Ditchoff, Pamela (Jane) 1950-

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DITCHOFF, Pamela (Jane) 1950-

PERSONAL: Born September 21, 1950, in East Lansing, MI; daughter of Ronald Ernest and Beatrice Watson (Porter) Reed; married Paul Alexander Ditchoff, March 28, 1983; children: Dean Reed, Joshua Judson, Deborah Kristine. Education: Lansing Community College, A.A. (magna cum laude), 1979; Michigan State University, B.A. (with honors), 1982, M.A. (with honors), 1985.

ADDRESSES: Agent—Jane Dystel, Jane Dystel Literary Agency, Inc., 1 Union Sq. W., New York, NY 10003. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: WFSL-TV, Lansing, MI, copywriter and creative consultant, 1982-84; Quality Dairy, Lansing, MI, advertising agent, 1984-85; Haslett Public Schools, Haslett, MI, instructor in Quest Program for Gifted Children for elementary and middle school students, 1985-89; freelance writer. ASAP Copywriting, owner and sole operator, 1985-87; Lansing Community College, instructor in communication and business, 1986-87; instructor for "Creative Writers in Schools Program" of Michigan, 1989-93; Towar Community Center, volunteer instructor in poetry writing for teenage mothers, 1990-91. Also worked as producer and director, including work on Artpeace, c. 1984.

AWARDS, HONORS: Fellowship from Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, 1981; Michigan Addy Certificate of Merit, American Advertising Federation, 1984, for a promotional television campaign, "Come Together in the Heart of Michigan"; Michigan Addy Award for Excellence, 1984, for Artpeace; scholar, Southampton Writer's Conference, Long Island University, 1987; named winner of Amelia magazine's Bernice Jennings Traditional Poetry Competition, 1988, for "Solution Sestina"; finalist in Eve of St. Agnes Poetry Competition, 1989, for "Negative Capability"; first honorable mention in National Writer's Union Poetry Competition, 1990; Chicago Review Award in Fiction, 1991, for "Prodigies"; John Ciardi scholar, Bread Loaf Writer's Conference, 1991; Walter Dakin fellow, Sewanee Writer's Conference, 1998.

WRITINGS:

Poetry: One, Two, Three (textbook), Interact Press (El Cajon, CA), 1989.

Lexigram Learns America's Capitals (textbook), Interact Press (El Cajon, CA), 1994.

The Mirror of Monsters and Prodigies (novel), Coffee House Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1995.

Mrs. Beast: A Novel, Bridge Works Publishing (Bridgehampton, NY), 1998.

Seven Days & Seven Sins (fiction), Shaye Areheart Books, (New York, NY), 2003.

Contributor of short stories and poetry to anthologies, including Vital Signs: Contemporary Fiction about Medicine, edited by John Mukand, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1990; Whose Woods These Are, edited by David Bain, Ecco Press, 1993; and Home for the Holidays, Papier-Mache Press, 1997. Contributor of poetry to periodicals, including River City, Ego, Amelia, Chicago Review, Thema, South Florida Poetry Review, West, and Yet Another Small Magazine.

WORK IN PROGRESS: Two novels.

SIDELIGHTS: Pamela Ditchoff's volume The Mirror of Monsters and Prodigies explores the world of the bizarre, specifically the disfigured and otherwise unusual people who for hundreds of years have been not only the object of stares and wonder, but also the entertainment of kings and stars of carnival sideshows. From a set of Siamese twins born in England around 1100 and a museum curator born with a furry tail, to Jo-Jo the Russian Dog-Faced Boy, Ditchoff presents dozens of subjects, each with fascinating and unique features. Although these characters actually existed, Ditchoff has created their voices, developing for each an oral history.

The Mirror of Monsters and Prodigies is an elaboration on Ditchoff's short story "Prodigies," which won a Chicago Review award for fiction. While doing research for that story, Ditchoff discovered many references to interesting subjects—people who had been written of because of their physical anomalies—that she was compelled to produce a novel in their honor. But, a deeper, more personal reason also motivated the author to tell of living with an unusual condition; as a child, Ditchoff had a birthmark on her face. The mark has been removed, but the memory of it aids Ditchoff in expressing empathy for others living with unusual physical traits.

Ditchoff, an instructor in creative writing and poetry, has been praised for her novel by critics, among them Melissa Rossi, who wrote in the Seattle weekly newspaper Eastsideweek: "This rich and honeyed prose makes this book pop out 3-D in a world of flat, lifeless writing. That her focus is a tour of the oddities of history, that one gains insight into the world of socalled freaks, is merely an added bonus on this voyage of the strange." Booklist contributor Kathleen Hughes offered high praise for The Mirror of Monsters and Prodigies, declaring, "this engrossing novel is a truly stunning debut work."

Ditchoff once told CA: "My primary motivation for writing: I'm miserable if I don't write. I think it's genetic. My paternal grandfather was a newspaper reporter who wrote poetry and fiction for his own enjoyment. I began writing stories and poems when I was around ten years old. As primary is passion; if I don't feel passionately about the subjects and characters, readers won't either."

Ditchoff noted that she is most influenced by "Djuna Barnes, Carson McCullers, Angela Carter, Lewis Nordan, and Harry Crews because their characters are fierce, tender, and three-dimensional." "My love of literature and curiosity for the worlds to be explored between paper pages began with Pearl Buck; I was twelve years old when I read The Good Earth."

"I'm interested in appearances—why and how cultures formulate standards, and how those standards affect individuals. I find great enjoyment in trying to place myself, through extensive research, in history, study the ideas, customs, skills, and art of a particular period, then listen to what my characters have to say. The characters in The Mirror of Monsters and Prodigies belong to a culture that appears to be vanishing; a culture whose achievements and contributions have been obscured by myth, legend, and fear. This seems to be due, in part, to a veil of silence drawn over people with abnormalities, who either by choice or by alienation, spoke in whispers. Consequently, they have often been stereotyped in literature as token 'gothics' or as comic figures. I found the history of prodigies to be rich with individuals who distinguished themselves enough to be recorded, who lived at the courts of kings and queens, who acted as spies and couriers, guards and porters, humanitarians, artists, and entertainers.

"Another factor in the disappearance of this culture is that it's become possible to treat or eliminate through medical procedures many conditions that would have been characterized as abnormal: plastic surgery, surgery to separate conjoined and parasitic twins, hormone therapy for hirsutism and select types of growth disorder, and amniocentesis. I expect people will ask if I have an abnormality, and if not, what would I know about being different. In a perfect world, this wouldn't matter; our society has become obsessed with appearances, and advertisers cling to our insecurities like shit on a shovel. I will say that this is a work of fiction drawn from historical record, a record I found fascinating, admirable, and worthy of creative exploration.

"However, having said this, I'll also say that when I was very young, the county fair still included a sideshow. I vividly recall one summer when four performers stood outside as draws: a fat lady, a thin man, a tattooed man, and the Alligator Woman. I got as close as I could. The thin man winked at me, lifted me up onto the platform, and drove a spike into his nose. The tattooed man rippled his muscles. The Alligator Woman offered me her arm and said her skin felt very smooth. It did, like satin. I thought they were marvelous because they didn't look like everyone else. I didn't either; I had a large birthmark on my face. It has never occurred to me that they were kind because of my birthmark; these particular performers were simply kind people. I have one tattoo."

More recently, Ditchoff commented: "The greatest inspiration for the subjects I have chosen [to write about] is a desire to peel back the layers of what may seem strange on the outside and is exquisite on the inside." Ditchoff published a second novel in 2003, Seven Days & Seven Sins, which also chronicles the lives of very unique characters, who are each disfigured in a different way. It is described as a modern Our Town by the publisher.

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, September 15, 1995, Kathleen Hughes, review of The Mirror of Monsters and Prodigies.

Eastsideweek (Seattle), October 4, 1995, Melissa Rossi, review of The Mirror of Monsters and Prodigies.

Lansing State Journal, February 8, 1996.

New York Times Book Review, March 10, 1996, David Guy, review of The Mirror of Monsters and Prodigies, p. 17.

Publishers Weekly, July 10, 1995, review of The Mirror of Monsters and Prodigies, p. 53.

Town Courier (Mason, MI), October 28, 1995.