Feline Nightgowns: A Conversation with Loren Erdrich and Sierra Nelson

[WIAF: Lesley Yalen, earnest author of This Elizabeth, presents a sparkling interview.]

Loren Erdrich and Sierra Nelson are the authors of the choose-your-own-adventure chapbook I take back the spongecake., a small edition of which is out from Invisible Seeing Machine, and a larger edition of which will soon be printed by Q Ave Press.

Meanwhile, the spongecake’s website is being built by the capable and previously-mentioned Sara Blaylock. Loren’s art will punch and then hug you here. Sierra’s poems will reveal the thinking in your gaps here and here.

LY: First of all, let me just say that “I take back the spongecake.” is beautiful to behold.

Loren: thank you!

Sierra: thank you!

LY: Tell me what it was that drew you to each other or each others work – what sparked this collaboration?

Loren: well, sierra is amazing. we were paired to live together while working at the Vermont Studio Center and i fell in love with a poem of hers - The Forgiveness Tour - I think it’s called. I can’t remember who first asked the other to do a collaboration, but once the idea formed, it took root, and i really wanted it to happen. I remember it was taking a long time to get started, then I suggested that instead of making it just a regular book, we should make it a choose-your-own-adventure. and somehow that provided the spark we needed.

Sierra: For me, Loren’s drawings were really appealing from the very beginning - funny and sad, playful and sometimes scary, not afraid to be cute and not afraid to be gross as needed. I really liked the dichotomies at work in all of her work—and it seemed like some of my poems might be able to exist in a similar world—that it would be fun to see how the poems and the drawings might be able to have an interesting conversation with each other.

Loren: plus I think sierra is the cat’s pajamas.

Sierra: For a collaboration to work, it seems like there has to be a mutual attraction to start - an affinity felt in each other’s work, and also with that person and how the creative/communication process might be. I really lucked out working with Loren -loren is the cat’s pajamas!

Loren: we are both the cat’s pajamas.

Sierra: pajamas of cats.

LY: I’m rereading parts of the book during the pauses of this chat, and it strikes me that both the poems and the images are so tender...in the sense of a bruise being tender, and also in the sense of caring for someone.

Sierra: That’s a nice way of describing it. tender like a bruise seems right.

Loren: yes, i love that. you know i love bruises.

Sierra: to care for and be careful of. but also pressing on it a little bit, to see how it’s healing. blue to yellow.

LY: on a different note, what do you think is so pleasing about homonyms?

Sierra: we knew we wanted to have the book be a choose-your-own-adventure...and somehow having the choice be between two things that sound the same but have a different meaning speaks to the difficulties (and pleasures) of decision making. Such subtle difference sometimes.

LY: yes, as i went through the book i felt the weight of the choices I was making. The wait, that is.

Loren: i think it has something to do with the fact that the power of interpretation lies with the receiver. it is up to the reader/viewer to create their own story. this is true not only in our book, but in my drawings, and in life over all. i know as little about my drawings as the viewers sometimes, in terms of what something is, or why it is there. i think that is also true with sierra’s poems.

Sierra: yes, it’s the same with poems too. the viewer or listener has to make their own way through, making their own connections and meanings and associations - what stands out to them at that particular moment - how they’ll choose to remember and carry that work later.

LY: Loren, I know you co-wrote some of the poems in the book—how was that process of co-writing for both of you?

Loren: it was fantastic and fun. it was like doing something with someone that you admire and look up to who somehow makes you feel like you are on the same level as them. i guess that’s what the best collaboration is.

LY: that’s so great. it sort of sounds like being in a band-you really trust the other person- their skill and their intentions. also, i’ve never been in a band. have you guys?

Loren: NO! but i’ve always secretly wanted to be. if i could die and come back as something it would be a singer in a band.

Sierra: i think writing together did help us collaborate better in the whole project - a way for us both to be able to enter and create the place where the project would exist, imaginatively.

Loren: oh wait. i forgot i was in a band in 5th grade. It was called The City Girls and all our instruments were cardboard. Each person had to write a song to be a member.

Sierra: The Typing Explosion and the Vis-à-Vis Society are the only bands I’ve been in. And occasionally I play guest glockenspiel for other bands.

LY: Sierra, you were Harpo Marx for Halloween. Has he been an influence on you?

Sierra: Harpo Marx is a huge hero of mine! The first time The Typing Explosion went beyond typing on-demand and speaking in bells horns & whistles, we made a theater piece (we took the 1000s of poems we’d written and made them into a play) – and at one point our director told me he was thinking of my character as being like Harpo. And that gave me a lot of courage!

LY: He was a genius.

Sierra: he was able to convey so much without speaking! If I could just write poems and only honk my horn to speak (and maybe play some music) - that would suit me fine!

Sierra: Can I ask about superhero qualities you would each like to have?

Loren: I would like to be able to live underwater and see distant galaxies.

LY: umm... the ability to speak every language.

Loren: oooh lesley that is good.

Sierra: I was thinking invisibility and bioluminescence.

Loren: bioluminescence! of course! (FYI ladies I only have a little bit longer – I’m sorry)

LY: No problem—just quickly before we go, can I ask where you guys have been hanging out on the internet these days? Anything we should all know about?

Loren: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HG17TsgV_qI

LY: wow! starfish!

Sierra: http://www.wefeelfine.org/ and http://www.savetheelephants.org/ (Sierra Leone elephants were just wiped out!) - and, for a little more uplifting scientific wonder: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSgiXGELjbc

LY: carl sagan electronica. i love it.

Loren: i’m also digging: http://www.hrstudioplus.com/

LY: Quiet Dog Bite Hard. Good place to end…


Anonymous said...

Could the collaborative authors please recommend a few unique, new illustrated books?

Natalie Lyalin said...

this is delightful interview. good work, you awesome awesome ladies!