Between the Lines: Swarm Theory

Oct 7, 2016

Christine Maul Rice
Credit Lillie Rice

Christine Maul Rice doesn’t avoid the tough subjects in her novel, Swarm Theory (University of Hell Press, 2016). Set in a small city in Michigan that's modeled after her own hometown, Flint. Rice’s characters cope with teenage angst, failed marriages, HIV, suicide, rape, and more. It is a "swarm" of activity involving a swarm of vivid characters.

Rice favors the "novel-in-stories" format. Inspired by Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine, Rice wrote the stories individually, revisiting the characters in later stories, and finally connected them with an overarching theme of life’s contradictions and what people do to each other when they're together.

“It’s a format that chose me,” Rice says. “I’ve been seeing a lot more novels-in-stories lately, but my first experience was with Erdrich’s book. I loved that book so much, for her bravery and experimentation, and the risks she took in that book. I really like that now a novel can be seen in different ways. It’s no longer such a rigid form.”

Credit University of Hell Press

Rice takes on dark themes like rape and other violence against women. But she’s found that doesn’t always an advantage in selling her books to publishers.

“These are themes that have not been written about very often,” Rice says. “There’s this great canyon of experience in women’s lives that hasn’t even been touched. I’m thinking about Bonnie Jo Campbell’s books. I’m thinking about Desiree Cooper’s book. It’s a topic that publishers have shied away from. Up until the last five or ten years, we didn’t really have the words to describe these actions. Even legal systems didn’t acknowledge them, and often women themselves were blamed.”

Rice persisted, however, and says these are themes she refuses to sugarcoat. “Enough is enough. Let’s start talking about these issues and educating people so these things aren’t pushed into corners.”

Christine Rice is the managing editor of Hypertext Magazine and the director of Hypertext Studio Writing Center. She is an adjunct professor in the Department of Creative Writing at Columbia College in Chicago. Rice won the Ragdale Rubin Fellowship in 2015.

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