Friday, June 11, 2010

Heidi Jon Schmidt

Heidi Jon Schmidt's new novel is The House on Oyster Creek.

Her earlier books include The Rose Thieves, Darling?, and The Bride of Catastrophe, all available in paperback. Her stories have been published in The Atlantic, Grand Street, Agni Review, Yankee, and many other magazines, and anthologized in The O'Henry Awards, Best American Nonrequired Reading, the Grand Street Reader and others.

Recently I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I'm reading Maurice Maeterlinck's The Life of the Ant-- to a fiction writer who is fascinated with everyday human life, this study of everyday insect life is riveting and strangely moving. Maeterlinck describes the goings on in an ant community with such interest and respect he might as well be speaking of human society. The larvae are "not unlike Egyptian mummies in their coffins of sycamore, with gilded masks;" the fertilized female "discards her four wings, which fall at her feet like a wedding-gown at the close of the feast," and the foundation of a new colony is "one of the most pathetic and heroic episodes of insect life."

I am always, always looking for fiction that has the true feel of life--and I think the true feel of life is often the combination of pathos and heroism. It is so surprising and exciting when an author gets something just right-- the moment in Anna Karenina when Levin taps out the cadence of 'Will you marry me' on the table, because he's so afraid Kitty will reject him that he can't dare speak the words. Or, in Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son, the deep satisfaction of two junkies who've spent the day pulling copper wiring from an abandoned house: "Usually we felt guilty and frightened, because there was something wrong with us and we didn't know what it was; but today we had the feeling of men who had worked." John Cheever could barely spill a drop of ink without giving that full sense of life. Introducing The Stories of John Cheever, he wrote: "These stories seem at times to be stories of a long-lost world when the city of New York was still filled with a river light, when you heard the Benny Goodman quartets from a radio in the corner stationery store, and when almost everybody wore a hat." It's that sense of a place and the people in it, the charmed moment that is beautiful in part because it has already passed, that first made me want to take up the heroic and pathetic task of writing fiction.
Visit Heidi Jon Schmidt's website.

--Marshal Zeringue