An Interview with Colette Arrand
As a part of our class, we were given the opportunity to interview an established writer/literary citizen. After some investigation and introductions, I was provided the pleasure of interviewing Colette Arrand. Colette is an essayist, poet, and critic living in Athens, Georgia, where she is a student at the University of Georgia. I was drawn to her work for it’s unique strengths; her writing consists of lively, poignant pieces with pop culture subjects ranging from Pokemon to cage wrestling. Her writing has appeared in The Atlas Review, Hobart, Gigantic Sequins, and elsewhere, and her pop culture criticism can be found on her blog, Fear of a Ghost Planet.
I’d like to start at the beginning. What first inspired your writing?
It’s kind of two-fold. Obviously, there’s the pop-culture element. I’m writing about Pokemon, music videos, professional wrestling… things that matter or have mattered to me for as long as I can remember. Through that, I’m hoping to not only evaluate the culture that I’ve been participating in, but to use that culture as a lens for making something interesting out of my own experiences.
In your writing, you evoke strong, personal images from those elements of pop culture, like in your essay “The Strange Tutelage of Truth Martini: Wrestling and the Art of Identity” and your multiple Pokemon essays. To you, what are the benefits of writing in connection with pop culture? Are there any downsides to it?
I think writing about pop culture comes naturally to me, more naturally than other metaphors or lenses, because that’s what I grounded myself in as a child. I don’t have a rock-solid memory of specific events and dialog from my youth — I suffered from cluster headaches and depression and ADD and gender dysphoria, all of which can make memory a bit shaky — but that’s always been there. I honestly hope that after these first two or three books that I’m working on that I’ll be able to settle for something more “normal,” but at the same time I think that writing about pop culture is important as a way for me to engage with my roots as a kid who grew up in a single-parent, working class family. TV didn’t raise me, by any means, but it was usually on in the background. There are downsides, of course. I think it was initially kind of hard for the Pokemon essays to find an audience beyond workshop. I’d send them out and they’d get rejected pretty much immediately, and I think a lot of that had to do with their subject matter. But it’s a thing you overcome. The best acceptance letter I’ve ever gotten said something to the effect that my work surprised them not because of the subject (Jigglypuff and Koffing), but because of what I was able to do with something that one wouldn’t think very artistic. Without saying that I’m trying to “redeem” any of these things, that’s my ambition: Using stuff that nobody sees as art and making it such.
You mention in your interview with The Collagist that a lot of your Pokemon essays that are published in journals were written before you came out as transgender. You also touch on the idea of “evolution” and its relation to your personal experiences with change. Do you think this idea will stay central to your future Pokemon essays now, or are there other concepts that you see yourself exploring in the future?
I think that’s the metaphor of this project, the thing that I’m driving at overall, even if not overtly in every single essay. When you’re working on a longform project, I think it’s good to have something like that, a golden thread winding through the maze of thought you’re building word by word and sentence by sentence, so that you don’t get lost. It might change, of course, but so far it hasn’t.
Are there any other golden threads that you find running through your writing?
I guess it depends on what I’m writing about. When I’m writing about professional wrestling, for instance, there’s violence, masculinity, the way images work to produce a desired effect, and so on. Given that my first experience in creative non-fiction was writing film reviews online, it’s always made sense that these would be particular obsessions of mine — narratives tend to repeat themselves in pop culture, and I’m interested in why.
How did you first get started writing film reviews? Are there any other culture blogs that inspired the creation of Fear of a Ghost Planet, or was that more of a self-driven project?
I started writing film reviews on a whim, because I had a personal blog in 2007 and nothing to really put on it. I started my current blog, Fear of a Ghost Planet, because I wanted to own the space I was using, but school and work and everything else I’m up to often mean that an unpaid passion project goes neglected. In 2008, when I started writing about movies in earnest, my biggest inspiration was the critic Roger Ebert, who actually drafted parts of his memoir, Life Itself, on his blog, Roger Ebert’s Journal. I was a frequent commentator and sometimes would have conversations with him in his comment sections, which meant the world to me. I think that’s why I still do it, at least as much as I’m able — the fact that I love movies, and the fact that somebody so skilled at talking about them treated me like a peer when I clearly wasn’t.
The central theme of the class that is conducting these interviews is literary citizenship, or the idea of not just observing but participating in the literary community. Would you have any advice or experiences to share with anyone who might be trying to become more invested in their writing community and the world of literature as a whole?
It’s hard, but I think that an underrated means of being a literary citizen, especially as an undergraduate creative writer, is to read as much contemporary work as possible, whether that’s through taking books out from the library or reading and supporting online and print literary magazines. I say it’s hard because it can be expensive to do so, or daunting to really get a feel for the landscape, but there is no better way to become a better writer than to become a good reader of the things you’d like to read, and that’s not always something I considered until my MFA, when I wound up on the staff of a well-regarded literary magazine. When you’re inundated with poems good and bad, it’s a relief to seek out a finished product.
As a last question, is there anything going on that we should be looking out for? Any new writing on your part, or any new books or media that you’re especially caught on?
As far as what’s going on with me, I just, today, got proofs of a chapbook that will be collecting seven new Pokemon essays with five previously published (but significantly altered) ones. It’s called To Denounce the Evils of Truth, and it’s being put out by Long Day Press sometime in the very near future. It’s my first collection of any size, and will pretty much be how I show people what these essays can do as a collection. I’ve also been writing somewhat regularly for Harlot Magazine, which is a startup feminist publication out of Oakland that’s been putting out a number of great essays on a wide range of subjects. I think the newest book that I’ve read and enjoyed is Nevada by Imogen Binne, put out by Topside Press, which is a vibrant indie publishing house focusing almost exclusively on works written by trans authors, and I just finished season one of Better Call Saul, which I am enjoying a lot more than Breaking Bad (which I liked a lot). I’m hoping to have time to sit down with my PS4 and check out some games soon. I’ve been too busy to play anything that I’m not using for research, and an escape would be *amazing*.