ED- The Eerie Digest is excited to introduce a fellow writer from the Publisher’s own home ground in the South Bronx in New York City. Joyce Yarrow has been in many fields of writing and now devotes herself to the type of stories that we love best. Joyce, please tell our readers about your first written works in your early years and what your greatest influence was that established yourself as a writer.
JY- Thanks for this opportunity to talk about my work. Early years we’re talking about writing short stories as a pre-teen about children escaping from a violent neighborhood via the Staten Island Ferry. When that failed, I escaped to the High School of Music & Art in Manhattan instead, where I composed songs, set William Blake to music and wrote poems about riding the bus late at night. Anais Nin convinced me that prose could be as “good” as poetry; Balzac and O’Henry showed me that you could write about anything as long as you cared about it; and Lenny Bruce put us all to shame by having the courage to go to jail for saying what we now hear on the radio every day.
ED- You had worked as a screenwriter, a singer- songwriter, and a multi-media performance artist. Tell our readers about this phase of your career.
JY- These days the line between music and poetry is blurred, especially in rap. So without bragging, I think I can say I was a little ahead of my time in blending jazz vocals with poetry and multimedia storytelling. I was extremely fortunate to work with the great Brazilian pianist Jovino Santos Neto on these shows, which we performed in Seattle. While living in Los Angeles, I wrote narration for some Greenpeace films and scripts for animated cartoons. I loved in living in LA, no snobbery, everyone going full tilt toward their own windmill – and writing to picture is great practice for eventually attempting that intimidating first novel.
JY- When I was 17, Niobe Magazine published eleven of my poems, which gave me back all the confidence I lost when my creative writing teacher in high school told me my writing was “too personal.” I’ve forgiven him, mostly. I’ve had short stories published in Inkwell Journal, Weber: The American West, Whistling Shade, Descant and poems in Ghost Dance (in the same issue as Charles Bukowski which thrilled me). I enjoy the challenge of distilling experience into poems or short stories and love how small literary magazines are keeping integrity alive in this era of blockbuster everything. Which reminds me – I better renew some subscriptions!
ED- You also recently became a member of the world music vocal ensemble, ‘Abrace’. Please tell us about this latest venue of your life.
JY- I currently perform with a high-energy world music vocal-with-percussion ensemble, Abráce—we sing in 19 languages in five-part harmony—very rhythmically exciting music—and we love modernizing ancient songs. Every summer we play the festival circuit and have a blast.
JY-“Ask the Dead” takes place in the Bronx, Manhattan and on a fictitious Caribbean island. The theme is how misguided idealism can destroy lives in the process of supposedly saving them. The protagonist, Jo Epstein, is torn between her loyalty to her misguided friend and her obligation as a private investigator to search for the truth.
JY- The idea of a poet who was also a private investigator came to me one night at the Seattle Slam when I was listening to MC, a woman who had a deep appreciation for and academic understanding of poetry but was also street-wise and funny. That night Jo Epstein was born. The original title of “Ask the Dead” was “Poetic Justice.”
ED- Your second, and most recent novel, is entitled ‘The Last Matryoshka’. Please give us a glimpse of the story and the settings it takes place in.
JY- Jo Epstein’s stepfather is a Russian émigré and in “The Last Matryoshka” his past, which involves a stint in prison in the years following Stalin’s death, catches up to him. He and Jo have a dysfunctional relationship but she follows him all the way to Russia and rescues him for the sake of her mom. There are scenes set in Moscow, Vladimir Central Prison, and in the towns of the Golden Ring outside of Moscow.
ED- You believe strongly that writers should research in depth that the settings and atmosphere of a story is paramount in importance in bringing the story to life, and you even teach workshops in this aspect of writing. As we have many students who read our magazine could you explain your feelings on this?
JY- Like a bass player in a band, a story’s setting plays an essential role that is often not fully appreciated. When you think about it, an environment that challenges or endangers your protagonist in some way is helping you to write a compelling story. Walter Mosley’s characters transcend a hostile environment and we love them for it. Raymond Chandler’s books define the nature of Los Angeles in the 1940’s – and a mini-industry has sprung up in L.A., taking mystery fans on a tour of the places that he used in his books – either as settings or as haunting images he plants in the reader’s mind:
ED- Where can our readers find your novels so that they can purchase your work?
JY- “Ask the Dead” is available for sale online as both a trade paperback and an eBook (Kindle and Nook format). “The Last Matryoshka” was recently published in hardcover For those interested in purchasing, here’s a link to the Book page of my web site: http://bit.ly/gtgD93 .
ED- Joyce, it has been a pleasure to interview someone of my own background and love of the written word. I want to thank you for spending your time with us and shedding light on some of the aspects of writing that will be so important to our student audience. We wish you much luck in all that you do and hope that you keep us informed of all your upcoming projects.
JY –It’s been a pleasure answering such interesting questions! Thank you for hosting me.