One of the things we want to do here at Trust & Treachery is give you a chance to get to meet our authors. Over the next few weeks, you will see bios and Q&As for our amazing contributors. Although we continue to run behind in our posting schedule, today is Michaux Dempster. Stay tuned as additional authors are added every Monday.
Best, Editors, Trust & Treachery
Born and raised in Baton Rouge, Michaux didn’t realize what a strange and wonderful place southern Louisiana was until she left it for graduate school in Auburn, Alabama. Michaux received her M.Ed. in School Counseling from Auburn University; after working in Richmond public school for four years, she gleefully quit her job in order to attend Virginia Commonwealth University, earning an MA in Writing and Rhetoric, then an MFA in Creative Writing. Going back to school to study writing and literature felt like winning the lottery—highly improbable and incredibly lucky. During this period Michaux was privileged to edit, transcribe and annotate a group of letters by the writer Peter Taylor, written to his friend John Thompson, then editor of the New York Review of Books; she was also the first recipient of the David Baldacci Fiction Fellowship. Currently on the faculty in the Department of Focused Inquiry at VCU, Michaux plugs away at her fiction, conducts research in the scholarship of teaching and learning, and is a regular reviewer for Blackbird, VCU’s journal of literature and the arts. For more information on Michaux Dempster, go to facebook.com/michauxd.
Do you have any recent events to announce (of publications or anything else exciting)?
An article I wrote with two colleagues, describing the benefits of working with undergraduate teaching assistants (UTAs) and describing the program we have for using them to increase student engagement in core writing courses at VCU, is coming out in a future edition of The International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. I adore the collaborative work with my UTAs—this semester I brought one to do a presentation with me at the University of Virginia, and supervised an evaluative poster project by my UTAs, assessing the effectiveness of their work in my writing classes this year. I’m also a regular reviewer of fiction for Blackbird, VCU’s journal of literature and the arts—check out my recent review of Kevin Wilson’s new novel, The Family Fang, in their latest edition.
What inspired you to write this story?
It’s very loosely based on something that happened to my grandmother during the 1940’s: married to a devastatingly handsome, good-for-nothing Cajun Frenchman, my grandmother found herself to be, briefly, one of his two wives. Almost everything I write has some kind of love triangle in it—and the stories I hear from others others provide an endless supply of material.
What books and/or authors have most influenced you?
John Milton’s Paradise Lost compelled me to change my major from psychology to English as an undergraduate, but I didn’t consider the possibility of becoming a creative writer until I read Ellen Gilchrist in my late twenties.
What are you reading now?
Just finished a third or fourth reading of Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady; am also occasionally glancing at War and Pieces, volume 11 of the Fables comic series. I also try to keep up with Peter Orner’s “Lonely Voice” column in the online journal The Rumpus—he does such a great job dissecting classic short stories and explaining their current relevance.
What are your current projects?
I’m continuing to revise and send out my short stories, most of which are Southern Gothic, but some of which are more fantasy-oriented. I discovered the writing of Kelly Link a couple of years ago, and it sent mine in a new direction. My long-term writing goal is to finish the novel I began in graduate school, entitled Damn Near Perfect, about the obsession of a conservative student at an all-male college in rural Virginia, for a bisexual female poet from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. My favorite thing about this work is writing from the point of view of a passionate, yet terribly confused 21-year-old frat guy—it’s incredibly liberating to pretend to be this whole other person, so different, and yet not so very, from who I really am. For my next big project, I am torn between writing a historical-fantasy novel depicting Eleanor of Aquitaine as a great sorceress, and a semi-autobiographical novel about growing up the child of a paranoid schizophrenic father and a bipolar mother in southern Louisiana.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
You can do this. Just don’t stop trying.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I am so glad you are out there!
What is your favorite quote, by whom, and why?
My favorite quotes rotate regularly. Last spring it was, “Time for some thrilling heroics,” as quipped by Jayne, a character from Joss Whedon’s one-season genius TV series Firefly. Jayne is pulling on his old-style flying hat and goggles as he prepares to be lowered from the spaceship by a cord in order to rob a moving train. Right now my favorite quote is, “A government is a body of people, usually notably ungoverned,” –as remarked by Shepherd Book, a character in the same series.
What are you most proud of accomplishing so far in your life?
Lately I’ve been receiving these wonderful thank-you notes from my students. My favorite showed up on my door a semester and a half after I had taught the sender. In the note, she apologized for not working harder (she scraped by with a D in my class), and thanked me for the time I spent one-on-one with her in my office, endeavoring to help her understand the purpose of the assignments required in the course. At the end of the letter she said, “I did not realize how much you helped my writing improve until I read my old essays,” and “You are honestly one of the most influential teachers I have had.” She had barely passed my class, and was thanking me for the privilege—I felt like I’d won the Academy Award of teaching that day.
What inspires you to write and why?
It’s compulsive—I read and write like other people eat and sleep. Writing for an audience is more challenging, and of course more rewarding, too.
What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
Fortunately, I don’t remember most of the criticism—it’s always unsettling at first, but then it becomes part of my own standard for myself as a writer, and I forget that I didn’t always think that way myself. The best compliment is the reactions of an audience at a live reading—their laughter and audible responses, and the things they tell me they identify with or are delighted by afterwards; their responses make me feel so connected—a wonderful antidote to the solitude of the writing process itself.
Tell us something unusual (or fun) about you.
The struggle to recover from my three-year battle with carpal tunnel syndrome helped me become healthy enough to ride my bike for two 100-mile century events last year, and to compete in an Olympic-distance aquabike event, for which I won third place. Being able to take up riding after a period of feeling very powerless made me feel like such a superhero—just really strong and able–and still translates so much positive energy to other areas of my life. Whenever I’m feeling intimidated or overwhelmed with a project, I think, Hell, I rode my bike a hundred miles—this is no problem!