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Wesley Stace

A Conversation with Wesley Stace

Puremusic: You're home in Brooklyn?

Wesley Stace: I am.

PM: How long have you lived there?

WS: Oh, in Brooklyn since about 2001.

PM: How do you like it?

WS: I like it a lot. But actually, I just moved in over a year ago into a new house, which we bought. And so it feels a lot more permanent than anywhere I've lived.

PM: I'm very fond of Brooklyn. I'm from New York myself.

So, I'd love to talk about the book, first, if that's okay.

WS: Uh-huh.

PM: I loved this book.

WS: Thanks.

PM: It's been categorized as a pot-boiler and a bodice ripper and all of that--

WS: [laughs] Well, I'm afraid I characterized it as a bodice ripper--

PM: Did you?

WS: --just because, A, I like the phrase, and B, I like the idea that the guy was in the bodice.

PM: [laughs] Now that you say that, I've warmed up to the phrase.

WS: I mean, it's been called all kinds of nice things. But although there were definitely pot-boilery elements to it, personally I don't think "romp" is a good word for it.

PM: I don't think so either. I just think it's too--well, forgive the term, but it's too sensitive a book. It's a lovely book. There are many layers to it and I think it's just a lot more complex a book than "pot-boiler" or "romp" really suggest.

WS:  There are a lot of plots in my book and you just don't get a lot of plots in novels anymore. In fact, to modern taste, that probably makes it look rather old-fashioned.

PM: It has that sort of feeling of a period piece. But, I think, one thing that makes all the plot twists and the layers really accessible is the language you used. Although I don't think it's at all inappropriate to the period, it's very accessible to the modern ear, I have to say.

WS: I decided very early on that I would call a spade a spade, and more particularly, a carriage a carriage, rather than brougham or landau. There are funny words and old words in my book, but generally they're used to show that a character is like that or to show a pretentiousness, or a comedy about the character or something. So I tried to be sparing with them, but to use them effectively when I did. I wanted to write basically a modern novel that happened to be set in the past. People calling Misfortune a "gender-bender" and all that stuff, it's fine. But to me I just wanted to write a coming-of-age novel. Since I've never actually done it myself.

PM: Right. Yeah, it's really fun to explore things that we know nothing about, isn't it?

WS: [laughs] But I'm glad you enjoyed it so much. That's terrific.

PM: I really did. Your main character, Rose, is a male, raised as a female.

WS: Yes.

PM: And once you decided to find out who this character was--and we'll talk a bit, in a minute, about how you decided to write this book--but once you decided to pursue Rose's story, how did you get into his/her head? I mean, he/she is such a beautifully realized person both as a woman and as a man. I mean, how did you do that?  Were you writing yourself, in a sense, and drew on both your male and female sides?

WS: I did what novelists do, which is that you do a healthy bit of throwing voices into characters and, through their words and thoughts, try to make them real. Of all the men in the world, on the scale of complete macho-ness being ten, to complete effeminacy being minus ten, I would say I'm somewhere the negative side of zero.

PM: Oh, okay. So, like minus 2 db or something?

WS: Well, you know, I like my bathroom products.

PM: [laughs] You groom.

WS: I do. Some of that stuff, I think, is genuinely coming out of having grown up as I did, in a house full of women, grandmothers, sisters and mothers. In a very, very silly and simple way, I think I am fairly in touch with my female side.

PM: Does being a singer/songwriter, to some extent, require that you have to sort of draw on both sides?

WS: I've felt that I've had to do it much more in this novel. It took me six years, and I'm so much closer to it than any one of my songs, by far. I mean, how could you not be closer to something that took you six years, as opposed to six days or six hours to complete it?

PM: Sure.

WS: But I really let the characters write themselves. Rose and her friends and her lovers and her enemies--I really tried to let them just write themselves.   continue

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