Vlad Savich: I usually begin my interview with a request, “tell us a little about yourself.” Is it a problem for you to tell us a little bit about yourself?
Jane Rosenberg LaForge: No, it’s not a problem to tell you a little bit about myself. I’ve published a memoir so all the secrets are out. Here are the basics: Born, raised, and educated in Los Angeles. Worked as a journalist throughout California, Maryland, and upstate New York. Went back to school in western Massachusetts. Worked as an adjunct professor teaching (mostly) composition, (occasionally) literature, at New York University. Now retired to housewifery and writing. Have written a few books of prose and poetry. Have a husband, a daughter, and a cat. How’s that?
VS: What is a blank sheet of paper to you: A terrible minefield, a field of joy, an opportunity to tell the world something new?
JRL: I think it’s all those things. It could be a disaster, or it’s a challenge. It’s a “Are you ready to work, or are you going to goof off?” question. It’s a test of my determination and focus, whether I have a focus. If I don’t have a focus, then the blank page is a disaster.
VS: Success can be compared with the top of the mountain. We call it Parnassus. Do you want, like the author, to reach the top of this mountain?
JLR: Sure, I’d like to be successful. But what does that mean? Once you’ve reached the top of the mountain, will the Muses be there to greet you? That would be great, if it would guarantee against writer’s block. I’d love that. Is it the same as dwelling in the house of the gods? That sounds a little stressful. I’m not sure if I’d like that. It could be intimidating. I’m very fallible, very flawed. If I could be successful, I’d like it to mean I could stop worrying.
VS: You said, “Sure, I’d like to be successful.” What does success mean to you: Satisfaction with your job, a big bank account, applause, flowers from your fans?
JRL: Can success be only those three things? Let’s look at it this way. My husband is successful. He is good at his job. He gets a certain amount of confidence by being good at his job. He uses that confidence to do good things at his job, and become better at it. I think I’d like to be confident enough so I could do my job—writing, such as it is—with a measure of peace, confidence, so I’m not on a treadmill of doubt and recrimination each day I sit down to do it. Of course I’d like to be respected, lauded; money is one measurement of that, especially in this country. But there are plenty of writers making money who don’t feel they are respected. So I’d really like to have the confidence to keep moving forward. How’s that?
VS: What made you take up a pen and start writing?
JRL: I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was in grade school, so I don’t know the specific motivation. My parents were readers and loved to talk about books and writers. I suppose I have always admired writers, as my parents did. My father wanted to be a sports writer when he was younger and my mother wrote poetry all of her life.
VS: Can you stop writing, or are you already like a drug addict, addicted to letters, words, and sentences? Can you live without writing?
JLR: I’ve tried to stop, but it didn’t work. So yes, I’m an addict. Mea culpa.
VS: A Russian poet, Fyodor Tyutchev, once wrote:
“We cannot know further ways
Of our word – how it’ll be drifted…”
Do you agree with Tyutchev or do you have a different opinion?
JRL: I definitely agree with this. It explains the joy of reading and the frustration of writing. I could tell you many stories about how my work has been interpreted, or as I would argue, misinterpreted; or how many times I’ve made a very singular interpretation of someone else’s work. It’s why language is so fascinating, how it’s always a work in progress. Oh yes yes yes. I agree.
VS: What do you think about this? Suppose someone said, “When I was a young writer, or scientist, or politician, society promised me a wonderful future and here I live in the future but it’s not beautiful. Maybe some evil wizard stole our future.”
JRL: Hmmmmmmm. When I was younger—and I say younger instead of young for a reason—I might have agreed with this. I’ve always been a little slow on the uptake. But nowadays I say, “No one really promises you anything.” Or I should say that in America, there’s a caveat to the big promise of the American dream: Chance, or luck, or your looks (people who are good looking have better odds in life, at least in the west), or whatever connections you’re born with, or forge on your own, or blah blah blah blah. On the other hand, I do think there are some evil people who are doing their dardnest to steal the future because they want all the money and power right now! At this very minute! Maybe you’re asking two different questions right now, one about some people’s sense of entitlement (a generational problem?) and the other about power, income inequality (which might in fact be the same question if the older/opposing generation wants to grab all the resources so the younger generation gets nothing?). Maybe the meaning of words is drifting too much for me to capture what I’m trying to say. Yes, there are evil wizards. But they’re way above my pay grade.
VS: Could you make a deal with the devil?
JRL: I hope I wouldn’t but I may have already.
VS: What is the one question you would ask God if you met Him?
JRL: I don’t know if I could limit myself to one question. I might ask “Why?” Or I’d ask if God could save my daughter from climate disaster.
VS: “In the beginning, there was the Word.” What do you think: Was it a spoken word or a written decree?
JRL: Spoken. Most definitely spoken. No one could read back then, right? Plus, I used to teach a David Abram essay about the development of written culture, so I know the oral culture came first. And finally, Ishmael Reed, “Mumbo Jumbo,” all about the pitfalls of written culture (and some other stuff too). I used to teach that book too. So I’m pretty sure.
VS: The language of a wild tribe is two-hundred words. The language of Shakespeare is tens of thousands of words. Why do we need so many words? I think so we can cheat better.
JRL: More people, more words. Otherwise there’s no gossip. You need more words so you can gossip. That’s what most people do when they talk to one another. You don’t want them repeating themselves, do you? Supposedly the average person uses only 200 words in conversation. So you need the rest of the words for containing the history of the language, and of course for the playwrights, poets and novelists. Words, words, words. More words.
VS: “Words, words, words. More words,” you say. However, it is not said in vain that it is better to see once than to hear one-hundred times. Video, video, video. More video. What do you think about video? Are you engaged in any visual art, such as the writing of screenplays, or dramas?
JRL: I’m not engaged in any visual art. When I was a kid I tried to write plays and screenplays but…let’s just leave it at that. I was an MTV addict when MTV first came out, but I got over it. I used to teach some film/ I taught a class on African-American detective fiction, and we talked a lot about film noir as it was invented by Europeans and Americans. But I don’t know much about visual art, to be honest.
VS: Which book would you take with you to a desert island?
JRL: A.S. Byatt’s “The Children’s Book”
VS: I often hear about the great French literature, the great German literature, the great Russian literature. Do you think America’s literature can be called great?
JRL: I would hope so. I mean, otherwise, what’s the point in trying? What about Toni Morrison? Isn’t she great? I think so. She certainly takes my breath away. Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell: aren’t they considered great (my tastes in poetry are a bit more contemporary)? Charles Johnson? My mother loved Norman Mailer; I’ve read only two of his books. Was he great? Robert Penn Warren? Another one of my mother’s favorites. I almost listed “All the King’s Men” for my desert island book. There’s got to be some greatness in American literature somewhere.
VS: Can you explain to me the Trump phenomenon?
JRL: I can try… I could explain it as a political scientist or lawyer or historian would, talk about the Electoral College, disaffection among working class whites, appeals to racists and sexists; demagoguery, the tyranny of the majority v. tyranny of the minority, the Federalist Papers, the Federalist Society, the Koch brothers, downward mobility, stagnant wages, the death of manufacturing in the U.S., the Rust Belt, the Bible Belt, racism, sexism, sexism, racism, Russians…..or, I could give you the explanation a friend of mine once made. She is a lawyer, but she had a biological explanation. Do you know about experiments meant to illustrate the effects of overpopulation? You have an environment, say a box, and you put a few rats in it, and everything’s fine. But if you keep putting rats in the box, and the box gets over-populated, the rats begin to attack one another. So whenever something strange happens, or whenever humans do incredibly stupid things, my friend says, “Rats in a box.” It’s as good an explanation as any.
VS: Right now, I have a problem. Where can I find the plot for a new play? Where do you find plots? What kind of trash do you have to look through to find plots?
JRL: A young, good-looking, charismatic man working in publishing becomes a successful novelist, but at what cost? An aspiring suspense writer, he lies to everyone he knows on his way up about fake illnesses, fake suicides of family members, and fake credentials–until another suspense writer, ordinary to the point of being anonymous, finds him out.
I got this trash from The New Yorker; it’s the expose on Dan Mallory aka A.J. Finn. I don’t usually go looking for the plots of plays or trash, but everyone seems to be talking about this, so there it is. Read it. It will blow your mind.
VS: Do you think it’s possible to become a popular author without being corrupt?
JRL: I suppose the answer to that depends on how you define certain words: “popular” and “corruption.” If you set out to be a popular author, which might be one who writes in a popular genre–fantasy? romance? cozy mystery? whatever else is popular?–solely to be entertaining as opposed to enriching; and you write something that is popular, then you aren’t corrupted, right? You had a goal in mind and you accomplished it. You might not be a very deep person, or a deep thinker, but you do what you do and get it done. But if you got desperate for some reason, for fame, adulation, money, respect, whatever it was you needed; and you wrote something deliberately shallow but guaranteed to be popular, then you’d be corrupted, correct? I know some authors who have been successful, in the sense that they are respected, and sell enough books to keep getting book contracts. Perhaps they have a regular gig, like teaching, that enables them to have time to write. They haven’t been corrupted, although again, it depends on your definition. Are they mean to their spouses and children? Are they abusive to colleagues and students? No one is perfect, but is imperfection corruption? Are they not corrupted if they’ve always been a bit nasty? Are they definitely corrupted if they’ve undergone a complete personality change? I also know of a few authors who have been successful–some even popular, with bestsellers to their name–and they lie, or they’re nasty, or they’re conceited, but they haven’t always been like that. Did success or popularity corrupt them? Or maybe they always had that potential to be corrupted? This is all so heavy, and also above my pay grade.
VS: How do you define the words ”popular” and ”corrupt”? Or, how much money should an author give to their publisher or with whom should the author have sex, in order to be published?
JLR: That makes it a bit easier. No money, and sex with no one.
VS: Do you want to say me that everything in the U.S. depends on the talent of the author and not his corrupt connections?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I don’t believe in talent without Baksheesh – a small sum of money given as alms.
JRL: It depends on talent, taste, luck, chance, and connections, but not all connections are corrupt. My father was in the produce business, where there were all sorts of payoffs, kickbacks, God knows what, but people used to make money in the produce business. There’s not enough money in publishing for people to be making investments like you’re talking about.
VS: “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” Do you agree with this statement?
JRL: All you need to do to understand this one is look at the people who voted for Trump because they were true believers.
VS: Thank you for the interesting interview. Do you have a wish for our readers?
JRL: I wish your readers many hours of great reading, and great writing; and above all else, many hours of great rational thinking to counter all of the craziness out there. Thank you!
Jane Rosenberg LaForge lives in New York. Her most recent poetry collection is "Daphne and Her Discontents" (Ravenna Press 2017). Her novel is "The Hawkman: A Fairy Tale of the Great War" (Amberjack Publishing 2018). Her memoir is "An Unsuitable Princess" (Jaded Ibis Press 2014). Her poems, "Bird" and "Vow," appeared in Queen Mob's Teahouse in January 2016.
Vlad* Savich was born in the USSR, where he was educated, married and fathered his daughter. As soon as the chance appeared to leave, he did. At present he lives in Montreal, where he writes, directs for the theatre and breathes the air of freedom. He can be found online at savich.lit.com.ua.
*He prefers not to be called Vladimir, so as not to be associated with the disreputable activity of a certain barnardine Russian leader.