Caroline Leavitte interviews Thaisa Frank about Enchantment

Excerpt from the interview:

Thaisa Frank’s short story collection, Enchantment, is like nothing you have ever read before. Unsettling, strange, and well, yes, enchanting, they comprise one of my favorite books of the year.

The stories in Enchantment are strange, weird, and well, enchanting. Where did they come from?

I never know where things in my imagination come from and I can’t really will them to happen. It’s almost as though there’s a pneumatic tube of the imagination and I hang out there when other writers are occupied so I get weird and cryptic assignments: It could be a title, like The Loneliness of the Midwestern Vampire. Or the image of an enchanted man.  If I play with the assignment long enough, characters appear and they make the image or title earthbound. My characters have to adhere to the laws of gravity and deal with an ordinary world.

It sometimes takes a long time to find the link between the cryptic image or title and characters who are grounded in the mundane world. For example, the title story of Enchantment began when I had an image of a woman on her porch getting a UPS delivery of an enchanted man. She’d ordered him from an online site and he came with instructions to mist him twice a day.  I started the story many times and couldn’t figure out how to move it forward. But when her sullen teen-aged kids appeared, I realized the heart of the story was about the woman hiding the enchanted man from her family.

Not all of my stories are triggered by surreal images.  I’m fascinated by people, relationships and obsessions. Enchantment has a story about a character who wants to get a piercing (I did all my research online!), a woman who visits an old boyfriend, a cat that acts as a comforter, and two people who think they are soul mates. It also has two semi-autobiographical novellas with roots in my own life. These were hard stories to write because I had to invent and surprise myself to discover a universal element. After I finished, I felt as if I’d dived into a shipwreck and come up having lived a slightly different life.

These stories start for me in the same way more surreal stories start–that is, I often find people and relationships as captivating as a title or an image.  I used to be a psychotherapist and friends would say “Oh, that sounds like a wonderful profession for a writer.”  But it wasn’t a good profession because most psychological theory tries to explain mystery and I was more interested in illuminating it.

Whether I write about what’s apparently “real,” or something more surrealistic, I have to feel captivated and enchanted myself or I don’t feel motivated to write the story. As a kid I had a viewer that held discs so you could look inside and see three-dimensional scenes.  I remember looking at Little Red Riding Hood, poised in the dark forest with her basket. I could feel the quiet of the woods and she seemed real, alive in another realm. I wanted to find a way to reach her. So when I talk about feeling enchanted, I’m talking about a feeling that started when I was very young.

Of course trying to talk about where stories come from feels a little like telling a fishing story: So much happens below the surface. So much happens quickly.  And so much happens beyond my control. I think most writers feel this way.

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