Interview in writing with Katy Masuga about her new book The Blue of Night
I had a lot of balls in the air when the confinement hit, The Blue of Night being one of them. Some folks I know are having their books pushed to 2021. We don’t know or understand what the future is going to be at this point, so my feeling has been just to go ahead with the book now. The Blue of Night has been in the works for a long time, and I’m ready to get it out of my hands. Perhaps I can draw a connection between the release of this book that shares my fraught childhood with this new forced transformation from the pandemic: despite the pain and suffering, both experiences force an examination of and a breaking free from old bonds that hopefully lead to a better future. I don’t want to romanticize either at all. In fact, I attempt to present my difficult childhood bluntly, and as for the pandemic, I don’t want to hear about boredom or people learning new skills or discovering themselves or whatever. While those things might be great, I want to hear about progressive legislation, the demise of inequalities and monopolies and the protection of the planet and its myriad species including humans. I’m trying to be part of that.
I am a fan of disrupting conventions, exploring the boundaries of rigid systems and pulling apart assumptions. The Blue of Night alternates between imagined present-day experiences with a reconstruction of my childhood. The wild material of such a childhood made me want to be able to share it precisely for what it is as best I am able, while fictionalizing the names and locations and such things. Literature needs to take liberties, to stretch limits, to investigate our own fears and drives, so I wanted to balance —or disrupt, depending how you look at it— the nonfiction with a fully fictionalized present-day within the same narrative frame. Henry Miller was a bit of an accidental master at that, and it really takes some digging to understand how poignant that tool really was in his hands. I don’t pretend to write like Henry, of course, but he is certainly an influence.
My audience is hopefully the reader who is looking for something more than a straight forward story and at the same time appreciates the value and power of genres like memoir and “literary” fiction while being open to learning something radically new and different through an unexpected writerly encounter. I also hope my reader can identify and be lifted up by it. I am at heart a teacher and a mother, and while I strive to deconstruct and defy, I also rebuild and embrace.
I humbly believe The Blue of Night is important to read, as there is something to learn in there that I can’t consciously claim to understand myself but that I hope can be useful or impactful to the unsuspecting yet open reader. You, who have a mother, are in this book. You, who have loved and been pained by love, are in this book. And in another sense, you who have probably not had to eat old bread from a garbage can or go without eating altogether for many days as a child or been winded by the slam of the gavel at your mother’s sentencing will learn something singular and painful and finally beautiful from this book.
I got bit by Henry Miller in grad school when looking for a PhD dissertation topic. He made me laugh out loud, and that seemed like the best foundation for a doctoral project. Henry Miller is not hugely studied at university (but I think more and more), which is a kind of double edged sword: he claimed to disdain organized learning for its stifled approach, and organized learning seems to overlook his significance. I find staunch divisions to be self destructive. One body cannot shut out another without both and more being harmed. The moment we claim purity from or contempt for one domain or another, we lose everything, we lose learning. Henry was an autodidact, but not everyone is born a Henry Miller, able to absorb and analyze the world on one’s own in great gulps. Where and how do we find each other? We need Henry Miller and other “fringe” writers everywhere in our lives for growth, change, beauty, exposure, depth and numerous other intangibles, and we need them in our education particularly because they disrupt the standards and are very good teachers for accessing the unfamiliar, for examining difference and what makes us uncomfortable and why, and for inventing, creating, playing.