Drunk on Ink Q & A with Kirsten Imani Kasai and ‘The House of Erzulie’
Read Jaggery Issue 11 Spring 2018
Kirsten Imani Kasai writes very dark, very weird fiction. Her third novel, The House of Erzulie was published this February by Shade Mountain Press. According to Foreword Reviews, Kirsten “makes the macabre beautiful.” In addition to teaching English Comp, Advanced Literature and writing, she’s the publisher of Body Parts Magazine: The Journal of Horror & Erotica and owner of the MagicWordEditingCo. which offers a full range of services to creative writers, academics and scientists. She has an M.F.A. from Antioch University Los Angeles and lives in Southern California with her family.
About The House of Erzulie
The House of Erzulie tells the eerily intertwined stories of an ill-fated young couple in the 1850s and the troubled historian who discovers their writings in the present day. Emilie Saint-Ange, daughter of a Creole slave-owning family in Louisiana, rebels against her parents by embracing spiritualism and advocating the abolition of slavery. Isidore, her biracial, French-born husband, is horrified by the brutalities of plantation life and becomes unhinged by an obsessive affair with a notorious New Orleans vodou practitioner. Emilie’s and Isidore’s letters and journals are interspersed with sections narrated by Lydia Mueller, an architectural historian whose fragile mental health further deteriorates as she reads. Imbued with a sense of the uncanny and the surreal, The House of Erzulie also alludes to the very real horrors of slavery as it draws on the long tradition of the African-American Gothic novel.
Soniah Kamal: First author/book you read/fell in love with?
Kirsten Imani Kasai: Man, I’ve been reading since I can remember. The first book that I received as a gift was given to me by my Montessori preschool teacher: The Blow-Away Balloon by Racey Helps. I still have my inscribed copy, and have read it to my kids. Others that I read multiple times and loved as a child/teen were: The Egypt Game and Witches of Worm by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, Watership Down by Richard Adams and Roll of Thunder Hear Me Cry by Mildred D. Taylor. Dare Wright’s Lonely Doll series absolutely fascinated me (though upon rereading as an adult, there are some disturbing undertones). I loved Michael Bond’s Paddington books and read of ton of Lois Duncan, and was really into the original Flowers in the Attic series when it first debuted. I read Carrie by Stephen King multiple times and remember sitting in my room, intently practicing my telekinesis. I was never able to bend a spoon or move an object from across the room, but oh! How desperately I tried!
To unwind: chai, coffee, water, wine?
Yorkshire Gold tea with vanilla cream to start my day. Zinfandels from Lodi and Paso Robles or New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs for wine, and once in a while, a really good Manhattan with Luxardo cherries.
A novel, short story, poem, essay, anything you believe should be mandatory reading?
Any classic you wished you’d pushed through in your teens?
A favorite quote from The House of Erzulie.
“My heart will beat for you until the coroner cuts it from my body.”
“Daylight is the charwoman who scrubs away night’s filthy stains.”
“I come alive then, peeling back my skin, unrolling that fine, fawn suede from my redbones and gristle.”
(Fine, fawn suede! Redbones and gristle!)
Your favorite book to film?
Gosh, I view book to film adaptations as beings entirely distinct from the source material, and they’re often restricted to fit the time restraints of a film. To expect a film to accurately reflect all the nuance of a novel is foolhardy because they’re such different mediums. That said, I ADORED “Room with a View” when it came out in 1986. I practically memorized the whole film, and my best friend and I would write letters to each other as the characters (usually Cecil). I even wrote a fan letter to Rupert Graves, c/o the studio, and he responded with a handwritten letter, which is still tucked away in a scrapbook somewhere. Actually, I have more affection for the film than the book.
Favorite Indie Book Store/s?
Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego and the Park Hill Cooperative Bookstore in Denver.
The one think you wish you’d known about the writing life?
All those hours hunched over a notebook or keyboard take a toll on your body. Now I have to remember to stretch, exercise and use correct posture at my desk to prevent back/shoulder/neck problems and carpal tunnel.
Does writing/publishing/marketing get any easier with each story/novel published?
Ha! Ask me again when I’m rich and famous. JK, yes, it does. It’s a learning experience and having built a great network of friends, allies, connections, writers, bookstores, etc., getting the word out and connecting with people has become easier. Also, my third novel was recently published, which gives me a little more professional credibility and industry gravitas.
Dog, Cat, Or?
Even though I’m asthmatic/allergic, I’ve had pets since I was 10. Several cats, two dogs, fish, birds, frogs and a hamster have lived in my household—some of which were for my kids. I have two dogs now but, that said, I’m ready to be unencumbered by animal care and clean-up when the time comes. Truthfully, I find pet ownership unsettling. It’s a weird form of cross-species slavery (mostly with dogs, because they have such terrible Stockholm syndrome). It’s odd to me that people who object to animals being used for meat, leather, etc. will still have a dog who is essentially their captive and completely dependent on them for its survival, who don’t want wild animals endangered yet will take a puppy or kitten away from its mother. I have a lot of (unpopular) theories about dog ownership as it relates to white privilege, class and socio-political hierarchies, but that’s an essay for another time.
I’m desperate to visit Scandinavian countries and see the fjords, the aurora borealis and all the natural wonders. Finland, Sweden, Iceland,
Favorite book cover?
The cover for The House of Erzulie, obvs. My actress daughter is the cover model!
Re: other people’s books, how can you choose? There are so many great ones.
New Order’s “Age of Consent” always makes me happy. I so love the twangy guitars and effects of post-punk/New Wave 80s bands. I’ve had Hallucinations by DVSN on repeat lately. I can get completely wrapped up in songs and play them endlessly, just soaking them up. Other desert island albums include:
Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love”
“Once I was an Eagle” by Laura Marling
And a whole lotta’ Prince.
Recommend a Small Press and Literary Journal?
Shade Mountain Press, definitely! Rosalie Morales Kearns is incredibly dedicated and has amazing literary sensibilities. It’s been such a joy to work with her on The House of Erzulie.
Last impulse book buy and why?
I recently picked up Cindy Crabb’s book Things That Help: Healing Our Lives Through Feminism, Anarchism, Punk & Adventure. It’s an alphabetical compendium of her 90s Riot Grrrl zine Doris all typed and hand drawn. Reading it has completely resuscitated my sense of activism and hope. I’m currently coveting The New Annotated Frankenstein and Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey because both of those works have influenced my own writing.
Soniah Kamal is an award winning essayist and fiction writer. Her novel Unmarriageable: Pride & Prejudice in Pakistan, a parallel retelling of Pride and Prejudice and set in contemporary Pakistan, has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal. NPR calls it ‘thought provoking and deliciously readable’ and People Magazine says “This inventive retelling of Pride and Prejudice charms.” Unmarriageable is an Amazon Best Books pick, a People Magazine’s Pick, a New York Post Best Book pick, a Library Reads pick and more. Soniah’s debut novel An Isolated Incident was a finalist for the Townsend Award for Fiction, the KLF French Fiction Prize, and is an Amazon Rising Star pick. Soniah’s short story ‘Jelly Beans’ was selected for the Best South Asian Short Stories Anthology 2017. Her TEDx talk is about regrets and redemption. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, Buzzfeed, Catapult, The Normal School, Literary Hub, and has been widely anthologized. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Georgia State University where she was a Paul Bowles Fellow in Fiction. She currently teaches creative writing at Rhineheart University and reviews books for the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Soniah will be giving a keynote address at the Jane Austen Summer Program Conference (2019) and she is a Jane Austen Literacy Ambassador. She was born in Pakistan, grew up in England and Saudi Arabia, and currently resides in Georgia.
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Shabnam Samuel: A Fractured Life, memoir
Elise Hooper: The Other Alcott, a novel
Anne Boyd Rioux: Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters, non fiction
Devoney Looser: The Making of Jane Austen, non fiction
Kristen Miller Zohn: The Currency of Taste- Gibbons Georgian Silver, coffee table book
Vanessa Hua, A River of Stars, novel
Chaitli Sen, The Pathless Sky, novel
Sonya Huber, Pain Woman Take Your Keys, memoir
Kathy Wilson Florence, Three of Cups, a novel
Sara Luce Look, Charis Books and More, independent book store
S J Sindu, Marriage of a Thousand Lies, a novel
Rosalie Morales Kearns, Kingdom of Men, a novel
Saadia Faruqi, Meet Yasmin, children’s literature
Rene Denfeld: The Child Finder, a novel
Jamie Brenner, The Husband Hour, a novel
Sara Marchant, The Driveway has Two Sides, memoir
Kirsten Imani Kasai, The House of Erzulie, a novel
Thrity Umrigar, The Secrets Between Us, novel
John Kessel, Pride and Prometheus, novel
Lisa Romeo, Starting with Goodbye: A Daughter’s Memoir of Love After Loss
Rachel May, An American Quilt: Unfolding a Story of Family and Slavery
Rebecca Entel, Fingerprints of Previous Owners, novel
Jamie Sumner, Unbound: Finding from Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood
Falguni Kothari, My Last Love Story, novel
Tanaz Bathena, A Girl Like That, YA novel