Friday, May 18, 2012

Family, love, and art: an interview with Uvi Poznansky

Today I'm talking with artist and author Uvi Poznansky about her novel APART FROM LOVE.

1) Tell us about your book.

My novel is an intimate peek into the life of a uniquely strange family:
Natasha, the accomplished pianist, has been stricken with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Her ex-husband Lenny has never told their son Ben, who left home ten years ago, about her situation. At the same time Lenny has been carrying on a love affair with a young redhead, who bear a
striking physical resemblance to his wife, but unlike her, is uneducated, direct and unrefined. This is how things stand at this moment, the moment of Ben’s return to his childhood home, and to a contentious relationship with his father.

2) What inspired this story?

Over a year ago I wrote a short story about a twelve year-old boy coming face to face, for the first time in his life, with the sad spectacle of death in the family. Stunned, Ben watches his father trying to revive his frail grandma. Later, Ben attempts the same technique on the fish tilting upside down, dying in his new aquarium.

I set the story aside, thinking I was done with it. But the character of the boy, Ben, wouldn’t go away. He started chatting incessantly in my head, keeping me awake at night. So I asked myself, what if I ‘aged’ him by fifteen years? Would he still admire his father for ‘blowing life’ into the old woman--or will he be disillusioned at that point? What secrets would come to light in the life of this family? How would it feel for Ben to come back to his childhood home after a long absence, and have his memories play tricks on him?

What if I introduce a girl, Anita, a redhead who looks as beautiful as his mother used to be--but is extremely different from her in all other respects? And what if this girl were married to his father? What if the father were an author, attempting to capture the thoughts, the voices of Ben and Anita, in order to write his book?

3) You've mentioned in the past that you've had difficulty describing what you're story is about. So, I put that dreaded question to you in a slightly different way: what sort of fundamental themes do you feel your story conveys?

You’re right! At first I found it difficult to sum up the complexities of the story. I suppose I was too close to it. Which is why I truly admire the work of several Amazon Top reviewers, who reviewed the story with such ease, and rated it five stars out of five.

The fundamental theme in Apart From Love is a struggle, a desperate, daring struggle in each one of the characters--Ben, Anita and Lenny--to find a path out of the conflicts between them, out of isolation, from guilt to forgiveness.

Finding that path is not easy, because at present, they are ‘apart from love’. As Anita puts it, “Why, why can't you say nothing? Say any word--but that one, 'cause you don't really mean it. Nobody does. Say anything, apart from Love.”

And as Ben puts it: “For my own sake I should have been much more careful. Now--even in her absence--I find myself in her hands, which feels strange to me. I am surrounded--and at the same time, isolated. I am alone. I am apart from Love.”

4) The aims and purposes of art are always a hard thing to pin down, no matter the format. What do you feel is the fundamental purpose of art? 

To me, the purpose of my art is to give expression to something I care deeply about, marking it on paper or in some other medium) for others to see, hear and absorb, so they may find a reflection of my thought or emotion somewhere deep in themselves, in their memory, in their fears, their hopes.

In the case of writing, I can tell when I succeed in conveying what I wanted to express. I have read my stories in front of audiences, and by the end of the story a deep silence greets me. Here’s the way Lenny, the father in APART FROM LOVE, explains it:

“What I wish to open up is not me, but my characters—all of whom are parts of who I am—giving her the opportunity to know them, to come live in their skin, to see, hear, touch everything they do. Just, be there, inside my head for a while, which I admit, may be rather uneasy at times. If—if she cared to listen, which I doubt, she would allow me to pull her inside—so deep, so close to the core, that it would be hard to escape, hard to wake up.”

5) Do you feel there is a difference in the fundamental ability to execute the aforementioned purpose of art among the various art forms (visual, written, musical, et cetera) forms? Why or
why not?

Yes, I think there is a difference between visual art, and written or composed art forms. There is a fundamental difference between the ways we sense the world through the eye as opposed to the ear. The brain allows you to absorb a picture all at once, but a story--word by word, and a piece of music--note by note.

So when the subject at hand is too overwhelming, when words fail me, and I wish to convey the same feeling through my art, this is when I pick up my paintbrush. Other times, I chase my characters around with a pen.

6) Authors create characters from a variety of influences, but it is not uncommon to drawn upon their own experiences and psychology. Traditionally, this leads to characters that are, in some sense, similar to the author. You went a slightly different direction with your female lead. Can you tell us a bit about her creation and the process behind it?

At first I decided to model Anita as the diametric opposite-of-me. By which I mean a lot more that just her use of language (talking in sentences laden with 'like' and the dreaded double-negatives.) Anita, I decided, would be a bold and spontaneous girl, anything but repressed. Unlike the way I was brought up, she would be promiscuous.

Her voice would be shockingly direct: “In my defense I have this to say: When men notice me, when the lusty glint appears in their eyes, which betrays how, in their heads, they’re stripping me naked—it’s me they accuse of being indecent. Problem is, men notice me all the time.”

To my surprise, Anita started to invade my mind! She ended up taking center-stage in the story, not only because of how attractive she is, but most of all, because she serves as a strong contrast, both to Ben and to Lenny. She is a strong female protagonist trying to survive the complexities of this strange family.

7) Tell us about the POV structure of your novel. Why did you decide to use that sort of framework?

The dual points of view--he said, she said--gave me an opportunity to illustrate that we all view reality differently. Sometimes the same events, see from different angles and through difference experiences in life, are interpreted in an entirely different way. Which makes it a challenge for my characters, Ben and Anita, to find a path to each other.

8) Can you explain to us what you mean by "paint with a pen, write with a paintbrush"?

My art strives to tell a story, and my stories strive to bring you into the scene being painted. Sometimes a figure in one of my paintings haunts me, keeps me away at night, talking in a clear and distinct voice, and it would not stop until I write what she is saying, either in poem format or in a story. And sometimes it flows the other way around: the voice in the poem or in a story is so vivid in my mind that I have to flesh it out in a painting or sculpture. A good example of that is my poem From Dust, and for each verse in it, I created a sculpture where the pose expresses the text. See one of the sculptures here: http://uviart.blogspot.com/2012/03/from-dust-you-gather-me.html.

9) Given what you've just told us, can you tell us about your visual artistic influences and what influences they may have had on your choice of literary themes, character, and plots?

I love so many writers from around the world, and each one has had a different influence on me. To name but a few, I love Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky, The Odyssey by Homer, Of Mice and Men by Steinbeck, The Price by Arthur Miller, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, and the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe.

Using a broad brush I would say that poetry teaches me to cherish the beauty of language, its sound and rhymes, which is something I use often in my writing. Arthur Miller and other playwrights teach me to listen to dialog, and to make the most of it.

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Thanks, Uvi.

You can read more from Uvi at http://uviart.blogspot.com/ and also see her artwork at uviart.com.

APART FROM LOVE can be purchased in physical or electronic formats at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and electronic formats at the iBookstore.

3 comments:

injaynesworld said...

What a joy it must be to have so many outlets for expression. A very insightful interview of this beautiful multi-talented lady.

ChaiLicious said...

A rich and satisfying interview. Well-done!

J.A. Beard said...

Thanks for reading.