“Henry Darger was a devout Catholic who was engaged in a huge argument with God.”
Transgression vs. transcendence: Elizabeth Hand‘s brand-new novel, Curious Toys (Mulholland Books), explores artistic and cultural taboos through the lens of a serial killer mystery set in the amusement parks of Progressive Era Chicago. We talk about her inspiration for making outsider artist/writer Henry Darger one of the lead characters of Curious Toys, how she first heard about Darger and the Vivian Girls mythology he created in his paintings and 15,000-page (!) novel, the striking similarities between Darger and Tolkien, the tragedy of outsider/visionary artists, and the challenge of casting a nonbinary character a century in the past (the novel’s other lead, not Darger). We also get into why writers have no control over the success of their books, the differences between writing on spec vs. on contract, some hints about her next Cass Neary novel, the time she outdrew Deepak Chopra at a bookstore signing, and more! Give it a listen! And go buy Curious Toys!
“Transcendence is not easy to achieve, and neither is true transgression.”
“Usually when I’m writing a novel, I start with a place I want to write about. With Curious Toys, I had characters, but had to research the place they populated.”
“I tell my students not to fixate on the publishing part of writing. You really just have to immerse yourself in the process of writing, because at the end of the day, that’s what you’re going to have.”
“Throughout my work, there’s a numinous quality to the world that my characters are struggling to find.”
About our Guest
Elizabeth Hand is the author of more than fourteen cross-genre novels and collections of short fiction. Her work has received the Shirley Jackson Award (three times), the World Fantasy Award (four times), the Nebula Award (twice), as well as the James M. Tiptree Jr. and Mythopoeic Society Awards. She’s a longtime critic and contributor of essays for the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Salon, Boston Review, and the Village Voice, among many others. She divides her time between the Maine coast and North London. Her new book is Curious Toys, published by Mulholland Books.
Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at the Marriott Boston Quincy during Readercon weekend on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photos of Ms. Hand by me. It’s on my instagram.