Interview #77, with satirical thriller French writer, Marie-Jo Fortis!
Hi Marie-Jo! Describe yourself in 5 words:
Hi Jess! Okay, here goes: Determined, with sense of humor.
Cool! Share a short blurb of your work (10-100 words):
“Fortis has a marvelous character in Chainsaw Jane…”
~ Kirkus Reviews
Now, for the excerpt, just a little sentence that describes Chainsaw Jane: “With her staccato gestures, mud-covered baggy jeans and clodhoppers, she looked like a barrel drunk with its own wine.”
Share an excerpt of your favorite author’s work (10-100 words):
From Balzac’s Le Père Goriot: “Holding this book in your hand, sinking back in your soft armchair, you will say to yourself: perhaps it will amuse me. And after you have read this story of great misfortunes, you will no doubt dine well, blaming the author for your own insensitivity, accusing him of wild exaggeration and flights of fancy. But rest assured: this tragedy is not a fiction. All is true.”
I chose this because I do think that great fiction, the one that gets to the core of things, is truer than what we call reality.
I agree! Comment on the writing versus publication process, in your experience:
The writing is just plain fun while the publication process is woooork! Kidding! It’s all fun and sooo easy! Okay, kidding again. Non-writers believe that writing is a simple, amusing activity, an entertaining choice. To these people I want to say, don’t choose writing if writing does not choose you. Writing is as much an addiction, a dependence, as it is a passion. Of course, you can argue that passion is a dependence. You write because you cannot imagine life without it. There are moments when you want to free yourself from it, but as soon as you take some distance from it, it calls you back. It is a love made of pain and pleasure, a mental sadomasochistic adventure. It is also work, work, work. Hitting your head against the wall every time you get a rejection slip. That’s why so many take matters into their own hands and self-publish. But that alone belongs to another discussion. This said, nothing compares to the heights of creativity, when you have found that beautiful sentence, that expression that just clicks, this “mot juste.” Nothing compares to that.
As for publishing, you have to wear a different hat, don’t you? I was the publisher of a litmag years ago, so I have a little experience, even if the publishing world has changed tremendously since. The publication process is about image and marketing. This means that today’s writer needs to double as a business person. Produce a brand. You have to act as a humble peacock. If this sounds like an oxymoron, it probably is. Let me explain to the best of my abilities. You have to show off as much as possible (that’s the peacock part) while thinking of yourself as simply a product. I don’t know many fiction writers who like to see themselves as products, so that’s the humbling part. But to market a book in today’s world, one must market oneself. The left side of my brain gets it; the right one is still pissed off. So there is still training to do on that side.
Very eloquently expressed. I’m a fan of Tarot cards, so the mention of them in the product description for Chainsaw Jane certainly caught my attention. How did you develop an interest in Tarot?:
During one of the trips my husband and I took to Lily Dale, the famous mediums village in New York State, the psychic who gave us a reading recommended Tarot as a way to develop psychic abilities. Since I am a native of France and raised to rely on rational thinking, I thought…mm…okay…whatever. But I am also very curious. Not to mention a Basque; and the Basque Country still has a number of operating “witches.” So I ordered a Tarot set and started studying it. It became a habit to the point where I started reading Tarot to family and friends. Now they come to me and ask for readings. It has basically become a reflex these days. When I am confused about a problem, I use both Tarot and reasoning. I don’t feel the right and left side of the brain are, nor should be, mutually exclusive.
You list some very interesting and eclectic influences on your Goodreads bio (Balzac when it comes to psychology; Voltaire for the bite and satire; Agatha Christie for the structure of the novel). Which of their works would you recommend to readers who would like to try reading them for the first time, and why?
For Balzac, it’s difficult to recommend just one novel from the Human Comedy, as he created one masterpiece after another. I fell in love with him when I fell in love with reading, when I was twelve and when my older sister handed me Le Père Goriot. It’s a poignant story about a man victimized by his daughters. It’s a novel about cruelty, rapacity, as many of his novels are. Balzac depicts his predators like dehumanized machines or marionettes; his victims are poetry. Cousin Pons’ main character is one example of this poetry, and the novel has powerful moments about art collecting, the love of art, the love of beauty. And then there is The Magic Skin, one of his philosophical novels and a dramatic reflection on the meaning (or lack thereof) and brevity of life. In general, the way Balzac portrays, say, the greed of bankers and 19th Century nascent capitalism, pretty much shows that society in its core has not changed.
I love most of Voltaire’ satiric tales, but Micromegas is my favorite. It announces sci-fi, as it is an interplanetary story. There, Voltaire makes fun of human arrogance. A very good lesson told with the philosopher’s customary bite and wit.
For Agatha Christie, I have grown to prefer her Hercule Poirot novels over her Miss Marple ones. To the point that one of the main characters in Chainsaw Jane is actually a parody of Hercule Poirot. Poirot is both an absurd and brilliant character, and I believe the simultaneously absurd, vain and brilliant side of him translates a little better into our world than Miss Marple, although she can be a comforting grandmother. Okay, grandma a bit on the sly side. But still, only when she’s detecting. This said, once I started with one Agatha Christie novel, I had to get another one—Miss Marple or no Miss Marple. She became an addiction. But if you only want to read just one Agatha Christie novel, read what I consider her masterpiece, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.
I have a short story collection by Ms. Christie that I like a lot ;) Please share your #1 tip for writers:
I’ll repeat what Gwendolyn Brooks once told me: “Revise, revise, revise.” At the time, I was very young and thought this was the end of the day, the poet was tired or had fallen on her head somewhere, and therefore she didn’t know what the hell she was talking about. But years went by and I know now that “revise, revise, revise” is one of the best pieces of advice any kind of writer can receive.
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Much thanks to Marie-Jo for stopping by — do visit Marie-Jo’s Website for more info on her projects!
MARIE-JO’S SHORT BIO (in his own words):
Marie-Jo Fortis had to fight many odds, make many sacrifices, in order to leave France and cross the Atlantic with the man she loved. She could hardly speak English when she reached the US, but that did not stop her. She attained a Master’s in English literature after studying at l’Ecole du Louvre and La Sorbonne Nouvelle in Paris. Her work has been published nationally and internationally in Freedom International, Poésie Première, Talus & Scree, and other periodicals. She also founded Collages & Bricolages, a literary magazine she edited for fifteen years, which received accolades from the US and abroad.
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