Liquid Ink

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


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FAQs for Lithuanians

Before you send me your requests, please take a look here. You might save yourself some time.

  • Hi, I’m Lithuanian, just like you. Can I have some stuff for free?

Yes. You can get all the free toilet paper you want in any gas station toilet.

 

  • I got drunk with one of your relatives in 1974. To what private property of yours does this entitle me?

All of it. I’ll quitclaim my condo to you. It’s in a really good location, and I don’t owe more than it’s worth. Trust me. Here’s the dotted line. _______________________

 

  • I dated your mother back when we were in high school. Can I have your pants?

I hate to break it to you, pal, but you’re already wearing my pants.

 

  • I think you’re a brilliant writer and love what you had to say about amber necklaces. Do you have any amber that you would like to give me so that I could be proud of my Lithuanian heritage?

Thank you for the compliment, but I haven’t written about amber necklaces. The last time I used the word “amber” in a sentence, it was to describe the color of Stasys Girėnas’ teeth.

 

  • I knew your (grandmother/aunt/uncle/roommate) back in 1976, and we (ate/drank/fucked/smoked/danced) in Marquette Park all the time. Can I have your social security number?

Sure, it’s 312-588-2300. What, too long? Just take out any number. I’ll work.

 

  • I’m going to (Šokių Šventė/Dainų Šventė/LT Days/Cepelinų Vakarėlis/) this summer. Can my friends and I stay in your apartment?

Dude, you have to talk to the person who used to get drunk with my relatives in 1974. They have all my stuff now. It’s nowhere close to the festival you have in mind, but I don’t see why that should stop you.

 

  • Why aren’t you going to (Šokių Šventė/Dainų Šventė/LT Days/Cepelinų Vakarėlis/)?

Because I can’t find a place to stay.

 

  • Hi. My great grandfather owned a horse that took a dump near your great grandmother’s horse back when all of us were pagan druids on shrooms. I want your children to sign up for this summer program that will teach them how to be Lithuanian for only $4,000.

We’ll talk about all these things when you give me some shrooms.

 

  • I’m Catholic, believe in God, love the Jesuits, have my former nun’s yardstick, and I’ve already bought a plot to be buried in St. Casimir Cemetery. Could you send me a copy of your book, all the essays you’ve ever written, ten percent of your salary and a photocopy of your passport?

Everything you desire is available at this link.

 

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Forthcoming essay

I’m excited to announce that my essay, Marquette Park: Members Only, has been included in an anthology: Chicago Neighborhood Guidebook, available in September of 2019. Fans of urban prose and Chicago history, and those readers interested in questions of race, ethnicity, nation and cultural identity will find this anthology provocative and entertaining.

My essay deals with the racial tensions in Marquette Park in the 80’s and 90’s, and the curious question of why so many residents worried about encroachment from African-Americans but didn’t seem to have any trouble with the Nazi headquarters on 71st Street.

You can pre-order here.

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Here is the complete table of contents:

Introduction

Martha Bayne

WEST SIDE

Austin: Austin and Division
Shaina Warfield

Austin: Cakewalk (poem)
Rasaan Khalil

West Humboldt Park: Queen of the Tunnels
Lily Be

Garfield Park: Perspectives (photo essay)
Gabriel X. Michael

North Lawndale: Interview with Alexie Young, MLK Exhibit Center
Amanda Tugade

Little Village
Emmanuel Ramirez, Gloria “Nine” Valle, and Zipporah Auta with Yollocalli Arts Reach

SOUTHWEST SIDE

Garfield Ridge: Comeback Kid
Sheila Elliot

Back of the Yards: Books and Breakfast at the Breathing Room
Miranda Goosby

Englewood:  Interview with Tamar Manasseh, Mothers Against Senseless Killings
Kirsten Ginzky

Marquette Park: Members Only
Gint Aras

FAR SOUTHWEST SIDE

Ashburn: That’s Amore
Tim Mazurek

Mount Greenwood: Growing Up In, and Reporting On, Chicago’s Poster Child for Racial Tension
Joe Ward

Beverly: How to Integrate a Chicago Neighborhood in Three (Not-So) Easy Steps
Scott Smith

FAR SOUTHEAST SIDE

Roseland: They Killed Him and His Little Girlfriend
Raymond Berry

Pullman: Pullman and Ideal Communities in Chicago, the Rust Belt, and Beyond
Claire Tighe

Hegewisch: Pudgy’s Pizza
Josh Burbidge

East Side: Something About the South Side
Mare Swallow

SOUTH SIDE

South Shore: Between the Lake and Emmett Till Road
Audrey Petty

Woodlawn: Memories of Obama
Jonathan Foiles

Hyde Park: Quarks and Quiche on the Midway
John Lloyd Clayton

Bronzeville: Black Metropolis
Alex Miller

NEAR WEST SIDE

Bridgeport: The Community of the Future
Ed Marzsewski

Heart of Chicago: Sketches
Dmitry Samarov

Pilsen: The Quietest Form of Displacement in a Changing Barrio (photo essay)

WEST SIDE

Austin: Austin and Division
Shaina Warfield

Austin: Cakewalk (poem)
Rasaan Khalil

West Humboldt Park: Queen of the Tunnels
Lily Be

Garfield Park: Perspectives (photo essay)
Gabriel X. Michael

North Lawndale: Interview with Alexie Young, MLK Exhibit Center
Amanda Tugade

Little Village
Emmanuel Ramirez, Gloria “Nine” Valle, and Zipporah Auta with Yollocalli Arts Reach

SOUTHWEST SIDE

Garfield Ridge: Comeback Kid
Sheila Elliot

Back of the Yards: Books and Breakfast at the Breathing Room
Miranda Goosby

Englewood:  Interview with Tamar Manasseh, Mothers Against Senseless Killings
Kirsten Ginzky

Marquette Park: Members Only
Gint Aras

FAR SOUTHWEST SIDE

Ashburn: That’s Amore
Tim Mazurek

Mount Greenwood: Growing Up In, and Reporting On, Chicago’s Poster Child for Racial Tension
Joe Ward

Beverly: How to Integrate a Chicago Neighborhood in Three (Not-So) Easy Steps
Scott Smith

FAR SOUTHEAST SIDE

Roseland: They Killed Him and His Little Girlfriend
Raymond Berry

Pullman: Pullman and Ideal Communities in Chicago, the Rust Belt, and Beyond
Claire Tighe

Hegewisch: Pudgy’s Pizza
Josh Burbidge

East Side: Something About the South Side
Mare Swallow

SOUTH SIDE

South Shore: Between the Lake and Emmett Till Road
Audrey Petty

Woodlawn: Memories of Obama
Jonathan Foiles

Hyde Park: Quarks and Quiche on the Midway
John Lloyd Clayton

Bronzeville: Black Metropolis
Alex Miller

NEAR WEST SIDE

Bridgeport: The Community of the Future
Ed Marzsewski

Heart of Chicago: Sketches
Dmitry Samarov

Pilsen: The Quietest Form of Displacement in a Changing Barrio (photo essay)
Sebastián Hidalgo

Greektown/Maxwell Street/Little Italy: UIC: Chicago’s Past and Future
Ann Logue

River West: Cranes of River West
Jean Iversen

CENTRAL

South Loop: Michigan and Harrison
Megan Stielstra

The Loop: Life in Chicago’s Front Yard
Rachel Cromidas

Gold Coast: The Alleys of the Gold Coast
Leopold Froehlich

NORTH

Lakeview: On Belmont and Clark
Emily Anna Mack

Lakeview: The Blue House
Eleanor Glockner

North Center: Signs in Bloom
Kirsten Lambert

Ravenswood Gardens: Chicago River Life
Rob Miller

FAR NORTH SIDE

Uptown: A Trip to the Argyle Museum of Memories
Vitally Vladimirov

Andersonville: The Precarious Equilibrium
Sarah Steimer

Edgewater Glen: Trick or Treat
Kim Z. Dale

West Ridge: Rebel Girl
Sara Nasser

West Ridge: Paan Stains and Discount Vegetables (photo essay)
Stuti Sharma

Albany Park: Edge Zone Chicago
Benjamin Van Loon

NORTHWEST SIDE

Portage Park: Six Corners, Many Changes
Jackie Mantey

Hermosa: Holy Hermosa (poem)
Sara Salgado

Logan Square: The Best Burger on the Square
Nicholas Ward

Wicker Park: milwaukee avenue (poem)
Kevin Coval

Humboldt Park: Along Pulaski Road, From Irving Park to Humboldt
Alex V. Hernandez

Epilogue: The Last Days of Rezkoville
Ryan Smith

Greektown/Maxwell Street/Little Italy: UIC: Chicago’s Past and Future
Ann Logue

River West: Cranes of River West
Jean Iversen

CENTRAL

South Loop: Michigan and Harrison
Megan Stielstra

The Loop: Life in Chicago’s Front Yard
Rachel Cromidas

Gold Coast: The Alleys of the Gold Coast
Leopold Froehlich

NORTH

Lakeview: On Belmont and Clark
Emily Anna Mack

Lakeview: The Blue House
Eleanor Glockner

North Center: Signs in Bloom
Kirsten Lambert

Ravenswood Gardens: Chicago River Life
Rob Miller

FAR NORTH SIDE

Uptown: A Trip to the Argyle Museum of Memories
Vitally Vladimirov

Andersonville: The Precarious Equilibrium
Sarah Steimer

Edgewater Glen: Trick or Treat
Kim Z. Dale

West Ridge: Rebel Girl
Sara Nasser

West Ridge: Paan Stains and Discount Vegetables (photo essay)
Stuti Sharma

Albany Park: Edge Zone Chicago
Benjamin Van Loon

NORTHWEST SIDE

Portage Park: Six Corners, Many Changes
Jackie Mantey

Hermosa: Holy Hermosa (poem)
Sara Salgado

Logan Square: The Best Burger on the Square
Nicholas Ward

Wicker Park: milwaukee avenue (poem)
Kevin Coval

Humboldt Park: Along Pulaski Road, From Irving Park to Humboldt
Alex V. Hernandez

Epilogue: The Last Days of Rezkoville
Ryan Smith


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Art is resistance

It’s always an exciting step when your publisher tells you the cover of your book is finished. Here it is.

Relief Execution Cover final

The release date is October 8th. Pre-order begins on Amazon and Barnes and Noble some time late next week, February 21st. Follow Liquid Ink to keep up with the details, including news about the launch party, scheduled for October.

Here’s what Mikhail Iossel, the founder of the Summer Literary Seminars, and a samizdat writer born in the USSR, had to say after reading it:

This short text packs a powerful punch. A searingly raw exploration of one’s roots, one’s original milieu, one’s upbringing and one’s own conscience. At times difficult to read, it is nonetheless entirely engrossing. Hard to look at yet impossible to look away. A remarkable piece of writing.

From the back cover:

Between the years of 1996-1999, Gint Aras lived a hapless bohemian’s life in Linz, Austria. Decades later, a random conversation with a Polish immigrant in a Chicago coffeehouse provokes a question: why didn’t Aras ever visit Mauthausen, or any of the other holocaust sites close to his former home? The answer compels him to visit the concentration camp in the winter of 2017, bringing with him the baggage of a childhood shaped by his family of Lithuanian WWII refugees. The result is this meditative inquiry, at once lyrical and piercing, on the nature of ethnic identity, the constructs of race and nation, and the lasting consequences of collective trauma. 

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The writer who doesn’t read books

I was at a book sale and signing event recently, sharing a table with another writer. The bookstore, located in a place with virtually no foot traffic, was near-empty, and the only people who came to our tables were interested in getting our signatures so that they could use them to enter a raffle the store had organized. My table partner and I spent the time talking about the usual things: book marketing strategies, the publishing industry and our current projects.

Eventually, I asked the guy, “What are you reading?”

He shrugged and said, in a tone so casual to be almost dismissive. “Eh, I don’t really read books. I’m just not really into them right now.”

I had no way of preparing myself for this. The guy was young, in his mid-20’s, right at the age when I had discovered writers who would remain favorites for the duration of my life, whose influence on my writing will never evaporate. He was at the age when I—no children or frightening responsibilities in my life—read between two and three hours each day, towers of books on my nightstand, desk and toilet tank. To this day, I don’t ever leave the house without a book in my bag, so I simply couldn’t hide my shock. “You don’t read?”

“I mean, I do research for projects. I like to study, mostly, so I get stuff from the internet. But I just don’t read books right now.”

I started stuttering. Perhaps I appeared offended. The experience was painful, stinging, unfathomable, inexplicable…I felt strain in my stomach and was overwhelmed by an urge to clench my teeth. “So, how do you work on craft without looking at stuff written by people who are better than you?”

“Eh, I get feedback. I’m in a writer’s group.”

“And…these writers. Do they also reject books? Do they ever tell you things like, ‘Your writing reminds me of such and such?’”

“Maybe they like books, but we don’t talk about it. The group is all about writing, so we focus on that.”

I sat with his answer for many minutes, feeling the silence stretching between us like a bungee cord about to kick back with the force of a falling elephant. I imagined the guitarist who did not listen to guitar, the painter who did not look at paintings, the doctor who rejected convalescence, the teacher who had nothing to learn. On any level, in any environment, the sculptor who had no use for sculpture would be considered a buffoon. If a singer came to a singing coach to reveal she had no interest in listening to song, the coach should send her packing. Yet this young man sat cocksure and certain of his intrinsic talent. Reading would be an admission of either weakness or incapacity.

I finally asked him, “How do you rationalize selling books to people when you don’t want to buy or consume books yourself?”

“Yeah, I get that point. I mean, it’s true, I guess, kinda. But I just got so many things on my plate. I don’t need to read someone else’s stuff to sell my own.”

I realized I was the only person to have ever asked this man that question. His education and culture must have reinforced his position as reasonable and rational. Still, I’d have a much easier time with the pharmacist who knows her wares are poisons just as I could get my head around the grocer who sold high fructose corn syrup without ever eating it himself. But…dude…these are books.

Books.

In America, in the 21st century, it’s not just the president and his followers who don’t read. Some writers have also joined their ranks.

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Photo of a contemporary book burning from Wikipedia.


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Flooding damage

I had a clogged sewage pipe. The basement flooded, about five inches of water. All sorts of stuff needs to be discarded: rugs, mattresses, clothes. But there are two things that just ripped my heart to shreds.

This is a photo of the box that contains the only hard copy of the novel I wrote while living in Europe between 1996-1999. About a Lithuanian orphan who ends up influencing the life of an historian from Santa Barbara, it was never published. Yes…like The Fugue, this one was just sitting on the floor somewhere.

My wife fell in love with me while reading this book. I developed friendships while writing it, and I became myself as a writer, found my voice somewhere in the middle of it. It contains some of the worst sentences I’ve ever written, so pathetically, honestly unfortunate that they represent an organic beauty I’ll never know again.

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The text is ruined. Also in the box were critiques of my writing I had collected from classmates at Columbia, some of whom have gone on to become quite accomplished and acclaimed writers.

The other damage is a box of letters. Those letters date back to the late 80’s; many of them are in old air mail envelopes. The box contained post cards from ex-girlfriends, letters from men who had witnessed the Soviet crackdown in Lithuania; it’s just a box of treasures, memories, mementos, documents to make sense of my identity and past. Many of them will be saved, but some of them are just trashed.

My computer and cameras survived. So did my tax papers and all sorts of stuff money can replace.

Move your treasures to higher ground.


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My reading at Waterline (video)

Here’s a video of me reading from The Fugue, as recorded by the good folks at Waterline Writers Reading Series in Batavia, Illinois.

If you’re interested in the writing workshop I’m leading, click here.

Gint Aras at Waterline Writers: March 2017 from Waterline Writers on Vimeo.


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Books: a threat to fascists

Two American classics, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird, are again under assault. People have been calling for bans on these books since they were first printed.

Generally, two reasons explain why someone tries to ban a book. The first is the person’s ignorance of the book’s message. The second is that the person understands the message but fears it. In this case, both reasons might apply.

My purpose isn’t to advertise the name of the woman who called for the books’ ban or to draw attention to the school district temporarily and foolishly banning the books when they know exactly what they’re about. Interested readers can easily find this information. I’m here to counterpunch. An assault on any book, from the Bible to The Anarchist’s Cookbook, is an assault on all books. It contributes to America’s ever-growing anti-intellectualism and adulation of ignorance, which is often conflated as concern over someone’s emotions.

The worried mother claims the n-bombs in Twain and Lee disturb her biracial teenage son. Of course, instead of asking her son to be excused from reading, she wants the books removed completely. Her rationale: “I’m not disputing this is great literature. But there is so much (sic) racial slurs in there and offensive wording that you can’t get past that, and right now we are a nation divided as it is.”

Claiming offensive language interferes with whatever the books are saying is, in fact, a dispute of the books’ greatness. She either hasn’t read or misunderstands Lee and Twain. Her concern for a divided nation is transparent; because her boy finds the books offensive, she feels the rest of the school should as well.

Ironically, both these books provoke discussion about the nature of equality and unity. Curiously, the woman uses the same critique employed by people who fear what ideas these books might provoke.

These books should be difficult for any boy, biracial or otherwise. Great books slap us silly, shake us up and kick us. If the woman could “get past” the offensive word, one that should offend us in 2016, and battle through what violence children witness in the narratives (Huck’s dad is an abusive drunk, for example, and Scout haphazardly stops a lynch mob from murdering Tom Robinson), she could stumble into seeing that both Twain and Lee littered their books with n-bombs, in 1884 and 1960, respectively, while essentially arguing that black lives matter.

In short, these books agree that the biracial boy should be offended not only by words but by his society. Another lesson is that Twain and Lee are also provoking his Caucasian peers to see the consequences of racism.

That’s among the many reasons these books are part of our canon, and also why people have feared Twain and Lee’s critiques for as long as the books have existed.

*     *     *

Literature has always been a threat to those fascists who want to bait us into hating each other. They know it’s a remedy to growing inequality and division. I’ve met very few people who consumed it in large quantities but came away hateful, afraid of their fellow man.

Having consumed it in large quantities myself, I’ve learned it radical in 1884 to claim black people were human beings deserving of equal rights, just as it was radical to make the claim in 1960, and it obviously remains radical today. If not, it should offend no one to hear the phrase black lives matter. People should hear it and think, “Yeah, no shit.”

Despite my life in letters, I know far more Americans who see no use for literature. So many  believe individual words are more offensive than the act of banning them. These people are everywhere; I’ve found them in HR offices and among the administrators in schools. Our president-elect has no use for literature, just as most of his supporters seem to care little for it. Forget about great books—sketch comedy offends them.

People fear books because they want their flawed ideas and hatred either justified or hidden while they get to control the narrative. That has been the only reason books have ever been hated and burned, the only reason their makers are demonized as unpatriotic and brought out to face firing squads.

Of course, my critics will point out that this woman has the best intentions. She’s a leftist who wants a safe space for her kid, and she’s trying to protect him from racism. That misses the point. Her impulse might be to protect her boy, and she’s right to find the word offensive. But right beside this affront is an impulse to make everyone do as she likes.

It’s exactly the impulse of someone who has either read too few books or failed to gain their most important lessons.

 

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Photo, book burning, from Wikipedia.

“Remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it. “Your father’s right,” she said. “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy . . . but sing their hearts out for us. –Harper Lee


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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.

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Photo from Wikipedia

 

 


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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, audra1974@zuikis.lt 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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