Liquid Ink

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

Sneak preview of my next book

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I’m currently working on a memoir about my upbringing in Cicero.

I have shared virtually nothing of the manuscript, neither with family nor friends, and I hardly talk about it with other writers. Earlier this month, on November 7th, I read an excerpt before an audience at Tuesday Funk.

Enormous thanks to Eden Robins and Andrew Huff, the brains and savvy behind the reading series, for having me again. Reading at Tuesday Funk is always a treat.

 


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New thriller set in Vilnius, 1989

At a recent literary event here in Chicago, I got my hands on a surprising book, Love Songs of the Revolution by Bronwyn Mauldin. It’s a thriller (spy novel and murder mystery) set in Vilnius in 1989, and the primary action takes place before and during the Baltic Chain demonstration that occurred in the late summer of that year.

While Mauldin’s book offers quite a bit of interest to the general reader, I want to say some things Lithuanians will find intriguing, and I hope this post encourages members of the Lithuanian media to investigate Mauldin’s work.

Love Songs of the Revolution is, as mentioned, a thriller. As a first-person account, it’s a faux-memoir penned by a former member of the Lithuanian revolutionary underground. A work of meta-fiction, the book employs a variety of epistolary techniques, including faux-research, blogs composed by readers of the memoir, and tweets of a researcher interested in the identity of the memoir’s author. While slim, only 184 pages, Love Songs packs layered commentary on the nature of letters, the process of historiography, the validity of memory, our preoccupation with memoirists’ “accuracy” and other meta-textual concerns common to contemporary studies of narrative.

With nearly a third of the book—indeed, the final third, including the book’s climax—dedicated to this self-reflective shuffle, I found Love Songs as worried about itself as about the socio-politics of the Lithuanian SSR or the identity and psychology of a revolutionary. I don’t mean anything negative by this observation. Indeed, what can be said about a revolution or a revolutionary? Quite a bit but nothing absolute. Love Songs critiques the unenlightened assumption that “truth” lies in data and precise documentation, not in the immeasurable fear and confusion (lust, pleasure, boredom) felt by people in conflict.

No doubt, some Lithuanian readers will pick bones with Maudlin for setting her novel in a city she has not visited and staging conversations in a language she does not speak. I can hear the camp that’ll point out, “Inaccuracies!” (and there are some, including a map that mixes up Kaunas with Švenčionėliai) as I can hear someone saying, “This book is about imprecision because the author is self-conscious about her lack of knowledge.” I think any critique like that fails to take the book on its own terms. It might be ironic to fake a memoir when the author is depending on the memories of others and must imagine how the gaps glue themselves to bannisters. That is, however, the nature of historiography.

I don’t actually feel this book is, at its heart, about Lithuania or the end of the Soviet Union. I feel it’s mostly about contemporary consciousness, primarily in America, an empire in very serious decline. Without including spoilers, I’ll reveal that the book draws parallels between the collapse of the USSR and contemporary America. Our American methods of delusion are different from the Soviet kind, but we avoid facing reality all the same. To quote from Love Songs:

Perhaps the differences seem smaller for those of us who have lived under both systems. In the Soviet era, it was the state who told us how we could and could not live. Here in America, it is the corporations that control our lives, and we are willing participants. Corporations decide what we will see on television and in the movies, what will appear in newspapers, what chemicals and inedible ingredients will be put into our food. If a government did those things to them, Americans would protest, but because something called a corporation does it to them, they pay money for it and beg for more.

There is also this:

I warn you now, my fellow Americans—yes, I am a citizen by choice now in your country—you will be disappointed by this story. You measure the quality of literature by the complexity of its plot twists. Unpredictability and “originality” are valued above all else. You insist on a happy ending, or at least a glimpse of a silver lining behind every cloud. You want to know that no animals were harmed in the making of this story. I can promise you none of this

The story I am going to tell is true; therefore it will not please you. It is direct and straightforward. The dead remain dead, and the guilty go unpunished. The sepia-tinted dream you might wish it to be turns out to be a dull, faded reality. When you close this book, you will frown and use words like “unresolved”. You will come to conclusions, and ask why no one took the actions that are plainly obvious to you.

That is because you are Americans, and you believe there is a solution to every problem. That every grief concludes in closure, or that it should. That hard work pays off, and cream always rises to the top. That every crime can be solved in an hour, minutes eighteen minutes for commercial breaks. That satisfaction is guaranteed. You are fools to expect anything but heartache and disappointment. It is your expectations that make you weak.

Someone might read that and say, “Maudlin really nailed Americans here.” I hope those same people will realize she nailed, in the same three paragraphs, the post-Soviet mentality as well. And that’s the real triumph of this little book. Every gesture connects the sides it critiques.

 

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Photo courtesy of the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography.


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My 9/11 Memoir

I was living in New York on 9/11/2001. I composed this brief memoir for today’s edition of The Good Men Project.

Sept 11 Fireman


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At the Bloghop!

I’ve been asked by fel­low author, Nancy Agabian, to par­tic­i­pate in a Blog Hop in order to intro­duce new authors to new read­ers. If you’ve come here from the link posted on Nancy’s blog, wel­come! If you’re a regular Liquid Inker or came upon my blog by chance, this is an oppor­tu­nity for you to get know some­thing about the memoir I am work­ing on and to check out some writ­ers who might be new to you by fol­low­ing the links at the end of the post. They are all fine authors whose work I would highly rec­om­mend. Again, spe­cial thanks to Nancy Agabian for ask­ing me to participate.

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Ten Inter­view Ques­tions for The Next Great Read

Q: What is the work­ing title of your book?
A: Ghetto Blueblood

Q: Where did the idea come from for the book?
A: I published an essay titled Baptism Party in Antique Children’s Revolt of the Underdog issue. Another contributor, Rene Vasicek, told me I should expand it to a memoir. Then another writer, Daiva Markelis, told me to expand it into a memoir. Later on, a fan of my writing, someone who’s been following my work since before I published my first story, told me I should expand it into a memoir. I finally took the advice seriously.

Q: What genre does your book fall under?
A: Non-fiction (memoir)

Q: Which actors would you choose to play your char­ac­ters in a movie ren­di­tion?
A: I myself should be played by a rock star, preferably a resurrected one, maybe Kurt Cobain. My brother should be played by a young Arunas Storpirštis. The rest of the cast should be made up of Russian, Lithuanian, English and American actors currently in drama school.

Q: What is the one-sentence syn­op­sis of your book?
A: PTSD isn’t as bad as the trauma that caused it, but you won’t know it without getting PTSD.

Q: Will your book be self-published or rep­re­sented by an agency?
A: I have no way of predicting this. Just the other day I ordered a pizza and it came to my neighbor’s house. In the meantime, a young girl came to my door asking if I’d like to subscribe to some strange local newspaper advertising pizza delivery.

Q: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your man­u­script?
A: I have yet to complete the first draft. I actually haven’t finished a draft of the first chapter. Ha!

Q: What other books would you com­pare this story to within your genre?
A: It’s a mix of influences, so I’ll use them to answer this question, even though comparing myself to these masters is idiotic. I can’t believe I’m doing this: Paul Auster’s Hand to Mouth, A Chronicle of Early Failure. Nabokov’s Speak, Memory. Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London (He claims it’s a novel, but that’s BS). Capote’s Music for Chameleons.

Q: Who or What inspired you to write this book?
A: I was diagnosed with PTSD a short time after my daughter was born. Anyone who has the condition (or anyone close to someone with the condition) will tell you how dramatically everything changes; life becomes a 3D (truly terrifying) horror film, and one cannot tell between dream states and their alternative. I don’t want to get into the vile symptoms here. Writing through it, even gibberish, helped. I also started treating it naturally, doing yoga and practicing Zen. A completed memoir will crown my victory over PTSD, as there was a time when I had lost any ability to read and could barely write anything beyond crude e-mail messages.

Q: What else about your book might piqué the reader’s inter­est?
A: I have a way of telling stories about the lower-middle class and the American underclass that’s extremely rare, primarily because my perspective is international, but also because I don’t pity the poor or the destitute. I don’t pity any human experience. As a student of zen, I try to reveal what’s before me, just as it is.

Here are the writ­ers whose work you can check out next: