Liquid Ink

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


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New interview up today

The folks at In the Coming Time were so kind to interview me about my books and photographs of puddles. I hope you’ll check it out.

Here’s an excerpt:

Puddles make for a simple subject to photograph. They’re really straightforward, even cliché, as what’s really happening is I’m photographing reflections. There’s something meta about that, at least for me: I’m reflecting on my writing process while photographing reflections of pond grasses and trees floating on a millimeter of water soon to evaporate from some alley or forest footpath. They’re ephemeral tragedies, like thoughts or feelings that never get shared.

Thanks for reading. Find the rest here


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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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This Podcast Will Change Your Life

I was fortunate to be invited to speak to Ben Tanzer on This Podcast Will Change Your Life. We discuss, among other things, men’s issues, marriage, The Fugue, Robert Duffer, Finding the Moon in Sugar, Robert Duffer, The Good Men Project, Tortoise Books, coping mechanisms, refugees, trauma, meditation, forming an identity, migration patterns and much more.

Give it a listen! Click here.

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Photo of me with Ben Tanzer courtesy of This Podcast Will Change Your Life.


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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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Readers ask: What’s your religion?

I’ll reveal that this question comes from students. I think it’s worth saying a few things about it on my blog.

Obviously, I write a lot about religion. Religion is a powerful force in the game of human fate, with tentacles in everything from political systems to educational institutions, nations’ customs and individuals’ identities. I’ve studied religions both formally and informally, and I’ve read a lot of the sacred books, including the Bible, Bhagavad-Gita and others.

I’m in the school that says you can’t really study Western Civilization without knowing the Bible, and you’re at a massive disadvantage as a student of literature if you don’t know at least the plots of the major Bible stories, including lessons in ethics like the Book of Job, the Sermon on the Mount or Paul’s letters. This isn’t just because every book of note will be packed with allusions to the Bible, but also because certain cultural assumptions trace themselves to a Judeo-Christian understanding of reality.

This is an evasive way of saying I’m neither Christian nor Jewish, but that I have deep reverence for the ethics and lessons of those traditions. Granted, I was raised Catholic, which is a lot like saying you used to be a cop or a member of the Latin Kings. Once you’re in, your mind will forever be affected. You can pawn your badge or burn all your black and gold, but the way you see the world remains. I have an easier time remembering the Act of Contrition than all the passwords I use on the internet.

I don’t identify as Catholic. Beyond that, my personal spirituality is a private matter.

Readers of this blog know I belong to a Zen center. I’ve written about mindfulness and trauma on multiple occasions, and I’m quite open about my meditation practice. Zen practice was as effective, if not more effective at treating my PTSD —at least after a certain period of time— as talk therapy. I stayed on because, frankly, it’s a sensible way of looking at the contemporary world, and I’ve also met wonderful people at the center.

What does a Zen Buddhist believe? My advice to anyone who wants an answer to that question is to try meditating. That’s the answer. While Zen has its set of ethics, it does not offer a list of rules that need to be followed. With the exception of meditation, there’s not really a set of beliefs or behaviors that equal Zen. What’s there to believe, and who’s in position to believe it? That’s a Zen question.

Still…this probably doesn’t satisfy the readers’ question. If I’m going to do something besides evade it, I should probably make an offering. What I’m willing to do is to present a list of questions that currently make up what I like to think of as my spiritual journey. I don’t have answers for them:

  • Is time a line, a circle or some other shape?
  • Is consciousness the result of the brain or is the brain the result of consciousness?
  • Will the individual please stand up?
  • What must be done in order to count beyond one?
  • Where is the past?
  • Where is the future?
  • If Jesus truly believed in paradise, would he have raised Lazarus?

 

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Photo: 9/11 Memorial, New York City 


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Readers ask: Why don’t your stories have endings?

This question came a while ago from someone who has read almost every available work of fiction I’ve ever written. While my novel, Finding the Moon in Sugar, saw very few reviews, several reviewers commented that the book had no ending. Reviewers of The Fugue have not made similar comments…not that I remember. But the reader asking the question felt the final paragraph of The Fugue is even less an ending than the final bit in Finding the Moon.

I find this really fascinating. It goes completely contrary to my process and point of view. I don’t feel I can really start writing something until I see how it ends. I’ve said in many interviews that The Fugue started out as a vignette of a man repairing a window. I didn’t know I had a novel until I imagined the very final scene. The horror and displacement convinced me I had a novel.

All this aside, my endings don’t offer resolution. I find resolution to be among the greatest contrivances in literature. I don’t think of narratives or time in linear terms, but if we do think this way, a cliché applies: all roads lead to the same destination, and that destination is a mystery. There’s a difference between writing the last word of a text—always an energizing moment—and resolving the narrative’s problem. A good ending is one that leaves the reader feeling obliterated or provoked. It is not one that leaves the reader with the delusion that now s/he “understands something” or, worse, “understands everything.”

There’s no way to answer this question in detail without discussing the actual endings. As a person fascinated with love and death, I write about not knowing. One of my most important themes, I think, is ignorance, especially the kind of ignorance we can’t perceive. So I don’t try to answer any questions in my fiction. My fiction is a way for me to express my ignorance, and my endings work to that end.

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My son is a capitalist mathematician

My son will be five years old in January. Today he was allowed to watch two cartoons after breakfast. Towards the end of his session, we had this discussion. (Mind you, this conversation sounds much better in Lithuanian, so if you speak the language, try to imagine it.)

Me: “How many more minutes are left in that cartoon?”

Boy: “I don’t know. Maybe five or maybe fifty five.”

Me: “So, it will be over soon?”

Boy: “Yeah, but then can I watch more?”

Me: “How  many more?”

Boy: (Thinks about it) “Three?”

Me: “Oh, no. That’s too much. But I’ll allow one more if you help me water the tomatoes.”

Boy: (Thinks about it) “Well, but if I watch one more, then I will watch three.”

Me: “You’ll have watched three. Yes. Two plus one is three.”

Boy: (Nodding, cocksure) “Good. That means you let me watch three. So I can watch three more.”

Me: “But then you’ll have watched more than three.”

Boy: (Brow furrowed) “When you’re allowed three, you should always get three, anytime you want. That’s what ‘you’re allowed’ means, dad.”

Me: “But then how many tomatoes will you have to water?”

Boy: (Waves his hand.) “Dad, it’ll rain. We don’t have to worry about it.”

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Photo: My son looking out the window of Gediminas Castle, Vilnius, spring 2016