Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Amy Lignor is talking with Michael Kasenow, author of The Rape Trial of Medusa.
FQ: I have to know: This plot-line is so ‘out there,’ yet reads like a very real crime/suspense drama. How and/or where did you come up with this fascinating idea?
KASENOW: I was browsing the web, looking at the Greek gods. I came across Medusa and read that she was raped, blamed for the rape and punished for the rape. I said to myself, that can’t be right. But I kept researching and that’s what the consensus agreed upon. There may be other versions, but that’s what you’ll find today if you Google this. Anyway, I thought her trial would make a good story; however, I had to bring her into the 21st Century, subdue the snakes, and give the Olympians a life of their own. So, I would write for a while, stop and think, write for a while and so on. This did not come together after about five years. Not 24/7, but when I was stuck somewhere. I just put the pen down; a couple of months would pass, and I’d go back to the story. I thought it was worth pursuing. The last six months paved the way. I began this when the MeToo movement was voicing concerns. So here we are in the 21st Century, and Medusa was around during the Greek and Rome Empires, two-three thousand years ago. how much has changed? I tweaked reality a bit, by using a natural voice and conversations, and considering it a real crime, it appeared to work. Medusa has been around for millennia, in many forms, many women know her well.
FQ: Are you a fan of Greek history/mythology? If so, do you have a personal favorite god or goddess and why are they your favorite?
KASENOW: I’m a history buff. Mythology in its many forms, in many cultures, has always intrigued me; however, the Greek gods are awful (Rome just gave these gods different names, Zeus is Jupiter in Rome). I can’t believe any empire worshiped these cruel perverts. They killed, tortured, and cursed anyone they so desired. Human or god, it did not matter, rape and incest were habits. So—I do not have a favorite Olympian, except for Medusa, of course.
FQ: You have quite the trio on your present resume – a novelist, a poet and a scientist. Were you always interested in writing while studying to become a scientist? Or did this creative process come about later on?
KASENOW: I wrote poetry as a young man, kicked around the country for a while. Then went back to college in my early thirties. I took a geology course and discovered that science isn’t hard, it’s just tedious. I like being outside, so geology came naturally for me. When I went back to college and changed my life-course, I put the creative-writing pen down for a few decades. I wrote science books about the environment and fresh water. Then I had a serious illness, when I came out of it, the creative poles of my brain changed sides. I began to write poetry again and then novels. The creative process was always there, but in different forms. I’m one of those who believes that ‘things’ happen for a reason. The road is laid down, I just follow it. The comedian Red Skeleton said: “Talent is God’s gift to you; using that talent is your gift to God.” Regardless of the concept of God, that’s a neat way of thinking about the creative process.
FQ: As a Roswell resident myself, I had heard you worked in NM for a time. Do you take things from these various places you’ve lived and use the data in your books/poetry?
KASENOW: Yes, always. Before I went back to college, I had worked as a bartender, janitor, cab driver, among others. Those experiences and the people I met are a part of what I write about. I was a kid when I settled in Santa Fe, because that’s where my car broke down and where I ran out of money. I eventually did some adobe brick work and some ranch-hand stuff. So I take those experiences with me. Roswell is to the southeast, I believe. Carlsbad is near there. White Sands to the west. Great places to see. I learned a lot about myself in New Mexico. I was not a geologist when I lived there, so I didn’t know what I was looking at. Later in life, I did some geologic work in Colorado. Two of the best places to enjoy are New Mexico and Colorado.
FQ: Is there a genre you have not yet written in that you would like to pursue one day?
KASENOW: I don’t think about genre when I plot out a story. For me, it’s the story that matters. I’ve written a historical novel, natural fiction, a ghost story, and now one that is somewhat mythical, but it was always the story that mattered. Can I relate to the characters? Will readers relate? Does the story draw empathy? Does the story occur in an interesting place? What do I want to say? Is there an underlying philosophy? I dream about the story for a while, then, if it keeps nipping at my ear, I’ll do my best.
FQ: Certainly, there’s so many mystical and amazing events throughout history. Is there an era or, perhaps, an event that you would like to use for the background/plot-line of a future story?
KASENOW: U.S. history from about 1920 to about 1940 keeps my interest. That’s when the country tried to grow in good directions. Women were able to vote, flappers danced onto the scene, great art painted the landscape, some of America’s great writers emerged to tell their stories. Motion pictures and radio gave America a voice and visions. Prohibition and gangsters made noise. We were still knee deep into Jim Crow, and then came the great depression, and the build-up to WWII. So I can see a plot line or two coming out of that era. It fascinates me. After the bombs were dropped on Japan, America seemed to lose its innocence. It’s the innocence in our history that I’m attracted to.
FQ: What would you say brings you the most benefit from being a professor; and, in turn, what is the biggest benefit that writing brings to you?
KASENOW: Well, I’m now a retired professor. But I enjoyed sharing what I learned and researched about the natural world. Watching good, smart, young people grow and want to grow. That’s a joy and a legacy. Writing, well, you have to enjoy being by yourself, and you have to be your best and worst critic. I simply enjoy the creative process. I and other writers have cried when some of our characters have died. That’s the emotional part of what writing does. When I get wrapped up in the process, my cats come in to bring me back to the real world. Writing gives me peace-of-mind, I enjoy the jingle-jangle of words, and the rhythm of sentence structuring.
FQ: Do you have any particular favorites when it comes to authors; is there any you see as mentors when it comes to your own writing?
KASENOW: John Steinbeck, Stephen Crane, Carl Sandberg, Jack London, Fitzgerald—especially his short stories. Joyce Carol Oats is exceptional. E.A. Robinson. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath and her poetry. The Girl with the Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier is one of the best naturalistic novels I have ever read. Her novel and The Bell Jar remain on my shelves.
FQ: What comes next in the literary world for you?
KASENOW: I have a few things bubbling in my mind. Some days they make sense; then some days not so much. In today’s world there’s a lot to think about. Like most people, I’m trying to stay alive.