RUSSELL BITTNER: MADAME BOVARY AND ANNA KARENINA WERE “THE MODELS” OF TROMPE-L’OEIL
Posted by Ognian Georgiev
Russell Bittner’s Trompe-l’oeil was described by the readers as “sexy and sophisticated read”, “a fascinating mixture of sensuality and romanticism”, “prose as its best”. The book gathered nice 4.5 average Amazon stars from 39 reviews. Our next guest’s prose publications have appeared over the years in journals/magazines. Lets welcome in Land of Books Mr. Russell Bittner.
– What is your book Trompe-l’oeil about?
– Trompe-l’oeil is, in a nutshell, a modern-day love story. What makes it modern? Its explicitness. That, and the fact that the usual roles are reversed. The principal female character is about a decade older than the principal male character.
– How did you decide to write the story?
– I needed to exorcise a few demons.
– What was the biggest challenge during the write-up process?
– I took a little over three months to work up an outline for my novel. I then first wrote the final chapter so that I’d have a firm goal in mind and on paper. With an outline to follow, the actual writing was a relatively easy exercise. The first real challenge came about when I moved from simple character development into erotica on or about p. 65. I remember quite distinctly (now, almost a dozen years later) that I couldn’t commit a single word to paper for almost three weeks – I was that scared, or inhibited, or whatever!
After I’d finished the book, and on the recommendation of one of my beta readers, I then wrote an erotic hook – and made it the new Chapter One. I’ll freely admit that I may’ve over-written that first chapter. In what I’ll call ‘Flaubert mode,’ I wrote and re-wrote it at least a hundred times. Until, that is, I felt that every word was perfect. I’m just not sure how many readers would agree with me.
Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, by the way, was one of the two “models” I had for Trompe-l’oeil. The other was Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. I don’t want to suggest by any stretch of the imagination that my writing is in their league. But I would like to think that what motivates Daneka Sørensen is the same thing that motivated Emma Bovary and Anna Karenina. Daneka’s “itch” – if you will – simply requires a different kind of scratch. Who knows? Maybe because she’s Danish.
– Tell us something more about your main characters Daneka and Kit? Are they 100% fiction or are they close to someone from your real life?
– Neither character is entirely fictional. The character of Daneka was and is based on a woman I’d known for some time, and who is still alive and well here in New York City. Daneka is a Danish transplant. The woman I knew, however, is a Swedish transplant.
The character of Kit was based on my projection of my son (who was only ten or eleven years old at the time I wrote this novel) when he would have attained Kit’s age: i.e., his early thirties. So far, my projection has proved to be quite accurate. But as I write this, my son is only twenty-three.
All of the above notwithstanding, both characters are fictional. Daneka is a bit larger than life, and Kit’s an impossible romantic. Both are polyglots. As about a third of the novel takes place in Europe, they don’t hesitate to use their language skills with the locals. (Although I’ve provided translations, this may well be a source of irritation to some readers. If so, I’m sorry. People really do speak those languages on the Continent. And because both Daneka and Kit speak a few of them, they employ them freely whenever I felt it was appropriate.)
– How much time did you need to finish the story and to publish it?
– I managed to write and edit the story in just over two years, but I was working seven days a week, ten hours a day (except when either of my two children had a ball game or birthday to attend to, or when I got a call to substitute-teach).
As for publishing the story, my agent died quite unexpectedly a couple of years ago – at which point, I decided to self-publish at both Amazon and Smashwords.
– What will readers find in your book The Dead Don’t Bitch?
– The Dead Don’t Bitch is my second collection of short stories (plus one novella). Once I’d finished writing Trompe-l’oeil, I felt I needed to work on my writer’s résumé in order to establish some credentials. The business of researching and getting published, whether on the page or on the ‘Net, is time-consuming. But it’s the dues a writer pays – with no real promise of a pay-off, I might add.
– Would you unveil something more about your other literary works?
– Trompe-l’oeil was my one and only attempt to write commercial fiction. That said, I’m not sure I succeeded. For better or for worse, I spent a decade in Europe learning to speak, read and write several modern languages – and then reading (or at least attempting to read!) the literature in each. The end result? Because almost all of my formal education was in the so-called classics, I had to “unlearn” a lot of what I’d learned in order to render my prose more accessible.
That may sound silly – or even pretentious – but it’s true. And once again, I’m not certain I’ve really succeeded.
– Who are you?
– First and foremost, a father – of one boy, one girl. Although they’re now both young adults and pretty much on their own, we had an enormous amount of fun while they were growing up. I can’t think of anything else – and no, not even languages or literature – that has meant as much to me as watching those two munchkins progress through their various stages from babyhood to young adulthood.
I must confess that I was quite eager for them to reach adulthood so that we could enjoy honest-to-God adult conversations. That’s where they are at this point – and truth be told, I enjoy their insights and observations perhaps more than those of any other adult.
He’s an aspiring actor. She’s an aspiring dancer. At the same time, both of them (IMHO) are excellent writers. If our same family name comes to the attention of your readers in some context other than this one, I dare say it will be thanks to one or both of them.
Other than that, I’m just a guy, much like any other, trying to punctuate this thing called ‘life’ properly – then get to the other end of it so that I can take a good, long rest.
– What are your writing habits?
– As Hemingway allegedly once counseled: “Write drunk; edit sober.” I write at night; I edit during the day.
– Are you satisfied by the sales of the book?
– Do you have plans for your next novel?
– No. My writing’s done. I’ve now returned to that great luxury of yesteryear: I’m once again a reader. And if I’ve become a too-conspicuous presence at one or more branches of the Brooklyn Public Library, so be it. I’m just grateful for the BPL system, which may be second only to the New York Public Library system.
– What are you doing to promote by the best possible way your book?
– Not much. My generation and Social Media don’t mix very well. As a matter of fact, I’m a kind of poster-boy for the Social Media-impaired.
I’ve always believed that word-of-mouth is the most effective advertising for anything. I suspect that E. L. James, at the very least, would agree with me on that point.
– In the introduction to your book, you mention Fifty Shades of Grey. Why did you decide to start the blurb in such a way?
– Out of curiosity, I read the first book in the trilogy. To be quite honest, I was flabbergasted at how poorly written it was. The content didn’t bother me in the least (even if that whole BDSM business leaves me a little cold). But the form was simply unacceptable – at least to me.
I don’t know. Maybe E. L. James also read Hemingway’s advice – but got it backwards.
– You are fan of photography. How did you fail in love with it and how does the photo shooting help you to create in your writing world?
– Photography, for me, has been a long-time hobby – even if I didn’t start with it until my children were born. (Up until that point, I’d always stubbornly and hard-headedly insisted that my eyes and memory were the only camera I wanted or needed!)
I don’t really know that there’s any connection between my photography and my writing. I sometimes used my photographs as illustrations, but that was more of a nod to whimsy than to intention. The one exception would have to be the photographs I used in Letters to My Children. Even if Trompe-l’oeil never goes anywhere, I’d like to think that Letters to My Children will. Why? Because the concept is so brilliant, the prose so scintillating? No, absolutely not. Rather, because I think it’s the kind of thing every parent should attempt with his or her children.
We parents screw up. It’s part of life. The problem is, children take the blame for it – largely upon themselves. If there’s an honest, written record from day one, an adult child can then look back and better understand the real causes of his or her maladjustment.
I committed to write my children an annual birthday letter from their day of birth through their 21st birthday – but to keep those letters to myself until my kids were old enough to read them. For reasons I explain in the Introduction, I decided to cut all of that a tad short – and even publish the letters. If this action strikes your readers as egregiously inappropriate, my apologies. I didn’t do it without the permission and encouragement of my two children.
– Ask yourself a question (and don’t forget to answer!)
– If you had to do it all over again, would you? Yes and no.
The kiddoes? Definitely! The reading? Absolutely! But as much as I love music, I think I would also have taught myself to play at least one instrument.
Wherever I end up once I’ve run this race, I just hope there are lots of bare-breasted beauties bouncing around, and that their harps all have soft but true strings. Oh, and the wine, too, should be top-notch!
Brooklyn, New York
Photo: Alex Bravermans