I miss the quick jaggedness of my beloved Ithaca, NY. I miss snow and sleet and sliding off the road into ditches and waiting for the tow truck while my nose freezes off. I miss old hippie ladies with long gray braids standing on street corners with sandwich boards proclaiming love.
Rebecca Epstein, author of When We Were Stardust, is twenty-six years old, blonde, then brunette, then blonde again. Then brunette. She grew up in New York and is now getting her fiction MFA in Tucson, Arizona — a very dry, very warm, very languid sort of place. She lives with one parrot, one female dog who lifts her leg to pee, and one male dog who does not. She also has this old guy with enormous wings who hangs out in the chicken coop in her backyard, and sometimes she throws rocks at him.
Rebecca has been published in The Sycamore Review and Arts & Letters, won the 2006 Silent Voices Short Story Award, the University of Arizona’s Beverly Rogers Fellowship, and this year is nominated by her MFA program for the Best New American Voices award.
If not yourself, who would you be?
1995 Rebecca, so I could give up all that neuropsychology stuff and start writing at a much earlier age. Or Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I want to be the one who introduced the world to the most kickass genre.
Your favorite painters and composers/musical artists?
Painter: Roberto Matta. In addition to being born on 11/11/11, his paintings are amazing. Light streams from them. They are very sexual, but in a latent way. Only a sexual person would even notice it. Ahem.
Musical Artist: Emily Haines, and her band, Metric. Peppy, punky, husky goodness.
Your favorite historical era?
I hate history. So boring. My favorite era is the distant future. Not the near future, with its flying cars and teleportation, but the distant future, a hundred thousand years from now, when we have evolved into stalks of carbon: telepathic, almost-bodiless creatures that get energy from the sun and are in a constant state of orgasm.
What natural talent would you like to have that you don’t?
Singing. I used to be a dancer, and sometimes I signed up for the school plays. But dancers couldn’t just be dancers. They had to be characters, or be part of the chorus. I lip-synced, longing to be the lead character. If I could go back to 1995 me (this is Fantasy Magazine, after all), then I would also be able to sing.
Where do you get your ideas from?
Truth? I stalk people. I follow people down sidewalks and I stand in line at Starbucks. I sit alone in movie theaters. I watch old family movies.
My stories begin with characters, and my characters begin with the people I notice. Take my father, for instance: when I was a kid, he had a case full of vitamins from which he selected about two dozen to swallow every morning. And not with water or juice. Always, and I mean always, with hot coffee.
One time I stepped off the sidewalk and into a pothole and fell into the street gripping my sprained ankle and clenching my teeth in shock. A woman stood over me, watching. “Are you okay?” she asked. “I think I broke my ankle,” I groaned. “Okay,” she replied, and when I looked up again, she was gone. Who was she, and why did she walk away? Perhaps it was the pain, but I had thoughts of a secret organization of injury documenters. I’m still working on that one.
When I wake up in the mornings, before I go to pee or do anything, I stumble to the computer and, half asleep, type nonstop for ten minutes with my eyes closed. I dream a little, and it goes right onto the page. Often I write about the people I’ve seen (er, stalked). Then I open my eyes, read it over, and go to take a shower. In the shower, the ideas come together into characters. This is the fun part. I own soap crayons, and I write my ideas onto the shower walls. I write in shapes– When We Were Stardust is in the shape of the NYC skyline. Other stories are in shapes like a birdcage, a spiral, etc. I’m the only one who can see it, but I trace the stories out with my soap crayons. You should see my bathroom. Lots of brightly colored nonsense, there.
Tell me a little about When We Were Stardust. What was the first image or phrase or impetus that made you sit down and spin it out?
Strangely enough, When We Were Stardust was not born from stalking or shower musings. I was listening to a song called The Maid Needs a Maid by Emily Haines, and she sang the line, “You’ll put on the fire, draw the bath and remind me to eat” and the words tethered themselves to me. I imagined a thin, enfeebled woman so devastated–by something big and slightly outside of the scene–that she required the care of a man. The story spun itself out from there. Why the particulars of the story came to be, especially the reincarnation elements, I don’t know. The joy is in the not knowing.
Can I have your autograph?
Sorry, I don’t give autographs.
Do you have any other questions for Rebecca? (Like where to find soap crayons?) Ask them here, or comment on her story.