Interview with artist Melanie Rae Thon

Inscape:

You’ve referred to the stories of In This Light as prayers. Is it your intention that we as readers
should interpret them likewise as prayers?

Thon:

It would be lovely if people did, though I don’t have any kind of particular expectation of the
reader. Each person is going to come to every story on his or her own terms, and so I wouldn’t necessarily
expect people to come that way. For me, prayer is very much connected with praise, so when I think of
prayer I think of a praise song as well, and I would put those two things together. In my stories, when
I’m thinking about the world, of all the living things, I’m thinking about the different ways to praise that
separate experience and that communal experience.

Inscape:

You’ve been referred to as one of the most original stylists writing fiction today. In In This
Light, how would you define your philosophy in regard to style and its part in telling these stories the way
you want them to be told?

Thon:

I don’t know that I would call it a philosophy. I just love the music of language, and so my
aesthetic is such that I want the language to sing. I want people to feel it in their bodies, even if they’re
not conscious of it. Even if they’re just reading to themselves and then realize that that may or may not
be happening to them. But when I’m working on a story, I read it out loud over and over and over, every
single one of them, to hear and to feel it in my body. So part of the language and part of the style in any
particular story is to find not the voice of a particular person or a particular story, but the sound and music
of the whole environment This is really interesting in terms of environment, too, because we think of
language as human language. Really every environment has its own music, so that language is involved
in different ways because of the sound of wind, and water, and animals, and birds in that environment,
and humans aren’t creating language but it is rising out of that environment. Thus, when I’m working
on a story I’m not just thinking about what the language is for the human beings but what the sound is
underneath the sound. Like if you’re a musician then you know that there is a backbeat going on all
the time and the listener may be following mostly the melody, but beneath that there are all of these
interesting reverberations that come out of the environment. And I certainly don’t believe that I achieve
that in my stories–that would be presumptuous of me–but that’s what I’m trying for. In fact, when I was
working on Voice of the River, there were all these birdsongs and I would be practicing my birdsongs
because I was actually trying to sound like the birds. I was writing some of those sections in the Spring
and Summer and all my windows would be open and the birds outside would be singing back to me. It
was the most glorious thing! So, indeed there’s always that deep pleasure of the interaction with the music
and the whole environment.