Ask the Author: Catherine Zobal Dent

Catherine Zobal Dent’s innovative Flesh appears in the May issue and today, she talks with us about the shared characteristics between Jesus and mass murderers, her work in PANK, and how she would cut her own hair, among other things.

1. What other mass murderers do you think Jesus has in common with?

“Something to be said for blasphemy: it makes people sit up and take notice.” Yeah, the angel is screwed up. We might argue that every day people willingly die for religious reasons–or, that the Nazi party was akin to institutionalized religion–or, that both Hitler and Jesus led people to their death. None of these answers are my answer. I don’t think a Jesus/Mass Murderers comparison illuminates much. The origin of that line in my story is that the sad angel in me finds wordplay humorous. I find it humorous and sometimes a little sad. I do think there’s a sad angel in all of us, including Jesus and Hitler. There’s meaning for me in that.

2. Is this a series of vignettes or something more connected?

Although the elements come in reverse order, “Flesh” has a beginning, middle, and end. This version of human experience starts with the otherworldly angel, then moves from a dying old woman to a retired man to a pregnant woman to a young man to a young boy and finally to birth. The reversal of the traditional narrative owes its inspiration to Roxane, who suggested after reading my original submission to PANK that the story might end on the “Mother” section. When I considered the idea, I liked it. Because of the subject matter (loneliness, alienation, the Holocaust), going backwards feels right.

On another note, I’ll mention that the seven narrators are inspired by Ron Mueck, a sculptor whose work I first encountered at the Hirshhorn Museum in 2000. It was a giant, vulnerable, naked man with his head in his hands. I saw more in an exhibit at London’s National Gallery, including “Pregnant Woman” and “Man in a Boat.” “Angel” was at the Saatchi Gallery. Mueck is amazing. I would give anything for him to read this story.

3. How would you cut your own hair?

I got my hair chopped short when my son turned one year old. That was three years ago, and now it’s long again. My daughter just had her first birthday, but I think I’ll let my hair grow.

4. What would you do if you were on a boat?

I grew up on a river and love boats. I also love to swim. If I were on a boat now, I’d jump into the water.

5. How do you know the smoothness of skulls?

Across from my writing desk a bleached cow skull sits on the bookshelf. When my partner, Silas Zobal, was in high school, he found it in the middle of an Illinois field. He cleaned it up and eventually brought it with him to Binghamton, NY. We’ve moved seven times in our eight years together, and the skull has always traveled along. Its very large eye sockets and enormous cubed teeth are frightening and comforting at the same time, like a personal ghost.