Here’s another in a series of interviews about writers and place. This time it’s Anton DiSclafani: Tennessean, Floridian, St. Louisan.
The title of Anton Disclafani’s debut novel, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp For Girls, is a trap. It sounds…pretty. Yonahlossee. So pretty. Say it three times while jangling your spurs and you might be transported to a sylvan fantasia with gurgling streams, crisp mountain air, youthful maidens astride loyal, stately beasts. And, well, it’s for girls. How dangerous could that be? But once locked in this novel, shackled to the narrative and the language, one finds that it’s gorgeous, yes, but treacherous, jagged, thorny, not a safe space at all. Following Thea Atwell through her depression-era Florida and North Carolina ain’t pretty at all. And that’s the way we like it.
– David Schuman
Where do you come from, originally?
I was born in Memphis, Tennessee, and lived there until I was seven; then Davie, Florida until I was eleven; then Ocala, Florida until college. I think of Ocala as my home, simply because I lived there longest, and remember it best.
What geographical area would you say defines you as a person and maybe also as a writer? This can be a specific place (New York, Cleveland) or a geographical element (mountains, prairies, ocean). How has this place or element defined your work, if it all?
In my first book, the mountains inform so much of the story. They’re there from the very beginning. The main character moves from flat, hot Florida to cool, mountainous North Carolina, and that move–the cognitive effects of going from one place to the other–is very much a part of the novel. I prefer the mountains to any other landscape. If I had my druthers, I’d have a mountain home.
My new book is set in Houston, Texas, and there is very little of the natural world in it, at least so far. I’m writing about a city, instead, which is a bit of a shift from my first book.
Writing about a city kind of feels like writing about a person; writing about the natural world feels like writing about something else entirely, if that makes sense. The natural world is permanent, or at least a lot more permanent than we are; when I was writing my first book I liked the idea that I was, essentially, writing about the same mountains that my character would have seen one hundred years ago. Buildings are a reflection of the times, of the people who build them: some of the buildings in 1950s Texas were almost impossibly ugly. But I like writing about that manmade setting, a setting that is changeable and personable and meant to be receptive to its citizens. But there is nothing otherworldly (to me) about a building. We build them, we tear them down. They have character, but not permanence. On the other hand, there’s something magical about the natural world. We don’t know it, we’ll never know it.
Describe where you are now–describe a few things you’ve learned about this new place that have surprised/frightened/frustrated you?
I live in Saint Louis, Missouri, where I’ve lived for nine years, the longest I’ve lived any place. I really like St. Louis, but I think I could like any place, given enough time. I ride horses, and I like that I can drive out of the city and be in the country (at least semi-country) in half an hour.
How has your current location filtered into your work or your writing life?
This is the first place I’ve lived that’s had four definite seasons, so I write about seasons now, in my work. That’s a very explicit answer. On a different level, I like how uncrowded St. Louis feels, for a city. There’s lots of space to write.
About the Author:
Anton DiSclafani’s first novel, THE YONAHLOSSEE RIDING CAMP FOR GIRLS, was a New York Times bestseller, an Indie Next pick and bestseller, and longlisted for the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize. It was named a most anticipated book of the summer by The Wall Street Journal and Publishers Weekly, and was a summer book pick by USA Today and National Public Radio.