Author Q & A: Daniel Grandbois dishes on The Hermaphrodite

As the bassist of Slim Cessna's Auto Club, Munly & the Lupercalians, and Tarantella, Daniel Grandbois has played a foundational role in Denver's music scene--particularly the spookier, twangier end of it. A similar haunting Americana permeates his prose. Grandbois' 2008 book, Unlucky Lucky Days, is a dizzying pot of surreal, at times even prankish flash-fiction that shimmers with hidden truths and hermetic illogic. His new book, The Hermaphrodite (An Hallucinated Memoir), is even more ambitious.

A pocket-sized novel split into miniature movements and cemented by magic realism and sexual metaphysics, it also features a profusion of stark, dreamlike woodcuts by renowned Argentinean artist Alfredo Benavidez Bedoya. Together, text and image form a stereoscopic--yet wholly unified--vision of reality as a playground, a nightmare, a Petri dish, and a paradise. In advance of Grandbois's book-signing and -reading at Tattered Cover's East Colfax location on Thursday, August 5, at 7:30 p.m., Grandbois spoke with Westword.

Westword (Jason Heller): Your last book, Unlucky Lucky Days, was a sequence of unlinked microfiction. The Hermaphrodite has a similar structure and rhythm, but it's a sustained narrative. What were you able to accomplish by using the framework of a novel this time around?

Daniel Grandbois: The Hermaphrodite was actually written long before Unlucky Lucky Days, but you're right, its brief chapters read a lot like the flash fiction and prose poetry in that collection. Longer narratives give you a greater sense of time and place, of character and story, and these things strike different chords, more sustained and, perhaps, more bittersweet, than the varied deep punctures in the pages of a short form or poetry collection. As The Hermaphrodite is a longer narrative made of short form pieces, it achieves a little of both.

WW: The notes on the back cover say the book "is to be carried in the pocket, taken on journeys, opened to any page and consulted for its absurd brand of wisdom." Is that malleability of the shape, flow and function of the text meant to mirror the story itself?

DG: The form certainly grew out of the story. As to being able to open the book to any page, one of the side effects of making a longer narrative from short forms, from chapters that could be called prose poems and in fact have been published individually as such, is that you can open the book anywhere and come away with something whole and, hopefully, meaningful, at least to the irrational hunks of your central processing organ.

WW: Starting with the title itself, the theme of sexuality permeates The Hermaphrodite. Yet it's not presented in the psychological terms used in most literature--rather, sex is a mechanism of dreams, detachment, transformation, magic, horror, and even humor. Are you angling toward a truth about sex as you see it?

DG: I would turn again to the irrational mind, the metaphoric mind, the symbolic mind and ask if it too doesn't see sex as a mechanism of dreams, transformation, horror, and, yes, humor.

WW: How did you come to know Alfredo Benavidez Bedoya, and at what point did the two of you realize your respective work could and should overlap?

DG: The artist I propositioned first referred me to Alfredo as a better fit for my work. Alfredo must have liked the fit as well, for once he had the Spanish translation and so could read the book, he began knocking out these astonishing woodcuts. They've already been shown in some of the top galleries in Buenos Aires, where Alfredo lives. The opening reception for the first U.S. exhibit will be September 9th at Redshift Gallery in Denver, if you don't count that eight of the pieces remained on display at City Lights Bookstore for a few months after my reading there. Alfredo went on to do the cover art for the Tarantella CD.

WW: Despite its surreal and metaphysical undercurrents, the book is solidly rooted in Colorado--particularly Boulder, a city summed up in this observation: "A common fly flew by. Simone pinched it. Boulder's bugs will let you do that. They'll turn the other cheek if you swat." As a writer, how do you feel you've been shaped by Colorado, and how do you feel you've shaped it in return?

DG: My family moved from Minnesota to Colorado when I was two. I've moved away from Colorado five times as an adult, to the West Coast, the East Coast, and even to a tiny, roadless island with a 200 year-old community of about 300 people, most of them with the same last name. But I've always moved back, usually within a few months. Colorado is home, and home shapes you the way homes do. Give me another decade or two of writing books and making music with the bands I play in to see if I've done any shaping in return.

WW: Although each has its own niche, the three bands you play in share an overarching aesthetic. In what ways does your fiction relate, or not, to your music?

DG: Each of the bands is driven by a highly original and evocative voice, and I don't just mean the singing. I hope I match that in my writing. I'm a sucker for evocative, original, voice-driven work.

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Jason Heller
Contact: Jason Heller