US author Hilary Sloin’s debut novel Art of Fire was mistakenly awarded the non-fiction prize in the Amherst Book and Plow Competition. Which was indicative that she’d achieved her aim of satirising art, lesbian life and the academic world in the apparent ‘biography’ of subversive painter Francesca deSilva, the founding foremother of “pseudorealism,” who lived hard and died young. In the tradition of Vladimir Nabokov’s acclaimed novel Pale Fire, it’s a fiction from start to finish. Art on Fire is a darkly comic, pitch-perfect, and fearless satire on the very art of biography itself.
Hilary lives in the hills of Western Massachusetts with her Jack Russell Terrier, Pluto. She runs a business acquiring, restoring, and selling antiques, which is providing fodder for her next book.
At the end of this post you can read the first paragraph of Art on Fire and you can win an ebook copy by emailing email@example.com and telling me in 25 words why you’d like one. I’ll pick the most imaginative. Let me know your preferred format.
Give me ‘You’ in 25 words.
Introverted, extroverted. Hyper, lazy. Lusty. Literary. Antiques-aficionado. Old hippie. Insomniac. Wanderlust. Canine-crazy. Thin-skinned, beef jerky tough. Die-hard feminist. Queer.
If you were a book, what would it be and why?
I think it would be my book, actually, because it’s quirky, funny, tragic, about art and love and lesbianism, the perils of family and ambivalence about success, and, ultimately, death.
What made you write your last book?
I wish I knew! It seemed to be a culmination of 35 years of a crazy, troubled, often exciting existence of which I was trying to make sense. Plus, I love butch women and artists and I got a real kick out of satirizing academic writing.
Why would a reader love your book?
It’s a good read. It’s very funny, deep, sexy, and it even has a fair amount of poetry to it. Mostly I am trying to tell a universal story through characters that are rarely portrayed in literature. I think it examines family dynamics, how they form us, and how that influence continues to be passed down to future generations.
When did you decide to be a writer?
When I was in sixth grade we were given an assignment to write a poem on a color. I chose black–how prescient of me. Anyhow, the teacher, who didn’t much like me until that point and was always accusing me of being a social butterfly, posted it on the bulletin board. I felt famous.
What’s your most humiliating moment as a writer?
I took a class at the 92nd Street Y in NYC with David Bradley–I have to say his name because he was so horrible. It was a master’s class and so I’d submitted a story in order to get in. When it came time to critique the story, he completely ripped it to shreds–even though he’d chosen me for the class based on that story. I mean, he basically told me it sucked and that I didn’t know how to write. I ran out crying and never went back.
When, where and how do you write?
These days I write a lot on a manual typewriter, but normally I write first thing in the morning, longhand with a fountain pen in a moleskine book. Though when I’m really on a roll and I have plenty of free time, I sometimes write all day and night.
Did you find it hard to get published the first time?
Not my stories–no trouble at all. But this book has taken ten years to find a home. So I’d say to others who have written and can’t get published, don’t give up!
What’s the best thing a reviewer said about your last book?
No last book, unfortunately. Though my plays were coined “dyke noir.”
Are you over-involved with your pets?
Totally. So relieved you asked this question. I sometimes think I will end up all alone with two dogs–hopefully no more than that because I like a degree of cleanliness. Plus, you can’t ever get away for a weekend when you’ve got more than two.
What writers do you admire most?
Oh, I am partial to the Russians–Tolstoy, Nabokov, Chekov, Dostoyevsky. I adore Raymond Carver, Eudora Welty, James Baldwin, David Sedaris, Philip Roth, Jonathan Franzen, Alice Munro, Dorothy Parker, and Grace Paley. There are so many others I can’t think of now. Oh, yes, and I thought The Color Purple was dictated to Walker by a divine source–one of the greatest works of fiction ever.
What’s your favourite writing form?
Did you learn anything useful when you studied writing?
Tons, though I loathed it. I learned that there should never be anything extraneous in your writing–every word should push the plot along. I don’t always follow that rule, but it sounds right.
What inspires you?
Music. Love. Antiques. Nature. My truck. Sitting in my camper. My dog, Pluto. My friends.
What’s your favourite procrastination when writing?
What are you working on now?
A book of stories called Pimpin’ the Frontier about the antique business and how crazy and sleazy and fun it is.
Opening paragraph of Art on Fire
Unlike her sister Isabella, whose genius was of a flamboyant variety, Francesca deSilva exhibited no early signs of excellence. At best, she displayed a vague propensity for mechanical repair: tinkering with broken radios and jammed doorknobs, devoting entire afternoons to the assembly of a new purchase: a fan, a chair, a light. A sturdy, somber girl of few words and a solitary nature, she spent her ample free time playing along the river that ran across the street from her home. It was a wide, brisk river that rolled around bends and over hills, splashed into smooth, open pools, some of which were deep enough to float in. She passed many hours on its sandy shores, lying flat with her eyes closed and listening to the inside of the world.
For more about Hilary Sloin, check out her blog at http://hilarysloin.wordpress.com/