Monday, July 15, 2019

TBR: A Girl Goes into the Forest by Peg Alford Pursell

TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe! 

Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?

A Girl Goes into the Forest is a collection of hybrid stories and fables that examine the mythos of the American girl. Immersing readers in forests both literal and metaphorical, this book illuminates love and loss by exploring the complex desires, contradictions, and sorrows of daughters, wives, mothers, and those who love them.

Which story did you most enjoy writing? Why? And, which story gave you the most trouble, and why?

“Goodbye, Roller Coaster” was one of those rare stories that wrote itself, the first draft, that is. The experience of transcribing what comes out of nowhere and then later reading and taking it in, is one of those fundamental pleasures: to see a momentary texture of one’s mind. In contrast, “You Can Do Anything” was a story that I grappled with for ages. I wanted to get across the emotional pain and suffering underlying the fussy, cautious, and controlling nature of the male protagonist, to make him if not lovable at least relatable, and I found this challenging to the degree that I wanted to give up on him—but I couldn’t.

Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.

There’s been a straightforward path to publication that’s been singular and wonderful. I wanted to publish A Girl Goes into the Forest with Dzanc, and showed the manuscript only to that publisher, who quickly read and accepted it, to my profound pleasure. My publisher has been beautifully supportive and I couldn’t be happier. It’s been a realization of a dream, and I know how lucky I am.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

One of my mentors, Kevin McIlvoy, once spoke of how necessary it is to have more than one writing project going at any given time, and while he might not think of that as advice, I took that idea in and it’s served me well. With all of the activities and work that go into supporting a book as it makes its way out in the world, I need to have the making of art to return to, to keep me grounded in what’s most important. Having projects underway to turn to is a lot like picking up the partially knit sweater to work on without having to plan—what should I make: scarf, hat, other? What kind of yarn, what color, what gauge needle, and so on. The story is there, begun, waiting for me to pick it up.

My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?

Initially, once I understood that I was writing about the mythos of the American girl in our patriarchal system, I was surprised to find seeping into the book stories about the damage done to boys in this destructive system. That’s what led, I believe, albeit unconsciously, to my incorporation of lines from Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” to structure the book.

How did you find the title of your book?

I wish I had a good story to tell about how I came to the title, but I don’t recollect that part of the process, and perhaps it was a deeply submerged process. I can say only that when it came to me, I couldn’t let it go. I liked that it shared a similarity to jokes that begin like so: “A dog walks into a bar . . .” This was pleasurable because of that implicit lightness and the playfulness since, of course, there is also the shadow of that playfulness implicit in the act of a girl going into any forest. We’ve all internalized the dangers of “Little Red Riding Hood,” for example: According to an article published in the Smithsonian Magazine that discusses how scientists used phylogenic methods normally reserved for studying the origins of species to analyze the tale, there exist at least 58 versions of similarly themed stories around the world, from Japan to Africa to Korea.

Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes I might share?)

It turns out that even when I think I’m not thinking much about food in this book, I’m thinking of food! There’s fudge with marshmallow and nuts, there’s roast beef, a cake with pink frosting, gingerbread man cookies, tomatoes, apples, hazelnuts, margaritas, key lime pie, smoothies, white Russians, vegetable soup. The story “Confection” centers on lemon sherbet, so here’s a recipe:



READ A STORY, “A Girl Goes into a Forest”:


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.