Monday, 16 March 2015

Trompe-l'oeil by Russell Bittner: Interview + Giveaway

by Russell Bittner
Why would a woman entering middle age — attractive, sexy, articulate, imaginative, intelligent, charming, charismatic, wealthy and successful in almost every aspect of her life — knowingly give up the only thing missing from that life: namely, love? And love with a younger man she meets serendipitously not once, but three times — and whose appreciation of her quickly grows from mere physical attraction to adoration and then to obsession? The riddle from start to finish is perhaps to be found in the word "knowingly." The answer to that riddle? Revealed only in the final chapter.
DANEKA SØRENSEN is a Danish transplant to NYC, where she manages her life from an Upper East Side apartment building by night and from the top floor of a mid-town skyscraper by day — ostensibly, all under tight control. KIT ADDISON is a fashion photographer with a sideline penchant for flora and poetry who lives on the Lower East Side. The distance between them, however, is about much more than a mere hundred city blocks.
In Chapter One, serendipity brings Daneka and Kit together for the first time as both are exiting the Columbia campus — she from a poetry class in which she dabbles once a week, he from Philosophy Hall in which he labors days and nights without respite. This first encounter is both poetic and philosophical — but too hot to be captured in a mere haiku, too impulsive to be squeezed into an imperative, moral or historical, for either of them. At the start of Chapter Two, already eleven years later, they--or rather his camera and the front bumper of her limousine--meet a second time on a zebra crossing. Her search for a photographer for a special project (too hot and too imperative for any of the more than competent staff of a major magazine of which she is the Managing Editor) leads to a third serendipitous meeting. What follows these three meetings is, in the coming weeks, a game of cat and mouse — until, that is, their affair becomes such that "it seemed as if they might engulf each other in this single, ferocious act, like tigers chasing their own tails and slowly churning, turning, burning into butter."
Their affair takes them from New York to Paris, to the coast of Portugal, to Rome and Positano, Italy, to the Danish island of Bornholm in the Baltic Sea, then back to New York City. What they discover about each other in those few weeks is more than most people discover in a mate or lover over a lifetime. The exploration is an erotic Elysian field, but also a psychological inferno.
What gradually comes to light in the space of two continents and one return transatlantic flight is that, while love's bite may initially be sweet, the aftertaste may be exceedingly bitter — when not downright nauseating. 
Paperback, 446 pages
Published February 18th 2011 by CreateSpace

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Russell is first and foremost a father—and quite happily so—of one boy and one girl. The boy is now working his way up onto the silver screen, while the girl continues to practice, practice, practice her way onto the dance stage. I suppose that our little household is not devoid of that special kind of lunacy that adheres to a family of aspiring artists, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s just the nature of life here in Brooklyn, New York—which is to say that we’re in no sense unique, unless it be in our peculiar brand of lunacy. 

If you’d like to get some idea of my writing “style” before you decide to invest any further time in this story, you can find a random excerpt here: It is, stylistically speaking, neither more nor less indicative than any other part of the book, with the exception of Chapter One (which, I must confess, is highly stylized—and consequently not to everyone’s liking).

A couple or three caveats to head off those who may be merely curious: (1) if you’re bothered by sex—even if entirely consensual—in the written word, don’t bother with this book; (2) if the use of foreign languages* (albeit, with either direct translations into English, where applicable, or with periphrasis using gestures or action) disturbs or annoys you, don’t bother with this book; (3) if the notion of a role reversal bothers you, don’t bother with this book (i. e., in her early forties, the principal female character in my novel is almost ten years older than her male counterpart; while no “cougar,” she’s clearly the money and power in the relationship). 

* Spanish; French; Portuguese; Italian; Swedish; Danish; Russian; and Latin 

Why the languages, by the way? Because a good 1/3 of the story takes place in Europe; the rest in NYC, with just a snippet in CA and PA. 

Other than the above-listed caveats, perhaps the ten “teaser” points below will help you to decide whether this work is or isn’t for you. (Please forgive the repetition of content; I’d prepared these points once upon a time for my Publicist to disseminate over the course of ten successive weeks.) 

1. Trompe-l’oeil is as much a psychological journey as a geographical one. Travel through the minds (and mine fields) of a couple in young love—as often, in young lust—as they travel from NYC to Paris, the coast of Portugal, Italy, Denmark, and back to NYC, where the bomb of their lust awaits the ruin and smolder of their love. 

2. Trompe-l’oeil is not Sex Education 101. It’s Sex Education 404. It’s as much about what happens between the ears as it is about what happens between the legs.

3. A trompe-l’oeil in art or architecture is an illusion. Trompe-l’oeil, the novel, is, too. But it’s not about art or architecture—unless we’re talking the art and architecture of love and lust.

4. What’s the object of a true archer? The target. What’s the object of a dead archer? A missed target. Trompe-l’oeil is about aiming and missing—and about all of the hail, fire and brimstone of love and lust that fall in between.

5. Trompe-l’oeil is not a “how to” book for young lovers. Trompe-l’oeil is the story of two people who’ve already been there, done that—and who’re now willing to risk life and particularly limbs to try it all again.

6. “There’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip” is an old English proverb of ancient Greek origin. In the original Greek, the Argonaut is killed by a wild boar before he can taste the wine in celebration of his safe homecoming. In Trompe-l’oeil, it’s the wine of love and lust that kills even before the two principal characters’ homecoming can be called ‘safe.’

7. Love, lust, obsession and sight-seeing (in all of their implications) are the subjects of Trompe-l’oeil, a novel written with the conviction that each holds as much potential for personal ecstasy as it does for self-annihilation .

8. Trompe-l’oeil is a novel about love, lust and loss—a rollercoaster ride through a modern-day Divine Comedy, with occasional stops in Paradise, more frequent climbs and falls through Purgatory, a final halt in Hell.

9. If you’re looking for a modern-day version of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina or Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Trompe-l’oeil may be it—with one important, “modern-day” difference: what was implicit in both Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary is explicit in Trompe-l’oeil.

10. Trompe-l’oeil is a no-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners tale of love, lust and loss. The tale may well leave you feeling a bit dizzy, but you can take refuge in the fact that it’s just a story.

Many, many thanks for your time, your read, and your possible interest.


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Q & A with Russell Bittner

Q:  Tell us a little bit about your main characters.
There are two main characters -- Daneka (Danish/female) and Kit (American/male). She's the older of the two, by about ten years, and has everything (apparently) going for her that a woman could possibly want. He, meanwhile, is no slouch. The major difference between the two lies in their values -- consequently, in the outward appearance of everything they, themselves, value.

Q:  What is the best advice you have been given?
The best advice I've been given is quite possibly something I recently read in a novel by the British writer, William Boyd (consequently, not "advice" directed at me -- personally -- at all): "One of the last things we discover about ourselves is the effect we produce (on others)."

"Know thyself" is advice as old as the Delphic Oracle -- and very sound advice. But how many of us can really say, up until the instant we die, how we come across to others? I don't know how to answer this question -- except to quote another: "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." None of us can possibly sway -- or even know -- the eye of every beholder who sees us, comes to know us, and comes to know our work, however weak and insubstantial it may be. All we can do is try.

Q:  Describe your ideal writing spot.
In my garden -- which I no longer have. It's where I wrote my entire novel.

Q:  If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?

Antarctica. I suspect it's as close as one can get to the "alpha and omega" of existence.

Q:  Which do you prefer: hard/paperbacks or ebooks?
Hard. I used to have a private library, but it went out to auction over a year ago when I couldn't pay the storage fees for it and everything else I'd owned. Now, I simply use the Brooklyn Public Library, where I can get hardback books almost every time.

Q:  What book are you reading now?

At the moment, Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia. I finished Yasunari Kawabata's The Dancing Girl of Izu just yesterday. (I read both fiction and non-fiction, even if my preference is for fiction. I also watch lots of films on my laptop -- and from the same source. Primarily Drama; but sometimes, Documentary.)

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