According to my esteemed Dictionary.com, a tin god is someone, esp. a minor official, who is pompous and self-important. I’m referring to my fallen conquistador who perhaps was once pompous and self-important but as soon as he is relegated to the journey into the unknown, he’s in trouble. He has to gouge a dead comrade out of his armor and steal his tin hat in order to protect himself. His deterioration is a paean to “A Distant Episode,” Paul Bowles’ perfect story about the fall of an academic in Morocco, although maybe all stories about the disoriented in exotic climes derive from Bowles or maybe Dante’s Inferno, or even Rabelais whose narrator resides inside Pantagruel’s mouth for six months and discovers an entire nation living around his teeth.
Who is this narrator who spells her name G-O-D at the start of the book?
The actual god in my story—the almighty one, not the incarnate—is closest in character to a Midwestern middle-aged farm woman. What’s wrong with that? I’m the eldest of nine, I know oracular. Besides I needed a voice to tie together the two seemingly unrelated stories.
Why God? Why not just omniscient pov?
In writing my first novel I had POV problems. I couldn’t imagine what went on inside the head of an African. Or rather, I could imagine it, but the act of imagining it was presumptuous, given, at the very least, that the outcome was always so mysterious or surreal. A few years after I made the expedition the book is based on, the man I was with said he was with the CIA. I realized then that I didn’t know what was going on in his head either. I settled for a kind of hyper-real POV of my own. So of course for the next book, I chose God. Fewer problems, and I had a character behind the narrator who was, well, perfect.
Aren’t you going to get into trouble with the fundamentalists?
Blasphemous? If God is not approachable, she’s nobody. And don’t give me that nobody from Odysseus and the Cyclops.
Why did Publisher’s Weekly call you a “fabulous fabulist” when Tin God first came out in 2006?
Whilst I think I write perfectly transparent prose, everyone else in the room says I fabulate. PW also said that “Svoboda loves her red-state mopes, and that warmth both illuminates and animates her eccentric prose.” Can’t be all bad. Besides, Library Journal called the book “a funny romp” and recommended it for all libraries. And then Dan Chaon called me “a true American original.” How’s that for name-calling?
What made me unite the stories of a lost conquistador and the dope-dealer four hundred years apart?
The conquistador came from a dream that had haunted me for years: whispering native Americans surround a blue-eyed Spaniard. My first response was to write “Woman With God,” a poem I published in Treason (Zoo Press, 2002). The dope dealer story was based on two characters I’d met twenty years ago, plus the influence of frequent trips to Nebraska where my father farms. I didn’t know the two stories were related but I insisted on writing the book in alternating chapters. It took ten years to make the connections between the them. I was surprised to find that act of alternating chapters, the mind made connections between them without any effort on my part. God bless the mind. I discovered another connection while going over the galleys, proving that everything is related everywhere always ad infinitum.
On the issue of reissuing:
A few years ago Rick Simonson at Elliot Bay Books wrote a piece in Publisher’s Weekly suggesting that some large press in New York should take me on. Yoo-hoo! Turning a hardback into paper is a magic trick that potentially could mean more sales. More sales means that the aforementioned press in a certain metropolitan area might be more amenable. Forever optimistic.
The first edition has illustrations at the beginning of each chapter, and the last ten pages are printed on black with white type. Was that something you had in mind when submitting the book for publication?
No. Although when I first saw it, I was shocked, I am now very proud that the book designer was so taken with the story as to make it collectible. I was, in turn, very disappointed that these features weren’t carried over in the re-issue.
Pantyhose plays an important part in the denouement. Does anyone wear it these days?
Are you saying that I’ve dated my story by including a detail which has become anachronistic? Are you saying that women have flung off these sausage casings and covered their varicose veins and bulging calves with knee-highs? Maybe guns will become passe too.
A brand new Guggenheim fellow, TERESE SVOBODA is the author of six books of prose, five books of poetry, a memoir and a book of translations. Tin God is her fourth–and funny–novel.