Welcome Readers, I have a wonderful interview with author J.G. Źymbalist and his novel Song of the Oceanides. Enjoy!
Song of the Oceanides is a quirky but poignant coming-of-age tale about children, Martians, freaky Martian hummingbird moths, and alluring sea nymphs.
The first thread relates the suspenseful tale of a Martian girl, Emmylou, stranded in Maine where she is relentlessly pursued by the Pinkerton Detective Agency’s Extraterrestrial-Enigma Service. The second thread concerns her favorite Earthling comic-book artist, Giacomo Venable, and all his misadventures and failed romances. The final thread deals with a tragic young lad, Rory Slocum, who, like Emmylou, loves Giacomo’s comic books and sees them as a refuge from the sea nymphs or Oceanides incessantly taunting and tormenting him.
As much as anything, the triple narrative serves to show how art may bring together disparate pariahs and misfits—and give them a fulcrum for friendship and sense of communal belonging in a cruel world.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?
Hmm. What should I say? I hold a ritzy M.F.A. degree in poetry. The problem is that by the time I completed the degree, I had already gravitated toward fiction. I do think people who read my stuff will be able to discern my poetry background. My writing is poetic, slow, imagistic, and rather atmospheric. I’m always just as much concerned about the subtle evolutions and vagaries of emotion as I am about plot.
What inspired you to write?
Wow, that’s actually a rather heavy question. As simplistic as this might sound, I would say that it was only really my unconscious mind itself that inspired me to write. I think of that great quote by Carl Sagan: “We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.” Perhaps the laws of nature just simply intend for some people to write about the human condition and its place in the world.
What inspired your novel?
My own childhood depression and my own experiences with school bullying. Those are the two biggest, heaviest thematic topics that come up in Song of the Oceanides. Hopefully I added enough humor and quirkiness to balance out the grim stuff.
What is the genre?
I don’t know. Transgenre? There are elements of historical fiction, fantasy, science fiction, steampunk. A little bit of everything.
What draws you to this genre?
I love transgenre because it is experimental, and I think there is merit in trying to do something different. Also blending science fiction with ancient Greek myth (or any kind of myth) serves as the perfect metaphor for the never-ending struggle between civilization and primitivism.
How did you develop your plot and characters?
I very carefully constructed three symmetrical narrative threads, each with its own separate point-of-view character and narrative arc. The threads interweave, and everything is very meticulously balanced—even if the reader doesn’t think so. I suppose the structure is a bit like one of those really gargantuan Mahler symphonies where the music seems to have no form because there’s so much going on, but as a matter of fact, there is structure all throughout.
What inspired your protagonist?
There are three rather ignoble protagonists in Song of the Oceanides, and they are all inspired by the tragic misfits who tended to be my friends in school and well into adult life.
What inspired your antagonist?
Academia. All my villains are based on people from school: Unfriendly teachers, bullies, mean girls, and sadistic little boys who take joy in ridiculing others.
What was the hardest part to write in the book?
Hmm. If I am to be honest, I would say that the hardest parts were the scenes in which someone is getting beat up. All of those scenes were inspired by my own schoolyard memories. It’s unpleasant to relive a memory of someone beating you up. In addition, it’s unpleasant to relive a memory of standing there watching a friend or sibling get beat up. Childhood can be so animalistic.
Are you a full time or part time writer? If part time, what do you do besides write?
Full time. I’m always in the page. When I was younger and worked a million different jobs, one could say I was part time then. But in truth, I wasn’t. Even when I was younger and working here or there or wherever, I was always thinking and jotting down notes in my idea books. I was a very unreliable employee.
What are you currently reading?
I just started Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust. I’m glad too because it has a strong narrative voice, though the text meanders through different key scenes. Anyway it’s a good feeling to read a piece written in that traditional style. Song of the Oceanides is built up out of nothing but highly-specific scenes with almost no real narrative voice.
Who would you say are your favourite authors?
Ray Bradbury would have to be on the list. Maybe Robert Heinlein too. And I’ve always loved the poetry of Mary Oliver.
How about your favourite books? What would be your top 5?
I can name three: Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein, and Magnus Merriman by Eric Linklater. I also read poetry, and I especially love Japanese haikus in English translation. Isn’t that peculiar?
What are your future projects, if any?
Hmm. I must confess that I am reluctant to answer this question. I plan to self-publish another ebook, but I’ll use a different pseudonym. It’s very different than Song of the Oceanides.
What is your preferred method for readers to get in touch with you and your books?
I have a website that features a big exhibit on Song of the Oceanides. http://jgzymbalist.com I can also be contacted via the website. The email address is: email@example.com
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Wow, that’s another really heavy question. My advice is as follows. Don’t go to school or writing programs of any sort. Just work one on one with a published author who writes the sort of thing you yourself write. Let that person provide vigorous critiques until your material really begins to click. It’s like an apprenticeship, and there’s no better way to learn. For example, if you want to be a really good blacksmith, nothing can beat doing an actual apprenticeship with a blacksmith who can actually have you doing something rather than just sitting around talking about it.
J.G. Źymbalist is the pseudonym of a very reclusive author who grew up in Ohio and West Germany. He began writing Song of the Oceanides as a child when his family summered in Castine, Maine where they rented out Robert Lowell’s house. There, inspired by his own experiences with school bullying and childhood depression, the budding author began to conceive the tale.
For several years, J.G. Źymbalist lived in the Old City of Jerusalem where he night clerked at a series of Palestinian youth hostels. There he wrote the early draft of an as yet unpublished Middle-Eastern NA fantasy. Returning from the Middle East, he completed an M.F.A. in poetry at Sarah Lawrence College.
The author returned to Song of the Oceanides while working for the Martha’s Vineyard Historical Society, May-September, 2005. He completed the full draft in Ellsworth, Maine later that year.
He has only recently decided to self-publish a few of his previous works. Foreword Reviews has called his writing “innovative fiction with depth,” and Kirkus Indie has called his style “a lovely, highly descriptive prose that luxuriates in the details and curios of his setting.”
Many thanks to J.G. for providing such an in depth and wonderful interview about his novel The Song of Oceanides. – Leticia