Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Author Interview: A. J. Odasso

Listen to the interview here!

Tell me a little about yourself and your writing.
There are days when I feel as if I have the right to say I have a fledgling career as a writer of poetry and short fiction - but there are also days when I'd like to ask myself, "Who do you think you're kidding?" The more accurate way of answering this question, I suppose, would be to start at the ever-so-clichéd beginning. I started writing very suddenly at the age of 11, and I do mean very suddenly. The event was triggered by my best friend Elizabeth giving me a red-silk covered journal for my birthday. My early school years were marked by the habit of sitting alone on the bus, at either the very front or the very back, turned as far into the corner next to the window as I could. I'd watch everything go by and find my thoughts forming rhythmic phrases and verses based on what I saw happening, or what I imagined to be happening. In that red silk journal, for the first time, I started writing down those thought patterns. They turned out to be poems - and, later on, around the time I turned 15 or 16, prose. People are often shocked by how relatively late I came to writing prose, so it's almost a strange point of pride. My first poems were published in Strong Verse, a poetry magazine edited by Orson Scott Card and G. Michael Palmer, in late 2005. Since then, I've managed to accrue a number of credits in both U.S. and U.K. magazines. My first published short story appeared in last year's Ruins Terra anthology from Hadley Rille Books. I have some work upcoming for 2008 in Farrago's Wainscot, Sybil's Garage, and the Little Red Riding Hood anthology from Drollerie Press. Working on a Ph.D. makes doing what I'd like to do - that is, start working on a novel - quite difficult. I'm still waiting to hear back from Milkweed Editions about the fate of my first full-length poetry collection, Lost Books. I'm mostly just glad it made the final reading cut, as it were!

Tell me about the story that you've created a soundtrack/playlist for.

Truth be told, I've mostly been writing poetry to music these past few months. My default tends to be Sigur Rós's ( ) - that's usually pronounced "Untitled," I think! There's something deeply primal about the instrumentation, and the words, which are words-but-not-really (the group's famed nonsense-language called "Hopelandic"), touch something in me that I can describe even less effectively than the music itself. This album is eight tracks of pure, sheer emotion. I remember the first time I heard it; I was still an undergraduate at Wellesley, and I happened to be at my work-study job in one of the campus offices. My boss was in the habit of playing music at a low volume, and ten seconds into the first track, I was in tears. Not everyone for whom I've played this album has reacted the same way, but a small handful have. In my experience, there are very few recording artists capable of such unique art.

What is your playlist? (list songs and artist)
This is a tricky question, given that I've just cited an entire album whose tracks have no titles! I might have to step back and give you one of my "default" playlists that's made up of a variety of songs from a variety of artists, but which I use in a similar fashion to ( ). I call this playlist my Gnosis Mix, not least because a lot of the songs included have either subtextual or explicit connections to gnostic Christian/ancient mystery-religion thought:

1. "Agnus Dei" - Rufus Wainwright
2. "Original Sinsuality" - Tori Amos
3. "Tiger" - Paula Cole
4. "Song to the Siren" - This Mortal Coil, feat. Elizabeth Fraser
5. "Galileo" - The Indigo Girls
6. "Dark Night of the Soul" - Loreena McKennitt
7. "The Promised Womb" - Dead Can Dance
8. "Emmanuel" - The Weakerthans
9. "Marys of the Sea" - Tori Amos
10. "Corpus Christi Carol" - Jeff Buckley
11. "Untitled "4 - Sigur Rós
12. "My Name" - Lhasa de Sela
13. "The Promise" - Värttinä
14. "Father Lucifer" - Tori Amos
15. "Sun in My Mouth" - Björk
16. "Hymn to Her" (live acoustic) - The Pretenders
17. "Full Circle" - Loreena McKennitt
18. "Toast" - Tori Amos

What does music mean to you? To your writing?
Anyone looking at this playlist for the first time would probably comment on the high volume of music from Tori Amos, and rightly so. She's been one of my favorite artists for a very long time (alongside some of the other suspects present on the list - Jeff Buckley, Värttinä, The Indigo Girls, Paula Cole), and I'd say this is because she's not afraid of putting her thoughts directly on paper...into the music, into the piano, whatever. She's often accused of being incomprehensible, but then, so is E.E. Cummings - and it just so happens that Björk's "Sun in My Mouth" is one of his poems set to music (and that he's one of my favorite poets). I love music that, in addition to reaching a deep and unsettling emotional pitch, has words (or almost-words) that I can absolutely savor. Granted, the music and musicianship are equally vital. If any of these songs were badly executed in performance, they wouldn't work for me. The other thing that these songs all share - at least I feel they do - is a deep sense of personal mythology, spirituality, and mysticism. I've been told that my work is suffused with just such a sense, and therefore it's not surprising that I'm drawn to pieces of music which are similar expressions of their artists' beliefs and sensibilities.

What kind of music do you like to write to?
Songs and albums that are contemplative, longing, and sparely emotional. I often get asked to put on something "more cheerful" when I'm entertaining friends! I sense a general fear of this kind of music, at least in the public/social majority. Why do so many people find it dangerous to feel so deeply?

If this story was made into a movie, who would you want to do the soundtrack?
I think one might find it difficult to turn, let's say, Lost Books into a movie. As for the short story in the Ruins Terra anthology - it's called "In Every Place That I Am" and it follows the rather colorful fates of an Egyptian priestess's various mummified remains down through the centuries - I'd probably look to someone like Lisa Gerrard, Ofra Haza, or Azam Ali. I have a real fondness for eastern-influenced music.

Anything else you'd like to say about music and writing/creating?
Music and writing have, happily, begun to intersect more concretely in my life - my husband James and I have been collaborating with Zac Orfanos, a Greek friend of ours working also on a Ph.D. here at my university (York, UK). He's a deeply talented musician and composer, and I've been writing lyrics for him for about a year now. As soon as we get moved into a new flat - which has a piano - we'll be able to begin recording our first EP. In the near future, if you see an obscure CD floating about bearing the name Wine-Dark Sea, that's us!

Thanks, A. J.!

To learn more about A. J., check out her LiveJournal.

Don't forget to check out next week's interview, when we chat with Megan Hart.


Anonymous said...

Terrific idea and very nicely done! I really enjoyed listening to the podcast.

Julie K. Rose said...

I'm so pleased you enjoyed it!