this story on a very, very dramatic day in my life. Writing kept me going at this time in my life. I wrote two novels over a period of ten years where there was nothing but family crisis.
DH: What can an actor bring to writing? What can a writer bring to acting?
ST: Personally I don't know anyone who has gone to writing to acting. I know a lot of actors who are writing. I think what happens with acting is you are using other people's words. There is a time when you get tired of the New York acting thing. It is a very hard life. As you get older you start getting tired of doing auditions. You don't want to go on tour, etc...
DH: In your new collection "Deer..." a deer rears its pretty head in every story. What is it about these animals that compelled you to make it a focal point in each story?
ST: I didn't know I was doing it. These are stories that I have written over the past twelve years. I think deer are very beautiful and gentle creatures. There is so much controversy around them. People are shooting them, electrocuting them...so when I see deer hit by a car I feel pained. So it is sort of a mystical thing. Over the course of time when I wrote my stories the deer would appear as a live deer, or a plastic lawn deer, or a wire deer. The Deer… they just kept on coming! When I put this collection together I realized it was a common theme. The deer is a mirror image for the human being. We, like the deer can be beautiful, fearful and dangerous.
DH: You write a lot about estrangement in relationships. Is the deer's visage a sort of wakeup call to couples who are blind about the machinations of their relationships?
ST: I don't really analyze the work. I write the story, either it works or it doesn't. I think the deer is just some mystical force that keeps coming across for me.
DH: Do you know another writer who uses animals like you do in their work?
ST: I personally don't, but I am sure people have. I was a Method actor. We used to do animal exercises to work on certain characters. I remember hearing that Marlin Brando aped an ape, when he was working on "Streetcar Named Desire." When I was in "Cat on the Hot Tin Roof," I worked on the cat. I would crawl on the stage. It has worked for me as an actor, maybe that's how it worked its way into my writing.
DH: How is the Small Press valuable for the writer? How has it been valuable for you?
ST: The Small Press is so huge for the literary writer. Commercial presses are in it to make money, and they purchase books on the basis of what sells. And it is usually not a great work of literature because our culture is moving away from that. People have to publish in the Small Press. The literary community depends on the Small Press to keep their work out there.
DH:Is there a future for the physical book?
ST: I hope so. I like the idea of holding a book and turning the pages. People like to hold and look at the cover. I can't imagine reading a book on the computer--it doesn't appeal to me at all.