Liquid Ink

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


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Expressing gratitude on the first anniversary of my novel’s publication

Today marks one year since the publication of my novel, The Fugue. I have so many reasons to express gratitude. Thank you  to my readers, to the many people who visit Liquid Ink religiously, especially those who share my writing with others. I’m just humbled to think that my writing has reached so many people in such a short time.

I’ve received notes from readers enjoying the book as far away from Chicago as Madagascar, Seychelles, Sydney and various parts of Europe. In November of 2014, before I agreed to terms, I had labeled the book a failure. Set aside, it had been collecting dust since I had finished it in 2006.

The story of how my book got published has been a topic about as interesting as the book itself. After my original publisher went out of business, the book got dumped, only to be picked up in less than 24 Hours by Tortoise Books. In short, it has been a roller coaster.

Prior to it getting published—prior to newspapers like the Chicago Tribune calling it “magisterial” and comparing it to Dostoevsky; prior to Rick Kogan glowing about it on WGN Radio, comparing it to the likes of Stuart Dybek and Nelson Algren; prior to it becoming a finalist for a Book of the Year Award—The Fugue had been rejected for being “too long” and “too focused on a community unknown to most readers.” It had been called inaccessible, convoluted and unreadable. I had been told to think more carefully about what actual American readers wanted to enjoy, and had my attention drawn to books about 5th Avenue shopping culture and immature divorce stories. I was asked to stop fantasizing about becoming one of my favorite writers, authors “no one reads anymore” and to write something snappy and original. People told me no one had any interest in long novels; that year, a pile of 110,000 word debut novels had been released.

Of course, now I stand in bookstores selling my novel, talking to readers, and I see how often books the size of lunchboxes are purchased. Two of the last three times I had a book-selling event, I sold out of the copies I had brought.

The moral of the story for writers, or for anyone pursuing an ambition against odds, is never to give up, no matter how many times you’re rejected, how many times you’re told there’s no interest in you. The most important lesson I learned while getting my MFA was that criticism revealed much more about the critic than the critiqued. That lesson keeps me soldiering on. It’s universally true.

Interested parties should know that I’m almost done with another manuscript. You’ll have something new to read soon, hopefully.

Thank you for accepting, reading, sharing and talking about my work.  You’re all the best.

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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.

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Getting compared to your idols

This past week, the Chicago Tribune ran this review of my novel, The Fugue. The reviewer, fellow Chicagoan Dmitry Samarov, called the book “magisterial,” said it goes for all the marbles and compared it to Dostoevsky.

Other commentators have compared my writing to other writers that I love, including Nelson Algren.

All these conversations are insane. They don’t feel real. I’m certain a moment is arriving when a director or other puppet-master will say, “We’re finished, thank you,” then turn off all the lights, unplug the equipment and send all the players back to reality.

I have so many questions about how this all happens. How is it that you read the books of the writers you love, write your own book and then end up getting compared to them? The comparisons are obvious compliments. But what’s going on? Have I internalized these forms, or are they attractive to me because I found parts of myself swimming in them, parts placed in a text long before I was born?

Today, I’d just like to nudge the director or puppet-master, if s/he’s reading. Don’t turn off the equipment. Not for a while, anyway.  I’d like to keep this insane conversation going.

Here’s a self-portrait I took of myself in Queens, NY.

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Video: live interview

This is about a 24 minute video of me answering moderator Amy Danzer’s questions following my reading at The Looking Glass Bookstore in Oak Park, Illinois on February 18, 2016. Yes! That gorgeous bookstore in the background is right here where I live. It’s worth visiting just to see the decor (and to  buy a bunch of books, obviously).

In this video, I answer questions about why I’d want to write a literary fugue, what place setting plays in my writing, how art helps with trauma, and what audience I had in mind while writing.

Enjoy, and do share.

Also, be sure to check out my fledgling YouTube channel. It’s sure to grow as I gather more videos.


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Forgiveness for bullies

I hope you don’t miss Dennis Milan Bensie’s latest essay, titled A Bully Comes Around. It’s about a homophobic bully Bensie knew in high school who, following Bensie’s posts supporting gay marriage on a rather conservative Facebook group page, contacted him. I hope you read it, so I won’t say more, only that the bully apologizes for being an asshole.

While promoting the article on Twitter, I asked the question, “Do bullies deserve forgiveness?” The only people who responded said they did not.

This is interesting. Here’s a guy, Bensie’s bully, who grew up in a conservative community, one that actively taught its children that they should fear or loathe homosexuals. If they should not fear them, they should look down on them because God was going to judge gays harshly. The bully, perhaps while acting out his own rejection or perceived failure, took this lesson and expressed hatred and aggression just as he was taught. In his adult years, after following the gay marriage debate, he comes around to perceive homosexuals in a new way, then he asks one for forgiveness.

But the bullying stays with us, doesn’t it? Many of us will remember being bullied, and we immediately return to the feeling of powerlessness. It’s crushing, and the pain returns.

In my view, we risk a lot if we allow this pain to cloud our wisdom. It’s rare for most of us to have lived life without ever hurting anyone. Yes, most of us were not bullies, but we probably remember harming someone, and we probably wish we had not done it, especially now that we can look back at the events and know we are different people.

I think we reject forgiveness because we idealize it. Some of us, especially those raised Christian, fetishize it. But forgiveness does not mean we have to submit to someone or become completely powerless, even selfless. If we tell someone, “I’m not hurt by you anymore,” or “I wish you much peace in the future—don’t let the harm you did bother you,” we do not have to spend time with them. We barely even need to acknowledge that they exist beyond that moment. Think about it. The bully no longer exists. A bully cannot ask forgiveness.  That’s what a bully is, someone incapable of empathy. We become similar to them when we cannot honor their request, especially if we refuse because we revel in their pain, shame and self-loathing. If we kick them in the face of their courage, we gain revenge. But we have not conquered the bully. Instead, we become a shade of bully. Do we want that?

I recall Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, one of my favorite books. A man takes a woman’s life because he believes that he is serving a greater good—she is harmful to people and killing her removes the harm. The young man has, in essence, inflated himself to an uber-human and perceived himself as a demi-god. And yet, he is dependent later on a selfless creature, someone incapable of hatred, barely able to grow angry. It’s a powerful book and left a lasting impression on me when I was very young, about as young as Raskolnikov, the killer, the first time I read it. I know from Dostoevsky’s personal notes and a biography that his dream was for the court system to be able to say, “You’re forgiven. Go forth and never commit atrocities again.” Of course, Dostoevsky was not naive. He knew that kind of forgiveness would collapse society and put it in the hands of assholes.

But it does not have to collapse the individual. Paradoxically, it can empower us. Here is someone who used to bully me. Now he is begging me for civil contact. I can judge him freely, act in any way I wish. I can play the bully or I can kill the bully completely. It’s a moment of shocking enormity.


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The Dark Knight and The Grand Inquisitor

I loved this article so much that I have to share it. It uses Dostoevsky’s “The Grand Inquisitor,” the famous argument from The Brothers Karamazov, to inform readers and cinephiles on Nolan’s The Dark Knight, easily my favorite Batman film. It’s only a stretch if you dismiss The Dark Knight as something less than a work of philosophy. If you do so, I feel you’ve misunderstood the film.

“The Grand Inquisitor,” now, should be standard reading in schools, especially in schools with high percentages of Christian students. It argues, among other things, that it is Satan, not Christ, who drives the Catholic Church.

Happy reading.