Interview: Michelle Augello-Page
Michelle Augello-Page’s story “The Kiss” is an original fairy tale with artistic and mythological influence. It’s the type of story I come back to again and again for its subtlety and depth. I’m delighted Michelle took the time to explain her inspiration for this lovely tale.
Describe the basic premise for your story.
“The Kiss” is an experimental and original fairy tale which centers on the encounter between a man who is a shape shifter, and a woman who is lost. Conceptually it is a story about body and sexuality, steeped in the non-verbal core of dreams, eroticism, and breath. I consider my story akin to the negative image of a photograph; basic story and plot elements of a fairy tale stripped bare and turned upside down. This is literally reflected beginning the story with “and they lived happily ever after”, and ending it with “once upon a time”. I also experimented with the way the story was told. I attempted to mirror the pleasures of the flesh and convey through language what is communicated almost solely through body and mind, an experience heavily based in the primal, in call and response, through the senses, and all the states of consciousness, and filtered through fragments of memories, experiences, and flights of imagination.
Did you have any particular inspiration for your original fairy tale?
I was inspired by the artwork of Gustav Klimt, in particular; Danae, Medizin, and The Kiss. These paintings are highlighted in different areas of the story and were used to frame certain scenes. Towards the end of the story, I described the painting of The Kiss in detail: “He caught her in his embrace and held her so close, so completely, their bodies entwined in glistening gold. There was only a moment; he reached for her tranquil face, upturned and angled, and strained his neck and shoulder to place upon her cheek a kiss.” This homage to Klimt’s work is also a functional part of the story, in which the characters inhabit a space without language, steeped in image, a snap-shot of being fully present before the spell is broken.
The other inspiration for this story was the Greek myth of Danae. Danae was locked in a tower by her father. It was foretold that she would bear a son (Perseus) who would in turn kill his grandfather, Danae’s father. Her father locked her away basically so she wouldn’t get pregnant. Nevertheless, Zeus happened upon Danae, and wanted her so much, he came through the shafts of light through the window in a shower of gold. This way, he inhabited her. She gave birth to Perseus, who did indeed kill his grandfather and found fame as the one who beheaded Medusa. Danae retired to the folds of mythology as Perseus’s mother, and the beauty who was impregnated by Zeus in the form of a “golden shower.”
This myth is resonant in the story in many ways; it served as some background for the character of Danae, and the connection/disconnection of the father who bound her in some way. Also, this character connects with, if not a god, then a supernatural being. This myth is also mirrored in the painting Danae by Klimt, a celebration of sensuality and sexuality, embodying and evoking an erotic response through non-verbal image.
What do you think makes your story a fairy tale? How does it fit into the genre? Why do you think erotic fairy tales are so popular right now?
My story is a fairy tale by both the nature of the tale and the plot elements that constitute a fairy tale. Fairy tales are set in an alternate reality, where fiction is real, and the lie is truth. There is a certain suspension of belief that occurs in fairy tales; we believe that there is a wolf in the bed when Little Red Riding Hood comes to visit grandmother. In reality, such a thing would be too impossible to believe. But we understand the wolf in the fairy tale, not in the literal sense, but the wolf as a symbol, and all that represents. We understand that, as surely as we understand the phrase “a wolf in sheep’s clothing”. It is language telling something essential, infused with metaphor.
Fairy tales are a way of teaching children how to work out issues, about showing them alternate paths, and allowing them fancies of the imagination and the certain pleasure derived from language and from reading and being told a story. An important aspect to fairy tales is the multilayered effect of the tale, which allows one to re-read any number of written tales with the basic parameters of one story. This is a very interesting way to tell stories, and features mostly in fairy tales, mythology, and folklore. The fairy tale is something flexible and organic, encouraging a continued re-visitation of the text, which should change in response to evolving perceptions of the self and the world.
“The Uses of Enchantment” by Bruno Bettelheim is an excellent book for those interested in the deep meaning and importance of fairy tales through a psychoanalytic lens. Fairy tales are written for children in our modern times, though we all know the Brothers Grimm and that fairy tales were often told to adults and have been sanitized for exclusive use in the realm of childhood. Therefore, in our present time, adults outgrow fairy tales.
I think that erotic fairy tales are popular because they are a place for adults to revisit the basic elements of the fairy tale story with adult content. The adult content still allows for the adult reader to connect with the tale, as a place to work out some of the mysteries and subtleties of our human experience. Sex is extremely mysterious. There exists an entire literature devoted to comprehending sex and even this falls short of tapping into fully understanding the sexual experience. So, it seems natural that we would turn to erotic fairy tales, and be interested in stories that work out certain issues, show us alternate paths, and allow fancies of the imagination, through language and the creative mental process of reading.
What is your writing routine like? What do you enjoy reading? What’s next for you?
My writing routine has always varied, because it is based on mostly external factors. Time is the biggest factor. Having a full-time job and a family, I write when I can, which makes for a rather erratic schedule. I enjoy writing during the night, when the house is asleep and the world quiet. But I also love writing in the day, when the sun is bright and everything is awake and alive.
I write in different genres, so there are many different threads I can pick up, depending on the amount of time I have. I usually draft poems and story ideas, revise, and edit in short but focused periods. Long stretches of time are mostly spent developing stories and poems and doing research. I prefer to type my creative writing, but I write longhand in a journal each day.
Perhaps some parts of my writing routine have seemingly nothing to do with the act of actually writing anything. I read a lot. I know that affects my writing. I read a wide variety of genres. One of my favorite things to do is to go to local library book sales and pick up a random selection of interesting books to read.
I like reading vastly different genres, mostly because I am ridiculously in love with language and am interested in the transmission of thought and creativity in a multitude of ways. I tend to read a lot of non-fiction, especially books on psychology, philosophy, and science. I also read a good deal of fiction, short stories, poetry. I like stories that are different and provoke thought, that really promote creative thinking, and flirt with the nuances and receptions of language. Nabakov, Adrienne Rich, Amiri Baraka, Audre Lorde. Lovecraft, Jung, Madeline L’Engle. I like books that encourage imagination, growth and reflection.
What’s next for me? I am always publishing poetry and short stories in a very seemingly random sort of way. I am at work on a collection of short gothic tales, which will be finished in 2010, and I am also at work on an evolving collection of poetry.