The owner of the apothecary looks bored today. I wonder what new potions she has for sale?
- 2 years ago
Isabel Harding does not have fingerprints. She puts her thumb under the record needle and gives us something to dance to.
Name: Isabel Harding
Where are you from?
What is your street like?
Emerson was probably writing about the maples on Grand Avenue when he wrote, “The beauty that shimmers in the yellow afternoons of October, who could ever clutch it?” Not me, Ralph. Especially since it’s already November.
What is the most underrated novel?
Probably Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov. Everybody thinks Nabokov and Lolita, but Pnin is funnier, sweeter, and has more to say about campus life.
What Halloween costume would your writing wear?
It probably wouldn’t be able to make up its mind what it wanted to be, and would end up wearing a bunch of different hats. And scarves. Lots of scarves.
Tell us about the moon spiders.
I think I killed one accidentally last night. It was the same color as the moon and it was living in my bathroom and I wanted to rescue it and put it outside, but instead it got run over by a dowel rod. I told someone how upset I was about it, how it had gone to Spider Heaven, and he said, don’t worry, it’s with Spider Yahweh now, and then I got to thinking that “Spider Yahweh” would be a great name for a character in a story. Shows how my mind works, I guess.
Tell us about a word you have been in love with for a long time. Hey, pick a word you love in French, aussi.
My favorite word happens to be the same in French and English: “esplanade.” But you have to say “nade” like “nod,” not “nade,” like “lemonade.” It just kind of spills and splashes in a nice way when you say it, and it’s very evocative.
Give us a list. A grocery list. A list of demands. A top five list. A list.
List of coasters I own: 1) A Seattle World’s Fair ash tray, 2) an ash tray from the Elco Motel in Watertown, S.D., 3) a coaster featuring a grouse (part of a matching set of sherry glasses with different birds on them), 4) cardboard bird coasters that get wrinkled if your glass perspires, and 5) cloth kitty coasters from Japan that I bought at a yard sale in Atlanta (do not put your cigarettes out on them, or you will burn the kitties). Growing up I learned the importance of coasters.
What do you think a writer should hope to get out of an MFA program?
For me it’s not so much what you hope to get as what sneaks up on you and takes you by surprise. What I’ve learned so far is to try and trust myself a little more, that what I want to say is worth saying. I’ve always tended to get so intimidated by writers I’ve known and admired that it’s been hard to come up with ideas of my own. What I’ve had to realize is that nothing these writers say (no matter how much you appreciate or admire them or their work), none of it is the gospel truth. Whatever they might have had to say at any given time in any given essay or interview had a lot to do with their mood, what they were eating or (more likely) drinking at the time. You’ve got to figure out your own truth, and feel confident that what you’re doing is good and worth doing. Just because no one (that you know of) has said it or thought it or written it before doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong. There could be a reader out there who’s always wanted to read someone like you, and you’ll never know until you’ve tried.
[Ed. Isabel is a smart person guys.]
Greatest book store you have ever witnessed?
Oxford Books in Atlanta. It closed down and got turned into loft apartments when I was a kid. But while it was around, it felt like being inside a colossal UFO filled top-to-bottom with books. It even had a video rental store in one sector. It had this great musty smell, too. Part of the reason I love Magers & Quinn so much is it reminds me of Oxford.
Let’s talk about process. Describe! Describe! What is easy for you when you sit down to write? What’s difficult?
In spite of what I just said about not taking writers’ word for it, I think the poet Mark Strand described it best, when he said writing is kind of like thrashing around in the dark, figuring out what it is that you want to say and how you’re going to say it while you do it. If I knew what I was doing or what I wanted to do when I started writing, I would bore myself to tears. I like to write myself into a story, and that part is easy for me—it’s exciting, like any other kind of adventure, taking a road trip, for example, or going to a new museum—and most of all, it’s sheer fun. If it ever stops being fun for me, I’ll have to stop. The difficult part, I guess, is remembering to eat, or taking the time to sneeze or go to the bathroom, or talk to your mother on the phone, when you’re in the midst of something really exciting that you don’t want to let go of. After that, the hard part is getting back to the place you were at before the interruption occurred.
A writer you really hope to see read someday or a writer you want to stalk at AWP this year?
Most of the writers I’d hope to see are dead. Aside from that, I’d love to see my writer friends read from stuff they’ve published, one day. That would be pretty cool. As for AWP, I’ll probably stalk Isabel Wilkerson and Paul Harding, just to see if we have anything in common besides our names.
Name your pet dinosaur.
I actually have a pet dinosaur, and his name is Alan, Alan the Allosaur.