Thursday, September 18, 2014

Conversation 11: Sophie Weeks

Hi everyone! Welcome back to Clockwork Conversations.

I'm your host, February Grace, and you're in for a great read today, as I get to visit with author (and magic-maker behind the scenes at Booktrope) Sophie Weeks!

Sophie, welcome! Please tell us a little about yourself.

I'm a novelist and amateur philosopher who's lucky to have one of the best day jobs possible.  I work as a kind of training manager for the marketing professionals at Booktrope, an independent publisher, where I have the opportunity to meet so many amazing authors (like February!) and creative professionals.  For me, it's a job that's the best of both worlds--I have a PhD and taught college English for five years, so I love that my job lets me teach while participating in the different mode of creativity that business requires.

I'm also an avid hobbyist and self-improvement junkie.  If I don't have my nose in a novel (reading or writing), I'm devouring literature on how to improve my willpower, learn skills in 20 hours, or master lucid dreaming.  Right now I've got a passion for mapmaking, so the pages of my sketchbook are crammed with the cartography of imaginary lands.

Q1: You have a chance to travel through time and have a luxurious dinner with any three people, living or deceased. Name them, and why you'd like to talk with them.

SW: Cicero, Charles Lamb, and Jon Stewart.  I'd love to drink in Cicero's wise and thoughtful talk--he was someone who lived through a time of terrific upset (Julius Caesar dismantled the Roman Republic and was assassinated during Cicero's life as a public official, and Cicero was eventually killed because of his lengthy diatribes against Marc Antony, who joined forces with Augustus afterwards).  He was an amazing orator and statesman, a staunch supporter of the Republic against its enemies, and a kind and generous friend (insofar as letters may be judged to reveal personality). 

Charles Lamb, who is less known today than he ought to be, was an essayist and poet of the Romantic era.  I picked up a volume of his letters years ago and immediately I felt as though I knew this suffering spirit, but my first encounter with him was in college, when I read the footnote to Coleridge's beautiful "This Lime Tree Bower My Prison," which was dedicated to Lamb.  In the poem, Coleridge calls his dear friend "my gentle-hearted Charles," and Lamb replied thusly: "For God's sake (I never was more serious) don't make me ridiculous any more by terming me gentle-hearted in print ... substitute drunken dog, ragged head, seld-shaven, odd- eyed, stuttering, or any other epithet which truly and properly belongs to the gentleman in question."  He had my heart from that moment on, but I really latched on to him when I began to understand his great suffering--his sister, in a fit of insanity, killed their mother, and he cared for her with an absolutely devoted tenderness for the rest of his life, despite his own struggles with mental illness.  If Cicero is a wise mind, Lamb was a wise heart.
I'd then definitely need someone who could lighten up this grave gathering, and I can't think of anyone more fit for the task than Jon Stewart.  I'm a devoted fan of The Daily Show, and I admire the way his performances channel both compassion and righteous anger in a very cathartic way.  Though it's impossible to really "know" an entertainer from his on-screen performances, he comes across as a very decent and humane man, respectful to everyone he meets, yet still with that wonderfully versatile wit and humor. 

Q2: If you could travel anywhere in the world, what would be first stop on your itinerary?

SW: Hmm.  Assuming I don't have to take an airplane (I hate air travel--I'm not afraid, I just find it an absurdly uncomfortable and inconvenient mode of travel.  In the years since passenger airlines were developed, the experience only gets more awful and depressing), I'd like to go to St. Petersburg.  I'd like to learn Russian, take cooking lessons, go to the Mariinsky, and wander the Hermitage, probably with my mouth unbecomingly ajar.

Q3: Favorite place you've ever visited?
SW: I have a lot of favorite places, so I hope the others won't get jealous when I name Point Reyes National Seashore in California.  I spent a couple of days at a hostel in Point Reyes some years back.  There are no roads to the beach, so I hiked two miles to sit on the shore and soak in the salty air and the perfect privacy--for there was no one else in sight.  It's a truly magical place.

Q4: I'm fascinated by the idea of these Tiny Houses that people are building to live in, have you heard of them? Could you live in a Tiny House, and would you even want to try?
SW: I love the idea of Tiny Houses, and I'm fascinated especially by the innovative ways many Japanese architects in particular are able to turn a restriction of space into something truly beautiful and welcoming.  I know I'd have a hard time culling down all my stuff--the mess of letters and books and teacups that just seems to accrue to me.  What's funny is that tiny houses were standard for everyone but the wealthy until about a hundred years ago, mostly because heating large spaces was so cost prohibitive.  So I think it wouldn't do me any harm to shrink my space requirements to the size of my ancestors, but I'd have to live alone.  A tiny house with more than one person sounds like hell to me.

Q5: *bonus question for everyone* Do you collect anything? If so, why?

SW: I wouldn't say I exactly collect blankets, but I sort of hoard them.  I have a couple of lovely old blankets inherited from my great-grandmother, one woven for me by a talented aunt, a handmade quilt, and many more.  I love winter, when I can snuggle down to sleep in a big pile of blankets.  It's funny, as I become older, I become much more interested in comfort objects than I was as a child or a young person.  Maybe I'm aging backwards?


That was a really cool interview! Thank you so much Sophie for being my guest today.

Learn more about Sophie and her writing by visiting her website:

See you all next week, when I have the pleasure of interviewing two fascinating gentlemen. Don't touch that dial, you don't want to miss it!