Tuesday 24 May 2016

Interview with Mattia Ravasi #FaeVisions

The Fae Visions of the Mediterranean anthology contains 24 stories and poems (originally written in 9 languages) showcases the horrors and wonders of the sea. Among them is an atmospheric tale of inhuman terror by Mattia Ravasi, “The Miracle Town,” set in a village just outside Venice and featuring metamorphosis and fitting in—perhaps a dark twist on Italian hospitality. We asked Mattia a few questions about his work.

Mattia Ravasi is a postgraduate literature student with a penchant for contemporary American fiction. He works as a freelance writer and translator, and reviews books on the YouTube channel The Bookchemist. He has lived in Monza, Birmingham and Venice, and he dreams of becoming the greatest writer of all times.

“The Miracle Town” is a creepy story that in some ways turns Lovecraft's xenophobia on its head. Where did the story come from?
Part of it came from my sheer obsession with the man. I first read his story Dagon when I was 15, and I am still in the process of recovering from the shock of it.

That said, I wanted to take the Lovecraft canon and work on its roughest edges. As you said, Lovecraft's xenophobia is a quintessential feature of his production—I re-read The Call of Cthulhu this very morning and, gee, was he a racist sometime. I don't quite think he was as terrible as some people think… but he was still pretty terrible in so many ways. I feel that, as a Lovecraft fan, it's part of my duty to try and pull a difficult trick, which is to give a modern spin to the genre he invented without distorting it. “Miracle Town” is a very small attempt at it.

I guess my role-model on this front is another Lovecraft-geek, Michael Chabon. In his novel The Final Solution, he takes the Sherlock Holmes canon and works on some of its most outdated sides, like the fact that Holmes can be quite a ruthless warmongering motherfucker from time to time. (Can I say motherfucker on the TFF blog? I hope I can.)

Yeah, you can say motherfucker!

Do you feel a particular connection with the Mediterranean Sea itself?
Some Italians tend to be very parochial, and I'll put myself in that category. I have to confess that I feel much more Milanese than Italian; the fact that I'm not technically from Milan is besides the point. I don't say that out of arrogance or contempt (I love my country, I really do!), it's just that it's a very diverse country, and it's hard to feel 100% at home everywhere in it. So I'd probably lie if I told you I feel I got salt in my veins, to quote one of my favorite stories in the Fae anthology.

That said, I've spent most of my summers bathing in that sea, and I feel there's something quite unique in the way it is shared by so many different cultures. As you guys said, they called it Mare Nostrum but really, it's one of the least "ours" seas in the world. I think I can feel that kind of connection through literature: I read The House by the Medlar Tree by my main man Giovanni Verga, or an historical novel with an Ancient-Greece setting, or I watch a good adaptation of Othello—and I think, yeah, that's my sea!

Who is, in your opinion, the greatest contemporary American author of all time?
I'll keep this super brief otherwise I'll go on forever. Thomas Pynchon. He writes like no other writer in history; he does with the novel whatever he very well pleases and always ends up writing masterpieces; he takes the idea of breaking genre boundaries and pushes it to unparalleled heights; he mixes gripping narratives and serious stuff and love and disgust with the touch of a master. To me, he's very much up there with Dante for the sheer level of "how the fuck did he do this?" you find in his fiction.

If by contemporary you mean "young," hands down it's Michael Chabon. Funny and heartbreaking and compelling and clever in everything he writes; and another master of mixing genres freely. His last novel Telegraph Avenue is written as well as any Pynchon's book.

How does translating compare to writing in your own language, and to original writing in another language?
Oh, they're quite different processes, but they require the same kind of mental trick. The most common mistake translators (and non-native writers) do is that they take what they want to say and "simply" change that into a foreign language, maybe not word-by-word, but almost. Whereas what you're supposed to do is to squeeze the juice out of what you want to say, forget about the way you'd say it in your native tongue, and distill a foreign sentence out of that.

It's a terribly difficult process and even pros sometimes can't manage it. And of course, writing is incredibly harder than translating, because on top of anything else you have to be a good writer. One of my professors once told me he doesn't believe it is possible to write fiction in any language but your native; writing is a matter of tapping into your innermost sources, and those fuckers are coded in your native tongue. I hope I'll manage to prove him wrong.

Can you think of a word in your dialect that is untranslatable?
As much as I like my homeplace, I have never learned how to speak its dialect; Milan and most of Lombardy constitute one of those corners of Italy where dialect is disappearing fast. There's this word though, "bauscia," that has pretty much slipped into common Italian, and that crystallizes all the bad stereotypes people associate with the city of Milan. An approximate translation would be "posh," but the word implies a level of arrogance and fleshy-ness that are inevitably lost in translation.

If events would bring you to join a motley crew of pirates, what would be your sea-name?
Beachin’ James “Sharkfin” Marsh. I would fight with a sword made from the nose of a gigantic white marlin; but mostly I would cook shrimp gumbo for the crew.

Do you remember the name of the protagonist of the very first story you wrote?
I was eight and the story was a rip-off of a LoneWolf Game Book called The Jungle of Horrors. The main characters were two friend of mine and I, but I'm not sure who of the three was the real protagonist, and who were the sidekicks. So it's either Luca, Roberto or Mattia (but it's probably me, let's be honest).

What are you working on next?
I am currently going through the third or fourth major editing review of a novel I wrote last year called The Page Turner. It's a fantasy novel with an attitude, both very canonical and very non-. It's good; at the very least it's seaworthy. I'm looking for an agent to represent it, and I'm in no particular hurry. It might take me fifteen years, but I'll get it out there.

Thank you, Mattia!

Mattia Ravasi’s story “The Miracle Town” can be found in Fae Visions of the Mediterranean.

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