Shimmer 19 Interview: Tara Isabella Burton

Tell us how “Methods of Divination” came to be.
Last year, I had an extraordinary encounter with someone whose life story — and stories of first love — were uncannily similar to my own. I could tell at once that we meant something significant to one another, but wasn’t sure in what way. The story was meant as a celebration of the complexities of our connection: an act of love for someone who influenced me a lot, and for the idea that, by sharing a part of yourself with someone, you become that little bit less alone.

You write both fiction and non-fiction. Does one impact or inform the other?
Yes and no. My first love is fiction, always, but the analytical and journalistic work helps me correct against my more self-indulgent prose tendencies in fiction (I tend toward the purple and the melodramatic when unchecked). The need for concreteness – the need to notice and convey little details, rather than Big Sentiments — is something that nonfiction’s taught me, and which I think has improved my prose.

Does your travel influence your fiction?
So, so much. The novel that’s just gone On Sub through the Agents (gulp!) is set in Georgia, and is heavily inspired by Georgian and Russian folklore and Orthodox folk culture. My work, fiction and nonfiction alike, tends to be heavily rooted in place — “Methods of Divination” is set in New York, and is heavily localized; other stories I’ve had out or which are forthcoming are set on the London canals, the Georgian mountains, and a futuristic twenty-eighth-century Rome. In each case, the setting is integral to the story.

What’s in your itunes/Spotify/8-Track?
I’m a big fan of the Punchdrunk play/immersive experience/installation Sleep No More, so my usual playlist is actually a youtube-compiled set list of the show. Lots of 30’s big band, jazz, “Moonlight Becomes You,” “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square”, that sort of thing. I also listen to a lot of Liszt.

Can you share anything of what you’re working on now?
I’ve just finished the final pre-submission drafts of my novel, The Snake Eaters and sent it off to The Agents. Now I’m working on my doctoral degree for a couple of months, before launching into the planned New Novel: which I’m describing in my head as a mash-up of A Separate Peace, Bonnie and Clyde, and the Biblical Book of Amos.

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