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Candi Deschamps, 2001 State Prose Champion,
IMPAC-CSU Young Writers Program

2001 Newsmakers

Candi Deschamps, 2001 State Prose Champion, IMPAC-CSU Young Writers Program,
featured with public figures including: Fullbright Scholar and former Russian "political prisoner" Jack Tobin, Stamford lawyer Brendon Leydon, who opened up the Greenwich beaches to the
public; golf pro Heather Daly-Donofrio, Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim and infectious disease researcher Abbey Meyers.

From the introduction to the magazine piece by Rand Richards Cooper:

It will go down as the year the stock market jackknifed, puncturing the bubble the nation had lived in for half a decade; as the year George Bush the Younger took office, after a bitterly contested election in which the basic structures of government seemed to shake. But above all, the news of 2001 was the horrific destruction of September 11 - news so colossal, it dwarfed all else.  For a while, life itself seemed to stop. The World Trade Center attack worked like a nightmare, surreally altering the very architecture of our minds: If the unthinkable could happen, what else couldn't? Diabolically, the terrorists attacked not just systems, but symbols, undermining our charmed, American sense of well-being. "It's OK to laugh," Rudy Giuliani exhorted us on national TV two weeks after the attacks. But how? The circumstances seemed to demand a deepening of character: to cry, think, worry and laugh; to be more fully human than we knew how to be just a month earlier. 
Catastrophe, when it doesn't obliterate, can bring our ultimate values into focus, returning our attention to important news well beneath the sensational headlines.  We at Fairfield County Magazine have chosen our year's-end selection of the fleetingly famous, the not-quite-yet famous,
and the potentially-infamous for the impact and influence they have on our towns: people in the arts, in sports and public life, whose dedication, passion, and flair reveal a community illuminated, as W.H. Auden wrote at the brink of World War II,  by "an affirming flame." Life didn't stop in
Fairfield County; and in the long run we may remember 2001 as a year when counting our riches turned to counting our blessings. 
-- Rand Richards Cooper

Last spring, Candi Deschamps of Danbury was named Statewide Prose Champion in the IMPAC-CSU Young Writers Competition, chosen from hundreds of high school students who submitted works. Her winning entry (the award carried a $2000 prize) was a wildly inventive story, set in Manhattan, entitled "Tragedy of a David Cassidy Clone." A Danbury High School senior at the time, Deschamps is now a first-year student at Smith College, where she's studying language acquisition in preschool children. Engagingly quirky - she gets a lot of her ideas while in the shower, she says ("I don't know why, maybe it's the voices in the water, speaking to you") - she's enthusiastic about writing, but wry about her own accomplishments to date. "No offense," she told me at the outset of our talk, "but if you're choosing me to write about, I hope your magazine's doing all right!"

So -- what does it feel like to be anointed the best young writer in Connecticut?

It's surreal. Partly because there was a whole drama surrounding the story I wrote. Danbury High School has a literary magazine, and the story was rejected -- for its homosexual content. There's really just a few lines in it, about the main character, Thaddeus, "shacking up" with another guy, but that was enough. It was strange to see this happening in a high school, just like in the larger world of writers and publishers. There was actually a lot of tension, with teachers on both sides.  I was disappointed that I didn't get a lot of peer support. A lot of kids kept saying, "It's a little
thing, why don't you just change it?" But I wouldn't. I didn't change it, and it wasn't published. So going from that to winning the IMPAC award was really the greatest day of my life. Not just because the story won, but because writing it and then all that happened with it made me stand up for something. It made me think, Maybe I really am a writer.

Your story tells about a boy named Thaddeus, cloned from David Cassidy genetic material by "a brilliant scientist and incurable Partridge Family fan," who at age eighteen accidentally breaks a dinosaur fossil at the Museum of Natural History in New York and is sentenced to be an indentured servant, cleaning the museum for the rest of his life, to pay for it. What drew you to this kind of low-key realism?
Well, I'd been watching "The E! True Hollywood Story: The Partridge Family" on TV.  And there was David Cassidy, in one of his Elvis outfits -- you know, a bejeweled white bodysuit thing -- and I thought, How do you ever come to terms with being David Cassidy? Psychology class was also an influence. I was thinking about nature vs. nurture, and one day the thought came over me, We really are our genes. A lot of ideas collided, and the story came to me very quickly. I wrote it in three hours. I'm not sure I knew entirely what it was about. But there's a point where you just let the words speak for themselves. It's fun then to see what other people make of it.

Why David Cassidy? Is there something particularly tragic about him? Why not a Mick Jagger clone or Bill Clinton clone?

No, no! Maybe it could be Donny Osmond, maybe But there was something tragic about David Cassidy. When he was a star, women would cram into his trailer, herds of women trampling him, and he always looked like he was about to cry. But now I really want to apologize to him. I hope the story wouldn't hurt his feelings if he ever read it.

"Ever since I was a little girl," your narrator says, "I imagined Hell was a little like the Museum of Natural History after closing time."  Were you consciously playing with The Catcher in the Rye when you wrote that - with Holden Caulfield, who was happy in the Museum of Natural History, who says, "I loved that damn museum"?

Actually, I was thinking about Milton and Paradise Lost. To be stuck in the Museum, that seemed hellish in a Miltonic kind of way. So I thought about putting Milton into the story, but that seemed way too pretentious. I wasn't conscious of the Holden Caulfield thing, but I'm glad it was there.
I love The Catcher in the Rye.

Your story has some lines that really stopped me. Toward the end, the David Cassidy clone is eating M&M's and smoking Marlboros, and your narrator says, "I watched the way his vices brought him in touch with his humanity." What do you mean?

Chocolate and nicotine - we shouldn't do it, and we know we shouldn't, but we love it so much. It's human to have flaws.

About being a writer. Teenagers are highly social beings. Why coop yourself up at the keyboard when the real world is waiting outside your window?

You know, I think I don't understand the real world until I'm at the keyboard. This sometimes feels like a handicap. I can't understand things until I represent them - in a story, in my journal. It's not like I'm that disciplined, but I spend a lot of time at it. I don't know, maybe I'll be an English professor some day. Or maybe I'll be writing and eating macaroni and cheese. I'd like to write for writing's sake. When you do something in life, you do it and it's just gone. It vanishes. But when you make something, it continues to exist. And not just for you. That's important. It blows my mind that you can write something, and it turns out to be accessible to other people.

OK. You've got a one-day pass to visit the mind of any writer who ever lived. Who is it?

(laughs) Oooohh, I'd be afraid I wouldn't come back! I'd be in Sylvia Plath's mind, and I'd be trapped! But seriously, I think it would be Amy Bender. I'm soooo in love with her! She's the author of The Girl in the Flammable Skirt. When I first read those stories, I was in awe. I'd read
them and say, I didn't know you could do that in fiction. She wrote one story where a girl's boyfriend just starts evolving - backwards - until he's a one-celled organism and she lets him go in the ocean. I loved that. That mix of the ridiculous and the real feelings that might be associated
with it.

Which is very much the essence of Confessions of a David Cassidy Clone. So what's the title of your next story? What are you working on now?

I've been writing about my childhood in Miami Beach, where I spent a number of years. So far I'm calling it "Miami Semi-Memoir," to allude to the half-truths that are buried in every memoir.

If the Museum of Natural History is Hell according to Candi Deschamps, what is Miami Beach?

(laughs) It's the city of Sodom and Gomorrah.

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