We are at the penultimate interview of authors from the collection, EVIL IN TECHNICOLOR, available at many fine retailers including yours!
Today, we welcome Molly Tanzer to discuss her story “Summer Camp Would Have Been A Lot Cheaper” which is about a father and daughter reconnecting over the telling of stories, and connecting to something greater than their mundane apartment in New York.
VB) The obvious question is about Ayn Rand, but beyond Ayn Rand, a better question is probably the failure of Utopias. Each layer of your story deals in some fashion with a Utopia, and a failure of a Utopia. How does that tie into our current world? Is a utopia always doomed to hypocrisy and collapse?
Molly Tanzer) I think I’ll answer both at the same time! Ayn Rand is of course a utopian writer, and one who demonstrates perfectly the inherent problem of utopian visions: someone’s utopia is also someone else’s dystopia. Galt’s Gulch seems like a total pit to me, whereas I’d be more than happy to chill forever as a Beta female in the World State of Brave New World. Who cares about the gold standard when you can have endless state-supplied drugs, healthcare, and feelies?
Whether that ties into our current world I couldn’t say. I can’t perceive if Mitch McConnell and the rest of the far-right demagogues currently waging war on the citizens of my country believe that they’re creating some kind of utopia, or if they’re just in it for the dough. I suspect the latter, but who knows. The vast majority of attempted (as opposed to literary) utopias have been a mix of true belief and grift.
VB) Dreams often don’t work, in fiction. One of the early rules of writing from every 101 class involves a prohibition against dreams. You broke this imaginary rule quite successfully, and I wanted to know how you think dreams work when done well in fiction?
Molly Tanzer) Is that one of the early rules of writing from every 101 class? I guess I should have taken one at some point!
If dreams have acquired a bad rap as a literary contrivance that’s disappointing. The experience of dreaming, and of being troubled by one’s dreams, is common to very nearly all of us—so that must be reflected on the page. I love the eerie way Winston’s dream-refrain of “We shall meet in the place where there is no darkness” becomes one of the most haunting motifs of 1984, and The Handmaid’s Tale, a masterclass in memoirist fiction, uses dreams as yet another subtle origami-fold; the reveal at the end that Offred’s story was recorded and discovered makes one wonder if she really had those dreams that so explicitly detailed her past, or if she was purposefully using the trope of dreams as a way to tell her story. So I guess it’s hard for me to say how dreams work when done well; those two examples are so fundamentally different and yet perfect for what they need to do in the text: the first evoking the uncanniness of dreams, the second the way they can be used give a story a sense of distance and reflection and immediacy all at once. It’s no easier to point at how dreams don’t work, as that’s usually an individual technical fault of the part of the writer. Prohibiting dream sequences is like a prohibition against anything else, artistically—it’s an attempt to shortcut experience and mastery, which is impossible. I’ve found most 101 writing advice only applies to 101 writers; then again, Milan Kundera ended his interminable Identity with “it was all a dream,” so it’s true we all put our pants on one leg at a time.
VB) How has the pandemic impacted your day-to-day life?
Molly Tanzer) I don’t feel like bringing down the tone, so I’ll restrict my remarks to, “significantly, and not in positive ways.”