Sunday, March 15, 2020

Susann Cokal

Susann Cokal is a moody historical novelist, a pop-culture essayist, book critic, magazine editor, and sometime professor of creative writing and modern literature. She lives in a creepy old farmhouse in Richmond, Virginia, with seven cats, a big dog, a spouse, and some peacocks that supposedly belong to a neighbor.

Cokal's first young adult novel, The Kingdom of Little Wounds, received several national awards, including a silver medal from the American Library Association's Michael L. Printz Award series. Her books for adults, Mirabilis and Breath and Bones, received some nice notice too.

Cokal's new novel is Mermaid Moon.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply: 
I tend to read several books at once, as I suppose we all do—for pleasure and for research, and for adults and teens. I keep different ones in different rooms so I always have something to pick up and read. The living room has mostly light reads, though I’ll read for research there too; there’s a lot of cultural history in my little study / writing room; and in the bedroom I have novels all over. It’s almost literally what’s called a memory palace, in that I compartmentalize genres and topics so they’re associated with specific points in space. It helps my brain click into the storylines or research lines (and a post-concussive brain needs all the help it can get to keep ideas organized).

By the way, I used literally in the correct sense above.

When I’m in a state of urgent, giddy amour fou with a particular book, I carry it everywhere. I can dip in when I get a chance, or I just have it with me so I can derive comfort like a child with a blanket, or a lover with a lock of hair. When I can, I’ll read it without a pause for breath or bathroom all in a rush. That happened to me most recently with Nick Hornby’s Juliet, Naked, which is a wonderfully funny, wistful, hopeful book about second chances and reasons to live. Loved it. Read and reread it and some of his others in that full flush of in-love-ness. Also watched the movie; Rose Byrne is so good as Annie.

Right now I’m enamored of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, which is wickedly clever and offers a few manifestos for women in and out of relationships—although they admittedly come through a problematic character, the Gone Girl herself. I flagged her sections on the trope of the Cool Girl in modern dating. Dead on. (I was single for many, many, many years, now miraculously happy in marriage.) She inspired me to eat a Moon Pie because it’s one of the things Cool Girls do to show they’re fun to hang around with—one of the things she says are actually pleasurable. And it was pretty good.

My next fiction reads, in their order in my bedside stack—all of them begun, all of them great for different reasons, just waiting for Gone Girl to go to her end—Lucky Broken Girl, by Ruth Behar (has a wonderful sense of how it feels to be incapacitated by injury); Downtown, a Betsy-Tacy story by Maud Hart Lovelace (a signed copy I bought myself for my birthday); I, Claudia, by Mary McCoy (interesting re-telling of I, Claudius in a gossipy high school). I’m also excited about Andrew Sean Greer’s Less and (Guilty pleasure? Not guilty!) Judith Krantz’s memoirs. Her novels were the ones we passed around secretly in high school, and I do love a good writerly memoir.

And for research, I’m reading for two projects. First I’ll mention Women in Frankish Society. It may be almost as dry as it sounds, but it’s also fascinating. I don’t know that much about the Dark Ages (yet), but I’ve long been intrigued by the legend of Saint Radegonde and the Grand’Goule, a dragon that terrorized Poitiers, France, and its nuns. I studied in Poitiers for a year in college, and I’m finally writing a novel about the place and the Goule.

For a different novel, I’m reading about Los Alamos and the Cold War. That’s the town and era in which I went to high school, and the terror I felt about living in the town that invented the Atomic Bomb and kept the arms race going was palpable, like my terror about climate change now. I can get the experience of going to high school there down because I have a good memory, but for some historical information I’m researching my own teen years. So, naturally, Trinity’s Children: Living Along America’s Nuclear Highway, by Ted Bartimus and Scott McCartney; Full Body Burden, by Kristen Iversen; and The Valley Girl’s Guide to Life, because in the midst of Cold War terrors there was that faddish embrace of vapidity. And every story needs some vapor.

So there’s almost half my stack and I’ve exceeded my space limit.
Visit Susann Cokal's website.

The Page 69 Test: Mermaid Moon.

My Book, The Movie: Mermaid Moon.

--Marshal Zeringue