Breeze Tell me a little bit about your background, your work in general.
Lorette I’m a writer and artist living in Toronto. In visual work, I use mixed media collage to capture snippets of curious ideas or images and recontextualize them. In my writing, I also like to draw on a variety of subjects and ideas. I write about everything, from books to art to food. My favourite thing to write about is interesting people- I really love writing about people more than anything. I love meeting people, I love reading about people. I’m addicted to celebrity culture, but also to characters in mythology, the lives of artists, poets, the lives of everyday people. So I started a collection of essays called Fascinating People: gossip for smart people (fascinatingpeople.wordpress.com). I wanted to write about my experiences of various unusual people from whatever walk of life. To explore the accomplishments but also the scandals and setbacks that pepper every life. I thought this approach would let readers discover people about who they might never have read a whole biography, and maybe go on to explore their work or use their inspiration.
I also write about food and nutrition and some mythology at thepaleogarden.com. I write a column called The Real Dish at goodfoodrev.com. I have three books: The Astronaut’s Wife: Poems of Eros and Thanatos; Weird Monologues for a Rainy Life (irreverent ramblings from the end of the world); and Dendrite Pandemonium: hits, misses, and random b-sides. They’re all available through my site, thegirlcanwrite.net, or at Amazon.
Breeze What inspired you to decide to do the Michael Jackson Anthology?
Lorette Honestly, it was a ridiculous idea, born of abject grief. I was so devastated. He was my lifelong love, a very tragic figure. In the days following his death, like so many other fans around the world, I wanted to make an offering, a gift fit for the king. That’s really how it was. I was fascinated by the various ways this icon was seen, the many meanings we had constructed for him. I decided that somehow I could put together the most interesting collection of ideas. A book that would be the most interesting book on the market about MJ, and the most beautiful. It was a bit grandiose, I admit. I’ve never made an anthology. I had no major publisher. I had no money. I have a few loyal readers, but most people have never heard of me.
But by the time I came to my senses, I was already too deep in. As they say, the only way out is through. So I kept going.
Breeze What did Michael Jackson mean to you personally? Tell me about the moment you learned that he had died? Where were you? How did that affect you?
Lorette He meant everything. From childhood, he connects me to my oldest friend, Japey, who understood his genius from age ten. Japey was also quite eccentric, quite musical. They had similar soft voices, both misunderstood, both very theatrical. Japey loved animals. he had a pet snake and a cockatiel. He used to dance and show me just how brilliant Jackson’s rhythms were. More than any impersonator or celebrity, I could say something in him reminded us of MJ. We were lifelong friends until Japey died of cancer a few years back. So MJ always makes me feel Japey’s presence. The book is dedicated to him.
Removed from that, I am fascinated by eccentrics and MJ was just about the most unusual person who ever lived. Yet he was very down to earth somehow at the same time. I think that was seen around the world in his This Is It film. I always felt the Jackson spectacle showed both the best and the worst of mass culture. It brought out giant surges of love, adoration, swooning, creativity, inspiration- showing the power of art, the power of love. But it also brought out the gladiatorial in all of us. We used to have mob scenes, we had public hangings, public burnings. As a giant crowd, we relived this disgusting impulse in humanity, this horrible part of our past.
Where was I? Like many, I heard about it online. An email from a peer. I just sat there staring. I didn’t want to react like a baby, but I did. I was frozen. I cried for hours. I went out and bought a bottle of wine, and just sat there, listening to the music, reading as the story unfolded.
Breeze Tell me about the Anthology; What is in there?
Lorette There are 51 writers, one for each of Michael’s years. I’m always a sucker for little symbolisms. The pieces are truly random, with ideas that conflict, ideas that converge. We’ve got poems and memoirs and analyses of every sort. It was hard for me because I really wanted things that reflected my own feelings. But that wouldn’t really show the range of meaning this figure has in our culture. To get a feeling for the range of ideas- there’s a piece about archetypal imagery in MJ’s body of work by Lauren Reichelt, who works with PTSD victims; there’s Jess Nevins comparing Jackson’s life to gothic literature; there’s Georgianne Nienaber, a journalist who writes about war and life in Congo/East Africa, questioning why we make a big deal about one man when thousands are dying every day, anonymously. That’s just an appetizer.
Breeze The contributors to the Anthology have such wide and varied and incredibly impressive backgrounds. How did you manage to attract talent of such caliber? How did you approach them?
Lorette I sent out submission calls on my blogs, and to all my contacts, asking them to post the call wherever they could. I put the call on Facebook. I spent months reading the submissions and everything else I could about Michael Jackson. At first it was cathartic- I wanted to be with him as I grieved. But then it got to be a bit much. My saturation point had been reached. But I kept on. I read books, magazines, archives, online. I asked interesting people to consider submitting. I had the audacity to approach professionals out of the blue, introduce myself, tell them I really had no specific plan and didn’t know what I was doing, but I was doing it with love, and would they consider letting me use an interesting work I’d seen? Trust me, not everyone said yes. Not everyone was friendly. Not everyone replied. And I totally accept that. But I think what has come together comes close to reaching my goal- the most interesting book about Jackson; and the most beautiful.
Breeze The cover art is breathtaking. Tell me about the artist and how he became part of the project.
Lorette The cover art was a commission from pop artist Iaian Greenson. We’ve worked together frequently, showing art together at exhibits in the past. I did a lengthy profile about him a few years ago. He approached me and asked if I needed something for the cover. An earlier model of the work fell flat for me, and I panicked because nothing this artist has ever made falls flat. So I knew that the muse wasn’t there, that he had lacked inspiration. I told him just to feel it, to let his imagination go wild. When I saw this, I cried. It captures everything- Michael’s repugnant beauty, the tragic artifice of his face shining from within with art and love, the despair and tragedy that made that massacre happen.
When I saw the piece, the colour stood out so beautifully on its black background that I decided to have the whole cover black to really let the image show. I was fortunate enough to have graphic designer Gonzalo de Cardenas execute my vision for the cover. He has a real flare for simplicity in lines, and he tempers my nature, which is to clutter everything up. On the back, he repeated the front cover, but this time with the names of the writers in alphabetical order. I’m just blown away by everyone’s work in this anthology, visual and written.
Breeze The Anthology is called Goodbye Billie Jean, The Meaning of Michael Jackson, How did you come up with the name?
Lorette “The Meaning of Michael Jackson” part was there from the get-go. That’s what I was looking for, knowing there is no one answer, of course. But obviously fate, mass culture, history have converged for some reasons to make this particular man the biggest celebrity of all time. Not something he asked for, but when it was handed to him, he worked and worked to be that entertainer. The Goodbye, Billie Jean was me trying to be clever. It came from Goodbye, Norma Jean, Elton’s beautiful song that was later recycled because for some reason, England’s Rose didn’t merit her own song. Yet both Marilyn and Diana were in many ways like Michael, misunderstood, tragic, famous. They all embodied figures who could provoke so much love, mass hysteria, really. They live forever. Their gifts were extraordinary. But the price was so high. Jackson had started writing about that price before Billie Jean, but that song is now one of the most famous works about that aspect of fame- people you don’t even know thinking they do know you, thinking they are carrying you inside of them. And we are, in a way, but as we have seen with these three figures, it can get a bit nutty. You have to be so strong to hold together when you are this kind of star.
Breeze Will you be forwarding a copy of this to Michael Jackson's family?
Lorette I’d love to. If anyone knows how I can get in touch with his sisters, brothers, mom, etc, please let me know. If the Jacksons are reading this, please contact me for your copy!
Breeze Where can we buy this amazing book?
Lorette You can visit thegirlcanwrite.net for more information and to order. You can find it at Amazon
Breeze What do you think is the meaning of Michael Jackson?
Lorette It all comes down to this, for me: Michael Jackson is pure emotion. He is every emotion at its most intense. He became those in front of our eyes- our own most beautiful and most horrible emotions. That’s why he touches so many so deeply, and why he causes revulsion at the same time. Emotions like love, rejection, insecurity, confidence, anger, anticipation, fear, disgust, joy, sadness, surprise, acceptance, frustration, aversion, worry, vulnerability, courage, dejection, desire, despair, hope, wonder, terror, anxiety, pain, distress, pleasure, elation, pride, jealousy, panic, shame, curiousity, bewilderment, sorrow, astonishment. I could go on.
Breeze Any new projects in the works?
Lorette Very soon you will see my collection of short fiction, Funny Stories About Depression. I’m working on some projects about death, and I’m writing more about fascinating writers as well.
Thank you Lorette! Now my own personal comments on this book. I received my copy early December and was absolutely overwhelmed by the quality of the writing, the size of the book and the beauty of the artwork on the cover. So much so that I will be doing a review of it here on my blog on February 10th as a part of Lorette's virtual book tour. I hope you will join me here for that and as well please promote this fantastic book with a tweet, facebook or old fashioned word of mouth. And please purchase a copy! You will not be disappointed.