My first name is French: Mylène: mee-lenn. My friends, readers and students call me em. My background is Dutch, Indonesian, German, Jewish, French, Portuguese, and–finally–American.
I was born in Holland. Before I was big enough to let go of my toes, my parents decided: We’ll speak only English to her. They dreamed of moving to the West Coast of the United States; they wanted me to be fluent in the language that would be my new home.
I still remember my father sitting at our California kitchen table, marveling at certain words.
“Wednesday,” he would pronounce, amazed. “Just listen to that.”
When I grew up to be a writer, he would call me every Wednesday, just to see how my work was going.
I think of writing as a kind of haunting. Memories of my late father crept into my early stories. In the photo above, I’m looking at a picture (on my left) of a poor boy wearing a big suit cut down to fit him. That boy used to hide under a table, and write secretly on the underside of the wood. I saved my father’s story for years, as well as my fascination with coleoptera, until I wrote The Deadwood Beetle.
To my right is a picture of my great-grandmother. She is costumed as a dancing butterfly. My mother, my grandmother, and my great-grandmother were all ballet dancers. My first obsession, it turned out, would be not language, but dance.
I started lessons at age seven, and turned professional when I was sixteen. I traveled all over the world with magnificent companies, performing legendary ballets, all while soaking in much that I would need to become a writer: a sense of rhythm, pacing, movement, and detail; a sturdy discipline; a willingness to do a thing over and over and over again.
When I retired from dancing I went to college and earned a PhD in English, knowing that the only thing I cared about as much as dancing was words.
I wrote The Medusa Tree soon after my graduation. It’s haunted by memories from my dancing years, and stories from the lives of my mother and all the incredible, far-journeying women in my mixed-race family.
Another book, The Floodmakers, is about place and family, and about the mystery that parents can be to their children, and children to their parents, no matter how much love we bring to the table.
My speculative novella, The Wedding of Anna F., narrated by a woman who believes she is Anne Frank, is about having no family, and no memories of your own, at all. It is also a book about peace, and about trying to hear the stories of places and people we might not, at first, be inclined to listen to.
I write short stories and essays, too. I share a true story about love and solitude in “Live Toy, Dead Toy”; count birds in a nature preserve in “The Compiler”; go surfing in “End Over End”; explore rock, marriage, and eternity in “Double Infinity”; and tell a tale about mothers, daughters and disappearances in “Dead Horse Point.”
Life circles and returns like a butterfly. My work has been translated for readers in Holland (and in France and Turkey, too), and can be found in libraries around the world. My words have taken me as far as dancing ever did, with fellowships and teaching positions carrying me to islands and highlands, to cabins and cottages, and to university and college halls in the U.S. and abroad. I’m delighted to be teaching fiction and creative nonfiction at a lovely college in North Carolina, and also love spending time in the high desert, among canyons I first glimpsed long ago on family driving vacations, my father at the wheel.
We were so eager to learn about this new place where we found ourselves.
Life bends and wends, my mother taught me. Don’t stiffen. Breathe.
Thanks for visiting my website.
About The Deadwood Beetle:
“A compelling read from start to finish”
— The Bloomsbury Review
“Mysterious, minutely observed”
— The San Francisco Chronicle
“Elegant and ambitious . . . a big achievement”
— The Austin American Statesman
About The Floodmakers:
“One great book” — Woman’s Day
“Casual brilliance . . . a gem of a book”
— Texas Monthly
“Highly recommended” — Library Journal
“This book is worth the price of admission”
— The Miami Herald
“Dressler echo[es] Truman Capote in her gin-and-tonic humor and quirky charm . . . and hilariously poisonous dialogue” — Booklist
About The Medusa Tree:
“A quiet pleasure to read, a solid achievement”
— The Houston Chronicle
“A vibrant story, lyrically told” — Library Journal
copyright 2016 Mylène Dressler