Today on the Ball, we’re delighted to welcome Paul Elwork, the author of The Girl Who Would Speak for the Dead. Paul’s book was released by Amy Einhorn Books (the same publisher as Deb Eleanor’s The Weird Sisters!) in March.
Paul Elwork lives in Philadelphia and is the father of two sons. His work has appeared in a variety of journals, including Philadelphia Stories, Short Story America, SmokeLong Quarterly, and Word Riot. His novel The Girl Who Would Speak for the Dead (Amy Einhorn Books/Penguin Group) is available online and in bookstores everywhere. For more information and links to short fiction and other content, please visit www.paulelwork.com.
Don’t forget to say hello in the comments to win a copy of The Girl Who Would Speak for the Dead.
Paul Elwork Takes the Deb Interview!
Talk about one book that made an impact on you.
James Salter’s Light Years has had a profound impact on me. Reading his prose was an exposure to more brevity and startling power than I had ever seen. If I had to characterize it, I would say that it has the sparseness of Hemingway and the lyricism of Fitzgerald—but that doesn’t do it justice, because of course it is something else also, not the sum of two comparisons. In a few lines, Salter can sweep up the accrued emotion of hours, days, even years. His words have an impact and long reverberations of recognition. I take the book down off the shelf from time to time and pour over Salter’s words, in awe of a masterwork. Yeah, this guy’s a hero of mine.
Who is one of your favorite (fictional or non-fictional) characters?
The fictional character that popped into my head is Malachai Constant of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel The Sirens of Titan. In the rollicking course of the novel, Constant goes from a devil-may-care playboy lifestyle to being part of a memory-wiped invasion force to attack Earth from Mars. He also goes on to become a martyr figure for an invented religion, the Church of God the Utterly Indifferent, but that’s not what popped into my head when I read the question above. Here’s what popped into my head, and why I love this character: Subjects of these memory wipes would begin to regain their memories and needed to be wiped repeatedly, so Constant (who is called “Unk” in this forgetful incarnation) starts writing himself letters to remind his memory-wiped self who he is. Vonnegut captures this act of individual rebellion in these lines: “It was literature in its finest sense, since it made Unk courageous, watchful, and secretly free. It made him his own hero in very trying times.” God damn, that is genius.
What time of day do you love best?
I’d have to say dusk. There’s a quality of something past and something momentous about to happen—granted, a romantic notion of nightfall. I especially love dusk on the beach, and watching my sons run around in the failing, golden light. It’s like looking at my memories, and I stand there somehow happy and another heartbroken fool at the same time.
Share one quirk you have that most people don’t know about.
I’ve spent too much time rewriting things in my head, like the Star Wars prequels, for example. I’m not talking about marathon sessions, but a habit I slip into from time to time at odd moments, a reimagining of scenes and dynamics I’m certain I can make better use of—just like many fanboys, I guess. If I could add up all of the moments I spent in such musings on things I would never commit to paper or apply in any practical way, I’d probably have to give myself a wedgie.
Share something that’s always guaranteed to make you laugh.
Can the something be someone? I love the standup comedy of Louis C. K. Here is a comic who has gone way beyond swear words (although his act is absolutely filthy and graphic, fair warning) to a brutal honesty and imagination that turns lots of life’s disgraces and disappointments into mock celebrations. Great stuff.
Emily Stewart is the girl who will claim to stand between the living and the dead. She and her brother Michael are thirteen-year-old twins, privileged, precocious, wandering aimlessly around their family’s Philadelphia estate during the quiet summer of 1925. One day Emily discovers an odd physical tic—she can secretly crack a joint in her ankle so the sound seems to burst from midair. In their garden tea house, Emily and Michael gather the neighborhood children to fool them with these “spirit knockings.” But soon this game of contacting the dead creeps into a world of adults still reeling from World War I. When the twins find themselves dabbling in the uncertain territory of human grief and family secrets, their game spins wildly out of control.
A layered, multigenerational story, The Girl Who Would Speak for the Dead is a novel about family secrets, love triangles, missing people. It is about the desperate need to contact the departed, about faith and chicanery, and what we ultimately will do for forgiveness.
Say hello in the comments to win The Girl Who Would Speak for the Dead!