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A Conversation with Anne Germanacos

Anne Germanacos has lived between Greece and San Francisco for thirty years, writing singular and tragic fast-paced stories that pack a punch.  We sat down with Anne to get her take on writing, audience, and what we can look forward to from her in the future. [caption id="attachment_957" align="aligncenter" width="227" caption="Anne Germanacos. BOA fiction author."]Anne Germanacos. BOA fiction author.[/caption] BOA:  You've lived in two countries, cultures, and languages during your adult life.  How has this influenced your writing? ANNE:  I don’t know what I would have been without the experience of Greece and the United States, both, as well as Greek and English, cities, islands, and villages. I’ve always lived near large bodies of water, the Pacific Ocean and the Aegean. In order to integrate these diverse parts into a single life, I’ve had to make of two or more things one. Perhaps the constant back and forth taught me both to suspend judgment long enough to allow something to be made and also to finish something in preparation for going to the other shore. BOA:   How integral to your writing is moving around?  Would your writing stop if you lived only in Greece or San Francisco? ANNE:  I started writing when I was twelve, and at that time I lived in only one place. I suppose the need and desire to write sent me away from home at an early age: a writer needs material. But, if I’m to write, I need to be fixed in place. Maybe the moving taught me to fix myself, like an insect pinned to a board, wherever I should happen to be. Not dead, but fixed, with no thought of where I might next be going. Movement definitely keeps things lively: the frequent departures and arrivals allow me to see each place with fresh eyes. The endless goodbyes force a constant confrontation with mortality. BOA:    Why do you think young people particularly will be drawn to your stories? ANNE:  A teacher has an audience—mine was made up of teenagers. I’m always writing for them: to soothe, cajole, seduce, and teach as well as praise. For many of the stories, those students (still young in my mind) remain my intended audience. But beyond the question of audience, it’s the style of the pieces—intense, visual, musical—that is appealing to young people. The reader isn’t spoon-fed, but rather is required to participate in the process: I offer a pathway of stones, not a ride in a rowboat. My hope is to offer the reader a handful of gems. Young people seem to understand intuitively how to read them. I’m sure it’s because our brains have been changed by our use of various contemporary technologies. BOA:    Your stories are unusual because the form and topic of each is different. How did those elements evolve in your writing? Why this particular form? ANNE:  It has to do with the desire for freedom, and wanting always to try something new, wanting to feel as if one is inventing—not just new sentences, but new versions of paragraphs and new ways of putting things together. If not new in some small way, then communication stalls at the gate. BOA:   Can you say something about how you write? ANNE:  I think I’ve written most days for the last forty years. If I go for more than a couple of days without writing, I worry that I’ll forget how to do it. But in order to allow a modicum of flexibility, I have no requirements for amount of time spent writing or quantity produced. A couple of sentences or ten pages. It’s a way of letting myself off the hook while keeping myself on it. Without flexibility (perhaps a form of lightness), the perfectionist nature would kill off every good thing. And I tend to follow the adage: First best. It’s a strong ally. BOA:   Your stories are provocative.  What do your husband and children think of them? ANNE:  One child is quite intrigued by my stories; the other feigns (?) disinterest. Thus, one child offers himself as a willing audience and the other saves me from having to edit myself. My non-reader is a talented actor with a magnificent singing voice, his brother is a wonderful conversationalist with the ability to see several sides to every situation. My husband seems to be inured to the experience of finding a version of himself in the work! He’s never been anything but utterly supportive. BOA:   Alzheimer's has affected your life several times.  How have these experiences informed your writing? ANNE:  Both my mother and step-father lived with Alzheimer’s for seven years before dying of it. Watching the way a disease affects a life is educational for a writer. This particular disease is perhaps more educational than others: I watched my parents, each in his own way, lose parts of the ability to function independently in the world while holding onto other aspects of personality and essence. The last time I saw my step-father was four months before he died so I can’t be definitive, but I saw my mother take her last breath and I know that she kept some essence of herself until she was gone. People tend to talk about what Alzheimer’s takes away, but my focus was always on what it left behind. I don’t think it’s because I’m an overly optimistic person. But you do your best to anchor the person to the world, despite the fact that it’s spinning so wildly for them. In addition to the basic memory loss, including language, both parents were unable to navigate because of visual and spatial impairments that were a result of the disease. You adjust to their changes so that you can keep recognizing them. The hope is that they, in turn, will keep recognizing you. I laughed with my mother until the day she died. BOA:   For 30 years you and your husband ran the Ithaka Cultural Studies Program on the islands of Kalymnos and Crete. That experience certainly informs the title story of your collection.  Where else will our readers find that influence? ANNE:  There’s only one other story that directly contains students and that particular experience—teaching and working with students who lived near our family for a semester at a time. The boundaries between our family and the community of our school were very porous. Living in a close-knit community, a person feels intimately watched, but also feels free to watch. Living amongst students was a rich source of material but more importantly, the passion and intensity borne of those relationships fueled the desire and need to write. BOA:   The obvious question that all publishers -- and many readers -- ask is "Will your next book be a novel?" ANNE:  There are at least two books in the works. The most recent, written during the last nine months of my mother’s life, is a long, contained piece. You could interpret it as a novel—or not. The only thing I’ve thought to call it is “a prayer.” It’s a multifaceted love affair, a glimpse into the psychoanalytic chamber, an inquiry into the nature of time, the human brain, the nature of disease (Alzheimer’s, in particular). It’s erotic, possibly pornographic, written mostly in single sentence paragraphs or stanzas. It’s a love song and a dirge. As I said, a secular (and perhaps sacriligious) prayer. BOA:  What are you reading these days? ANNE:  I have a stack of foreign language texts and grammars on the table beside my bed. In learning a foreign language, the plot is the grammar itself and once learned, difficult to forget. It’s traced in the ear and on the tongue in an entirely visceral way. There are circumstances in a person’s life which create an increase of visceral intensity that may hinder one’s ability to concentrate on straight narrative. I’ve been studying basic Arabic. The flowing writing is utterly seductive.
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