portrait Interview with Victoria Alexander

interviewed by Richard Luck

Published in Issue No. 9 ~ October, 1997

Richard Luck: Did you have a specific reason for writing this book?

Victoria Alexander: In the case of Smoking Hopes I was responding to Waiting For Godot. I personally don’t think it would be so bad if we found out that Godot was not coming back or had never existed at all. One might lead a happier, more sane life without such illusions. That is essentially one of the things that got me started. Another thing was the ridiculous way that men and women often think they need to negotiate for sexual relationships. The two themes became conflated when I found the perfect name for the lover, Gottlieb.

RL: What authors do you like to read? What book or books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?

VA: Martin Amis, Vladimir Nabokov, Virginia Woolf and Louis Begley among others. I started writing Smoking Hopes right after reading Amis’s Money. My heroine, Charlie Dean, is a feminist’s answer to John Self.

RL: Tell us something about yourself that we wouldn’t know from the book jacket.

VA: I am working on my Ph.D. in English literature and am co-founder of the Dactyl Foundation for the Arts and Humanities. I worked as a stripper and a hostess in order to (among other things) collect material for this novel.

RL: Having worked as a stripper and hostess, Charlie Dean seems to be a rather tame creature, in comparison to what we might expect. Was this intentional?

VA: Tame? Hmm. If you mean like a wild creature who has been broken, yes. I would be very interested to know what you expected.

RL: You’re right, I suppose tame is a poor description. I guess I expected her to be driven more by a blind emotion that she couldn’t articulate, and less analytical. This is probably a stereotype, but with her blonde hair, saline boobs, and Barbie waist, I didn’t expect to find a character so calculating, cognizant of what it was she was after. Tell me, in your experience are most “hostesses” this way? Fully aware of what it is they’re after? Or, are they more like Lola?

VA: I like “tame.” It implies a change, and it is very important to think of Charlie of having recently undergone a serious change. As to strippers generally, these days, it seems, they are all working their ways through college. Well, maybe not all, but a good percentage. (It’s probably higher in New York than, say, Toledo.) Of course, it may be that I think too much and project my habits on everyone, but the strippers and hostesses I have known are on the whole pretty articulate and reasonably sophisticated thinkers. This may have to do with the fact that we are in a privileged position to observe the workings of male/female relations. Outsiders often have keen insight. Being considered socially “abnormal” we learn to question what “normal” is. Yes, Lola is more like you would expect. But then I didn’t really let you get to know Lola, did I? Maybe if we knew what she thought, how she thought, she would seem less like a typical stripper. But this, again, is my prejudice. I want to think that everyone worries about the details of life and cares deeply about their beliefs and identities. I must say, though, I fear that Gottlieb may not think at all. He is a frightening being, no? By the way, I feel like I’m driven by a blind emotion I can’t articulate. That’s why I make such and effort, I suppose.

RL: Do you have plans to write a book based on a stripper, and if so, how would this new character differ from Charlie Dean?

VA: My second novel, Trixie, Mad Pixie, is entirely set in a strip club called the Girlie Playhouse, where the girls, I’m afraid, have all–or most–of the fun. The narrator is in some respects Charlie’s opposite. She is satisfied, it seems, with her life and doesn’t, like Charlie, go running off in pursuit of adventures. Charlie is trying to deconstruct all the “meaning” in her life, while Pixie is nervously constructing hers.

RL: How has the writing and/or publication of this book affected your life?

VA: Well, it was pretty hectic there for a while. I didn’t realize that having a published book would be like having a part-time job: signings, deadlines etc. But now things have calmed down, and I’ve gone back to my routine at school.

RL: You’ve spoken of “the ridiculous way that men and women often think they need to negotiate for sexual relationships.” Could you expand on this thought? Tell us how you perceive it, and how you think it should be?

VA: Charlie Dean is really the one you should ask about this. She is annoyed by men who give her gifts, flowers and promises in order to get her to have sex with them. She doesn’t like indirection; it’s confusing and frustrating. She is quite willing to have sex if she likes the guy, as she does Hiro, and could do without the stuff.

RL: So, I take it Charlie would probably fare better in the Girlie Playhouse?

VA: Charlie had been in a place like it. She was a little too damaged at the time to enjoy it.

RL: In Smoking Hopes, Charlie Dean pines for the Japanese businessman, Hiro, in a way some feminists would see as demeaning to women. There is a hint of the prostitute in her; it’s easy to see that there are two categories of sex for her: corporeal and corporate. Explain your feelings on the subject, and tell us why you feel it’s not only important, but justified (in an era of political correctness) to paint her as such.

VA: I would rather say that Charlie is sometimes sexually excited when she is with Hiro. “Pines” is something she simply does not do in regards to him. Her interest in sex with Hiro is completely corporeal. Money is not very interesting to her, as soon as she gets it she gives it away. If there are any feminists who see what Charlie does as demeaning, then I believe it is they who have the explaining to do.

RL: Why did you choose a Japanese hostess bar as opposed to a downtown strip club as your setting. Do you find the two cultures diametrically opposed, or just differing sides of the same coin?

VA: Much of the plot of Smoking Hopes involves misunderstanding. I needed the Japanese clubs for that. Strip Clubs are not diametrically opposed to Japanese clubs, but Japanese men tend to be more indirect than American men.

RL: You’ve admitted to writing Smoking Hopes as a sequel to Waiting for Godot (Gottlieb?). Where did Samuel Beckett fail that you succeeded?

VA: Beckett succeeded in doing what he set out to do. I am very much moved by the play. But I am frustrated by the suggestion that the realization that there is no God would empty life of its meaning. I am a pretty happy and well-adjusted existentialist.

RL: You talk of Charlie Dean as the “feminist’s answer to John Self” (referencing Martin Amis’ character in Money). I see her as more of a Camille Paglia feminist than a Gloria Steinem one. Tell me, since you’re obviously pursuant of feminist goals, what do you see as the present track, and where would you like to see it go?

VA: Paglia is an idiot. I believe she thinks really bad porn is a great thing. Am I wrong? I would hate to have to read her stuff to find out. Regarding feminism, I simply don’t believe that there is much of an inherent difference, intellectually and emotionally, between men and women.

RL: Are you active on the Internet? Do you read any newsgroups, or online magazines (like Pif) on a regular basis?

VA: I don’t know how to read newsgroups or find other magazines, but I’d like to.

RL: Henry Miller once wrote, “There are no more books to write,” meaning that all new fiction would be autobiographical in nature. Do you agree with this sentiment? In what direction do you see the future of American fiction heading?

VA: Miller should be ashamed of himself for making such a big generalization. I can’t take it seriously. As to trends, they go one way, then the go the other. I don’t bother about them.

RL: Do you believe you book would have been as well-received if you had not had your position in the academic community?

VA: Believe me, it was my naked butt that got the attention and the writing that got the reviews. My “position” is nothing. This is America. My being a doctoral student or a college teacher impresses very few people.

RL: Tell us more about the Dactyl Foundation. What you do, what your aim is, how you go about accomplishing this? Also, I’m assuming the name refers to the poetic term, but could you explain it’s meaning to you?

VA: Very generally speaking the foundation furthers the investigation of how meaning is created, visually, poetically, etc. We offer awards and exhibitions to writers and artists. Anyone interested can look at our site: www.dactyl.org.

RL: What are your future plans?

VA: I’m working on a third novel. What do you think of NAKED SINGULARITY for the title?

RL: I love it! Can you tell us what the book will be about?

VA: I’m not sure yet. I only know what has been keeping me up these nights. (I always write from some fear or confusion.) It will have something to do with repetition and coincidence – an important part of my aesthetic practice. . . Sorry. I have a bad habit of discussing the how of the approach rather than the what.

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Richard Luck is the Founder and Technical Director for Pif Magazine.