Recent Work By Terese Svoboda

Terese Svoboda’s newest novel, Bohemian Girl, inspired by Willa Cather’s My Antonia, is the latest in a series entitled “Flyover Fiction,” from University of Nebraska Press.  The concept is fiction set on the Great Plain: affectionately known as America’s Heartland, or dismissively referred to as a flyover region between the more “important,” interesting and sophisticated coasts.  But if this ironic series name leads readers to expect a Midwest that’s folksy or sentimental from Svoboda, they’ll have another thing coming—her fans already know that fiction doesn’t get much more innovative, whip-smart or cosmopolitan in spirit.  Like Ladette Randolph, editor of the venerable Ploughshares literary journal as well as an esteemed author of fiction oft-compared to Flannery O’Connor’s, Svoboda is also an ardent—if unconventional—feminist, and makes no bones about it in her work.  When it comes to buzzwords that marketers usually don’t want to hear, “what’s worse, flyover or feminist?,” or so jokes Svoboda’s powerhouse publicist, Lauren Cerand.  Here, these two fearless women writers, who happen to have set books in the Midwest, discuss their unconventional careers, grappling with their shadows, and whether there is such a thing as “Midwestern literature.” Is a novel different if it doesn’t take place on a coast—or wasn’t written by a man?  If so, and the novel also happens to be by Svoboda or Randolph, it’s sure to be worth much more than a flyover . . .

                                                      Gina Frangello, TNB Fiction editor

You can’t escape Willa Cather’s shadow if you’re a Nebraskan. Who can best “the golden light seemed to be rippling through the curly grass like the tide racing in” when it comes to nailing dawn in that state? Cather makes any competing author just want to write about New York City. But it takes an exile to really see a landscape. She was not Nebraskan, she left the rolling hills of Virginia behind for remote Red Cloud at the tender age of nine and stayed only a decade. I am a native, but I too have the advantage of an exile’s perspective, having fled to New York after my own time in a small Nebraskan town. Cather is the eldest of seven children, I am the eldest of nine. We both had a Latin tutor, we both feared “we might die in a cornfield”—her words. But I am Bohemian.

1718 – Nantucket Beach




I’ve seen boats as big as this whale.  I’ve seen gryphons the same size, with teeth growing in even as they were taking their last breath.

You have not.  And not a live one.

I’ve been to sea, I’ve seen all you’re supposed to, being at sea. I am sixteen, after all.

I have a note from when I started my fifth novel, Pirate Talk or Mermalade in 1997: “Why this is only dialogue: history is a series of whispers. The landscapes change but the whispers continue.” While landing Pirate Talk, I kept having to justify why only dialogue. “Talk Like a Pirate Day” by David Sedaris had yet to be invented, and Philip Roth hadn’t run his all-dialogue story in the New Yorker. Thirty years ago, Chip McGrath at the New Yorker told me I did description well. With my usual perversity, I did without. Both for the fun of it, and because I love Daniel Defoe’s dialogue. People from another time in history differ in culture from ours, their world and language is closer to sci-fi than the contemporary. I wanted the reader to feel as if he were listening through some temporal fold that physics is always promising that would allow him to overhear voices in the 18th century. But really, contemporary life is all about dialogue now, tweets and blogs overwhelming the well-made descriptive. And would you look at that cover! The great Brian McMullen made it talk!