**Lillian Ann Slugocki’s latest book, a novella, How to Travel With Your Demons, is forthcoming from Spuyten Duyvil Press. The premise of the story is very simple: Leda, the protagonist, waits for a car service to bring her to the airport. It is snowing. She’s travelling home to Chicago to identify the body of a family member. At its simplest, we follow the protagonist from point A to point B. However, there is also a strong mythological subtext to the story– like Odysseus she encounters many obstacles along the way, as well as guides, both good and evil. But, all roads lead, ultimately, to the morgue, and a surprising transformation. The journey of the hero, and her subsequent transformation is also very much “…a personal experience of constant becoming– an overlapping of the past and the present.”**
Fem: What inspires you as a writer? What’s your motivation?
Lillian Ann Slugocki: I have stories to tell– they’re always scurrying around inside my brain. And if I don’t get them down, if I don’t write them, I would probably go crazy. So there’s that, lol. I wrote my first illustrated book when I was 10, self-published, of course, and when I submitted a poem to The New Yorker, at 18, I was really insulted by the rejection. This poem, that I wrote while ridiculously stoned, listening to music at maximum volume, was genius. And I was sorry they couldn’t see that, and beyond this– I made sense of the world, and I still do, by writing it. And that has also morphed into an obsession for the female voice and the female narrative. And it doesn’t hurt that I’m completely obsessed with language, even grammar is fascinating to me; appositives, gerunds, correlative conjunctions, it’s just all so delicious.
F: You incorporated some elements of mythology into your book. Talk to us a little about your interest in mythology and how it influences your work.
LAS: There’s a quality to myth that for me borders on magical. These stories are at least 2,000 years old, and Gilgamesh, the Persian myth, for example, is even older. And how is it that we still recognize ourselves in these stories? Orpheus and Eurydice have always haunted me. I mean it’s just the saddest love story. It’s so poignant; he travels to the underworld, and tries to bring her back, but he can’t. He fails, loses her forever. And that’s what love feels like sometimes. Black Orpheus a movie version, set in Rio de Janeiro during carnival, is just devastating, so that story is all tied up and twisted around love and death and loss. Medea– she’s an empress, a queen of a much older civilization– which was matrilineal and matriarchal, and her downfall, I see as the downfall of that belief system– to a new one that is patriarchal. I see the same thing in King Arthur, too–all the great powerful women are silenced. So I find it very useful to use components of myth as structure, or sub text– it can build a stronger more compelling story.
F: Your protagonist’s name is Leda, and you compare her to Odysseus in terms of the obstacles she faces. Do you think that Leda’s struggles mirror the challenges that women face in society?
LAS: Oh, most definitely. Trying to get from point A to point B, for a woman, and whether that is literally just crossing the street or earning a living, can be very dangerous. Especially if you’re also trying to be as authentic as possible. This is a recipe for heartache, but also, I think, transformation. Also, it takes Odysseus 20 years to get home, but honestly some of the conflicts and obstacles he faces, are pretty awesome; having Sirens sing to you, and lashing yourself to the ship so you won’t go mad with desire. That sounds like fun to me. And Leda’s out there, too, without a net, and she’s definitely in peril, but she’s also really alive.
F: Do you consider Leda a feminist protagonist? Why or why not?
LAS: About 20 years ago, I stopped reading books that didn’t have a female hero. And then I stopped reading books where the female hero was written by a man. And I was a person who was reading Solzhenitsyn and Zola, on my own, at the age of 14. Male writers, male protagonists. And that is how my world was constructed. When I started to see the world through a different lens, reading Erica Jong or Sylvia Plath, I don’t think I ever looked back. I don’t think I could write a single word, and not call it feminist. At this point in my life, it’s a pretty inclusive word that describes everything I do, and how I move through the world. To answer your question (finally!), yes, Leda is a feminist protagonist because she is self-actualized, and her narrative is not linear, it is cyclical; past, present and future over-lap.
F: How did you find your feminist voice through writing?
LAS: I’m always looking for a myth or a male trope to rip apart, and put back together again. Recently, I did this with Streetcar Named Desire. Blanche DuBois got stuck in my head when I reread Williams’ play. She is just so profane, and broken, and sexy, and powerful. And I just had to recreate her for myself– I made her a little more self-aware of the trope she was forced into– as a woman, written by a man. And I had so much fun with that, and luckily it was published in a great anthology of contemporary female writing, Back to the Drawing Board: A Wreckage of Reason 2, (Spuyten Duvyil Press, 2014). I wish I could get paid to do that all day. Seriously. And for awhile, I loved to take primary source material, like transcripts from the witchcraft trials of the 17th century, and write on top of that, too. Some of that work was produced for National Public Radio.
F: What has been your biggest challenge as a writer?
LAS: My biggest challenge right now is my house is a complete mess, and instead of cleaning it, I’m doing really fun stuff like this interview, or working with a colleague who is writing an essay about my new book, or setting up a reading for women writers at KGB in the fall, or updating my website, or talking to my publisher about distribution, and also writing my next book. But my apartment? Yikes.
F: Do you have any advice for writers who are just starting out?
LAS: Yes, write what scares you, moves you, changes you or fucks you up. Go where you are most afraid, write about the biggest taboo you can think of. Keep a record of it. Don’t waste a single moment. It all matters, every word. Keep it chaotic and messy. I got this advice from Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. It really changed my life.
Lillian Ann Slugocki has been published by Seal Press, Cleis Press, Heinemann Press, Newtown Press, Spuyten Duyvil Press, as well as Bloom/The Millions, Salon, Beatrice, The Fem Literary Magazine, HerKind/Vida, Deep Water Literary Journal, The Nervous Breakdown, The Dr. T.J. Eckleburg Review, Blue Fifth Review, and Non Binary Review. She has an MA from NYU in literary theory, and has produced and written for Off-Broadway and National Public Radio. Forthcoming: How to Travel With Your Demons, a novella, Spuyten Duyvil Press, Fall 2015. Follow on: