Lindsay Merbaum, author of The Gold Persimmon, is a queer feminist and high priestess of home mixology. Her short fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart, among other prizes, and her essays have appeared in Dame, Electric Literature, Bitch, The Rumpus, and more. She lives in Michigan.
Get to know Lindsay in this Q&A and then see her at the Festival in March discussing her work in a FREE virtual event, Transformative Desire: Literary Fiction on March 19 at 4 PM ET.
What motivated you to become an author?
This may sound cliche, but I felt the pull towards writing and authorship as a child. I even came up with a pen name for myself: Victoria Downfeather. Why I thought I needed a pen name is beyond me and thankfully I never made use of that one in particular. I also wrote summer book reports in the style of the author I was reading, which my parents found quite amusing. In other words, from early on I just “had the bug”—the desire to tell stories and share them was just there.
Who or what are some of your creative influences?
I was introduced to (the very adult stories of) Greek mythology early on. Magic and the divine were taken for granted in these myths as part of the “real world,” which shaped the curve of my imagination. I remember being particularly fascinated by tragic figures like Persephone and Arachne, both of whom experience transformation in a number of ways. As an adult, I revisit The Odyssey, The Iliad, and The Aeneid from time to time. I also study Nordic and Sumerian mythology. These ancient influences are interwoven with contemporary fiction from authors like Anne Rice—I was a big fan in middle school and her use of homoeroticism really stuck with me—Jeanette Winterson, Toni Morrison, Amy Hempel, Arundhati Roy, and so many others who have taught me how language can build the shape of a story and blur the lines between the real and unreal. I am very interested in occupying a liminal space in my fiction.
What was your favorite part about writing your latest book?
Whoever said they like having written, not so much the writing part was spot-on. (Allegedly it was Dorothy Parker but I’ve heard conflicting accounts.) Writing The Gold Persimmon was terribly hard work. Of course I fantasized about finding a publisher and going on a book tour, but the best, singular moments are found in the small things: the book truly felt like a real, finished thing when I got to the dedication. I dedicated the novel to my teachers—all of them. As an educator myself, that felt significant.
Do you have any sources of inspiration that you come back to while writing?
If I’m looking to get inspired, I read. Another’s author’s skilled use of language is so moving to me, and sparks a lot of ideas. I also cull inspiration from historical accounts and sociological analysis, but language gets me above all else. Perhaps I should’ve been a poet…
What impact or takeaway do you hope your work will have for readers?
A lot of readers have said they’ve never read a book quite like The Gold Persimmon before and I find that enormously satisfying. On the level of a more personal connection, I write queer books that I want to see in the world and I hope the characters I create and the situations they face resonate with underrepresented readers who are also living on the margins.
What is something that you’ve read recently and would recommend to others?
Animal Bodies, a collection of essays from Suzanne Roberts, really took the top of my head off, to paraphrase Dickinson. Jen Fawkes’ collection of short stories, Tales the Devil Told Me, is just as delicious as the title suggests. Also, A.K. Blakemore’s The Manningtree Witches is a riveting story, based on historical figures, and the writing is <chef’s kiss>. By the way, I have turned all of these into cocktails because in addition to writing, I engage in a version of mixology that’s a bit like alchemy.
What are you working on next?
I have so many irons in the fire. I’m working on a book of booktails—cocktails and mocktails inspired by the moods and themes of my favorite reads. I am also preparing my next novel for submission. It’s called Queens of Heaven and Earth and it’s about a magical Midwestern queer bar and the wild convergence of witches and goddesses that takes place there.