Susan Tepper:  “199_, What I Wanted” is one of your lushest, most luscious stories that I’ve read.   Immediately it brought to mind scenes from that film made of Proust’s “Swann in Love.”  You write place and details that seem to drip sensuality.  Bill, what was cooking in your mind when you started this story?

Bill Lantry:   The story only exists because of a prompt, which I saw as a chance to be absolutely honest about both desire and writing. Every word is true, I try to never make stuff up, we only call it “fiction” because the language fails us. And every piece of writing should give the reader a place to dwell, a chance to live within the writer’s space a few moments. And what should be there? Desire. Passion. Jouissance. A chance to commune with the other, and through that communion experience something much larger. And readers can tell if there’s anything false within that space, if something’s invented. It’s not that they’re trying to catch a misstep, it’s just that they won’t be able to enter into the shared experience. There would just be sex, instead of actual love making. “How do you want me?” “I want you just as you are!”

Susan: Ah, desire.  Totally. “… the leaves were covered in red dust…”  Then you go on to write: “the way vines try to reach up and curl around the outstretched branch.”  This enfolding of the natural world into the cloistered space of the bedroom and bed.  Tell us more about the bed.

Bill: She asked me to make that, exactly the way she asked me to write the poem.  To craft a place where we could be together. And it was built almost as an altar, elevated, a kind of sacred space. But above it, a strong frame  made of copper. Just like in Horace. But once I’d made it, she transformed it, hanging the jeweled curtains around the upper rails, so they cascaded down around us, enclosing us. Just like jouissance, it was a shared project. She made the space, I’d created hers.

Susan: And you say she hung translucent drapes made of lace and pearls around this bed-altar.  You say she always wanted to draw these drapes closed around them, though they hid nothing.  Why, if they hid nothing?  What did this act mean to her?

Bill: The creation of the symbolic, enclosed space is important, but at the same time peripheral. A way of foregrounding the frame, while backgrounding the essential. Yes, she draws the drapes closed, but they’re transparent. It’s very much like a sleeping circle, both there and not there. A defined enclosure which hides nothing. A place where the vortex can swirl into focus.

Susan: That’s fine.  But what did it mean to your character, in the most personal sense, in that scene, in her heart and body?

Bill: The closing of the drapes prepares for a kind of opening. Or rather, it provides a defined space in which she can open herself completely.  Ovid does the same thing, with nearly the same scene: “…For modest girls a reassuring shade, / Just the right sort of light, with curtains drawn…”

Susan: OK, now we’re getting somewhere.  After all, it was you who created this sexy-altar-bedroom place, dripping with lace and pearls and copper.  You placed these two characters in this dream-like Proustian, Swann so-in-love/lust setting.  No point in going all intellectual on us now.  Now that you got us into that bed with them.  We, your loyal readers.   We follow where you lead.  So this is how she gets ready for the sexual act.  OK.  Very nice.

But then, a while later, she is out of the bed, gone, in another space, and doesn’t want to return to their love making.  Until he writes her a poem.  I mean, isn’t that just a tad manipulative?   I wonder if Byron had to put up with that sort of thing?  What is her motive now?

Bill: OK, so, Swann. He takes the orchid out of her hair, and places it between her breasts. Then he gets intoxicated by the fragrance as he caresses her. That’s gorgeous, but not quite the same. And Byron was a little over-focused on Byron, if I can say that.

Yes, what she does is manipulative, but it is what *she* wants. She’s a bit of a changeling, she believes she can become what his words invoke. There’s an odd duality: the poem is about her, but also calls her into existence.

Susan: Yeah, Byron was definitely focused on Byron!  I’m laughing as I type this!

But to get back to your beautiful story.  There is a surreal quality to the characters, setting, motivations, all of it, for sure.  Yet you made it real enough so that we become engrossed, enrolled, enamored of them.  Frankly, I want to go there and lie on that lace draped bed and have him spoon honey into my mouth.  I want to see the light change in that room.

Last question:  Would he still want her if she was more pliant?

Bill: That’s perfect, your reaction, your desire to be there, on that bed, with honey spooned into your mouth, is exactly what I wanted. We need to make love to our readers.  I hope the reason it works is that the scene may seem surreal, but it’s the complete truth. Remember what Berryman said: “This did actually happen. This was so.” And Fowles:  “Whole sight, or all the rest is desolation.” Or even Vonnegut:  “All this happened, more or less.” The light does change, and she’s beautiful in that new light.

More pliant? It’s hard to imagine that. After all, she can become whatever I whisper, she can transform herself into anything, like Proteus. Like all of us, really.

Read 199_, What I Wanted” by Bill Lantry

Monday Chat is a bi-weekly series in which Susan Tepper has a conversation with a Fictionaut writer about one of his or her stories. Susan is Assistant Editor of Istanbul Literary Review, fiction editor of Wilderness House Literary Review, co-author of new novel What May Have Been, and hosts FIZZ, a reading series at KGB Bar.

  1. Gloria Mindock

    This was a wonderful chat. I enjoyed reading it so much.
    Congratulations Bill and Susan!

  2. Robert Vaughan

    Steamy hot. All I can say!

  3. susan tepper

    Thanks Gloria and Rob!
    Yes, Bill Lantry is one sssssssssmokin… hot writer

  4. Heather Fowler

    Wonderful! I LOVE this: “There’s an odd duality: the poem is about her, but also calls her into existence.” And how many times have I been that type of muse? Ah. Bill, you nail it there.

  5. Jen Knox

    Um. Wow. Awesome, intense interview. I loved the piece and here it is alive again. Thanks for this.

  6. James Robison

    “Girls should love as law allows,” said Ovid and Bill Lantry should be the legislator.

  7. estelle bruno

    such a wonderful chat. His story makes you wish for a love like that.

    Stars to you both

  8. J. Mykell Collinz

    Every word is true: lush and luscious writing, voice, story, characters, details.

    I also enjoyed the interview. My thanks to Susan and Bill.

  9. W.F. Lantry

    Thanks, everybody. That was a lot of fun! You all have my deepest gratitude for your kind words.

    Jim, we need to pass laws so that no other girl ends up like Byblis. But I still want to drink from her spring! ;)



  10. susan tepper

    Bill by all means go for it!

  11. David James

    Ms. Tepper, you mined deeply and drew out Mr. Lantry’s cache of varied and lush sensibilities. I really like what was orchestrated and played here. When I read this work at its posting, I paused and re-read it, admiring the imagery. Reading it again now, after the above interview, I enjoy it even more. Thanks to both of you.

  12. susan tepper

    David, I’m so glad you stopped by to read the Chat and of course to read Bill’s gorgeous story. Thanks for your wonderful comments here.

  13. Foster Trecost

    Great chat, great story – thanks to you both.

  14. susan tepper

    BIG NEWS: Bill (W.F. Lantry) has just this week been awarded the HACKNEY NATIONAL LITERARY AWARD FOR POETRY!!!

    It was such a pleasure to chat with Bill here.
    We met recently at the KGB F’naut event and he is as nice and as regular a guy as you’d ever want to meet. Also has a stunningly nice wife, Kate, and the sweetest little boy.

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