Jessica Knauss Interviews
by Jessica Knauss
Gary Inbinder’s second novel, The Flower to the Painter, has just been released by Fireship Press. It’s a story about a young American woman artist in Victorian Europe who disguises herself as a man to advance her career. The author believes it will appeal to readers interested in the art and culture of the period. The novel also deals with themes related to gender identity and sexual sublimation, which adds complexity and interesting nuances to the characters, the narrative and the story-line. Gary is a member of the Bewildering Stories Editorial Review Board, and his short fiction, articles and essays appear in Bewildering Stories, Morpheus Tales, The Absent Willow Review, The Copperfield Review, Humanitas, Touchstone Magazine, Halfway Down the Stairs, and other publications.
A Chicago West Side native, Gary has worked as a copywriter, a purchasing agent, a retail music store manager, a credit fraud investigator, a paralegal and an insurance lawyer, but these were mere occupations until he could return to his true calling, writing historical fiction.
JK: It sounds as if, like Miguel de Cervantes, you led a full life before writing your first novel.
Gary Inbinder: For about thirty years or so I didn’t have much time for writing fiction, although toward the end of my legal career I did manage to have a few non-fiction pieces published.
JK: Both of your novels have been set in the nineteenth century. Do you find it possible to use your life experience in your fiction?
GI: I’m always observing and analyzing, taking incidents from life and weaving them into my fiction. My characters are often based on people I’ve known, or perhaps they’re composites of people. But there are certainly literary influences as well, especially in my historical novels which draw upon the past for inspiration. For atmosphere, I have to rely a good deal on research and imagination, especially when I’m writing about the distant past. As for plots, I believe mine are character driven. I try to create interesting, believable characters, put them in situations where there’s a potential for dramatic conflict, and let them work things out.
JK: You sound like a lifelong writer. When did you really get started?
GI: I started writing “seriously” in college, and I did it because I thought I had something to say. Thank God, none of that stuff survives.
JK: What are your reading habits like? Has your reading influenced your novels?
GI: I can’t name a favorite, but I do tend to read in streaks. For example, many years ago I went through a Zola phase where I read everything by Emile Zola that I could get my hands on. Then I went through a Japanese phase where I read works by Mishima, Kawabata, Tanizaki and Haruki Murakami to name a few. Recently, I’ve read several novels and stories by Henry James and Edith Wharton and I believe those stories from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries influenced The Flower to the Painter. In particular, I’d mention James’s The Aspern Papers, The Portrait of a Lady and The Bostonians and Wharton’s The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth.
JK: I can see those influences in The Flower to the Painter. What was the inspiration for it? I find it especially interesting that you chose to write a first person perspective for a female character.
GI: I believe many creative people feel marginalized, often to the point of alienation. Artists, writers, poets, actors, etc. tend to be “different” and that difference creates empathy with others similarly marginalized. Moreover, alienation can be exacerbated by bias based on gender and sexual orientation. I’m attracted to stories told by outsiders looking in, people who hide behind masks to enter a world that might not otherwise be open to them. I tried to imagine what it would have been like to be a young woman artist in a male dominated culture. I’ve given some thought to role reversal classics, like Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper where the eponymous characters trade places, and If I Were King in which the vagabond poet Francois Villon becomes “King for a Day.” There are also “Gender-Benders” like Victor/Victoria, Tootsie and Myra Breckenridge. And I recall social dramas like Gentleman’s Agreement, where a journalist posed as a Jew to investigate anti-Semitism in post WWII America, and Black Like Me, where another journalist posed as an African American to experience race prejudice in the segregated south. It’s quite a challenge for a man to write convincingly from the female perspective. But I’ve read two books where it’s been done successfully: Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha and Junichiro Tanizaki’s Quicksand. And I’ll also mention Alyson Richman’s historical novel, The Mask Carver’s Son, which she wrote from the perspective of a Gay male Japanese artist of the Meiji era (1867-1912).
JK: How much did you have to research The Flower to the Painter?
GI: I’ve read a good deal about the Victorian period, both fiction and non-fiction, including art books and biographies of artists. I also took Art and Art History courses in college, and I’m a lifelong museum addict.
JK: So the research was kind of an organic process for you. Was it hard to find the right language for narrator and the characters since they’re so far removed in time from the reader?
GI: In The Flower to the Painter I tried to capture the voice of an intelligent, creative, well educated young woman of the Victorian era. I had to rely on the literature of the period, historical fiction, films, further research and imagination to create Marcia Brownlow’s “voice.”
JK: Your writing is very put-together. It has a certain natural flow that I’m sure takes a lot of organization. How about your work area?
GI: I write in streaks, and my work area’s a mess. Not too inspiring, I’m afraid. With the aid of strong coffee, I like to work early in the morning when it’s cool (I live in Southern California) and relatively quiet.
JK: Are your family and friends supportive of your writing habit? GI: I have readers who give me valuable feedback, and I’m especially fortunate to have a supportive group of friends on the Bewildering Stories Editorial Review Board.
JK: Thanks so much for stopping by and talking about your enchanting new novel.
GI: Thank you for the interview. I enjoyed it!
Find out about Gary’s latest projects at garyinbinder.com
Copyright © 2011 by Jessica Knauss