Fantastically Strange: A Talk with Karen Russell and A.M. Homes

by Sean Campbell

At the Brooklyn Book Festival, the line went out the door and around the corner to get into The Fantastic and the Strange, a reading and talk with Manuel Gonzales (The Miniature Wife), Karen Russell (Vampires in the Lemon Grove), and A.M. Homes (The Safety of Objects) and moderated by Halimah Marcus, co-editor of Electric Literature. Manuel Gonzales couldn’t make it, and he was missed, but Karen and A.M. were well worth the price of admission (even though, like all Book Festival events, this was a free event.)

Below is a synopsis of the discussion — in the interest of brevity, the questions have been paraphrased, the answers have not.

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What strange thing have you written that you thought you just weren’t going to get away with?

Karen Russell: Do I never not feel that way?

A.M. Homes: For me, with fiction, I’m trying to reach a heightened sense of reality. I kind of go to the outside edges of what’s plausible. Otherwise, why am I going to ask you to stop what you’re doing and read this story if it is just a document of everyday life?

How about fitting to the logic of a story and using the audience’s imagination as a tool?

KR: I think [when writing a story] you’re trying to find a register where the truth is not just in the story… You want to engineer this impossible architecture and that is what’s going to be possible in this place. It’s not just putting wolves in pants.

AH: I start with the question of who is the least likely character. It lets me look at the story from a different perspective and crack it open.

Doesn’t technology make our lives strange?

AH: I’m fascinated by science, stuff like 3-D printing. In Princeton they even printed an ear. Technology has changed the way we’re thinking, the way we’re living.

KR: If I didn’t have stories to read, I feel like something would be lost. Stories slow things down. Everything now is just so chaotic.

What inspires your strange side?

AH: Strange side?

KR: I know, as if there was another one.

OK, how about your research when writing? How do you go about making things seem real?

AH: If it’s something I don’t already know, I have to know a lot about it in order to write about it with authority. I need to know more than what I will use to be clear about what I am thinking. My most fantastical elements are the most grounded and logical; they don’t come from nowhere.

What about your concepts, how do you make them work?

KR: I have many concepts that never take on their own life. The constraints just don’t let it work… It’s sort of like love. It’ll either happen or it won’t. Either there is some chemistry that will ignite, or not.

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