I’d like to introduce you to my friend, Dennis Ginoza.
I would, at least, like to think of him as my friend; I certainly would not want him as an enemy. He’s a mysterious figure, you see, a bit of enigma, who tends to spend his time (as far as I can tell) constructing alternate universes of often-alarming brilliance and brutality. He is also one of the finest writers I know.
I started my MFA at Pacific University like so many others who’d been praised, perhaps inordinately, in undergrad, eager to prove myself as an exceptional writer. It requires a great deal of energy, that sort of proving, and I am forever indebted to Dennis for relieving me of it in the course of my second workshop at Pacific.
It was here he dropped the bomb that would come to be known as “Euler’s Identity” (later published by Prime Number, and collected in the first volume of its Editors’ Selections). It is the story of a teenage boy seduced by his math teacher and her mathematics, both of them elegant and beautiful and just a bit cruel. Every sentence of this story sings, and every image casts back the internal dimensions of the story like a hall of mirrors.
Here, at last, was the workshop young writers dream of: the one in which no one, not even the highly published rockstar ostensibly running the show, has anything to offer the story but unbridled praise, and perhaps even outright astonishment.
In the course of a residency I spent at the Vermont Studio Center, many years before, I remember the author David Gates telling us about another writer (I believe it was actually his ex-wife) who could write a serviceable novel in the course of just six weeks. That this was such an outrageous feat that he wasn’t even jealous of it, just the way he wasn’t jealous of people who could swim the English Channel–such a thing was simply out of his league.
That’s how I felt about “Euler’s Proof,” and about Dennis’s work in general. I know I’m not alone in this. One of our instructors at Pacific, Pete Fromm, went so far as to confide to me that his semester of “advising” Dennis Ginoza basically consisted of him pretending that he knew something, anything, that Dennis didn’t.
I’ve enjoyed Dennis’s work in various journals since we graduated, but reading his story in the most recent issue of Phantom Drift, in particular, felt like a blow to the head–I’m not at all surprised it was nominated for a 2012 Pushcart Prize. And because I take as much pleasure these days in discussing the work of writers I admire as I do in sharing my own work (maybe more), I asked Dennis if he might answer a few questions for us–his current and future fans.
1. In “Word and Flesh” and “Other Names, Other Histories,” both Christianity and the mutilation of the body play a key part in the dystopian worlds you have created. Can you speak to these themes in your work?
Although they were published as short stories, “Word and Flesh” and “Other Names, Other Histories,” are actually two chapters from a novel I am working on. The novel is set in a secondary world that mirrors many aspects of our own, including Roman Catholicism. I’ve long been fascinated by the Catholic intellectual tradition and the fact that the Catholic Church is the oldest continuously existing instiution in the world. How has it endured when so many other institutions have crumbled? And how would it evolve in a world whose physical laws were radically different from our own?
On a deeper level, I’m interested in faith. One of the paradoxes of Chistianity is the redemption of mankind through the crucifixtion of Jesus. Through His suffering and death, the transcendent is secured through the material, the spiritual is made manifest in the physical. I’m not a religous person, but to me this notion seems an apt metaphor for the human condition (or at least that aspect of the human condition which informs my work)– our bodies are meat and bones and blood, yet through them we are capable of imagining the infinite. Does the malleability of flesh mean that faith is also malleable? I think it does, it must. So what fills the space between the ineffable and the carnal? For me, the answer is yearning, maybe even grace. And that seems like something worth writing about.
2. Much of your published work touches on the transgressive in terms of sex and violence, but does so in a way that never feels cheap or merely graphic. What do you strive for in touching the dark, so to speak?
I think transgression is a tool that allows a writer to peel away the layers that encase situations and characters. Intent is key– to expose a beating heart, one has to cut through skin, muscle, bone. It’s a tricky line to walk, however. Transgression for its own sake is just pornography, whether it be sexual porn or violence porn. I’ve got nothing against porn, but it’s not something I want to write.
3. Who would you credit as your greatest influences?
Craft-wise, I’m drawn to writers who assert themselves through their prose– the lyricism of Michael Ondaatje and Peter Carey, the circularity of Kazuo Ishiguro and Jose Saramago, the dark beauty of Cormac McCarthy. The notion of authors “fading into the background” and being “invisible” troubles me. Writing that has a strong individual voice affirms itself in a way that dispels ingratiation or worse, the reek of authorial supplication.
Thematically, I like books that grapple with large things– Moby Dick, The Brother Karamazov, Shusaku Endo’s Silence. That’s not to say the small epiphany or domestic drama is unappealing, just that such novels tend not to linger in my mind. Ambition is often its own justification.
4. What are you working on at the moment?
I stopped writing short stories to focus on my novel, but the damn things keep getting embedded in my head, lodging up there like splinters. The only way to tweeze them out seems to be writing them– my story “The Widower” will be published soon in Per Contra’s Spring Edition (www.percontra.net). I also occasionally post stuff to my website, akopos.net.
More Dennis Y. Ginoza:
“Other Names, Other Histories”, Short Story, Phantom Drift (Nominated for the 2012 Pushcart Prize)
“Word and Flesh”, Short Story, Shimmer Magazine
“The Widower”, Short Story, Per Contra (forthcoming)
“Daughter of Pierus”, Short Story, Underground Voices
“Euler’s Identity”, Short Story, Prime Number Magazine, Prime Number Magazine, Editors’ Selections, Volume 1
“City of Desert Rain”, Short Story, Present Tense Writer’s Journal
“Chael”, Flash Fiction, Life With Objects