Entrevista a Elam Ellis Embarq por Mirjana Milosavljević

Elam Ellis Embarq


    "I was fortunate to have been born with natural artistic ability. Beginning in childhood I engaged in artistic activity in many mediums. As a young adult I did drawing, painting, sculpting, mixed media, photography, filmmaking, and, of course, writing. In my thirties I realized that it was my writing that was exceptional and I ceased doing the visual arts, for which I have no regrets."


EntreVistArtista (EVA) © 2009 – 2013
“Entre Tú y Yo”: Elam Ellis Embarq

1. Mirjana: Hello Elam. Firstly, I always like to give the interviewee an opportunity to briefly tell us about themselves and their work? Who is actually “Elam”?

Elam: This is a character I created solely for Facebook. Online I can be found on other websites with various other characters and names. The creation of such characters, or personas, is actually very liberating; allowing me to be free of a static personality. I am not constrained by any notions or expectations of others. Having stated that, if one were to closely follow this character on Facebook, or another elsewhere, one would actually get to know something about myself in the process; even gain some insight into the person that I am to a certain extent. It is like a literary device which serves as a means toward an end. Were I to use a picture of myself and my actual name, one would not thereby know anything about me essentially; I would not necessarily be any more real. As the Bard of Avon opined: What’s in a name? With all of my writing I employ a nom de plume, which is my way of making the reader focus be on the “work,” rather than on me. That we do not know the author of Beowulf does not change its great merit.

2. Mirjana: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated and I would like to know do you have a specific writing style?

Elam: The origin is in my childhood, though I certainly did not realize it at the time. The only reading material in the home was the King James Bible and a cardboard box in the basement with the entire encyclopedia Britannica. Rather than reading comic books, watching cartoons, or playing with my peers, most of the time I found myself engaged to reading. The copious stories in the Bible and the diversity of topics contained in the encyclopedia were endlessly fascinating for me. It should be noted that even at that early age, I already did not envision what I was reading in terms of fact or fiction. It was inevitable, I think, that this insatiable reader would become a writer. Having spent a lifetime reading almost exclusively the classics, the influence of three millennia of world literature has profoundly shaped the way in which I write. I do not have a style of writing per se; I write with diversity and freedom of form. The idea of a storyline I find abhorrent, to be honest. It is a dynamic and fluid process for me. Just as my readers will not know what to expect, nor do I know what to expect. My life, the world, the universe, changes from moment to moment, and therefore so does my writing.
3. Mirjana: Who are your favorite authors and what is it that really strikes you about their work?

Elam: This is a rather difficult question for me, for many reasons. I literally have so many favourites, each of which has moved me in some very personal or profound way. I think in order to simplify the matter I will answer your question by using the notion of categories. So, in my humble opinion, the favourites are as follows: Homer – greatest poet; Shakespeare – greatest playwright; Montaigne – greatest essayist; Kafka – greatest short story writer; Dostoevsky – greatest novelist.

4. Mirjana: What books have most influenced your life most, and are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?

Elam: Keeping in mind the answer provided in the previous question, I will not duplicate those authors. Given the limitations of time and space, I will attempt to engage in brevity with my answer here. Also, I will include “new” authors, which I take to mean contemporary. The list of the most influential books is as follows: Plato (Dialogues); Dante (The Divine Comedy); Cervantes (Don Quixote); Chaucer (The Canterbury Tales); Milton (Paradise Lost); Voltaire (Candide); Goethe (Faust); Rimbaud (Complete Works); Blake (Complete Poems); Austin (Pride and Prejudice); Keats (Poems); Dickens (A Tale of Two Cities); Bronte (Poems); Wilde (Plays); Tolstoy (Anna Karenina); Dickinson (Poems); Poe (Tales); Proust (Remembrance of Things Past); Woolf (Orlando); Joyce (Ulysses); Beckett (Three Novels); Kundera (The Unbearable Lightness of Being); Marquez (One Hundred Years of Solitude); Pound (The Cantos); Nabokov (Lolita); Pynchon (Gravity’s Rainbow); Lessing (The Golden Notebook); Xingjian (Soul Mountain); Carson (Glass, Irony and God).
5. Mirjana: What inspired you to write your book “Tome of a Heretofore Unknown Personage” and how did you come up with the title, in the first place.

Elam: It was not so much an inspiration as an inclination initially. I started writing short fiction pieces with considerable diversity by design, not wanting one to resemble another. I did want, however, recurrent themes like treads to provide a loose continuity to the pieces. After having written a couple of dozen pieces, I sent them to my editor with the idea of publishing a collection. Finding that I still felt the need to write while waiting on my editor to complete her work, I began writing meditations of an atypical type. Though the meditations are admittedly peculiar, I found them a real pleasure to write. It occurred to me that the way the meditations were written, a different author should have penned them. It also occurred to me that in many ways they were a continuation of the previous pieces I had written, albeit subtly and rather covertly. Then the idea of writing a lengthy narrative to follow the meditations came to mind. As I proceeded to write the narrative, I realized I needed another author to have penned it, given how it differed from the pieces and meditations. This is just one of many literary devices I utilized in writing what had become a novel. The narrative provided a dialectical structure to the novel that was needed to understand it in its totality. I even have the author of the narrative referencing the authors of the pieces and meditations. Yes, it is complicated and unconventional, but that is the way I write. The seemingly pretentious title is actually homage to classical literature; and it also serves to unite three sections with three authors about a single enigmatic person.

6. Mirjana: What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological and logistical) in bringing it to life? What was the hardest part of writing your book?

Elam: For me there was really only one challenge and that was this: to write the way that I do and make the novel accessible, or, at least, semi-accessible. I write literary fiction, not popular fiction, which tends to be more difficult to begin with. With a multitude of subjects, numerous recurring themes, and literary devices aplenty, I had to try to make it as comprehensible as possible for the reader. I was fully aware throughout the writing process that each reader would have differing levels of comprehension; I found that acceptable and unavoidable. The novel is full of literary allusions, for example, which not even my editor always recognized. A thoughtful and attentive reader, nonetheless, can understand a great deal. It is an unfortunate fact that deep reading is fast becoming a lost art. The hardest part of writing the novel was not the years of writing and rewriting; no, it was making sure everything was precisely right to be ready for publication. I am reminded of this as I currently labor to get everything just right for the publication of my second novel.

7. Mirjana: I’ve read many reviews and what I found so interesting is that your fictional worlds, characters and stories stand as strikingly similar as well known novels from the past, especially when it comes to tone, spirit or structure. What are your thoughts on that?

Elam: Having read thousands of books in my lifetime, nearly all the best of the best, it is inevitable that I would be influenced consciously and subconsciously. I have written elsewhere that the vast literature of the past is very much alive for me to this day. When I read a poem of Ovid, for example, it is as contemporaneous for me as reading a recently published short story by Gordimer. Reading is a very intimate experience for me; I feel as though I am in the mind of the writer. When I write I intentionally make an effort to not write like any other writer; I have my own voice with which to do my storytelling. Frankly, only a damn fool would attempt to imitate the masters. I do not doubt that readers will see some similarities between my work and others, but that is to be expected as I make my modest journey in the long shadows of the literary giants.
8. Mirjana: One of the things that really caught my eye about your work is that you seem to be able to “jump” from subject matter to another with equal creativity, creating a unique collection of spoken-word album, which is a very exciting opportunity for a writer. What were the requirements of the position and how did you personally approach the subject?

Elam: Given that I am free to write as I please, I can “jump” from one subject matter to another with relative ease. If we were doing this interview as we walked down the street, then we may pass a bank, a saloon, a pharmacy, a restaurant, a barbershop, a gallery, a grocery store, a massage parlor, and so on. When I write it is a constantly changing, uncharted journey from place to place, and even I do not know what will be around the corner. In actuality, as I write this I am sitting at a desk, using my laptop, while listening to Bach’s Cello Suites performed by Yo-Yo Ma. During the writing of my second novel, I went to visit my brother for a couple of weeks who lives on a farm far from the madding crowd. In a very different setting and situation for me, I decided to do some writing while there unrelated to the novel. After my return to civilization, as it were, the idea occurred to me to do something with what I had written; something much unanticipated for everyone. I decided to do a spoken-word album.

9. Mirjana: To a writer, what’s the difference between writing novels and spoken-word albums? What was it that attracted you to this kind of medium? http://scapegrace.bandcamp.com/

Elam: If there is a difference, it is not for me significant or substantial. As I was writing what would eventually be used for the spoken-word album, I had no idea how I would use the material. It should be noted, however, that the subject of music is an important theme in the material. Music has always been an important part of my life. Joining my writing and my voice with music, I found an intriguing and irresistible idea, for better or for worse. I am fortunate to have friends who are musicians and/or in the music business. I contacted one of these friends and discussed collaborating on a spoken-word album project. We exchanged our respective ideas and then went to work. He recorded my recitation of what I had written and then composed all the original music for the album. The result of the collaboration is the album Scapegrace. Let me conclude by mentioning that I was contacted by a friend who is a filmmaker about collaborating on a film inspired by Scapegrace. We are having ongoing dialogues and the filming has begun. Let me just state the film is going to be experimental, existential, and esoteric.

10. Mirjana: You have several already released spoken-word tracks. Which one is your favorite and what is the greatest compliment anyone has ever paid to you regarding your spoken-word tracks? How a writer should respond to compliments and is it easier to talk about the compliment or the insult? http://nnhn.bandcamp.com/

Elam: After the relative success of Scapegrace, I decided it would make for a good remix album. I contacted another friend about collaborating on the remix album. As before, we exchanged our respective ideas and then went to work. He based the composing of the music, only in part, on the original sound design. The result of the collaboration is the album Pandits too. It has also had some relative success. The albums are sonically very different, which is exactly what I wanted: two different musical experiences. Whether or not I make another spoken-word album remains to be seen. The feedback I have gotten is largely positive. I suppose that when people have said “I love it,” that means the most to me; it suggests it touched both their hearts and minds. Regarding having a favorite track, I can honestly comment I do not have one. For me both albums are conceptual albums to be experienced in their entirety. Regarding compliments or criticism, they are what they are, and people are entitled to their opinions. Art is not logic; it is not in the domain of truth or falsity.

11. Mirjana: A work connects with the audience. Each individual is affected in different ways, whether they understand or not, writer wants that each audience member be activated mentally, and leave a book with not just the answers but also a few questions as well. When you set out to write a book, what are you hoping to achieve and what do you want people to walk away with? Is there a hidden message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

Elam: To quote Stein, as I did in my first novel, “I am writing for myself and strangers.” For this mostly nameless and faceless audience, I want to engage them in as many ways as possible. I want them to laugh; I want them to cry; I want them to be angry; I want them to be empathic; I want them to be entertained; I want them to be appalled; I want them to see beauty; I want them to see the abhorrent. I could go on but I think you get the idea. Everything I write, in one way or another, is about the human condition and the varieties of human experience. There are a countless numbers of questions about life and so few answers. Three millennia of philosophizing have made that all too evident. Given this predicament, if you will, I see writing as a means of creating a fictive world as a temporary substitute for the actual world. If you stare at the sun you will be blinded; if you watch sunlight dance on the oceans waves you will be diverted. Writing for me is such a diversion and I want to provide diversion for my readers. Also, writing for me is a method to challenge myself and in so doing the reader is challenged. Literature is dreadfully dull if it is not daring. Last but not least, I can be rather cryptic as a writer which is not without a reason, or reasons. A straightforward story about getting from point X to point Y does not interest me, when there are nearly infinite paths to do so. I want twists and turns and detours and asides and so on.

12. Mirjana: To what extent does your future work shift or evolve depending on societal expectations and public perceptions of you? To what extent are other people's opinions a factor in creating your work?

Elam: My second novel in a sense is a continuation of the first novel, though it is neither explicit nor contrived. Some of the important themes for me are continued and new themes are introduced. The cast of characters and settings have changed, while conceptually it is a familiar fictive world. The continuity between the two novels is, for me, as natural as today following yesterday. Having stated that, however, one needs not to have read the former to read the latter. To more specifically answer your question, the expectations of others is of minimal importance to me. Just as I do not use a storyline in writing, I do not use the opinions of others to influence my creativity in writing. I respect other people’s opinions, some more than others, but I write what I feel inclined to write, moment to moment, day to day, year to year.

13. Mirjana: You also have another interesting novel for this autumn. Can you share your thoughts on this project and I would kindly ask you if you can share an excerpt of that book with us?

Elam: I think I must have anticipated this question because I answered it, at least in part, in my prior answer. Let me use this analogy to further explain: in the way that a painter feels the need to paint a series of paintings, in terms of content, or technique, or style, I felt the need in the second novel to further explore and expand upon what I had written in the first novel; they are connected and yet independent simultaneously, which is not a contradiction in terms. As was mentioned previously, the first novel had three authors and consisted of three sections. The second novel has a single author and consists of six sections. I do not feel the need to provide a preview of what the second novel is about, as I think previews all too often lead people astray and primarily serve a commercial purpose. I do feel the need, however, to respond to your request to share an excerpt from the second novel. I provide it with the following proviso: One should not interpret the excerpt as indicative of the whole, because it definitely is not.
      […] Invite the Sathours in, my friend, for it’s the Buleric hour. They are known for their timeliness in matters such as this. My departure is followed by my return. You departed solo and returned the same. The Sathours declined the invitation. What kind of Sathours are they? They differ in kind not from other Sathours, except in their declination. Are they great or small in number? It’s estimated they number somewhere between eleven and fifteen. Are there witnesses? There were witnesses. If there were, then there no longer are. That is so; the witnesses departed at the Sathours’ declination. Is there any word as to the witnesses’ whereabouts? No word of any weight, but they all were wearing embroidered roundabouts. Well, all know what’s said about tailors. Indeed, and it’s said with good reason, reasons actually. The worlsim is a bit cloudy today. Perhaps the occasion should be marked with long tongs and a protractor. If it’s cloudy again tomorrow, that will be done. But, if it not cloudy tomorrow, which, all things considered, and given what is known of worlsim is likely, then it will not be done. The Tallards in the east eat yeast. It’s said to be an acquired taste, but then what isn’t acquired? Your assertion regarding acquisition was acquired. Yes, in fact, it was acquired from the Giderling school of thought. A school which was, was it not, founded on white stones? White stones polished by the Wimulant rains during the reign of Pastom, to be precise. It’s written of Pastom in the Book of Allgersol that she was eight feet tall without her bejeweled sandals. If it’s written, so must it be. And to think that at one time, a time almost unfathomable, the scribes routinely engaged in falsification. Now the seal of Oplandrish is just that, not otherwise, and couldn’t be otherwise. Such acumen isn’t attained by those blinded by the outrageous spectacle of phenomena. What’s been heard from Ampilian Minor recently? The sound of sunlit waters poured from handmade jasclow jars: a sound that does soothe the ear when one does hear. Yes, it certainly does, and one doesn’t hear it often enough these days. You know, this is the only drawing room which, in my experience, actually has an array of fine drawings, from Telshwold to Mondisher. Such drawings, in chorus, reveal and conceal, not by trickery, but by artistry. If you have a favorite, for surely you must, in the sundry collection, which would it be? It would have to be The Keys by Roldiff the Elder. It’s said to have been composed in her solitary room at the Shash Sanitarium during her lunacy. Yes, but it was an oblivious lunacy; it is as though all the follies of hatred, maltreatment, corruption, disbelief, and such were expunged in her. So, what will it be: laspera on wafers or rolled omassus? Having a fondness for koppinser seasoning let it be the latter. […]

14. Mirjana: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your career?

Elam: I was fortunate to have been born with natural artistic ability. Beginning in childhood I engaged in artistic activity in many mediums. As a young adult I did drawing, painting, sculpting, mixed media, photography, filmmaking, and, of course, writing. In my thirties I realized that it was my writing that was exceptional and I ceased doing the visual arts, for which I have no regrets. So, in answer to your question, no, I would not change anything.

15. Mirjana: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers and listeners, and do you have any advice or suggestion for other writers, when it comes to anything you find particularly challenging in writing?

Elam: My work presents significant challenges for my readers and listeners, especially the former, of which I am fully cognizant. There have been those who claim my work has a high degree of difficulty. My response generally is this: make of it what you will. This is the case for me as well. I have read Finnegans Wake three times, and I could read it thirty times and still not fully understand it. If one wants to become a better reader, or a better writer – read, read, read –preferable from the Western canon, rather than the bestseller list. I want to take this opportunity to thank all the people who have been supportive of me, each in their own way, as I have made my way along this unorthodox, creative journey. Lastly, I want to thank you Mirjana, for doing this interview, and Rosa Matilde, whose idea it was to do it in the first place.

 Mirjana: Elam, thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk about the journey you take through life. This was a great pleasure for me and I believe for all art admirers because it is a great opportunity to be more familiar with your works and their process.
EntreVistArtista: Mirjana Milosavljević & Elam Ellis Embarq, thank you for your valuable collaboration. Welcome to E.V.A
     [Entrevista efectuada el día 29 de julio de 2013 (vía Internet) / Colaboró para EntreVistArtista (EVA) Mirjana Milosavljević  (entrevistadora) & Elam Ellis Embarq (artista entrevistado) / EntreVistArtista (EVA) © 2009 – 2013 es un proyecto independiente de Rosa Matilde Jiménez Cortés / H. Córdoba, Veracruz; México].

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