Paige Ambroziak, a doctoral candidate in Comparative Literature, is author of A Perpetual Mimicry. Ambroziak’s novella follows a fallen fire angel who, with the aid of another exile, seeks to gain his wings back and end his banishment. Along the way, he experiences the fundamentals of human experience, including love, death, art, and salvation, one of which might be just the key he needs to unlock the mystery of his expulsion from the stars…
Paige also maintains the website Fields of Twisting Phlox where she reviews self-published books.
Montag had the opportunity to ask Paige some questions about her art and her studies. She also shared some thoughts regarding the future of self-publishing.
I want to begin by complimenting your prose and your imagination. There was a real intensity to all of “Ani’s” emotions, particularly his longing, and this all really shone through in the language. I thought you also made use of some very vivid and visual language – most of it having to do with fire and light. For example, the novella begins with the following: “When I opened my eyes I recalled the bursts of light in the endless black above. They were the genesis, the candelabrum lighting the chaos that engulfed this world.” This is incredibly potent, primordial imagery which draws to mind, for me, the book of Genesis and the Gospel of John. Later, toward the end, Ani receives some sort of spiritual communication and it’s described as an “exotic butterfly” whose color was electric. The narration continues: “The tips of its insect legs touched my hand twice before flitting away into the trees. But I saw a great light come down through the leaves, sharpening to a point and into a little ball that traipsed upon the air like the will-o’-the wisp. Hovering several feet from where I was standing, the light grew to a shape that mirrored my own.” This is beautifully rendered.
There are several classes of spiritual beings in your story, including humans, seraphim, fire angels—and there’s some interbreeding going on between the humans and seraphim and their offspring and the fire angels. Can you explain a little bit further the distinctions between the celestial beings (e.g. the seraphim and fire angels)? And where did you draw your inspiration from, in deciding which creatures to include in your world?
I wanted to create a being that was neither human nor heavenly but rather an ulterior entity. The Fire Angel is an invention of a psyche or a soul that exists outside of the heavenly sphere. It is a being that is forged in the gaseous atmosphere of a fixed star, and is bound to that star. The Fire Angel has wings, as angels in Heaven do, but its plumage is the core of its identity, which is why Ani and Simon ache without them. My inspiration for these beings is Lucifer, the light bearer. I always wondered if he had his wings plucked when he was tossed to earth…
There are a lot of very fantastic and surreal things happening in A Perpetual Mimicry. We have bodily possession, soul-devouring, and time travel, to name a few. Did you have one underlying cohesive metaphysical structure as you were creating this—I mean, did you reason out in advance how this universe you created was going to operate, or did you just let the story take you wherever it wanted you to go? In other words, did you have rules binding what could and couldn’t happen, a priori, or did they develop as the story unfurled?
I didn’t reason out in advance how the universe was going to operate because I didn’t want to give my fantastical world any predetermined rules. However, certain elements developed as the story did. I wanted each of the surreal happenings to be unburdened by logic, I wanted them to serve the story rather than any one metaphysical structure. Perhaps this is risky, and even impossible, because I am dealing with the fantastic, but I believe in Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory. The surface is not where the true meaning of the story lies, but rather lying somewhere beneath it and hopefully shining through it is the story’s crux. This is lovely for both a writer and his reader because it opens them to more than one meaning or understanding of a story.
Once I got to the end of the story, I was reminded of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series which, though it had a radically different plot and cosmology, had a similar sort of upshot regarding redemption and the cyclical nature of the protagonist’s quest. Are you familiar with King’s series?
I’m not familiar with The Dark Tower series, though I have looked it up since. Reading the first few pages of The Gunslinger, I see what you mean. I look forward to reading it.
I think that Simon ultimately ends up being the “villain” of the book, yet, we ultimately discover that he’s been wronged by Almega and we find out a little bit about why he’s so determined to get his wings back and get back to his star. I thought that was interesting, but ultimately, we don’t find out much more about Simon’s back story, or Almega, for that matter. We learn that Almega sent Simon to Earth on an exploratory mission—but questions remain; for example, who is Almega?…And why exactly did she exile Simon? Her motivation there seemed a little hazy to me. This seems like fertile territory for another story. Are there any plans to write a prequel?
Simon is not a villain, he is an antihero, he is a victim…His was a reconnaissance mission, whereby he was stripped of his celestial form to investigate the terrestrial. Simon is loyal to his creator, though she is not loyal to him. Once she plucks out his wings and sends him below, she is repulsed by his corporeal figure and disowns him. I would say, Almega is the villain. There is potential for a prequel and even a sequel, I suppose, but I have yet to embark on them.
You list some of your literary inspirations and fascinations on your website; you note that you’re “drafting a dissertation on Marlowe, Shakespeare and Milton.” Can you explain at what point in your studies of these authors your inspiration for A Perpetual Mimicry struck? Do you want to speak a bit about how the subjects of your dissertation shaped your story?
My dissertation is specifically about Christian repentance in Early Modern secular works and I would have to say that it is a topic I am constantly thinking about. Redemption and forgiveness are often heavy on my mind when I am writing. My academic readings influence my fiction writing. I have a broad literary repertoire because I am eclectic in my tastes…Milton is a heavy influence for me; Paradise Lost burns in me at all times. I am fascinated by man and his relation to the spirit world, which is why I am drawn to any Genesis/genesis storytelling. I have a particularly soft spot for Satan, especially Milton’s. Dante’s Commedia, too, is a very big influence for my thought, my writing.
Who else do you love to read? And who else has contributed to your style?
Other than the heavyweights above, I would say Poe, Baudelaire, Thomas De Quincey, Homer, Novalis (to whom I tipped my hat with those blue flowers), Goethe, Gérard De Nerval, Rousseau, Tolstoy and Shakespeare. I love “Le Horla” by Guy de Maupassant and Madame Bovary. Unica Zürn, a German Surrealist, is also a writer who touches my soul. Her Dark Spring is especially haunting. I have to admit that my favorites change regularly. There is one book, though, that I could read again and again, One Hundred Years of Solitude—Gabriel García Márquez makes me want to be a good writer.
While we’re on the topic of style: you’re writing about these heavenly creatures, whom I assume are androgynous, if not asexual, and yet, once they acquire bodies, they typically acquire male bodies; thus the narrative voice seems to me to be distinctively male. I thought this was interesting though because the characters maintained a fluid sense of attraction. There’s a longing, an intensity, the characters feel toward both male and female characters (though the former is definitely minor in comparison to the latter); for example, Ani’s main love throughout the story is directed toward Sarah, yet Ani, later, seems drawn in a very appetitive way to a young man whose body he literally appropriates (though his attraction to that body is explained soon after). Do you want to say anything about the process of writing from a masculine perspective?
Looking at my list of influences and favorite writers, it’s easy to see why the male voice dominates my thought. I don’t know why, but for some reason I find it easier to write from a masculine perspective. I have never heard the voice of a woman yet in my writing. But I am glad you mentioned the androgyny of the creatures in A Perpetual Mimicry, though I wouldn’t limit it to the heavenly ones, because I think desire, in a way, is androgynous.
How long did it take you to write A Perpetual Mimicry?
Yikes, I have no idea. On and off for several years, I would guess. I’ve spent a lot of time living with this first novella because it’s my first.
Are you working on something else right now? If so, can you tell us anything about it?
I’m working on something right now and it’s coming along considerably faster because it is one of those story ideas that bites you and doesn’t let go. The main character has a hold on me. He’s telling me his story and I am completely at his mercy. Whereas I usually write a solid page a day (on a good day), with this story I wrote 5000 words a day in the first week. I can’t say much about it because I believe if I talk about it, I will no longer need to write it…
I think it’s wonderful and very unique that you just decided to delve into reading self-published fiction as a change of pace from your doctoral work. How do you choose what to read—how do you pick something out of the myriad of options?
I have enjoyed stepping into these unknown stories. Everything I have read to date has blown me away. There are such amazing unknown/little-known writers out there. My choices are pretty random at this point. I prefer works that don’t have too many reviews, and I never read about the story beforehand. I like to come to it with a clean slate. I get a daily listing from a site called BookGorilla, and I choose the free reads for my Kindle. I am hoping my reviews will garner some traffic and I will eventually get suggestions from writers and readers. Ultimately, I am interested in giving positive feedback and therefore will only review a self-published work that resonates with me.
Have you been generally satisfied with the quality of the self-published work you’ve chosen to read?
What are your thoughts on this new era of publishing where everybody has a microphone? We all have the resources and the opportunity to put something out there, but on the flip side, that means there’s so much more competition, it’s so hard to get noticed and it can be a struggle to be heard. It seems to me that it’s somehow simultaneously easier and harder to make a go of being a professional writer.
I agree with you about the flip side of there being more competition, but I think it is easier to be read than ever. With access to e-publication, many writers who may have never had the opportunity to publish are publishing. But I also think e-books have created that many more readers. Though I love reading a printed book, and will never stop filling my personal library with bound copies, I have found works that I would have never had the pleasure of knowing had there not been these new publishing resources. I also think readers are more adventurous than ever in this new age of reading.
I also believe writing takes a certain amount of endurance, as does being a writer. Though everybody has a microphone in this new era of publishing, only some will continue to plug theirs in. An archive of work will eventually make one impossible to ignore.
And, finally, your biography states that you’re a fan of silent movies. What are your favorites?
Hands down, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Gustav Fröhlich has one of those faces that speaks a thousand words. My second favorite is Murnau’s Faust.
It was a pleasure reading your novella; it was so rich in mythos and imagery—it was a very passionate story. I’m looking forward to reading your next work.
Paige Ambroziak is a doctoral candidate in Comparative Literature. Her novella, A Perpetual Mimicry, is available via Amazon.com. She also maintains the website Fields of Twisting Phlox where she reviews self-published books.