Liquid Ink

The official website of Gint Aras, Finalist 2016 CWA Book Award

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The Fugue named CWA Book Award Finalist

I’m honored to join two amazing writers, Martin Seay and Christine Maul Rice, as a finalist for the 2016 Chicago Writers Association Book Award for Traditional Fiction

Obviously, for The Fugue to be honored this way is humbling and exhilarating. My readers know the book’s long road to publication. I have to take this moment to thank Tortoise Books for believing in my work and saving this novel.

If you’re new to my website, welcome. I’m very excited about the news. 

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Readers ask: Should a writer travel?

Most questions about writing are loaded, and they require reading between very many lines. They usually are versions of these two questions:

1.) Will such and such make me a better writer?

2.) Will such and such help me get published?

We should note that those questions are not about the same thing. If getting published required someone to improve their writing, a lot of currently published bestsellers would have never made it past the acquisition editor’s desk.

The only thing a writer should do is read and write. You really can’t do one without the other, not if you want to compose engaging texts. That’s the short answer.

The long answer is more interesting. Will travel make someone a better writer? Travel, when done outside all-inclusive resorts, builds empathy. It offers alternative points of view. Travel enough and you’ll learn that everybody considers themselves the center point. I’ve heard people from at least six other countries tell me they come from the greatest country in the world. (Russia, Canada, Australia, Germany, The UK, New Zealand)

Travel also disarms the traveler. It can, when done with the right purpose, displace mythologies. Travel raises questions that have no answers. It also displaces common explanations. Why was Rome built where it stands? Well…there’s the Tiber. Yes, but Rome stands elsewhere, not just on the banks of the Tiber. Fifth grade geography class has its limitations.

All of those things make someone a better thinker and citizen but not necessarily a better writer. We can work on our observations skills in our bedrooms. Their application on trips really does reveal things that are otherwise invisible.

Of course, some of the best writers never really went anywhere. One thing they all did, however, was read, and they read whatever they could get their hands on. Travel is fun and engaging, a much more rewarding way to pass the time than, say, watching NFL games. It’s not as expensive as people think, certainly not when compared to its benefits. One thing I always have in my bag when I’m traveling is a book. It’s usually written by someone very different from me.


Photo from Wikipedia



PTSD sufferers against fascism

There was never a moment in my lifetime that so clearly delineated the right and wrong sides of history. Shit’s real, America. We’re either going to choose a raving mad lunatic who lacks even the most basic shred of empathy, or we’ll face this threat down and pick up the pieces afterwards.

Those pieces are going to be vile. It’s frightening to know I share streets, highways and public spaces with people steadfastly on the wrong side of history. It’s terrifying to imagine an abusive, unhinged narcissist should be put in power by the will of my countrymen and women who’ll remain upset if they don’t get what they want.

Honestly, what do you want? Today “god” took to demeaning the mentally ill, soldiers suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress.

PTSD is not a joke. Sufferers are at risk of an entire spectrum of self-harm. Their loved ones suffer and are often helpless, confused about what to do. The sufferer, frequently living in a waking nightmare, so often wonders what use they are to anyone. Worse, they might perceive, in perverse delusions of empathy, that the world is better off without them.

Not every PTSD patient survived war. Some may have witnessed a house fire, experienced a car accident or gotten mugged or raped. While our culture usually responds (at least in a common narrative) with care to veterans afflicted with the condition, those sufferers who did not serve or experience war can feel estranged. What’s wrong with you, the inner voice says, if you’re flipping out? You didn’t go to war. Snap out of it.

Studies have actually shown that “violent homes have the same effect on brains of children as combat has on soldiers”. The effects of complex trauma are nothing to sneeze at. Abused children grow up to be adults who mistrust the world, struggle to form relationships, tussle to know the difference between real and imagined emotions. This study breaks the ground to reveal the similarity between the experience of war and child abuse.

Among the worst experiences for a traumatized person is to find oneself in a society or social network that worships the abusive narcissist and dismisses or even refuses to accept transgressions. I know people (many of whom, staunchly middle class, will in November vote for a narcissist) who would rather pour an abuser drinks and chat with him than face the abuser’s true identity, even when it’s out in the open. It takes a society, a system, to keep abuse going, and the easiest thing to do when you find yourself an accessory is to pretend the abuse never happened in the first place. You claim you can’t understand why the victim shouldn’t sit at the dinner table where his abuser receives free drinks and the freedom to spew what nonsense comes to his head.

I know I’m not alone. Apparently, psychiatrists and social workers have noticed a spike in people anxious about the election. This is hardly strange to me. Yes, our fellow citizens want a man who’ll publicly ridicule, demean and bully, who’ll deny the thing he said or did just a moment ago. It’s triggering and frightening. Where should a traumatized person turn when an entire nation empowers a narcissist to abuse at will, to do so on an international stage, the American military at his disposal? How should a PTSD sufferer rationalize that this man now represents the sufferer politically? It’s a nightmare.

I don’t believe he’s gambling that most of America actually considers PTSD sufferers weak. This man has proven a poor player of political chess. He gains votes not by tactic but by hook and emotional trap. His comments today are exactly the kind of calculated barb a narcissist uses to pry into people and leave some afraid, confused, disoriented, while others—the ones who need their strength reinforced—feel empowered, superior, true but now dependent on the narcissist for the feeling.

Ironically, the latter group is at greater risk. We’ll know in only a short time just how many Americans are actually seduced enough to choose this kind of madness. In case you’re confused, let me present this simple warning:

Don’t expect the narcissist to love you back, America. He’ll use you until you’re extinguished, reeling and unable to tell your memories from your fantasies. Should you be bruised, he’ll say you hit yourself, then accuse you of lies in the next breath, speak your bruises away as if they were yesterday’s gossip. You won’t have known that kind of betrayal before, and when he’s out of your life, you won’t recognize what’s left of you, what pieces remain to pick up.

Should this madman get in, our constitution will face its greatest test. If the system fails to be stronger than its citizens—if it fails to remove him before a pivotal moment from which we won’t return—his biography will prove the same as the ones of his narcissist predecessors.

He’ll raze what fields he can, hoard what he thinks he can protect, delude himself for a while with victories and grandeur but eventually find himself alone. Depending on the exact nature and placement of his transgressions, he’ll either find some place to hide and whither away, some tribunal will pack him into a cell, or he’ll descend to the darkest part of his basement. History shows they all have a place where they keep a loaded pistol wrapped in a soft white cloth.


What if the most powerful person in the world is a woman?

Today, I walked past a stand whose last remaining newspaper showed a photo of our candidates for President on the debate stage. A phrase came to my mind and just floated there, seemingly out of place. The most powerful man in the world.

I’m a white American male who voted twice for Barack Obama. I will this November cast my vote for a woman to be president of the United States. At the same time, I’m a citizen of the EU with extensive experience abroad, enough to allow me to see America from the outside even when I’m Stateside.

If I’m unable to watch American culture and customs with the eyes of someone who has never lived or visited the US, I can certainly sense the confusion so many abroad feel when they see our spectacle (this “debate” between a blowhard bully and a constantly interrupted woman many times his superior in everything from her knowledge base, experience, empathy, intelligence and political savvy) and wonder “How is it possible that someone should want to vote for this fiend?”

I know plenty of the fiend’s supporters, as I grew up among them. Some of them will vote on an anti-immigrant platform despite themselves being immigrants, displaced persons or the children of refugees. Some continue to hang on to a whitewashed Nelson fantasy of an America that put everything…everyone…in the “right place”. They now look at America and see a country where next to nothing is being arranged as their fantasy would have it.

It’s this perception of disorder that I want to consider. The election of a black man as President of the United States sent many into a panicked fit. The world was supposed to be one way, but it turned out to be another. Everything was supposed to make a kind of sense they were used to, but now nothing made sense anymore.

What was to blame? It wasn’t their worldview. No. The problem was that the world had gone wrong; it had been taken from them, its rightful owners, by rogue elements. It needed, as quickly as possible, to go right.

Originally, quickly meant either less than or no more than four years. But in 2012, it meant yet another four. Now, in 2016, those people stand at a threshold that, in their view, presents a chance for everything to go right again, for the world to be returned to its rightful owners.

Of course, to their great fear, there’s a chance for it to head to even greater disarray.

How can these people possibly perceive even greater disorder? Think of how often we throw around the phrase the most powerful man in the world to describe the President of the United States.

The phrase is significant to our collective consciousness. Part of the problem is that  we think in hierarchies, but for the sake of my example, let’s take it at face value and agree that, indeed, the President of the United States is the most powerful. Think for a moment, then, of what it will mean when the planet’s most powerful individual is a woman.

Germany and The United Kingdom and Lithuania and Austria and San Marino and Liberia and Georgia and Argentina and Costa Rica and Brazil and Switzerland have selected women heads of state. But those elections of women did not require the key phrase to be revised. How would we revise it? The most powerful woman in the world, spoken today, has a ring only slightly different from the world’s greatest female athlete. Both phrases assume there is someone greater and more powerful, and that person is most definitely male. But if we say the most powerful person in the world and end up meaning she’s a woman, the panicked see their order of things fall further apart.

Americans love power and success perhaps more than anything else. One person might have a high level of skill in something, but they won’t matter to anyone until they have presented success. Success is always money, as money determines one’s ability to impose or influence. You might be benevolent or evil, but in America you are only real and worthy when you’ve got enough power.

We don’t hate cons. In fact, we’re almost forced to love them. I am among those Americans who work in a place that’s pretending to be one thing (a college) but is actually another (a business). Others of us sell a product nobody needs, a tool or gizmo we know harms much more than it aids. Selling something, from a drug to a “service” or “course” is its own justification. And the more of it we sell, no matter the method or outcome, the more successful we are. The best sentence is the one bought more often than any.

That explains, partially, the appeal of a wealthy yet blatantly sexist fiend and con. But his act is only part of the gig. Alongside it stands a test of our collective identity. Sure…some people are voting against Clinton because they have some set of immovable reasons that have less to do with the fiend and more to do with how they perceive her nature. I’m driving at a larger sociological point: People are fine, to a degree, with a powerful woman, but they’ve never been faced with the prospect of her being the most powerful person of all. Electing Hillary Clinton to America’s highest office—a woman, mind you, more prepared than any candidate running in my lifetime, far better prepared than Obama was the first time around—would require us to rewrite the descriptive phrase.

To what consequence? The revision would push us further towards thinking not of people as men but of women as people. Quite naturally, it would also require us to rethink our concept of power. Let’s not pretend huge numbers of Americans are not prepared for either shift. Like their candidate, they like to settle things without any admission of guilt.



Photo: Mural, East Garfield Boulevard, Chicago, IL

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Readers ask: Does The Fugue make allusions to Lolita?

Well, someone finally noticed this, so I feel I should respond. “Hey, Gint,” a reader asks, “What’s with the age gaps between the lovers in your books? Is Lita Avila an allusion to Dolores Haze?”

The reader has noticed that both Finding the Moon in Sugar and The Fugue depict lovers with a notable age difference. Perhaps naturally, they’re wondering if I have some kind of fetish.

Audra and Andy from Finding the Moon are probably more than a decade apart. Andy, born in 1986, claims he was never able to figure out Audra’s true age and puts her birth date somewhere between 1977 and 1972. Of course, Audra’s vain and a liar, so her email address, might be set up to make her seem younger than she truly is. Dazed and confused, the stoner boy Andy never notes the year in her address as evidence for anything. If Audra is truly born in 1974, it means she and Andy are twelve years apart.

Yuri and Lita of The Fugue have a wider gap. Lita’s just a teen when they meet, and they are almost two decades apart. Neither character seems to think much of this, and (minor spoiler) Lita’s family are all either dead or gone by the time her initial crush on him evolves to something more mature.

When I wrote and self-published Finding the Moon in Sugar, I thought The Fugue was a dead project that no one would ever read. I was definitely conscious of the repeated age gap—that makes it a motif, right?—but didn’t worry too much about it. Once I knew The Fugue would be published, I figured the only way someone would catch it would be by reading both books, which would be wonderful if they did. To me, Lita and Yuri’s relationship is a rich construction that reveals so much about both characters and also the nature of trauma. I had no intension of tampering.

Now…did I have Nabokov in mind when I chose the name Lita (the character’s full name is Angelita Avila)?

Nabokov’s Dolores (Lolita) Haze is Humbert Humbert’s victim. Humbert is not merely her abuser and rapist but also her legal guardian. And while Hum suffered the tragic loss of a child-lover while a kid himself—an experience that leaves him searching for a surrogate or an incarnate…an avatar, if we will—he admits that he deserves to be tried and sentenced, even if he does beg readers for leniency and forgiveness.

Yuri is not victimizing Lita. For much of the time after first leaving prison and returning to Cicero, he is hardly able to interact with anyone, so shell-shocked that he imagines buildings that aren’t there, and he can’t  know how to thank Lita for her gift of a broken bicycle. He later sculpts her portrait not out of a desire to possess or control her but as a way to release his affection, which is probably discomforting, though not necessarily because of Lita’s age: Yuri has lost almost everyone he has ever loved, and now a stranger has given him a gift.

It’s true that Lita’s portrait is crossed with his memories of other women—Lita’s is not the only portrait he has sculpted. And Lita, young and self-conscious, never imagines he has sculpted her portrait. When she guesses it represents some other woman, she’s partially right.

Honestly, when I thought of the name Lita, I was also thinking of names for other characters. So my concern with the name Lita had less to do with Nabokov and more to do with its similarity to Alina, Yuri’s interest from his teen years. I wanted names that seemed shades of one another…variations, if you will. (In an early draft, Alina’s name was Lina.)

I was reading a lot of Nabokov at the time, so it probably did things to my mind. But I didn’t see Yuri and Lita’s relationship as taboo or profane, and I didn’t think of Lita as Lolita’s literary variation, at least not consciously.

I should probably say that I had several crushes on older girls while still a 13 and 14 year old at summer camp. One of those girls turned out to be a lifelong friend. I’m sure the intensity of such feelings and experiences evokes itself in my writing all on its own, without me needing to do very much.

Still, in future novels, what lovers I surmise will all be around the same age. I feel like I’m done exploring these age gaps and that my fiction has expressed what I wanted, even if I can’t say what that is.




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Unburdened from sin or connected to God

Reviews of The Fugue have, until this point, compared the book to the likes of Fyodor Dostoevsky, Victor Hugo, Virginia Woolf, Boris Pasternak, Betty Smith, Nelson Algren, Richard Powers, Flannery O’Connor and others.

Commentators have noted the book’s fugue-like structure, its homage to classical music and opera, and its use of various techniques of visual art, among them simultaneity. The latest review, from Amy Strauss Friedman, writing for the Yellow Chair Review notes the novel’s similarity to pointillism.

Aras has given us a masterful web of narrative that feels much like pointillism in painting, in which an artist uses individual dots to create a larger, intricate image.

She goes on to write:

The Fugue is an epic work that will ensnare you from the first chapter and won’t let you go even after you’ve finished it. It is a composition that all should hear.

I guess the only way to see if all these people are just talking craziness is to read the book for yourself. As your library to order it, get it at your favorite bookstore or buy it here.