Between Curve, SF Weekly, and your other magazine experience, pop culture seems like familiar subject matter for you. Is it a love-hate relationship, or something more nourishing?
I think it’s mostly a love-hate relationship. I think popular culture is fascinating and worth looking at from a number of angles, but most engagement with it is pretty shallow. I get frustrated. And then I take out my frustrations in fiction.
Tell me about the genesis of this story. How did it come together?
It started with the title, or the first half of the title anyway. The head in the box. I had to write a story that would justify using the title. I just started riffing on the idea, and all sorts of weird stuff came out. So I knitted it together into a story.
I loved the subtleties through which you examined ideas like objectification. At one point you describe the head as an “it,” and then later describe “her” eyes. Once she separates from her body, what is preserved? What falls away?
The head in a box obviously has resonances with the brain-in-a-jar trope of classic science fiction (and the head-in-a-jar parody of Futurama). There’s a lot of tension between autonomy and lack thereof when you’re a head in a jar (or a box). You can’t move on your own, you’re entirely dependent on outside technology and outside caretakers for your existence, but at the same time you’re free from a lot of mundane concerns: you can eat whatever you want, nobody’s going to ask you to make your bed or take out the trash, etc. Which is a lot like celebrity is imagined to be by many people, too, if you think about it. You have a stylist, a dietician, a trainer, a chauffeur, a housekeeper, and so on. You’re freed from everyday concerns and allowed to exist on a more rarefied plane, at least in theory. That’s at least part of what’s going on in the story, a sense of celebrity, concentrated down to its essence. And yes, a lot of that involves objectification. A lot of engagement with celebrity culture is like playing with dolls. (We’re back to that love-hate thing again.) So, as a celebrity, do you become a doll? Can you? Or do you have to repress something of yourself to do so, even if you’re literally reduced to just a
head? And boy do I believe in Freud’s “return of the repressed,” so . . .
What are we meant to make of The Actress by the end of the story? She seemed caught at the nexus of so many competing forces—politics and prescience, beauty and monstrosity—what would a person like her do with immortality?
Well, of course I left the ending open for a reason—I’m ultimately more interested in the reader’s answers than mine. So you tell me!
I miss Oakland so much. What are you up to out there? What can we look forward to next from you?
I love living on Oakland. I’ve been here longer than I’ve lived anywhere else, including where I grew up (East Lansing, Michigan, for the curious). I’m raising twins who are just about to transition to middle school, and I’m getting certified as a TESOL instructor and expect to be transitioning to a formal M.A. program sometime in the next year or so. So that’s all keeping me busy. I’m also a part-time bookseller and a full-time freelance nonfiction writer. As a result, finding time to focus on fiction can be challenging (not to mention finding time for more mundane things, like sleep).
I do manage to write a monthly(ish) free music newsletter called “The Earworm of the Month Club.” You can sign up for it (and view the archives) at tinyletter.com/lselke.
In the meantime, I am slowly working on a collection of stories about women and bodies and autonomy and violence and stuff. This story obviously fits into that groove.
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