In conjunction with the J.J.I.L.S. Gerty MacDowell awards ceremony in Stockholm, Sweden in December, 2007, the society's permanent secretary, Jesper Lagerkrantz interviewed prize winner, Anne Pigone. We reprint here excerpts from that interview.
What inspired you to write The Ugly?
It was a combination of things I had read and thought about. The first spark came from Jorge Borges´ accolade to Pierre Menard, Author of The Quixote. Menard wrote his Don Quixote 300 hundred years after Cervantes. The relationship between these two renderings - I wouldn't want to give it away, because Borges story is so delightfully funny as it unfolds - is not  the same as the relationship between The Dead and The Ugly, but it got me thinking. And then I read Douglas Hofstadter's Le Ton beau de Marot which is a wonderful book about translation in all it's aspects. Hofstadter gave me my wings. What more? I love the whole thing of mixes and remixes in modern music, the sampling and all that. But most importantly I would have to site - because of what he writes about "reproductions" and forgeries and the value of art - I would have to site William Gaddis' The Recognitions. It is a shame how the Americans have neglected one of their greatest authors.
Do you consider yourself an "immaculate plagiarist" like Wyatt in "The Recognitions"?
 Ha ha. You've read him. Good. But why not? I believe that invention is primarily a social act. That goes for geniuses like Mr Joyce as well, as brilliant as he was. Plagiarism, as I see it, is misrepresenting oneself as the creator of something one hadn't created, consciously taking something and then trying to cover up the theft. I am certainly not trying to hide where The Ugly comes from... I'm mean that is the whole point of what I did.
But you told the jury that you would prefer for people to read The Ugly without knowing before hand its relationship to The Dead?
Yes. Definitely. Hopefully there will always be versions of my story available that do not point out the relationship in advance. For me the ideal read would be to encounter one of those versions and discover while reading that there is something familiar here.  As the reader progresses through the story more and more details would point to The Dead and eventually it would dawn on her what was going on. Providing she was familiar with The Dead of course. 
An epiphany?
Ha ha, but yes, if a minor one. Have you seen the film, The Crying Game? There is an epiphany in there. Perhaps in the annals of cinematic events it is a minor one, but for those who has seen that film - well you can divide them up into two groups; those that knew in advance and those who didn't. I was lucky enough to belong to the latter group.
Are you saying then that The Ugly doesn't really stand on its own?
Yes, er - no... I suppose it works just fine as a story as it is. Or at least, I hope it does - who am I to say? [laughs] But I think if there is real value, it lies in the relationship. The pull between the two stories. The shift in context. The opposition. That said, I know of several people who, though they were familiar with The Dead, read The Ugly and never saw the light - never got the hints.  That's surprising, but I can't imagine being more explicitly obvious than I have been...
What sort of rules did you make up for yourself in writing The Ugly? You spoke of translation and Hofstadter's book. To what extent do you see your work as a translation?
I would rather like to call it a transposition. Each character of The Dead is transposed into one or more characters in The Ugly. And the various topics covered in The Dead all have corresponding counterparts in my story. I set up the two texts in parallel blocks and matched them paragraph for paragraph and if someone said something in The Dead then someone would say something in The Ugly.  Originally I was aiming towards using the same number of words as Joyce, but that became less important as I progressed. At first I was careful to always use my own wording - not just because English has changed a great deal in a hundred years, but because I felt it should be part of the game I was playing - but when revising my first drafts I found it just as challenging to use Joyce's words, either unaltered, or mashed up in some manner. Since my characters, who are far from being. carbon copies of Joyce's to start with, are actually holding completely different conversations, it was fun to let them do it with Joyce's words.
Like when Joyce writes that Browne was a tall wizen-faced man, with a stiff grizzled moustache and swarthy skin and your Jack Diamond is a short stiff-faced man with grizzly skin and a swarthy mustache...
Yeah - it's good fun.
You do a lot of gender switches?
You know I could have saved myself a lot of trouble and just done that and nothing more - just changed Gabriel into Gabriella and Gretta into Garett - everything comes out different. You can switch gender with characters in almost anything ever written and get an entirely new story out of it with gobs of twists and turns to think about. Enlightening. And sometimes the story gets weird and you think well, a man would never do that and a woman would never say that and so on ... and that tells us something as well. Why wouldn't they?
 In your story there is a meta reference to The Dead. Someone at the wedding reception says it is the finest short story in the English language. Is that what you think?
God no! There is no such thing. It is a great story, of course, but as the man says context, context, context ... and there is some weird stuff in it. I could never reconcile myself with Gabriel saying it was time to go westward - what is that all about? How would the hotel room scene change his attitude that completely? And the disdain he shows for his aunts in eventually calling them "two ignorant old women" - I don't think that matches up well with his character as it is built up through most of the story. But, as my Eliot says, - The Dead has great diddling and a great climax. And I will never tire of it - there are not many people on this planet who have poured over that text like I have. 
This was a learning experience for you? You learnt from Joyce as you wrote?
You're not kidding. Most of the time I would write with The Dead right there in front of me. If there was any doubt about what to do in my story I would let Joyce decide, even if that was awkward. Once I had the skeleton of The Ugly in place I purposefully put The Dead aside and just tried to develop my own story. And you know what happened? It bloated like crazy. All over the map. It is so much easier to bloat than to distill and exclude. After a month or so of bloat I gave up and took up the original again and got out the scissors. Without Joyce reining me back in, my story would have been twice as long.  Constraints are wonderful. And so necessary to all art.
What about your theme - the dichotomy between ugliness and beauty?
The dichotomy? Whoa. That sounds pretty heavy. Do I have to get into that? Have you considered that I might just be having fun?
Perhaps, but we gave you the award because we sensed there was something more there than just having fun.
Then I guess I owe you a dichotomy. [laughs] Well, to start with I wanted a theme that was "lesser" than Joyce's - ugliness weighs lighter than death - but I put ugliness into my story explicitly, while Joyce is more implicit with his references. Without the know, some people think Two Sisters would have been a more appropriate name for his story. You're not going to ask for your money back if I'm self-critical are you? Good, because I do have some regrets that I would like to get off my chest. In The Ugly a great deal is on a grander scale than in The Dead. The Karmons have a lot more wealth then the Morkans, Jan Mayer is almost a celebrity which is more than we can say for Mary Jane, and Gabriella trumps Gabriel with all her splendor. In some ways I regret that. Because I think it is a cheap trick. Every writer knows that you can pump up your tale by injecting fame, wealth, soap opera drama and so on. So at the time I succumbed to that, despite working with Joyce, the master craftsman, who disdained it. And you know, I'm sorry about the snow, cause what I really wanted was for it to rain. I wanted it to rain in The Ugly every time it snowed in The Dead, because in seemed to me that rain was a more appropriate match for my ambitions, but when I had those black basketball players on the poster - well I just couldn't get them out of the snow.  So it snows in The Ugly. I live in Boulder you know, so it was pretty natural for me when I put the story in this setting.
Gabriel versus Gabriella?
Gabriel is agonized by the dead, or at least one dead person, Michael Furey, as he is recollected by his wife - a romantic figure. Gabriella is agonized by someone who was, in her husband's rendering of his encounter with her not very attractive. Both Gabriel and Gabriella are challenged by these apparitions.  The build up in both stories make reference to the realms where they exist - the realm of the ugly and the realm of the dead. Both protagonists feel their own insufficiency in relation to these apparitions and are jealous of them. Both question their own worth, their self-esteem takes a hit. But while in Gabriel's case the comparison with Michael Furey is made from within a value system of romantic attributes, in Gabriella's case the threat is not that she is not the most beautiful, or the most successful - because she is, but because the value system with which she might rightfully appraise herself as a winner is put into question by her husband as superficial and meaningless. 
That's when she slams it to him in the balls...
Yeah, and that's when I slam JJ in the balls as well. I had to break loose. I had been slaving too long. Of course I can't blame him for me deciding to rewrite his story a hundred years on, but we are not always fair with our aggravations. 
Would Joyce have appreciated what you have done?
Oh God, what a question! He liked puzzles and word games and he travestied a great deal himself, but he never suffered fools gladly [laughs] - that's for sure. Anyhow, he was a pretty superstitious chap and if he was to find out that we both shared the same birthday - which we do - well, I think that might have influenced him in my favor.[laughs]
Lastly, what will you do with your prize money?
I still haven't gotten over the shock. I guess I will pay off some bills and then take the family on a trip somewhere. But first we will have a great big shindig in Boulder. At the Boulderado, of course.
    the boulderado