A while back Blot Lit Reviews sent E.S. Holland our set of interview questions so we could celebrate Twelve Winters Press’ new imprint, Maidenhead Hall, a publisher of smart erotica. Holland’s short novella City of Broad Shoulders: An Esmée Anderson Experience (No. 1) was the first to be published and we hope there will be many more to come. We hope you enjoy all of the words below!
Blotterature has a strong connection to our place – industrialized Northwest Indiana – and it is reflective in our writing. Tell us where you are and how your place fits into your art.
“Place” is a strange concept for me. Because of my parents’ careers, I’ve lived all over the world; and my own career in exotic travel means that I spend a lot of time in hotels and airplanes. Sometimes I feel like George Clooney’s character in Up in the Air. Even though I’m American and have spent a significant amount of time in the U.S., it still feels like I’m just visiting when I go there. There are some cities that I have positive feelings about and associate with very fond memories, including Chicago, but they don’t feel like “home.” Or maybe it’s just that I don’t have any frame of reference for “feeling like home,” as most people apparently do. I’ve lived in Paris since 2012, and I’ve been in the same apartment for nearly two years—but I’m only here for a few days at a time before setting out again, which makes it difficult to set down deep emotional roots. Most of the time, even when at home, I’m living out of a suitcase. City of Broad Shoulders is set in Chicago of course, and the plan is to do other Esmée Anderson Experiences, each set in a different place.
What has impacted your work the most and how does that come through?
As far as Broad Shoulders is concerned, the most direct impact has been from Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin, especially Miller’s Tropic of Cancer and Opus Pistorum, and Nin’s Delta of Venus. But I also love Miller’s traveling writing, particularly The Colossus of Mourssi. I have a tattered and dog-eared copy of Colossus that I pack whenever I go to Greece. I suppose it might be like someone of faith reading stories from the Old Testament while visiting the Holy Land. But my reading is very eclectic. I love poetry, especially French poetry. In recent months, Anne-Marie Albiach and Emmanuel Hocquard have been my main focuses. I’m also a huge Jane Austen nerd. I have a little fun with P&P in Broad Shoulders, but it’s out of love. I’ve been reading Susan Wolfson’s annotated edition of Northanger Abbey. It’s filled with pictures and maps and such. I’ve really been enjoying it, but it’s oversized and therefore not very good for traveling—so it’s taking me a while to get through it, during my pit-stops at home. Now that I think of it, Jane Austen may have influenced the writing of Broad Shoulders more directly than I realized. After all, Austen is focused on courtship rituals—how a woman goes about attracting a man, and the complex rules that governed that process in her day. Broad Shoulders is also about courtship rituals as they’ve evolved in the twenty-first century. A key difference is that Esmée is independent, and she wants a man for her own reasons. She’s not locked into a path determined by society (a patriarchal society!) because she needs material support and social approval. I think there’s a good deal of emancipated Lizzie Bennet in Esmée Anderson.
How do you generate new ideas for your work?
Ideas for my writing come from all sorts of places. I keep a journal when I travel, but the entries tend to be brief, just snippets of observations and abbreviated itinerary details. However, I’ll look back on them and find inspiration for poems or for more fleshed-out travel narratives. Some of the material was useful for Broad Shoulders; I think I drew from three different trips to Chicago, just little odds and ends. Generally I’m not inspired by current events, but the attacks in Paris, in November, have been on my mind a lot. I was traveling (of course), and I didn’t lose anyone close to me—but it’s six degrees of separation, or more like two degrees. Even in a large metropolis, you tend to know someone who was good friends with or worked with or was related to someone who was directly affected, either injured or killed. I haven’t written anything about the attacks yet, not really, but I can sense ideas and images swirling around up there, so I suspect eventually I will write something—maybe an essay, maybe poetry, maybe fiction. It’s hard to say right now.
When have you been most satisfied with your work?
I tinker with translation, usually French to English, but sometimes the other direction, and almost always poetry. When I get a line just right, or better still (but rarer) a whole stanza, I feel a great sense of accomplishment, because it is so difficult (for me) to strike that balance between an accurate literal translation of the text and truly capturing the mood and rhythm of the original. Usually I’m pleased if I’m more happy than not with what I’ve ended up with. But when it all comes together, and I know I’ve really, really got it, I’ve really nailed it—that’s a wonderful feeling. Not to keep plugging my book, but I am quite pleased with Broad Shoulders. I’d never written anything like it before, either in terms of subject matter or in terms of form, in terms of a sustained narrative. I wrote a few pages and I liked what I had. My friends in my writers’ group encouraged me to run with it, to try to make it into something longer—and quite honestly I wasn’t sure I could do it. And it took several false starts and a few wrecked drafts before I found Esmée’s voice, and I was able to let go and allow her to basically write her own story. That letting go, and turning over the narrative to her, was a real breakthrough for my writing I think.
How do you know when a piece is finished?
Knowing when something is finished is still very difficult for me. That’s probably why I’ve mainly done poetry and translations and travel writing. In translation, especially, you know you’re done when you’re literally done with the final line, and the parameters of travel writing tend to be inherent in the subject: you’ve either reached your geographic destination, or you’ve written about the entire week’s journey, or month’s, or year’s. I’ve probably avoided writing more fiction because the end isn’t clear—at least not to me, not yet. I’m still pretty young, pretty wet behind the ears. That sense of the ending is something I’ll be working on in particular.
Tell us about your commitment to the writing community. Outside of your work, what else do you have going on? Or what do you see starting up in your future?
So far my biggest contribution to the writing community has been as a voracious reader. I purchase and read a lot of little journals, and share them with friends, or deliberately leave them in hotel lobbies or cafes all over the world. I feel that monetary and spiritual support are crucial. If no one is reading, if no one is caring—what’s the point of writing, or at least what’s the point of publishing? I amended myself because I do believe that the desire to write (to create) and the desire to publish (to share) are very different sorts of things for a lot of people. I do belong to a writers’ group—though my participation is hampered by my schedule. That writer-to-writer support is important; for me especially. I know for certain I wouldn’t have written Broad Shoulders without them, and even if I had somehow, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to look for a publisher without their assurances that it was worthy.
What is your biggest pet peeve with the writing community, trends, etc. today?
My biggest pet peeve isn’t so much with the writing community as it is with the reading community. There are a lot of great writers and there are wonderful presses (like Twelve Winters and Maidenhead Hall) that are putting out terrific books – but most avid readers want only familiar work by familiar authors. They aren’t willing to take chances on new writers and unusual books. I know it’s complicated, that oftentimes readers aren’t even aware of titles and writers beyond those featured in commercial stores and reviewed in major periodicals. Yet if readers were more inquisitive, demand for better writing and more courageous authors and presses would be created.
What are you working on right now?
Before I wrote Broad Shoulders I was working on a collection of travel narratives, so with the book out I’ve returned to that project. Basically I’m taking my journal notes and writing the accounts more fully. My goal is to tie the narratives together more profoundly than simply having been written by the same traveler. However, my travels are so wide-ranging, I’m having trouble seeing a way to tie them together thematically or imagistically – but I’m working on it. Meanwhile, I’ve contracted with Maidenhead Hall and Twelve Winters for a minimum of three installments of the Esmée experiences. Next summer I plan to start writing the second installment, but already I’ve been thinking about where to set that book and culling my journals for details that may be useful when the time comes for composing. And I’m always toying with a translation or two; that’s just second nature.
What are you reading right now?
As far as reading goes, I have that annotated edition of Northanger that I’m slowly making my way through. On the most recent flight I cracked open Retour à Killybegs by Sorj Chalandon. My current nightstand reading is Linda Maria Baros’s poetry, especially L’Autoroute A4.