Crush, an anthology of stories about love, brings together the work of emerging and established writers from around the world. Get to know some of the fantastic authors featured in the collection in this series of Q&As. First we have Susan Midalia and an excerpt from her short story ‘Perspectives on Love’.
Can you give us a bit of background about yourself? How did you come to writing?
I’d been an academic for decades, teaching literature, and I’ve always been a reader, but I didn’t start writing fiction until I was in my fifties. This was partly as a result of doing my PhD on contemporary Australian women’s fiction, when I discovered that I loved using language more than advancing an intellectual argument! I then started writing fiction more regularly because I wanted to make sense of some difficult personal experiences. Writing very quickly became a beautiful compulsion.
How do you get your ideas? Is there anywhere particular you look for inspiration?
Like many writers, I get ideas from reading, going for a walk, memories, listening in on conversations, watching movies and TV, travelling, observing everyday encounters. I’m fond of Susan Sontag’s injunction that writers “must pay attention to the world” – the world encompassing everything from global politics to one’s personal life and environment. I’m also particularly interested in people’s use of language, from the morally impoverished language of many contemporary politicians to the life-affirming language of some of my favourite fiction writers and poets.
What does your writing process look like? Does it change from story to story?
I rarely begin with a clear idea of what a story might be “about”; instead, I might begin with a word, an image, a fragment of conversation, an incident in the news. One of the great pleasures for me of writing fiction is encountering the unexpected; I love the experience of not knowing where a story might be taking me. I also tend to work very slowly – I usually don’t draft a story in its entirety, but work paragraph by paragraph (crazy, I know, but I can’t seem to proceed otherwise). It can take me at least a month to write a story I’m reasonably happy with – and that means working at it every day, for hours at a time. I have written a few stories which came easily, but that’s very rare for me.
How do you approach building the structure of a story? Do you like to play with form?
My stories are typically character-driven, so the structure tends to follow the unfolding of a character’s inner life. I find myself writing stories that lead up to a revelation, an epiphany or a moment of intense disillusionment, with a conclusion that can be open-ended or ambiguous. More recently I’ve started playing around with micro fiction, and with fragments, both of which require a different kind of discipline from writing a traditional narrative of 3-5,000 words. I’ve also written stories with a paratactic structure; I like the freedom of using a series of headings, and asking the reader to piece the fragments together.
Crush explores a variety of interpretations and experiences of romantic love. What aspects of love did you want to explore in your writing?
Given the emotional, psychological and ethical complexities of romantic love, I decided to write a story about precisely that: the different versions of love, and how those versions can be used for self-interested or loving purposes. I also wanted to gesture towards changing attitudes to sexual romance, giving those changes a feminist slant. As well, because music is so often used to express romantic desire, I decided to riff on some song titles.
How have you tried to either embrace or push the boundaries of the romance genre in your writing?
In the story published in Crush, I’ve departed from a traditional linear narrative by writing a series of fragments. I don’t think I’ve pushed any boundaries of the romance genre, but I did choose to write a humorous story, partly because I enjoy writing and reading funny stuff, but also as a way of trying to avoid some of the pitfalls of the romance genre: sentimentality, clichés, ponderousness, and bad writing about sex. (Two pieces of advice about the latter: don’t mention genitals, and inject some humour into what can be, after all, one of life’s more ludicrous experiences.) I have published love stories about widowhood, break-ups, embittered partners, companionable relationships, infatuation and obsession. Some of my stories are explicitly political, focused on the distribution of power in sexual relationships and seen from the perspectives of women, men, teenagers, the middle-aged and elderly, working class and middle-class, heterosexual and gay. I think it’s important to dispel the myth that love is some kind of special, private realm that has nothing to do with ideology; after all, relationships occur in a social and historical context, subject to the rule of law and the pressure of cultural norms.
Excerpt from ‘Perspectives on Love’ by Susan Midalia
An academic: In ancient Greek myth, sexual or passionate love (Eros) was conceptualised as a form of madness, the consequence of being struck by one of Cupid’s arrows and rendered blind to reason. The idea of love’s blindness also underpins the more recent concept of Eros as a life force, akin to the philosopher Schopenhauer’s notion of will, a fundamentally unthinking or instinctual striving for survival and reproduction.
A misogynist: Love is having the sensitivity not to tell your wife she’s getting fat. It’s not complaining when she wants yet another pointless night out with the girls. It’s resisting the urge to root the girl in the office who’s virtually giving it out for free, in those tight short skirts she’s always wearing.
A Marxist feminist: Heterosexual love in general, and heterosexual marriage in particular,are indisputably the products of patriarchal ideology, designed to ensure the continuing subordination of women as a group. See Engels, The Communist Manifesto, Chapter 2.
A humanist: Love means treating the loved one with kindness and respect. And it does mean having to say you’re sorry.
To read the rest of ‘Perspectives on Love’ by Susan Midalia, pick up a copy of Crush, available from our online shop or from all good bookstores.