First Draft/Aspen Public Radio, Mitzi Rapkin, host

A behind-the-scenes look at Hungry Ghost Theater: a conversation about the writing process, the book’s structure and nature, mental illness, addiction, dark humor, family, and learning to deal with rejection.

Listen to the show here.

from Facts That Turn Out to Be Fiction: Ann Cummins and Sarah Stone on Writing, Landscape, and Family, The Millions

After working as an aide in a psychiatric facility, and because of my family history, I’m interested in the question of how much is biological and when and how we make certain decisions that affect who we become. The book is divided into nine pieces, like Dante’s nine circles of hell. But hell can also be our beloved families and what we put each other through.

My students and I have been talking about the secrets we keep from other people and the secrets we keep from ourselves. I sometimes think that writing fiction is part of how we both face and avoid external conflict, and even how we face and also avoid internal conflict.

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from An interview with Sarah Stone by Ron Nyren, WTAW Press: 2018 Interviews

Everything my mother made turned into a collage, assemblage, or installation, and I’ve inherited that sensibility from her. Hungry Ghost Theater is a mix of invented personal reality, real political context, and various mythologies, told in different voices and modes. The book does have a throughline moving underneath all the stories in the book, making an arc from beginning to end, but my experience of life is that it’s quite surreal: connected in improbable ways and disconnected in others. Some of the most fantastic moments are based at least a little on the tangible details of life. I’m very interested in the reality/fantasy border: did that really happen, or is it the character’s imagining or delusion?

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from Interview with Sarah Stone and Nancy Au, Entropy

For a long time, I didn’t understand that I was writing Hungry Ghost Theater, or that it was a book, and that made it possible to creep in through the back door. I was working on that other novel—I wrote something like twenty-eight drafts before I stopped counting. I gave up on it multiple times, but always with the feeling that I was letting down the characters and had to go back to it. (It’s now the third book of what’s turned into a trilogy, and I’m working on it again right now. Feeling as if it’s going better now, though that may be one of those necessary delusions that keep writers going.)

So I would sneak away from the novel I regarded as “work” to write stories or study playwriting, always with a mixture of reckless freedom and guilt. The Zamarin family took over the plays too. When I knew Hungry Ghost Theater was a book, the plays were clearly part of it. Not simply plays written by the characters but the characters’ lives seen as plays in two of the sections: their lives literally become theater.

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from Interview with Kenneth Caldwell

“The theater gives us a chance to sit together in the dark, to collectively help the actors imagine a new reality. Often a totally improbable one! Some of the playwrights I love most (Mary Zimmerman, Wole Soyinka, Shakespeare), allow themselves great freedoms in time and space and in emotional logic. Hungry Ghost Theater has a couple of plays, which take place, respectively, in an assisted living community and in six different hells. The characters’ stories, at that moment, turn into dialogue, action, and stage directions: there’s a plausible deniability to material being presented as a play. So when a story gets ludicrous or fantastical, it fits into a theatrical tradition. Then, too, so many of the characters are actors. And just about all of the characters in the novel, actors or not, are constantly performing.”

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from How We Spend Our Days, from Cynthia Newberry Martin's Catching Days series

"As soon as we stop trying to write a final draft and just allow ourselves to make discoveries about the characters, story, and world, writing becomes delicious. It’s fatal to try to write beautifully, but helpful to try to write what feels like the truth. And we definitely shouldn’t say ugly things to ourselves that we would never want anyone else to say to us. Writer’s block is almost always some form of self-hatred or an attempt to write something we’re not ready to write. It can help to write in a notebook about what might happen in a scene or storyline, or to try a writing exercise, to write what interests us and leave brackets for the parts that bore or puzzle us. We may not need those parts at all, or we may understand how to do them later on. And if all we do is to make some notes, edit previous pages, or write a paragraph, that’s a writing day. We can have another one tomorrow. It’s remarkable how they add up after a while.”

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