Liquid Ink

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


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Readers ask: How’s it feel to kill a character?

I’ve been holding off answering some of the questions I’ve received about The Fugue because the book is really hard to talk about without giving up spoilers. Even skilled interviewers like Amy Danzer of New City (click for interview) and Rick Kogan of WGN (click for interview) had to find clever ways of talking about the book to keep from revealing too much.

At this point, I’ve gathered enough questions that I can start blogging on a more regular basis. I’ve found some to be really the provocative.

So, here’s the first:

How’s it feel to kill a character?

I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t fun sometimes. To blow off steam, sometimes I’ll just write torture scenes in my notebook, most so over-the-top that they become nonsense. “Blood and brains were everywhere. Everywhere. She’d find bits of spongy brain in her pencil case months later.”

Of course, sometimes the death of a character is a really intense moment. Death is a central theme in my books, especially in connection to religion and love. I’ve written death scenes that have left me crying afterwards. There’s one particular bit in The Fugue that I feared writing. It has to do with a hanging. When I did finally complete it, I went for a long walk through Morningside Heights Park at around 2:00 AM.

I think it’s important to explain what assumptions I bring to my writing. I don’t feel very strongly influenced by the Hollywood narrative in which the good guy survives. I assume I’m treating representations of real people, and so death is a certainty for every character I’ve ever written. Sometimes that death happens within the plot, and some deaths are more gruesome than others. In The Fugue, some people burn alive; another one goes to sleep and never wakes up; a third is killed in a bus shelter; one guy gets kicked in the head by a horse.

I’ve never written a character just to kill them off. Unlike a writer like Flannery O’Connor, I don’t feel that death is a punishment or an instrument of God. To me, it’s part of life, like the rain or the sunset. Readers should notice, however, that unlike Tolstoy in Master and Man, I’ve written very few in-the-moment death scenes. There are two important ones in Finding the Moon in Sugar. In The Fugue, a character named Lars is near death, feverish and delusional in one scene, but he comes out of it. A lot of the deaths happen “behind the scenes” and are either discovered or noted by other characters.

Of all the scenes I’ve ever read, I feel that Nabokov must have had more fun than anyone else writing Humbert Humbert’s murder of Clare Quilty. It’s a romp, at once sublime and profane, and even includes a poetry reading. I think the reader enjoys, at least partially, watching Quilty go. I’d be shocked if readers found characters in my books they wanted to see destroyed.

However, I’m working on one now that people will probably want to see tortured. I haven’t decided what I’m going to do with him yet. But his fate won’t be easy.

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Five months from book launch

I’m unable to take it for granted. Each time I tell people, “I have a novel coming out in December,” I get a little buzzed up.

I reread the book one more time over the last two weeks of July, cutting a phrase here and adding a word there. When I completed it, I went out to water the garden. Dazed, I was transported back to my small room in New York City, right on the corner of Broadway and 113th, where I originally penned the first sentences of a short story—Yuri’s Window—that would eventually become The Fugue. The novel, all 120,000 words, set (mostly) in Cicero, Illinois and handling a cast of over a dozen characters, started out as a short story about a sculptor living in Amsterdam who made his own window frames and stained glass out of shattered beer bottles and pieces of fences. The first words were put to paper in late 2000.

The short story became a novel on the advice of several classmates at Columbia. Really, it was at the insistence of my teacher, David Plante, whose feedback saw me change the setting, that I started realizing I really did have a novel. Fifteen years later, that novel is going to be published.

I’ll be telling the story of how I wrote the book and what sort of ideas I played with, how long it took me to develop them. The story of how The Fugue was written is almost as interesting as the story the book tells: a sculptor is sentenced to prison for murdering his parents, and upon release returns to his hometown to convalesce and sift through memories, shattered narratives and the ongoing psychological effects of a World War. Over the span of the novel, the plot moves from a nondescript field in Western Ukraine, through the landscape of Chicagoland, eventually to extinguish itself at the back window of a bungalow, only seconds before the home’s conflagration.

There will be time to explore all that stuff.

In this post, I want to cut a question off at the pass. I know someone will ask: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Yes. Don’t ever give up.

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