Short author bio: Erica Miles studied writing at the Writer’s Voice of the Westside Y, the Mid-Atlantic Creative Non-Fiction Writers’ Conference, and the Colgate Writers’ Conference. Miles grew up in Brooklyn and received her B.A. in Theatre from Brooklyn College and her M.A. in Teaching ESL from Columbia University. She currently lives in NYC with her feline muse, Tootie, and is the Fiction Co-Editor of The Greenwich Village Literary Review. The re-release of her novel, Dazzled by Darkness: A Story of Art and Desire, is available on Amazon.com. ALL proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated directly to the W.A.N.T.E.D. Project, a Motivational Workshop for Young Men of Color, led by Author, Rev. K.C. Jones.
What happens when a book-smart Jewish girl who haunts museums falls for a street-smart Latino guy who creates radical, in-your-face artwork? Though she obsessively adores him, and he loves her back in some way, she never guesses his dream—to one day top the contemporary art scene. Meet a pair of rebels caught up in the revolutionary love quests of the ’60s. Sara, 25 and unattached, feels like an alien in her own culture. She’s attracted to men who are “other.” She connects with 19-year-old Gavilán, a black Hispanic art student, and suddenly considers herself desirable. Gavilán is attracted to whatever’s offbeat and unthinkable. Picking up an oddball white woman is one item on his agenda. His imagined interactions with famous dead artists open doors to a fourth dimension that allow him to travel back in time. Amid shouts of “Black is beautiful!” and war protests, their story moves from one Brooklyn neighborhood to another, infused with rock music, the smell of pot, and a parallel universe of otherworldly art.
Hi Erica, tell us a little about your book.
It starts off as a love story, a fantasy in the mind of the female protagonist come true. Her name is Sara. She suffers from mental illness, hears voices, and one of the voices in her head comes alive for her. She’s Jewish and middle-class. He’s a working-class dark-complexioned Hispanic guy, an artist who’s into all kinds of experimental enterprises. She, too, is an artist, but her tastes are more traditional. Throughout the novel, the hero periodically withdraws into his own world and fantasizes about talking to artists from the past. He learns from them and challenges them. He’s a fast-talking street guy. Sara never knows anything about this. As far as she’s concerned, he’s not going anywhere, but she’s attracted to him. Their relationship has a lot of ups and downs. Don’t want a spoiler, but the artist also has another relationship. With his best friend James. Just suggestive but significant—as in significant other. The culture clash and ego clash between the main male and female characters gradually intensifies to the point where they separate. So it is not a conventional romance, no happy ending, but a twist ending all the same. There is a lot of humor in the scenes between the young artist and great masters. There is also a lot of tragedy in the mixed-up romance. The reader—of whatever ethnicity–gets a chance to peek into other cultures. The book may seem quaint to younger readers who are used to a more liberal society, and not one in which interracial love was more or less forbidden or, at least, considered revolutionary. A true glimpse into the Hippie culture of the ‘60s. And a thorough tour of European art through the eyes of a Brooklyn street guy.
Who is the main character?
Two main characters, or actually three. A secret love triangle. Sara, the sensitive introvert who’s not very good at social relations and is thrilled to be loved and pursued by someone. Gavilán, the male protagonist, a younger man, younger than Sara, who is interested in anything different and extraordinary, who has a great dream of becoming a great artist and standing among the ranks of the artists he emulates. And finally, James, Gavilán’s best friend, and a friend to Sara, too. A gentle man of wisdom, a lover of poetry, a compassionate listener, and unfortunately one who dies too young.
Do you relate to your character? Is your protagonist anything like you personally?
Yes, I suffered from mental illness as a young woman and know what it’s like. I was also in a hospital, as Sara was. But I also identified with Gavilán, the male protagonist. I used to be an artist myself, and enjoyed jumping into his crazy, creative head.
What inspired you to write this book?
As with any work of fiction, part is inspired by autobiography and part inspired by imagination, the latter all the more so, because of the fantasy element.
What kind of research did you do in writing your novel?
I had to do research about the artists I described in order to develop their characters and give authentic details about their backgrounds and environments. “The Lives of the Artists” by Giorgio Vasari was an invaluable resource. I also enjoyed “The Philosophy of Andy Warhol.” But I was pretty well-informed about art history to begin with. I loved reading about Picasso’s different mistresses and his macho personality. I loved the anecdote about Yvette Guilbert, a model of Toulouse Lautrec’s, and how she was a singer at the bistros, was adored by her audience. I loved reading about what she wore—long yellow gloves, long black dress—you can see her on the art nouveau posters. I loved descriptions of Paris in the early twentieth century. I loved fooling around with time travel and juxtaposing Gavilán’s slang and relaxed demeanor with the formality of the artists he interviews. But I used a lot of dialogue, almost as if in a play, and supplied a lot of drama from my own imagination.
What’s your favorite part of the writing process?
Painting decoratively with words and adding brushstrokes of philosophy.
Do you have a favorite line or scene from your latest release?
Intercontinental Time Travel
At 2:30 p.m., Gavilán was waiting for Sara at the Frick. He knew she was at her therapy appointment. But he had more important things to think about.
He was standing before an anatomical drawing of a skull, wondering how he was going to get back to Florence. He didn’t think he’d be able to take Sara with him. He had thirty minutes to kill, before she’d arrive. So he’d have to work out his plan strategically.
He was just about to send a mental command to the phantom brain, when without his initial awareness, the force field around his body started gradually pulling him closer to the drawing.
He saw where this maneuver—no doubt engineered by the artist, Michelangelo—was leading. The skull was going to interpenetrate his. The process had already begun, and he would not be allowed to disengage.
As the planes of the separate dimensions approached each other, the skull began to pulse and throb, acquiring cortical tissue, while the grey cells rapidly reproduced.
Gavilán remained motionless as the coupling proceeded, until he felt the other skull click into place about his ears and sensed the last delicate fitting of the tails of the two hippocampi. Then, with a discreet groan of release, he finally pushed through to the other side.
He looked about him with hybrid eyes and an uncanny sense that Sara had come along with him. He could almost smell her chamomile shampoo.
Would she dig this scene?
He was standing in a room that looked half like an artist’s studio and half like a medical laboratory. The room was as hot as a sauna. He looked around, pulled his t-shirt over his head, and looped it over his arm.
Glancing up, he saw a painted sketch on the ceiling.
Shit, if it ain’t a preview of the Sistine Chapel!
The painting showed God with a long, flowing beard, reaching out his hand to bestow a slap on the palm of a half-nude black youth with upturned eyes, who was lounging on a rocky precipice.
Hey, that’s me! How’d I get into that fresco?
Shoving the question to the back of his mind, Gavilán started to explore.
On the paint-spattered floor before him stood bottles, crammed with various-sized brushes, and vials of gesso, turpentine, linseed oil, and varnish. Against the closest perpendicular wall stood a table bearing a palette of mesmerizing colors, and projecting over it, a shelf holding jars of powdered pigments.
Forgetting Sara and everything else, Gavilán quickly scanned the labels: vermillion, umber, red ochre, yellow ochre, green earth, lead white, azurite, malachite. His smile stretched the jaw of the other skull when he came to the famous lapis lazuli blue, which he knew was made from crushed precious stones.
In the center of the room, a much longer table served almost as an operating table, save that the patient appeared to be deceased, and upon closer inspection, Gavilán could see a deep incision had been made from the cadaver’s throat clear through his chest, belly, and entrails, to his sex—the vital organs were revealed….
A stench such as Gavilán had never smelled permeated the air, but the flow of blood had been stanched, so that the colors and patterns of the organs were freely seen, as if one had x-ray vision into the internal workings of the body.
In a weird puritanical reversal, Gavilán sighed with relief to know Sara was not present to see and smell these corporeal objects.
Around the table stood four of Michelangelo’s friends, all with the same distinguished-looking mien and immaculately groomed, save for the white aprons they wore over their garments so as not to have them stained by the subject of their inspection. Giorgio Barbarelli de Castelfranco, Andrea del Sarto, Lorenzo di Credi, Antonio da Correggio, and now, added to their number, Gavilán Sanchez.
“I introduce you to the new study of anatomy,” said Michelangelo, spreading his hands. “I have used the scalpel to remove the flesh and define the body’s structure.”
Suddenly, the corpse’s penis lifted itself up and spewed forth a rain of semen upon the curious spectators.
“Rigamortis,” announced the master.
The others gave resigned smiles, as they wiped their mouths with their aprons. Only Gavilán, who was respectfully standing a slight distance away, was spared. He laughed heartily, and the others left the room, one by one, with grunts of disgust.
“I thought you wanted to learn to draw….” said Michelangelo softly.
Then, after untying his apron and laying it over the exposed corpse, he flashed Gavilán a frank smile and gave him a low five.
“Grazie! Were there not four Florentines cleansed?” he asked. “And only you, a foreigner, have remained to give thanks?”
This guy takes my breath away. But fuckit, I’ll be as big as him someday.
“No problem, Michael-O. You happen to have the time?”
Gavilán stood in his usual relaxed manner, shifting his weight onto one leg, and slung his t-shirt over his shoulder. In the soft light from the window, his bare chest shone almost alabaster white, and his sensual features took on a noble cast under his mass of curls.
“O, mio Dio!” cried Michelangelo, leaping wildly at his guest, trying to tear off his pants. “You are the youth who stands on the threshold of manhood! You are my Bible hero! David! You must stay and pose for me!”
Gavilán reined in his galloping heart. He felt the same magnetic waves coming from Michelangelo that he’d felt from his drawing at the Frick—the one that had pulled Gavilán through time, across the continents.
“Sorry, man. Wish I could. But I only have like half a sec.”
Michelangelo waved an apologetic hand toward the figure on the operating table. “I promise you will not wind up like him…. If I had to dissect you, I— I think I’d give up my sculpture and painting.”
Gavilán bit his lip. “Thanks, man. But you don’t understand. I’ve got a date. In New York. With a girl. Who wears glasses.”
“You will turn down the chance to pose as David for a date with a girl?”
Gavilán glanced at the hourglass on the mantelpiece. The last grains of sand were slipping through the neck into the bottom bulb
Looking down the hall, he could just make out Sara’s long, brown hair, flying in wisps, as she walked with a bounce through the door at the end of the gallery.
Excerpt from “Dazzled by Darkness: A Story of Art and Desire,” Copyright 2015.
Is there anything you specific want readers to know about this piece of work?
When you look back in the long run, you can see the bigger picture. It’s very interesting to put yourself into the head of your antagonist and feel compassion, redemption, and release. I believe in making beauty out of broken glass. Fiction writing can allow you to do this. The story started out as a memoir, but became so fictionalized, it turned into a novel. I believe everyone has a love story inside them, even if it’s a damaged one. I wanted to revisit my past and redeem it and make beauty from the shards of tragedy. I’d also like you to know the book is illustrated with wonderful sketches throughout, some by me, a few Photoshopped by Firefeet, but most done by my dear friend Selma Eisenstadt, who unfortunately died a couple of years ago. At least, she lived long enough to see the initial publication. I owe her a debt of gratitude for the beauty she contributed to the novel. Firefeet was also a jewel with his Photoshop ingenuity. I think the drawings really add a lot to the book and emphasize the artistic theme of the story.
What is your next project?
As Fiction Co-Editor of The Greenwich Village Literary Review, I am currently editing poetry, memoir, and fiction submissions for the upcoming June issue. Two of my own pieces will appear in this online Magazine, as well. I am also working on original short stories to submit to the next edition, which should probably be published in the fall.
What’s next for you?
Aside from these literary endeavors, I’d also like to make a difference in the world, in general, in whatever small way I can. Racial division in this country is still a contentious issue, as it has been throughout our nation’s history. That’s why I am working on book promotion and giving up my royalties to donate profits directly to the W.A.N.T.E.D. Project, a mentoring program for young men, led by Author, Rev. K.C. Jones. The workshop will prepare these motivated young men to be achievers, models of creativity, and leaders of our country throughout the twenty-first century. May God be with them.