Bewildering Stories discusses...
Messages From the Hidden World
with Eleanor Lerman
“What If There Is a Hidden World
That We Can’t See?”
begins in issue 613.
[Eleanor Lerman] It’s always fascinating to me to find out what readers think about my work because writing is such an isolated and inward-looking process that — at least for me — it arises from questions I ask myself about what I believe life is, what the purpose of living is, and what issues I think are worth exploring in the brief life span available to any human being.
When I was younger, sex, drugs, love and all that goes with those things were the issue. As I get older, those fade into the background and mortality begins to reveal its inevitable presence. So, what is one to write about?
For me, over the past decade or so, the only problem worth solving, and one that I know is unsolvable, is what lies beyond the human horizon. I won’t know until I get there and since I don’t want to get there soon, if I can help it, I spend the time trying to see what I can through my work.
In “Hidden World,” I was exploring themes I am working on now in a new novel, “The Stargarzer’s Embassy.” The bar in a dying town is a motif that means a great deal to me, because there is such a beloved place in my past, and one where, on a gray upstate New York afternoon, I can still imagine some alien stranger walking in and asking for a drink. And I do think if there are others out there in the cosmos, a shot of whiskey or a glass of wine now and then is probably as rewarding for for them as it is for us.
That may be who Jack is in “Hidden World,” though really, I’m not sure myself: just some kind of visitor from somewhere else whose appearance in our realm, for whatever purpose, opens Chris’s eyes to the idea that things are going on she doesn’t know about — interesting, mysterious things — but that doesn’t mean she has to be afraid of them.
They aren’t necessarily horror shows — even whatever has been bumping her in the deep may just be saying “Hello, I’m here, what’s up with you?” In other words, I was trying to get at the idea that if there are other lives being lived on other planes, in other places, they may, in their own way, be as ordinary as ours and therefore, not to be feared but rather, to be shared someday.
In “Stargazer’s Embassy,” I’m trying to extend that idea even to the concept of death: we certainly don’t know what it is, and maybe whoever else is out there doesn’t understand it, either. That gives us something else in common that maybe we can all talk about one day in that beloved bar on a rainy afternoon.
[Gary Inbinder] The conversation reminds me of an epistemological theme: the difference between things as they are and as they appear to be. In my novel The Flower to the Painter, you can find several references to the theme in the text. Here’s an example:
I stubbed out my cigarette, leaned back in the chair and watched the evening shadows that crept wraith-like across the wallpaper. I imagined them as creatures from another world, an undiscovered place that coexisted with us yet remained hidden from our common perception. I remarked upon this to Mr. Wolcott, after supper, as we enjoyed our brandy and cigar. “Do you think, Mr. Wolcott, that an artistic sensibility enables one to peer into an unseen world?”
The narrator, a woman artist posing as a man, poses the question in different ways throughout the narrative.
[Don Webb] The “hidden world that we can’t see” is all around us, and one never knows what surprises it may hold.
Jack gives Chris a glimpse of it in an out-of-the-way bar. Or, in a comfortable dining room, we see that an artist who must be a transvestite in order to pursue a career in painting is, herself, part of an “unseen world.”
Large and small are of equal importance, even in terms of cosmic visions. Just yesterday, I was gazing at peas floating in a bowl of soup. They reminded me of galaxies spread randomly throughout the universe, drawn toward each other by the gravitational pull of dark matter even as the “bowl” is being expanded by dark energy.
Can one see the universe in a bowl of soup? Sure, why not? I ate it anyway, savoring it in the assurance that it was leftovers and I’d “never see it again.” It fulfilled a higher purpose than mere existence. Consider it a message from the “hidden world”: our universe — and we — do the same.
[Eleanor] It’s kind of you to call me accomplished; I don’t think of myself that way at all. It took my literary agent ten years to sell a book to a (near) mainstream publisher, The Permanent Press, and before that I spent decades publishing with literary presses and enduring so many rejections for my fiction — both novels and short stories — that I don’t think I even feel it anymore. I just file those away and go on to the next thing.
That’s why what you’re doing with Bewildering Stories is so critically important. Most writers never make any money, and they have great difficulty getting published anywhere. Thoughtful editors like yourself who use their literary platforms to encourage writers rather than to condescend to them are rare and therefore to be valued and congratulated.
And yes, in our own ways, we’re both trying to find ways to think and express ideas that get us beyond the everyday problems that distract us all. The next argument one has to have with the damn insurance company, the need to get the dog to the vet, the car repairs, and on and on and on — all that makes it hard to keep watching the skies, as the famous movie tag line goes.
And yet those of us who can’t help doing that have, I think, a secret joy: we know that, one day, we’ll see something really, really interesting. And even if not, we can keep on hoping.
I hope you will keep in touch. These are interesting conversations.
[Don] Thank you for the kind words, Eleanor! You have captured the spirit of Bewildering Stories, and I’m very glad to know it is valued. And I hear you about the everyday routine. I’m thankful it is a routine; otherwise I’d never know what to do next.
Can we hope that something really interesting will turn up? Every time I go into a library or a real bookstore, I have the almost mystical feeling that somewhere in there are Answers. To what, I’m not sure. Maybe the answers are, themselves, questions. But every now and then I hit the jackpot.
Please keep watching the skies, and tell us what you see. Meanwhile, I’ll keep an eye on my soup. In the end, we’re doing the same thing.
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