10 Questions for Zulema Renee Summerfield, the 2010 Michael Rubin Book Award Winner

Although she recently moved to Vancouver, author Zulema Renee Summerfield will be back in San Francisco this Thursday Nov. 4 to celebrate the release of her debut collection, Everything Faces All Ways at Once. Join us at 7 pm at the Space Gallery on Polk Street to pick up a copy of her book and hear selections from this new work from Fourteen Hills Press.

To prepare for the big event, we asked Zulema a few questions about her past, her dreams, and the realities of being a Canadian. Enjoy.

1. How did you get your fantastic name?

Ninth-grade Spanish class, baby! The teacher was handing out Spanish names and I said "What do you have that starts with a 'Z'?" I used it as a nickname for a long time and after a while it just kind of stuck. I actually prefer it over my legal name now.

2. Where did you grow up?

I grew up in good ol' Redlands, California. A nice little town. My parents split up when I was young, and I quickly gained a whole slew of new family members -- step-folk and siblings. I wrote my first story when I was fourteen, about a girl who lives on a planet with no rain. Her only recourse in this dry land is to listen to her rainstick. Pretty lame. I think I stole the idea from Ray Bradbury. So thank you, Ray Bradbury. Thank you.

3. Tell us about your manuscript, the 2010 Michael Rubin Book Award winner.

Everything Faces All Ways at Once: Fictions and Dreams came in fits and starts over the past two or three years. I took a flash fiction course with Barbara Tomash as an undergrad at SF State and it changed my life. (If it's being offered and you can take it, do so! I promise you will love it.) The fiction pieces span back to the start of my graduate career and range in tone and theme.

In terms of the dreams, a few years back I read a story by Roberto Bolano in the New Yorker. It was the first time I had read a dream sequence that was written as a dream -- the syntax and tone and shifts in narrative precisely matched the experience of dreaming, and I wanted to try that. So many dream stories read as flat and boring. I wanted to try to write my dreams as I had dreamt them. I hope I succeeded. Now that my book is being published, I feel honored, humbled, and completely stoked out of my mind. It's a lovely feeling.

4. What’s the difference between fictions and dreams?

The difference is everything, and nothing at all.

5. If you had to describe your book in four words, what would those words be and why?

"Yoko Ono blurbed it!" I'm trying to get Yoko Ono to call and offer to blurb my book. (Read more about it here.)

6. Tell me about Rene Magritte and your relationship to him.

Rene Magritte and I went to prom together. He tried to get in my pants.

That's a total lie.

I've always been fascinated, intrigued, and completely floored by Magritte's work. Those paintings where the figure is facing away from the viewer? Freakin' brilliant. His "Perspective" coffin paintings are hilarious and poignant. I love stuff like that -- art that is clever in a not-irritating way, stuff that makes you laugh and think. (I'm looking at you here, Yoko.)

Here's a true story: Years ago, I had a dream that I was at an outdoor wedding party. There was a pond in the yard, and in the pond were a group of birds made entirely of leaves. Live birds, made of leaves. At the time, I'd never seen Magritte's The Natural Graces, but a few weeks later I went to a showing of his work at the SF MOMA, and guess what was hanging on the wall? Cheesey as it is to say, there's been a connection for me to his work for a long time, a connection I can't always explain. And I would have gone to prom with him, if only he'd asked.

7. Did you have any of the dreams you write about? Was it scary? (I’m thinking of “Rattlesnakes!” here.) What is your favorite dream and why?

All of the dreams are real dreams I had. Most of them were narratives; some (like "dream of when we were the same") were sentences that I dreamt. The rattlesnakes dream was scary (thank you for asking) while I was dreaming it -- but then, as often happens, you wake up and you realize that scary equals hilarious, so the goal was to try to get that down.

My favorite one is "dream of change we can believe in." I'm going to send a copy to Barack Obama and hope he writes back. That kid in the dream, Ricky Ramos, he's a real guy, my first "true love" -- I dream about him all the time. I'm still trying to figure out a way to write to him without sounding creepy: "Hey, remember me? I dream about you all the time." Of course, it's not really him, just the idea of him. He's just a metaphor for something else floating around in my head. Poor guy...

8. What are you working on now?

I'm writing a YA novel about grief (fun for all ages!), and also working on revising/editing a whole slew of short fiction and creative non-fiction pieces. I'm also trying to get Yoko Ono to call. Did I say that? I want Yoko Ono to call.

9. Do you feel like a Canadian yet? When will you know you’re a real Canadian?

When I'm nicer and own hockey equipment.

10. Imagine: Yoko Ono is calling you right now, but you’re on the other line and can’t answer her call. How does it feel?

There's no way in hell I would not answer Yoko Ono's call. This question is ridiculous.

11. Bonus question! Terese Svoboda says your work "has a point and it's fixed like this in space, but also it's shifting … to pierce right through your skeptical, unbelieving, tender human heart." How did you achieve this feat? As fellow writers and fans, any tips or hints you can give would be much appreciated.

Gosh, tips? Write, write, write, write, write, and then write some more. Read anything and everything. Read it slow. Read it again. Also, if you're a student at SF State, take full advantage of your time there. The halls are swarming with inspired, brilliant, incredibly talented people. They will change your life if you let them.

Thanks, Zulema. We’re counting down the hours until Thursday.
-Leanne Milway, managing editor, Fourteen Hills

1 comment:

  1. What an excellent interview! It really captures the excitement and whimsy of ZRS's writing and personality.