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Iphigenia Murphy by Sara Hosey
March 25th, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

An Interview with Iphigenia Murphy author, Sara Hosey

Published March 10, 2020 by Blackstone Publishing

Buying Links: Find them all at Blackstone Publishing

About Iphigenia Murphy from Goodreads: Running away from home hasn’t solved Iphigenia Murphy’s problems. In fact, it’s only a matter of time before they’ll catch up with her. Iffy is desperate to find her long-lost mother, and, so far, in spite of the need to forage for food and shelter and fend off an unending number of creeps, living in Queens’ Forest Park has felt safer than living at home. But as the summer days get shorter, it all threatens to fall apart.

A novel that explores the sustaining love of friendship, the kindness of strangers, and the indelible bond of family, Iphigenia Murphy captures the gritty side of 1992 Queens, the most diverse borough in New York City. Just like Iffy, the friends she makes in the park–Angel, a stray dog with the most ridiculous tail; Corinne, a young trans woman who is escaping her own abusive situation; and Anthony, a former foster kid from upstate whose parents are addicts–each seek a place where they feel at home. Whether fate or coincidence has brought them together, within this community of misfits Iffy can finally be herself, but she still has to face the effects of abandonment and abuse–and the possibility that she may be pregnant. During what turns out to be a remarkable journey to find her mother, will Iffy ultimately discover herself?

Interview:

Question: Share a novel secret.

A central character in Iphigenia Murphy is Angel, a big pit-bull-and-maybe-chow mix that Iffy meets in Forest Park. Angel is based on a dog that I used to love, whose name was also Angel and who also got lost in Forest Park.

My partner and I adopted our Angel from a shelter when we were living in an apartment in Jackson Heights, Queens. Angel had been in the shelter for almost a year. She was hard to place because she was skittish and often feinted or snapped her jaws at you if you tried to pet her. As far as I know, she never actually bit anyone, but you can imagine that she wasn’t winning any popularity contests with prospective adopters.

But Jess and I both loved her immediately and we felt up to the challenge of living with a difficult dog. We didn’t have kids at the time and the shelter folks said Angel was a mature and pretty low-energy dog, well-suited to apartment-living. And so she came home with us. She was so nervous that she didn’t eat for the first 3 days. We left spoonfuls of peanut butter on the floor of the apartment, trying to tempt her. She didn’t poo or pee, either, and we walked her endlessly, trying to get her to relax enough to go. 

A few weeks in, our Angel calmed down. She started to become the dog we knew she could be: relaxed, gentle, happy. Unlike Angel in the novel, our Angel was never overly-affectionate; she’d never jump into your lap. But our Angel would allow a snuggle on the couch or would curl up at the bottom of the bed to sleep on our feet.

When we moved from the apartment to a house, Angel got a backyard. And while she seemed to settled in at the new place quickly, she got out of the yard one day when we were having some work done. A neighbor saw her loose on the street and said that she’d been scared by some construction on the block and had taken off running.

We never saw Angel again.

We put signs up on every corner. We walked, biked, and drove around the neighborhood calling her name. I spent a lot of time searching for her in nearby Forest Park—I’d heard that stray dogs often found their way there—and I even left one of my dirty tee-shirts on a hiking trail, hoping she’d be drawn to the scent and stay nearby until I could find her. 

One day, a man who’d seen our fliers called to say that he’d seen Angel in the park. He said that Angel was with a woman who appeared to be homeless, who was pushing a shopping cart full of cans. I cycled through relief and fear: I was so happy Angel was alive, that she hadn’t bitten anyone, that she had found a person to care for her, but I was also so worried about both of them, especially if they were homeless. I worried about this person who was watching out for my dog. I hoped that there was someone watching out for her.

While Angel in Iphigenia Murphy is drawn from my Angel, she also contains some characteristics of my current dog, Jenny. Jenny is much more rambunctious than Angel. Whenever Angel in the book paws at someone for attention or leaps at them playfully, that’s Jenny. Angel never really had enough confidence to play like that with humans, which of course breaks my heart. We don’t know what happened to her before we met her and we don’t know what happened to her after. I can only hope that she found herself an Iffy: someone who would love her deeply and unconditionally, who would take care of her, no matter the cost, and would allow herself to be cared for in return.

Question: On your website, you shared some of your own experiences and the experiences of people you know and the behavior of sexual predators toward young women who specifically attend Catholic private schools. What lesson would you like to impart on young women who may be targeted in this way?

The first time I remember being catcalled, I was probably 13 or 14 years old. When I ask other women and girls about how old they were the first time a stranger made a suggestive or lewd remark to them about their bodies, they generally report that they were of a similar—if not younger—age. 

I think it is important to talk about age because brings into focus the power imbalance that much harassment depends on and exploits. Think of it this way: an adult man tells a 13-year old girl, who is alone on the subway platform, that she has nice tits. 

Putting it this way demonstrates that harassment is not a compliment. It is a reminder to that girl of her own vulnerability. It communicates to her that she is not safe in the world. 

And don’t tell me that men do it because girls look older than they are. I looked 13In short skirts and with lipstick on, 14 year-olds still look 14-years old. Being young and vulnerable, for many men, apparently, is part of the attraction.

As I write on my blog, I grew up in a very specific context: in the 90s in Queens, New York. I rode public transportation daily and, in high school, I wore the Catholic school uniform. For me and for many of my classmates, street harassment was a given. It was the price we paid for leaving the house.

Sadly, I’m aware that street harassment has not gone away, that girls who are coming-of-age today are still experiencing a lot of the same stuff. However, I do know many young people of all genders who are absolutely intolerant of this behavior and are actively combatting it, whether that means calling it out among their friends or standing up to harassers. (Standing up to harassers, of course, is not something that is always the right thing to do). 

But most importantly, what I have learned and what many of my younger feminist friends are continuing to teach me is that harassment is not the victim’s fault or responsibility. It sounds obvious, but many of us internalized the idea that being harassed was shameful. We didn’t ask for help on the subways or tell our parents about our creepy bosses. And part of that has to do with the ways we already over-monitor girls’ movement and freedom: if I had told my parents what happened on the trains or at my part-time job, I wouldn’t be allowed to take public transportation, my freedom of movement would have been curtailed, and I wouldn’t have been allowed to work anymore. I would have had to pay the price for someone else’s behavior. 

But again, I see younger folks rejecting this misplacement of guilt and it’s something that I would want young women who continue to experience harassment to know. We are not the ones who should be ashamed. The men who do this to us are the ones who should be ashamed.

Bonus round: What do you prefer?

Laundry, dishes, dusting, vacuuming?

I prefer living in filth, but I suppose finishing a load of laundry is sometimes rewarding.

Flying, sailing, walking, driving?

Walking.

Movies at home or movies in a theater?

I love the movies at the theater.

As my partner will tell you, I am incapable of watching a movie at home. We’ll watch 20 minutes before I want to pause it to talk about what we’ve seen or to run an errand or to return to some task on my to-do list. 

I think this happens even when I really like the movie. It’s possible I like to draw things out and make them last longer. I don’t know. I haven’t really examined this impulse and I don’t think I want to. Especially because once the theaters are open again, I plan to go to all the movies. I love the movies in the theater. 

Not only do I happily sit through the whole film, I also buy huge tubs of popcorn. This, I’ve found, is one of the best parts of being an adult. My family rarely went to the movies when I was a kid and if we did we popped our own popcorn and brought it from home. We were told that movie theater popcorn was too expensive. And it definitely is. But maybe that’s why it tastes so good? 

Peas, carrots, brussel sprouts, spinach?

I am not a vegetable person at all. Is it an Irish-American thing? Maybe. I come from a long line of not-great cooks. We boil our veggies until they are mushy and the color of chewed bubble gum and then maybe add a dash of salt. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it?

However. I will eat spinach if you put a ton of butter on it.

Watch baseball, football, soccer, tennis, ice skating or gymnastics?

Although I find basketball irresistible, I stopped watching it about ten years ago when I realized that John Starks wasn’t ever coming out of retirement. 

About Sara Hosey:

A native New Yorker, I have never lived in Manhattan or even Brooklyn. Instead, I’ve moved around quite a bit in Queens, living at times in Flushing, Long Island City, Jackson Heights, and Richmond Hill. Although I recently surrendered to Long Island, I think my family and I will someday return again to Queens. It’s my heart’s home.

I did leave New York a couple of times in my twenties, going to college in Washington D.C. and then to graduate school in Madison, Wisconsin, where I got my Ph.D. in American Literature. I struggled through some difficult times in Wisconsin, which is maybe why I sometimes remember those years so fondly; in many ways, my time in Wisconsin revealed to me who I was and who I wanted to be. My life also profoundly changed for the better when I met Jess, my partner, standing outside a Halloween party one late night in Madison.

I’ve been a professor at Nassau Community College in Garden City, New York for over a decade.  I teach English and for several years I ran the Women and Gender Studies program. It has been one of the great privileges of my life to work closely with my students at NCC, especially those in my WST classes and in the WSA, many of whom have inspired the work I’ve done in Iphigenia Murphy.

I have a second young adult novel in the works—title to be determined. This book looks at the human predisposition to cruelty and conformity as well as the strength and courage it can take to stand up against a crowd. I’ve also been working on a novella and I have several short stories that I can’t stop revising, although I do hope to have them out in the world soon.

Finally, my academic book, Home is Where the Hurt Is: Media Depictions of Wives and Mothers was published by McFarland Press in October 2019.

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