Monday, October 5, 2020

TBR: Abjectification: Stories & Truths by C. Kubasta

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?


These stories are about intimacy and isolation; desire haunts and animates the characters. In trying to find connection, but maintain safety, and a sense of self, they tread dangerous ground. Sometimes saucy, sometimes uncanny, occasionally horrific, the narratives lead to the Terrible Place: close quarters and intimate conflict in sites of past trauma that determine the future. 


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


There are two stories I find myself thinking about over and over, “Freak Show” and “Boundaries.” In “Freak Show,” the couple Meghan and Jeff are trying to make a relationship separate from their pasts and the people they were in their small town – but they can’t. Distrust keeps showing up, a third wheel: as Meghan remakes her body, and offers forgiveness, Jeff can’t accept love-without-strings, or put his father’s “wisdom” out of his head. He imagines his girlfriend as monstrous, trying to consume him. In Jeff, I see a man caught in a trap – made by his father, patriarchal religion, himself – and he resents the woman trying to help free him, because he can’t free himself. I don’t know if writing this story gave me trouble, but it troubles me.


In “Boundaries,” I drew on many people I loved – from college days, and then seeing them again recently. I wanted to capture the feeling of sisterhood, and togetherness, and then break that in the story with all kinds of intrusions: people who don’t understand those bonds, and a supernatural force. Writing that story, I got to imagine the power of those relationships, and the kinds of violence it would take to destroy them. That sounds like a strange kind of pleasure – but writing about that destruction I knew what those whole things (people, and relationships) really meant to me.


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


My previous books have been poetry, and short novels – so a collection of stories was a little different. I would have liked to get a few more stories published before the book came out, but there wasn’t much time. Also, because some of the stories have some rather sexy bits, I’m a little less sure how to promote and share – (should I block my mother?) – (what about co-workers?) . . .


But this is my second book with Apprentice House, a student-run publishing house at Loyola Maryland, and it’s been a wonderful experience. As a teacher myself, I care deeply about giving students this hands-on practice with books & publishing, and they are wonderfully responsive. In particular, I LOVE my book cover! We worked together on ideas, and they found this very cool photography studio out of Finland with a modern take on a vintage cabinet card. Working with Apprentice House has definitely been a high.


What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?


I just read a tweet that had a Creative Non-Fiction prompt: Write about the day your childhood ended. Ouch. I’m not ready for that yet, but I do recommend writing what scares you, what you think you can’t write, about the thing you think you’d never be able to read aloud . . . and all that. We need to write about things that matter, and our writing should scare us.


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


When I went back to look at my stories, listing themes and images, trying to think about structure, I was surprised how many featured dead mothers/ghost mothers/absent mothers . . . my mother is very much alive, and we’re good. I’ve also had many mother-like figures who have loved me and mentored me –smart, strong women in my life. (Maybe this is something I should talk to a therapist about . . .) Perhaps what I fear is the missing mother, or the mother who is there but not there – or, like the mother in “Hand-Me-Down” the mother who is dead, but refuses to be erased. As a non-mother myself, it’s interesting to me how often this mother-imagery comes up, and one reason I was interested in the idea of the “abject” in the book.


How did you find the title of your book?


My friend Jennifer and I were going back and forth about the title for the first story (now called “Morning After”) and I mentioned the idea of “Abjectification” – combining the theory of the Abject (from horror) with objectification. In that story, the unnamed woman wakes up under a bed, unsure how she got there, and sees herself – or someone who looks identical – being dragged unconscious down the hall, as a victim. They are wearing the same clothes, but the victim-self is bruised, bloodied. Time splits. I wanted to capture that moment of dislocation – being the self who sees herself as victim, but also wants to survive and disown the body being dragged down the hall. I said “Abjectification” was probably “too wonky” and “too academic.” But she (and to be fair, she’s kinda picky) liked it. And now I love it – it’s weird and original, and suggests all the things I want.


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


At the beginning of the final story, “Boundaries,” the group is grilling out – they’ve been day-drinking, and it’s idyllic. Mid-summer in the Adirondacks. Before Sarah’s migraine begins to throb, before Kevin disappears, before the rest head into town to find cell service, and are told they shouldn’t be there – that those “are bad woods.” So if you want a delicious meal before things spin out of control . . .

 Center-cut salmon filet

Thinly-sliced red onion

Thinly-sliced citrus (whatever, but clementines, blood oranges, lemon are good)

Salt & Pepper



~Arrange salmon on tin foil, sprinkle with S&P, layer with onion & citrus, douse with            EVOO

~Fold tin foil over top, tenting

~Place on grill and cook to desired doneness

~Serve with tossed green salad, and crusty bread + lots of wine

~Lock the door, and whatever you do, don’t separate from the group







“Bluebeard’s Wife”

“Treasure Hunt”




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