If you hear Susan Petrone (MA '97.) tell it, Don Quixote stalked her to write her new novel. And of all places, in The Netherlands. She’d wound up there working for an international peace organization and read Miguel de Cervantes’ famed swashbuckling tale for the first time. After that, it seemed Quixote was following her wherever she went.
“[He] just kept coming up,” she said.
“Like you read an article about a Latin American artist who was using Don Quixote as a character in a series of drawings about poverty. Or it showed up when I’m watching L.A. Law with Dutch subtitles and there’s a Don Quixote subplot...
“It was weird....and I actually started thinking about what would happen if one turned into Don Quixote.”
As a result, her first soon-to-be published novel, A Body at Rest is about Martha and Nina, who, as Petrone puts it, are “overeducated, underemployed, slacker friends,” who by a strange turn of events transform into Emma Woodhouse from Jane Austen’s Emma and, you guessed it, Don Quixote. It's literary fiction with traces of magical realism, she said.
“[The book] seems to resonate with a lot of readers in their 20s and 30s, who may have been in situations where you just feel like, ‘God nothing’s happening in my life and everything is wrong,’” she laughs.
She began writing the story while in The Netherlands, but shelved it because it wasn’t forming the way she thought it should. Ten years later, a road trip, and her self-described hatred of leaving things unfinished, however, had her returning to the story, this time determined to make it work.
It did, she found the “voice” she was looking for, and on March 26, she’ll have a reading and release party at Mac’s Back’s on Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights.
Though she’s always been a writer, Petrone said coming to Cleveland State University emboldened her resolve in the craft.
“There [were] so many great professors,” she said.
“Part of it was just being in a program where someone said, ‘You know what? We think you’re good enough that you should concentrate on this.’ It makes you start taking your work a little more seriously.”
She said the investment of time that the faculty, including the late Sheila Schwartz, put into her was encouraging, something for which she’s never slow in expressing her gratitude.
“It’s a great program.”
Though A Body at Rest is her first published novel, Petrone has had work published by Featherproof Books and appear in the literary journal Glimmer Train. Still, when you talk with her, it’s clear that while getting published and making a living out of it would be her life’s dream, if that never happens, she’ll never stop writing.
“This is what I do. It’s more than hobby.”
For more information about Susan Petrone, visit www.susanpetrone.com.