Sarah Selecky’s new novel, Radiant Shimmering Light(2018), proves again, Barbara Gowdy says, that Selecky, “is a writer perfectly attuned to the music of the present moment.”
Interview by Margaret Laxton
ML: There are a number of powerful sayings in your novel such as:
“Do no more than three things a day.“
“Create before you consume.”
“Courage is action in the face of fear.”
“Let yourself want what you want.”
Do these sayings apply to your own writing practice and life? Are there any which
you wouldn’t adopt?
Sarah Selecky: These are all excellent mantras! Can you imagine how great it would be if we could live them all every day? They’re also excellent reminders for anyone who’s writing a novel: “Create before you consume” (write before checking email); “Dance about it” (when you don’t know what to write next, moving your body can be extremely helpful); “Courage is action in the face of fear” (feel the fear and write it anyway).
ML: The juxtaposition of auras, light, and colour is dominant throughout the novel, especially at the end when Lilian comes into her full powers.
Is it possible that artists and writers do have heightened sensual experiences that they can incorporate into their creative processes?
SS: Day to day living can distract all of us from the richness that’s available in each moment. I like to take my writing students through exercises that bring them into a state of deep noticing, so they can write great scenes with real sensory details. I don’t know if artists have a greater capacity for sensual experiences than anyone else. Perhaps because of the nature of their work, they give more time in their day to slow down and clear distractions so they can take in those details.
An interesting note: people with synesthesia are eight times as likely to work in a creative field. Pharrell Williams, Tori Amos, and Vladimir Nabokov are all artists who share this trait (they can see words as colour, or hear sound as light). So maybe there’s something special happening there.
ML: The charismatic and creative women that we meet throughout the novel all have a strong media presence. Is it possible in today’s world to be a successful writer or artist, as in Lilian’s case, without that online audience?
SS: I was at a conference this year and writers on panels were all saying, “If you’re a writer, you must be on Twitter.” I’m not on Twitter. I don’t like crowded parties, either — too many people talking at once.
The way I see it is: if you like being on Instagram, then your presence on Instagram will help you find your audience. If you don’t like being on Instagram, then being on it isn’t going to help you with anything, except feeling resentful about the time you spend there.
I tell my students, be a charged particle in your atmosphere.
Make your creative work your priority — being connected to your work is what makes you sparkle. For writers, stop worrying about publication, or your Twitter following, and start reading more books, going to festivals, readings and panel discussions. Attend workshops and apply to retreats. Be generous: post comments on writing websites and blogs; write thank you notes to authors; read your stories at open mics; have discussions with writers you admire. Feel in love with your connection to your work, wherever you go — be it online or off.
ML: In some ways your novel seems to mock the growing trend, especially amongst women, to slavishly follow lifestyle gurus and bloggers. Characters like Eleven and Jonathan make no pretense of being successful entrepreneurs.There is something rather pathetic about the actions of their followers who are willing to spend enormous amounts of money to attend their lifestyle seminars and to buy their online products.
Has self-esteem and self-reliance waned to the extent that identifying with lifestyle leaders and their brands is needed to attain a fully realized life?
SS: Is there anything more human than longing for connection? It’s not pathetic to want to belong, to feel happy, creative and connected.
A feeling of real, in-person community right now is extremely valuable, because we are starved for connection. In times of crisis or anxiety, self-reliance only goes so far. Human beings come together because we feel better when we aren’t alone. I think there are compassionate lifestyle gurus and spiritual leaders out there who have started to sense this deep need, and they’re trying to help. It’s no wonder that so many people are responding to their offers.
The more interesting question is, what happens to intimacy, self-actualization and spirituality when it becomes commodified? Can we imagine alternative ways, perhaps somewhere between capitalism and socialism, to help people feel connected and fulfilled?
ML: On your website, wwwsarahselecky.com, you advise emerging writers to
“Write What You Want to Read.”
What writers have influenced your practice? Are there any that you consciously or unconsciously emulate?
SS: I wanted this book to be filled with wonder and light, and to do that, I needed to access awe and mystery in my own process. I found myself drawn to books that went beyond realism and into the magic realm. Ruth Ozeki’s Tale for the Time Being was an influence. In an interview, Ozeki described how challenged she was when writing the magical parts of that story — it felt like there was a wall separating her from it. She said that she was advised by Karen Joy Fowler to just write through the wall. This advice helped me, too.
Karen Joy Fowler’s writing has always been an inspiration to me. I love that she writes whatever she wants, in whatever genre she wants, and doesn’t box herself in by external expectations. She writes what she wants to read! Other writers I went to for sustenance while writing this novel: Neil Gaiman, George Saunders, and Francesca Lia Block. I re-read The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe a few times, too, to experience the feeling of wonder I felt as a young reader.