Friday, February 11, 2011

The Bird House by Kelly Simmons

Last week I went to hear local author Kelly Simmons read from her new book The Bird House. I really like Kelly’s first book, Standing Still, and Kelly herself is smart, funny, and terrific to listen to. I enjoyed hearing her read from the book. I always like hearing an author’s words in their own voice. I feel like it adds to my appreciation of the work. I’ll never forget the first time I experienced this. It was in college, and I had been busily discovering and reading Margaret Atwood in my frenzy of feminist lit crit, loving early complex works like Surfacing and The Edible Woman, when she came to campus. She stood at the lectern in front of a large crowd in a big high-ceilinged room in College Hall, opened her mouth and began to read. I remember being stunned, thinking, at first, but that’s not how the book sounds, realizing I had created my own sound for it in my own head as I read it. But then I realized, it’s her book, and that’s her voice, and that’s how she wants it to sound. I was enchanted.

I even like hearing authors read when I don’t understand what they’re saying, like when I heard Eduardo Galeano read in Spanish (in NY at the 92nd St. Y). It’s beautiful when authors bring their understanding and their meaning and emphasis to words that they put down on the page. An author can’t control how a reader interprets their work – once it’s left their hands it’s free to be understood in any way—but in reading, they can control how it sounds.

After Kelly read she answered questions and talked about some interesting things. Here are some random notes:

1. Writers she admires: Ann Beattie and John Irving;
2. Her story is based on a writing assignment her daughter received years ago that been percolating in her head ever since. Her daughter had to interview a relative and Kelly thought, “Uh, oh, that could spell trouble. What if a family secret came out while the child was interviewing a grandparent?” And hence the genesis of this new book;
3. She often writes, and “wastes,” a 150 pages before figuring out a story;
4. She wrote 8 novels in the last 15 years. This is only the 2nd one being published. She figures those others will probably continue living in a drawer or hard drive;
5. Her writing came about as a result of her work in advertising. She wanted to do some creative work that “didn’t have other people’s fingerprints on it. Love that!
6. When asked what distinguishes a Kelly Simmons book, she and the audience came up with the following: the central voice is a raw essential angry female voice; she plays with time; she has an unreliable narrator.

Thanks for a great Q&A and a great new book, Kelly!

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