Susan Tepper: Beate, “A Scattering of Rivals“ opens with two strongly contrasting themes: War and Nature. You write: “Peace isn’t easy. Especially in fall when red leaves float down.” I read this first part that is so beautiful, while footage of every war I’ve been alive during flashed through my brain.
Beate Sigriddaughter: Well, I love writing because you get to shape destiny a little in ways you can’t otherwise. I could have mentioned a plainer, or even uglier truth here, such as “this narrator has envy issues and doesn’t want to die.” But then nobody would have loved her, and clearly she wants to have love, too, so she sends out these cautious tendrils of attention and admiration into the world, hoping no doubt that something positive will boomerang back.
I, as author, do believe that all war stems from some type of envy. So, I want most of all peace, love, joy. And the way things are set up in the world (for now), peace and the rest just aren’t easy to come by. Wise folk say when you really look, all is peace after all, especially in nature (if you ignore the Darwinian competition stuff, that is). But I’m not there yet. And neither are my characters. We still see the bigger dumplings in someone else’s soup. (I guess once you’re brainwashed you can’t quite wash Darwin out of your brain).
Susan: I agree with you one hundred percent that all war “stems from some type of envy.”
I also find it extremely interesting that you’ve chosen to make your character “loveable” or that the character has chosen to be one who would be loved. I’m open minded about who gets to choose what in literature. And love is the crux here, and of course everywhere. Love informs the biological imperative which is the sex drive, that keeps all species going. Even flowers. The stamen and the pistil.
Beate: Yes, I do think for a human being love is at the center of what we want. I don’t know about foxes, they can probably get by with food and plain old sexual attraction. But with us human beings, even brave men publicly and literarily declare that they want love (Paulo Coelho comes to mind as a recent courageous declarant). That’s why rejection is so hard. Especially in autumn when one gets colorful reminders of the finality of one’s current experience.
Susan: Each vignette is a story unto itself, yet connected to the one before so we get this narrative flow and we get poetry here, too. The narrator seems to be knitting, almost, if that makes sense. I see this like an expanding scarf knitted in the autumn colors. Autumn signifying the end of all that is lush and growing. A season that often makes people sad.
You write: “I couldn’t wait to grow up. I planned to go to the ends of the earth to avoid rejection.”
That is startling: going to the ends of the earth. What does that mean to the narrator? Is it a death call from within?
Beate: Oh, that’s a fascinating way of looking at it. Death as the ultimate liberator, but at an exorbitant cost. I just recently earmarked a quote from Montgomery Clift: “If you look really close at things, you’ll forget you’re going to die.”
What I originally intended for my narrator was just an attempt to run away from her troubles, which is something she can’t do, as she discovers when she realizes that earth has no end. But maybe, just maybe, if she’ll look close at things, she’ll forget and simply end up fascinated.
Susan: You tell us: “A husband left for a long-legged creature on the brink of first bloom.”
Every woman’s worst nightmare! I don’t understand why women are considered decrepit as they age, but men are thought to ripen. I’ve seen some pretty past-ripe guys running around in shorts this summer. Not all that delectable… Sorry to go off topic, or is it on topic? Because your narrator has suffered here at the hands of men.
You write: “An old lover’s new love already swept his front porch as I walked by.”
This is strong stuff. I felt it was she that was being swept away, as I suspect she also felt. As if she were a dried out leaf left over from summer. Something to just sweep off the porch and out of his life. Out of all life.
Beate: I think you’re spot on about the “swept out of life,” or at the very least out of significance. Insignificance, especially as experienced by women, is a huge theme in my life, and hence in many of my characters’ lives. This narrator has her handful of rejections bracketed in between those in favor of her father and then her son. Still, my favorite image in this piece is the walk on the mountain bridge (I guess nature to the rescue again) where insignificance and rejection are more or less irrelevant. And then the hope that someone is happy behind those gold lit windows:
My favorite T-shirt is yellow and tattered: a wanderer, a woman, walks on a mountain bridge…
Read “A Scattering of Rivals“ by Beate Sigriddaughter
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.