On Dostoyevsky, Symbolism and Joy Division
DB: What inspired you to write A Great Place for a Seizure?
TT: Oddly enough the idea came from reading The Idiot, by Dostoevsky. Frankly, I do not like "the Russian novel." Those books have far too many pages and the writing is very heavy. If I were stuck in a dacha, in a blizzard with a bottle of vodka, perhaps they would be more entertaining. But I'm not. Nevertheless, I was always curious about The Idiot because the title-character was epileptic as was Dostoevsky. The character's name is Prince Myshkin, who I think is best described as a carpet because he lets everyone walk all over him. As an epileptic, I found it irritating that the most famous portrayal of us is the pathetic and humorless Prince Myshkin. One day I wondered, “What if I wrote a novel and the main character was a sarcastic epileptic?”
DB: So much of the novel is sensory: the music, colors, taste of things; I could feel the stickiness of the mangoes in Clarissa’s garden on my fingers as I read. Channeling my high school English teacher – is there symbolism here?
TT: That's great that it came across. High-lighting sensory perceptions in a Great Place for a Seizure was inspired by my epileptic auras as well as the auras that I've read about, in medical texts, memoirs, and fiction. An aura is that strange feeling an epileptic sometimes gets before a seizure. It can be intensely sensory. A person with epilepsy, before a seizure, has a brain that is about to catch fire. Our senses, which are controlled by the brain, are going out of whack in milliseconds before a seizure. Smells and sounds mix with physical sensations as does vision and touch. I tried to capture tiny details and give that 'aura microscope' to the reader, so they know what it would be like. Sometimes I could make those sensory details consistent with the story. One example of my symbolism is the first seizure, when Mischa sees and feels herself turning into a knot during the aura. That's symbolic of epilepsy as a problem that is going to tangle up her life as much as a problem that she'll have to solve.
DB: I had never heard of the band Joy Division. Did you come across them in your research or does the band have some meaning for you personally?
TT: Last year, on a British Airways flight, I saw the movie Control directed by Anton Corbijn and released in 2007. I hadn't heard of this UK band before. Apparently they were on the cusp of making it big in the 1980s. The day before they were to set off on their first US tour, the lead singer, who was epileptic, committed suicide. I chose to make that band part of Mischa's musical taste to highlight one of their songs, “She's Lost Control.” The lead singer, Ian Curtis, wrote that song after seeing someone have a seizure. Keeping control is very important to my main character, Mischa. Losing control is an inevitable experience in epilepsy. How do you get it back? To each his own. But whether a person is epileptic or not there are times in our lives when we all lose control. I like that concept and I identified with it, so I incorporated the song into the story.