ABP– Thank you for taking this interview, Stephanie. Six months ago Alien Buddha Press had the privilege of releasing “Big Headed Anna Imagines Herself”, A tantalizing, and folksy collection of canonical flash fiction. What can you tell us about your process in writing that book, and how you feel about it today?
SED- I’d written a hybrid fiction collection entitled The Emily Fables and liked the flash form and the ability to command that small space. In a world of chaos and random circumstance, there is little control the individual can stake out and claim. Interestingly to me I did not know of the existence of my great aunt Anna until shortly before my mother’s death. Apparently, my pregnant great-grandmother was kicked in the stomach by the cow she was milking and gave birth to a baby with a large head. Anna wore a big hat, never left her parents’ home, and died young. I envisioned a different big-headed Anna, a strong-bodied and stronger willed woman, wandering the southern United States in the early 20th century, a drifter.
ABP- As a New Yorker, what are some of the places in the city that spark your creativity?
SED- The Manhattan streets that empty on holidays become magical. All of the city streets are writeable as each offers a unique vision of reality—streets with a thousand thousand pasts. The Diamond District, Hell’s Kitchen, Times Square, the old Garment District, the West Side Highway. Amsterdam Avenue, Harlem, Inwood, Tribeca, Alphabet City. My neighborhood in the East Village appears slightly shabby in places and glass-and-chrome in others; the coffee culture thrives next to homeless encampments. From the Astor Street subway station, you pass the Cooper Triangle, a tiny, geometric-shaped park, once cobblestones and a few bedraggled trees shading benches filled by the destitute, now improved to include a big heaping helping of concrete. The homeless mark the sidewalks wherever there is a construction overhang. Since I live so close to the edge and affordable housing no longer exists, I look upon these people as a possible future. I wonder at their stories and sometimes I make them up. Like the youngish pack of guys huddling over trash receptacles scrounging for cans. Like Goth musicians who’ve wandered off Saint Mark’s Place in their jackboots and piercings a decade ago and forgot their way back. Their dogs, big and mannish, sport blue bandanas. They camp on the sidewalks and more girls and more dogs join them. They are a kind of tribe and that fascinates me. On Second Avenue the languages begin: churn and roar of Bangladeshi dialects, Korean, French, and Spanish. Once a strongly Ukrainian and Polish neighborhood, the Ukrainian Museum and an Orthodox church are all that remain.
ABP– Who are some of your favorite fiction writers/ biggest inspirations?
SED- To list a few books that have been meaningful to me I’d start with Jean Rhys’ Voyage in the Dark, Sybille Bedford’s Jigsaw, Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood, Andrei Makine’s Memories of My Russian Summer, Rosalind Palermo Stevenson’s The Absent, Laurie Lee’s A Moment of War, Jill Hoffman’s Gates of Peal, and Charlotte Delbo’s Auschwitz and After. Delbo’s book contains incredible lyricism in a flash nonfiction format. These are books I re-read for their voice, their emotion, their intensity, and their beauty. There are many stellar plot-driven books I’ve read but could never re-read. I own hundreds and hundreds of books and I keep a number of books near my writing chair, i.e., my sacred texts. I’m presently reading Petersburg by Andrei Beli and it’s my breakfast book because the text requires a fresh mind. Industry of Souls is my subway book, thinner to fit the dimensions of my bag. Nights, I eat popcorn and read less concentrated books, often nonfiction, sometimes thrillers. Junk food for the eyes.
ABP– What can you tell us about your book Girl Behind the Door? (Rain Mountain Press 2017)
SED- Girl Behind the Door is a memoir about a woman being drawn back from New York City to the rural Iowa of her growing up when her mother’s mind begins to fail and dementia rears its head. While sitting a death watch in her mother’s assisted living facility Alzheimer’s Unit she lives again their shared past–the troubled relationship between a daughter and a single-parent mother. She catalogues her mother’s death process when the mind, body, and spirit must work together to die. She re-examines her teenage hitchhiking escapades that lead to the tragedy of her being shot. The book takes place in the late June lushness of Iowa, past and present.
ABP- How about Flashlight Girls Run? (New Meriden Arts 2017)
SED-The stories in Flashlight Girls Run were written as we entered new millennium America. The 20th century imploded and the first decade of the 21st century exploded. My characters, many of them young women, have already survived great traumas or are in the midst of the life-altering event that changes everything. There’s Jesusita who walks a tightrope between her husband blinded in Iraq and her father-in-law who has fallen in love with her; there’s Bonnie and Nick who are haunted by Afghanistan’s Korangal Valley and the illusive snow leopard who makes its home in the remote rocks above the fighting; and there’s Bethany, an Iowa girl home from her deployment and disabled who visits a tavern and sees her first love Moses sitting at the bar. Above the chaos is the fierce blue sky and hope for redemption.
ABP– What do you have planned for the rest of this year?
SED- I have been working for a number of years on a nonfiction work. On July 26, 2006, Jennifer Moore, age 18, was abducted after a night of underage drinking and taken by small-time pimp, Draymond Coleman, to a seedy Weehawken hotel room that he shared with his prostitute/girlfriend, 20-year-old Krystal Riordan. During the early morning hours, Jennifer was raped and strangled by Coleman, while Riordan looked on. The tabloids had a field day with the story—the underage girl/victim, a hooker, rape and murder. Fox News blamed the victim, pointing out Jennifer’s scanty attire as if a halter top had made the teen deserving of her rape. What should have been a teenage misadventure, an impulsive flirtation with the forbidden, led to ultimate consequences. And then there was the prostitute/girlfriend, Krystal Riordan, the sad-eyed girl who watched her boyfriend strangle Jennifer. Bloggers portrayed Draymond Coleman as a force of nature, bestial, hardly human and uninteresting, while they pilloried Krystal as if she were the murderer. I’d written Love Highway, a novel inspired by the crime, and Spuyten Duyvil published it. I sent the book to EMCF and since then I’ve carried on a lengthy correspondence with Krystal Riordan, who is serving a 30-year-sentence at the Edna Mahon Facility for Women in Clinton, New Jersey. I’m close to completing a hybrid non-fiction with fictional elements entitled Maximum Compound, focusing on Krystal’s prison world.