Pixelated is the digital, double-blind, lit-inclined conversation series.
In each episode we put two writers on a sort of blind-date, and have them interview each other. The result? Who the hell knows. All conversations are 'manuscript-first', meaning they were typed as you see them.
"It's thrilling to meet another insurrectionist"
In this installment, I set up Robert Repino (above) with Quintan Ana Wikswo (below). They discuss the subway’s magnetic field, metamorphosis and transmogrification, the editing process, letting go of stories, tedious turf conversations & more.
Andrew: Welcome to the eleventh installment of PIXELATED. I’m here with Quintan Ana Wikswo (author of the upcoming THE HOPE OF FLOATING HAS CARRIED US THIS FAR, Coffee House Press, 2015) and Robert Repino (author of MORT(E), Soho Press, 2015).
Andrew: Both THE HOPE OF FLOATING and MORT(E) explore humanity from the outside, not just crossing genres but exploding them. Quintan combines text and photography to give us characters who have left their bodies, and whose stories have become boundless. She writes with both a lightness and the weight of lives unlived, of remorse, and of loss. In MORT(E), Robert fully realizes a recurring nightmare of mine: the rise of the ants—in this case, told from the POV of a ‘former housecoat turned war hero’. We get all the genres on the color wheel mixed together, but instead of producing a single black, we get a brilliant prism of varying hues and saturation.
Andrew: Before we get started, first things first: would you each a) kindly describe where you are and what you see, and b) confirm whether you’ve met?
Robert: I confirm we've never met.
Andrew: And what of your environs?
Quintan: I'm the tower of a former military barracks in brooklyn, looking at a very peculiar cloud, a munitions dump that pretends to be a preschool, and I confirm that we have never met in our current manifestations.
Andrew: And in other manifestations?
Quintan: to clarify, I'm inside the tower, I'm not actually a tower.
Robert: I'm in my NYC apartment. I see my living room and my roommate just offered me organic Tostitos. The room has one window leading to an alley, and another leading to a noisy street. Very NYC.'
Andrew: (The question is inclusive of past lives.)
Robert: We did not meet in ancient Rome.
Andrew: It's a fact everyone alive has met in a past life.
Andrew: So just come out with it.
Quintan: Certainly not ancient Rome, although I've got some lingering questions about smelting sites in Mongolia...
Quintan: Also, since we're both in NYC, the subway is a possibility, since it's sort of the pentiultimate meeting point for people who have known one another in other incarnations.
Robert: I shudder to think of how much time I've spent underground.
Andrew: Great start to a novel.
Quintan: Hm. In larval state?
Quintan: I suppose the average subway car is a form of an exoskeleton.
Robert: No, I meant the dreaded C train. It owes me years of my life.
Andrew: In theory, there are so many things you can do to pass the time on the subway. In reality, every minute of delay is like stealing a day from your life.
Quintan: I share your C-dread. In my first year in NYC I went into a trance state underground and ended up at the end of every line. I never seem to have found my way back.
Robert: I've fallen asleep on the A, woke up at 207th at 4 am. Oy ve.
Andrew: Are you both NYC native?
Quintan: I ended up stranded on a platform on the W train or something and a rat ate part of my shoe. I never got on the W train again.
Robert: I'm from the Philly area.
Quintan: I grew up in Palo Alto, rural Tennessee, and along the US-Mexico border.
Robert: I saw a rat kill a mouse on the subway tracks once and it blew my mind. (Sorry, let's move on.)
Quintan: To my understanding, the iron infrastructure of the subway system has its own magnetic field. It's fun to play with a compass down there and watch it fail.
Quintan: All the trains running in the same directions for a hundred years, etcetera. I shudder to think of what kind of compass the rats have developed.
Quintan: (sorry, Robert.)
Quintan: Did you spend time underground in Philly?
Robert: I mostly took the 65 bus, but I have been in the El system in Philly many times.
Robert: I'm still processing what you said about the compass...
Andrew: Where did you read that Quintan?
Quintan: I imagine the rat compass is a sort of solari board - that was my favorite part of the Philly 30th street station...all the little destinations that flip over one letter at a time.
Robert: Andrew, I hope Quintan answers you by saying simply, "I just know."
Quintan: My father is a physicist and when I offered to take him on a NYC subway expedition, he came equipped with a pocket compass to prove his theory.
Robert: Holy crap.
Quintan: He also had a nice trick where he ran to the windows of the subway when there was "nothing to look at" and excitedly snapped photos with his iPhone.
Robert: I'm stealing all of this. All. Of. It.
Andrew: How do you mean 'steal'?
Robert: Using it for a story.
Quintan: Thus proving the somewhat marvelous theory that excitedly taking photos of nothing will excite unexcitable people.
Quintan: Watch out with the stealing thing. It's one of the first symptoms that one is turning into a rat.
Andrew: Your father sounds like a lovely man.
Quintan: Well then, Andrew, you should ride on an Eastern European airplane with him while he points out all the structural integrity problems.
Robert: My dad takes Philly transit to complain about the trolley lines they took down.
Robert: "I remember the number 10, went from x to y..."
Quintan: Oh that's beautiful. Tech ghost witness on philly transit.
Andrew: I've taken the Philadelphia subway before—it was a less comfortable experience than in New York. Was that the station, me, or a fact?
Quintan: I'm going to start talking about how much I miss the dirigible hangars in the East Village.
Robert: I think the cars tend to be cleaner, but it doesn't go all the places you need it to go.
Robert: That's my problem with it anyway.
Quintan: "In the early days of Tompkins Square Park, the junkies used to syphon off the hydrogen gas..."
Andrew: That's a strong flaw for a transportation method.
Robert: Right, Quintan, that sounds like the old man.
Andrew: Speaking of rats, TSP is their city headquarters
Robert: Can you cite that with a Gothamist article?
Quintan: I went to a movie there and they bit me on the ankle because I was blocking their view.
Andrew: If you give me time I'm sure.
Quintan: I can't withstand my curiousity about Robert's book one second longer.
Quintan: According to the timecode, it's been 6 seconds and I'm still mostly alive.
Robert: Thank you. I'm definitely intrigued by yours.
Robert: I realize I need to bone up on my physics, though.
Quintan: The good thing about physics is that it's everywhere. Unlike, say, herpetology where one has to go to a little more effort for fieldwork.
Andrew: Did either of you ever have aspirations to go into the sciences?
Robert: I have some older relatives who are physics deniers. (jk)
Quintan: It seems we've both written books about metamorphosis and transmogrification, and I am curious whether you share my experience that even though I turned in the manuscript a year and a half ago, the book is different each time i read it.
Robert: Andrew: Not really for me. I did work for a brief time as a lab technician.
Robert: Quintan: yes.
Robert: I have a lot of characters in it.
Quintan: And since apparently one has to read one's book approximately 800 million times before it gets to print...
Quintan: No. I hate science.
Robert: So each one ends up taking over the plot in my mind.
Quintan: Ah, that's very compelling to have plot hijackers who don't respect narrative hierarchy.
Quintan: [what sort of lab?]
Robert: Microbiology lab at a water utility.
Robert: I got to wear a lab coat!
Robert: With my name on it!
Quintan: and yet you still drink water?
Robert: Water in the northeast is very clean.
Robert: Anywhere else is suspect.
Robert: (To be clear: I helped the REAL scientists.)
Quintan: I got to wear a lab coat too! As a kid. I stole the coats of the post docs I had crushes on. It was very intense.
Quintan: And then I pithed frogs. Which was also very intense. And involved a lot of crying. Like my crushes. And this is why I hate science. Sigh.
Robert: One day I took photos of me in the lab pretending to turn into the Hulk.
Robert: I had the Hulk hands.
Robert: And my boss walked in.
Robert: Not as intense, but it showed I was not a scientist.
Quintan: did you strangle him? has the statute of limitations expired?
Robert: I jokingly punched him because the Hulk hands actually made a sound when you did that.
Quintan: Yes, the pivotal moment where one reveals that one is NOT a scientist tends to involve a tremendous amount of embarassment.
Robert: He was not amused.
Quintan: Scientists should always be amused. They are the ultimate fools.
Robert: Actually, he eventually saw the humor in it.
Robert: The photos were funny.
Quintan: All the nature documentaries are quite clear about this: "xyz has perpelexed scientists for centuries..." etcetera.
Quintan: "The incredible hulk has perplexed microbiologists for centuries..."
Quintan: I suppose over time it erodes their ability to laugh at themselves.
Robert: What's perplexed me is that they can't make a decent Hulk movie, but that's a conversation for another day.
Quintan: We will place our doppelganger selves on the W line and discuss the collective cultural failure to uphold the cinematic integrity of the incredible hulk.
Robert: Do you write about perplexed scientists in your work?
Robert: I only mention them.
Robert: They are not center stage.
Quintan: Well, mostly I force the scientists in my book to talk about things they hate to talk about.
Robert: Ah, I see.
Quintan: Mostly I'm interested in them being forced to admit "I don't know."
Robert: I would have trouble avoiding long exposition about theories and experiments and such.
Robert: Oh, very cool.
Robert: You think they're not saying that enough?
Quintan: Mostly they start off very confident and cocky and then something awful happens where they realize they're actually a lichen living on a roof tile, and not really a scientist, and they have nervous breakdowns.
Robert: Many scientists I know insist they admit to not knowing, but then, as you say, something like that happens.
Quintan: I think that there's a lot of anxiety when working with theories. There's pride involved in wanting the theory to be correct, and all the longing for validation, and the constant threat of public humilitation and constant promise of public adulation..
Robert: I also used to work for Nature Neuroscience, my first publishing job in NYC.
Quintan: I hear them say "i don't know" a lot, but I like it to be accompanied by a massive existential nervous breakdown.
Robert: I got to witness the peer-review process up close.
Quintan: Oh! Neuroscience!
Robert: (Again, I helped the real scientists.)
Robert: But that process is nerve-wracking for sure.
Robert: Entire careers rest on it.
Robert: But then you have people who can't or won't revise their work.
Quintan: I once went to the doctor and she showed me a scientific journal article on neuroscience and she said, "that's funny, the photo of this brain was taken by someone with your same last name."
Robert: No relation?
Quintan: And it was a photo of my brain.
Robert: You recognized it.
Quintan: And I wished I had been on that peer-review panel, because I had no idea a photo of my brain was in a scientific journal.
Quintan: Peer reviewing is at least formalized in the sciences, whereas in the arts it takes place at bars and restrooms.
Robert: Wait that brain story calls for some elaboration.
Quintan: I have some peculiar wiring in my brain, and I made the mistake of getting free brain scans in exchange for rent money.
Robert: Mistake? That sounds like a great idea.
Robert: Better than giving away blood.
Quintan: Next thing I knew, I got a letter from the Harvard Brain Bank with an easy form to fill out prior to my demise.
Robert: You're a brain model.
Quintan: YOU KNOW, it SEEMED LIKE A GOOD IDEA! thanks for the validation. And it was nice to pay rent.
Quintan: What's the opposite of a model.
Robert: Not sure if English is equipped with such a word.
Quintan: It's the brain that ends up in the weird little bin at the end of the assemble line - the one the robots pick out of the extruder and send back to the refinery.
Robert: At least not my English.
Quintan: We need more not-models.
Quintan: Many editors are like those little robots, which is why I'm delighted to have a book.
Quintan: [insert well-natured smile]
Robert: I'm assuming then that your book changed a lot over the editorial process? Mine sure as hell did.
Quintan: They took out three stories and that was a blessing to the world.
Quintan: I think the best editorial approaches are either up to the armpits, or poke it with a stick.
Robert: Yes, I've "retired" a few myself.
Robert: (A few stories, I should say...)
Quintan: The other stories had a little party when they left.
Robert: I've purged bad roommates before. I know the feeling.
Robert: I have to ask...
Quintan: I wonder about the ecosystem of the book...their secret animosities and trysts...the politics of page adjacencies...
Andrew: Well, I have successfully faded out of conversation completely, but I'm back to cancel the fun. Time's up guys.
Robert: Wait, wait, can I ask one thing?
Quintan: yes yes one more thing!
Andrew: From both
Quintan: robert first.
Quintan: oh wait, that would be two more things. I forfeit my thing so that robert can have his.
Robert: Just curious if Quintan has been involved in the sometimes tedious, sometimes interesting conversation about sci-fi versus literary works.
Robert: In other words, has anyone tried to pigeonhole your book or something like that?
Robert: (I'm thinking of the recent debate between Le Guin and Ishiguro, for example.)
Quintan: Quintan has avoided all tedious literary turf conversations by claiming to be a visual artist, and has avoided all tedious visual art turf conversations by claiming to be a writer. That being said, I am a patriotic supporter of obliterating the hobgoblins of little minds..."genre" being somehow anathema to high lit is repulsive and also hilarious.
Robert: I love that answer. Faith in humanity restored.
Robert: For now.
Quintan: The thing I like about a good pigeonniere is that it has lots of little holes. So you just blow your artwork into a million pieces and someone can stuff some part of it anywhere they want, and you can ignore them.
Robert: That is really inspiring.
Robert: (Sorry, that sounded sarcastic. It wasn't.)
Robert: Quintan, you had a question?
Quintan: Oh, it didn't sound sarcastic. It was delightful. It's thrilling to meet another insurrectionist. We both have the scars to prove that level of inspiration!
Robert: Hell yeah!
Quintan: Yes, I hope it's not too odd a question. I'm really just looking for other blips in the radar fields. You see, I wondered if you perhaps feel a little as though your book might have created you?
Robert: Well, it definitely took over my life.
Quintan: I get the nagging sense that books come from a part of the deep brain that forces change on the author, so that we are transformed by decanting it onto paper. This might be too perverse. It just keeps me up at night.
Robert: I see what you mean...
Robert: I think I started the book with a much less sympathetic attitude toward certain mindsets.
Quintan: Yes, that's what I'm talking about. Book takes control. Book leaps into cockpit, begins twisting knobs and pulling levers, etcetera.
Robert: Right, so it took over my daily life...
Quintan: Your own mindsets?
Quintan: Did it change your mindsets?
Robert: Because I was writing from different POVs, I had to reevaluate a few things.
Robert: Otherwise, the bad guys would simply be "evil" and nothing more.
Quintan: Ah, like skinwalking.
Quintan: shamanistic. climb into a different mind.
Robert: Sure. And some of my own rhetoric about politics, power, religion, belief, had to be a little more sympathetic.
Quintan: Oh shit, now I want to have a conversation about evil.
Andrew: Shutting it down
Robert: that's evil.
Quintan: Oh that's marvelous. Erosion of rhetoric...
Quintan: what? over? fuck.
Robert: We will have to continue in another venue.
Andrew: You do know this box isn't the only place conversation can happen.
Robert: Thanks for having me, Andrew.
Andrew: Y'all were great.
Robert: Thanks, Quintan. Good luck with your work.
Quintan: Thanks for this
Quintan: i'm searching for the string of adjectives while staring anxiously at clock.
Quintan: you are both wonderful creatures.
Quintan: Good luck Robert. Let's swap books on the ratless train.
Robert: We will. Take care.
Quintan: Bon Voyage!