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Before I pose any questions to photographer Fritz Liedtke, I want you to read his remarkably candid, challenging “artist’s statement” about his latest photography exhibit: Skeleton in the Closet.

Liedtke’s art was on display in Portland, Oregon last month, but the project is still growing and is sure to resurface with startling new images. In fact, you can peruse the photographs right now on his website, or on the site specifically devoted to this exhibit.

But first, Liedtke’s statement. Then, I’ll pose him some questions about his provocative work.

Skeleton in the Closet
Ordinary People, Disordered Eating
Photographs by Fritz Liedtke

“I’ve seen thinner.”

The woman looking at these photographs paused, closed the book. “It’s true,” I replied. “Some of these men and women are healthy now. Some are very sick, and yet look healthy. Some, even with anorexia and bulimia, can be quite heavy. And some people who look quite normal—people you know, even—have an eating disorder in their history.”

I’ve seen thinner. We all have: the emaciated frames, the walking skeletons, the naked bones, the withering models. We’ve all seen these shocking, grotesque images, and there are enough of them in the world. The men and women in this series have looked this way before; some still do. Beneath the layers of clothing and confusion is skin stretched over bones, which they are loathe to reveal. They have, as it were, a skeleton in the closet.

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My next guest will be Fritz Liedtke, the extraordinary photographer whose work is on display at www.fritzphoto.com/art.

 

Can we handle the truth?

In Sara Zarr‘s first novel, Story of a Girl, one young woman’s life is almost spoiled by the truth… at least when it comes to the details of her biggest mistake.

When young Deanna’s misguided adventure with an older boy in a car is exposed for all the world to see, she is forced to live with the consequences. Her peers, her community, her family… no one can meet her gaze in quite the same way again.

But are the consequences appropriate for the crime? Why are girls condemned when it comes to sexual indiscretion, while boys run free? Why can’t her father forgive her, and move through the crisis with her? Has the truth of the matter really been perceived at all? Wouldn’t the truth, in totality, allow for the possibility of healing, and include all of those who bear some responsibility for what happened?

These are compelling questions, and challenging issues to explore in any medium. Writing about them for young adults is an especially difficult endeavor, as parents may flinch to find their teens reading about such tough stuff.

But Sara Zarr strikes the perfect balance, writing about this territory with the authenticity of having been there. She seems to have a photographic memory when it comes to the nuances of high school experience. And while Deanna’s trials are fictional, Zarr writes about these emotions and exchanges with a knack for observation. With powerful restraint, she shows respect to her characters and to her readers, leaving certain details unspoken in trust of our own imaginations. But she brings characters to vivid life through charged conversations and situations in which the stakes are very high indeed.

Story of a Girl may be on the shelf in the Young Adult section of bookstores. But it’s an essential addition to the genre that will challenge adults as profoundly as it does youngsters. This is the world teens live in. If this book makes you uncomfortable, take a walk through your neighborhood high school sometime. See if you can handle the truth.

I had the privilege of corresponding with Sara Zarr recently, and to congratulate her on the honor of being a National Book Award finalist with her very first book. Sara and I met in a fiction workshop in Santa Fe in 2005, guided by the great novelist Erin McGraw. I was working on the sequel to Auralia’s Colors, quite a different kind of storytelling entirely than what Sara was up to. But I was taken by Sara’s lively, engaging prose, and we became fast friends. Turns out we were born in the same week, and signed our first book contracts inthe same month of the same year. We’ve been chatting about our experiences and challenges ever since, and I’m a big fan of her blog. (I even took the profile picture she’s currently using on Facebook!)

So, it is with great pleasure that I welcome Sara Zarr to The Eagle and Child, and I hope you read her book, so you can say “I read it before she became a superstar.” (But you’d better act fast, because it’s happening as we speak.)

Overstreet:

Congratulations on having Story of a Girl chosen as a finalist for the National Book Award! You must be on Cloud Nine, or even Ten.

Take us through your reaction to the news, and your feelings as the news sank in. Did you even let yourself imagine such a thing before it happened?

Zarr:

Thank you! I have, of course, imagined getting awards and honors and I’ve even let myself imagine things that are not in the realm of reality such as what witty stories I can tell on Letterman. However, at the time I got the call about the National Book Award, I’d completely forgotten that it was that time of year or even that the NBAs existed. It’s great to get that kind of news when you’re not expecting it. I think it’s still sinking in. About a week after the announcement, I had a little meltdown about what it all means and I had a “fear of success” moment. My husband, a genius, said, “If you think of this (success) as a compliment, and not as success, then you could count it learning to accept compliments gracefully.” So that’s how I want to continue to see the nomination — as a wonderful compliment.

Overstreet:

In Story of a Girl, we get an up-close-and-personal perspective on Deanna. And because of her mistakes and the pressures of teen life, she’s misunderstood and judged by those around her.

In a lot of stores like these, misunderstood characters are defended passionately by the storyteller, and the peripheral characters are shown up as being irrational and wicked and cruel. You see characters through a more forgiving lens. You see flaws in your “heroine,” and you seem to find redeeming qualities in other characters as well. Is that difficult for you as a storyteller? Are you tempted to make somebody a scapegoat?

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TWO POEMS BY MARGARET D. SMITH

Pavel talks to me over lunch

My farmhouse is away, so far from Prague
there are no planes, not even cars.

You can hear everything that way.
The pigeons make love on rooftops,

workers talk in fields,
bees make sounds like music far off.

My grandfather loved bees.
He left Prague to live in that farmhouse

to raise bees: bees in boxes, bees in fields.
When he died he left me his farmhouse.

The first time I stepped inside after he was gone,
rooms were dark, my shoes hollow,

and all I could smell
was honey.

Yes

A flying squirrel only falls slowly….
A sun is a star, but not all stars are suns.
Waves move in light. Grass grows down.
All those names of things we had been given
were not true, not true, but somehow yes.
We don’t know what, but maybe
there is a name somewhere.

TALKING WITH MARGARET D. SMITH AT “THE EAGLE AND CHILD”

Talking about poetry with Margaret D. Smith is like jumping into a pile of autumn leaves. By the end of the conversation, there are beautiful observations scattered everywhere, and you want to preserve each one.

Publishing a conversation with her is like raking those leaves back into a pile, so I can give you a turn jumping.

Margaret’s latest poetry collection is entitled Barn Swallow. You can purchase it from the author: But you don’t have to read the poems to enjoy our conversation here. I enjoy corresponding with Margaret via email because her responses are worth saving and sharing. And her blog is a chronicle of seemingly ordinary moments… moments she shares in her own particular way so that they come alive.

When I proposed this interview, Margaret responded with one of her bright ideas. What if each message we sent to each other ended with a question… not just from the interviewer, but also from the interviewee?

I might have tried to answer her questions. But as I read her replies, I thought it might be better just to let her questions hang in the air… something for the reader to take away and think about.

So here we go…

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Greetings!

I’m about to begin a whole new blogging venture: The Eagle and Child. This site will feature conversations with artists and people of faith about their lives, their creative expression, the works of writing or music or film that inspire them, and their thoughts about the power of art.

And the name? Well, it’s the pub in Oxford where J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and others gathered to discuss similar subjects while quaffing beer. I wish I could have listened in on those conversations, so I want to offer my own for those who might find them interesting.

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