Lidia Yuknavitch (author of The Chronology of Water, pictured above) and Vanessa Veselka (author of Zazen) had a conversation for The Believer on the subject of writing angry female characters. Part 1.
VANESSA VESELKA: Mary Shelley is interesting because she chooses to put the violent territories of her psyche in, not only a male body, but a potpourri of graveyard finds. Do you think that distance from the female body give her the freedom to write Frankenstein?
LIDIA YUKNAVITCH: I’ve always connected Shelley’s story of Frankenstein to her mother’s feminism and death and her own experiences with childbirth and childdeath and fears around reproduction, so I don’t read the monster in Frankensteinas an archetypal male. I read it as something of a third term in gender.
VV: But in general, I think you would agree the terrain afforded a man regarding anger and horror is far more complex, and that Shelley takes advantage of that. Art is created through tension, and the stereotypes that exist offer plenty of opportunities for tension. If we choose to consciously ‘play against type’ as writers, does that mean we, as women, actually have an artistic edge in writing about rage?
LY: Yeah, I think we do have an edge in terms of creating, but not in terms of the market. Like, I have an unfinished book based on Eve’s rage: where’d it go? when she was informed she’d fucked humanity with original sin.
VV: One of the things I had to fight in writing Zazen was eroticizing Della’s rage. I remember telling my agent—who didn’t stick around—that I wasn’t writing the Laura Tomb Raider version of Della. There’s this adolescent boy desire for a female superhero, something like Thor with boobs—but I wasn’t feeling the need.
LY: The agent who almost liked me told me to take out the violence in my memoir. My answer was: then who the hell’s story am I telling?
VV: I wish I had an organizational strategy to have artists ‘occupy’ the market and its structures, but I left union organizing because I couldn’t take the hate any longer. The truth is, I can’t handle my own rage. So while I’m bitching about how the world isn’t ready for representations of angry women, I have to admit that I’m not ready for it.
LY: Yeah I know. I feel that way, too. Somewhere along the line I gave up on the “occupy the market” energy. I scratch at it from its edges but that’s pretty impotent. However, what I can do is write it. I can print it when other people write it. I can get it into the hands of other people. I can teach it. The repossession by women of our bodies will bring far more essential change to human society than the seizing of the means of production of workers. It’s like that Adrienne Rich quote: “The worker can unionize, go out on strike; mothers are divided from each other in homes, tied to their children by compassionate bonds; our wildcat strikes have most often taken the form of physical or mental breakdown.”