You wrote a novel about a suicidal artist, Clementine Pritchard, who has 30 days left to live. Are you on meds?
I did take a little something for sinus drainage this morning.
In all seriousness, mental illness of one stripe or another runs in my family. Having experienced close relationships with people who are struggling, I was interested in writing about the effect of the illness not only on the patient but on those who surround her. The domino effect is what was really fascinating.
Each chapter counts down a day for Clementine. That’s an unusual way to structure a novel. What made you decide to do that?
It is unusual and in some ways was quite challenging, but I wanted the reader to experience, as viscerally as possible, the slipping away of time and how it seems to speed up toward the end. Having each chapter not be a number but instead “30 days, 29 days, 28 days, etc.” really propels you forward. It’s also interesting to watch what’s important to Clementine change as the numbers get smaller and smaller.
The book is really funny. Was it difficult to be humorous in those circumstances?
Not really. I have a pretty dark sense of humor. (You’d never guess it with this angelic face, right?) I think some of the most tragic things spawn some of the funniest moments. As humans we try so hard, and as often as not, it goes terribly wrong. Without laughter, it would be unbearable. Showing that is just honest, and emotional honesty should be the number one goal of every book.
Being a novelist instead of a visual artist, how were you about to write about the inner workings of that world?
For the practical things, I turned to my husband, who’s an artist. So if Clementine mixes her paints wrong, be sure to address the complaint to him. For the emotional side, that was entirely drawn from my experience as a writer. I think the creative compulsion transcends medium.
Tell me about Chuckles. What was your inspiration?
Chuckles is Clementine’s cat, an opinionated Persian with an inflated sense of self. He is the feline version of Clementine in many ways. Readers are often more concerned with what happens to him than to the people in the book. (He comes out fine, by the way.) I often write animals into my work. I think it’s because I have allergies. This is the contact I’m allowed.
So if you had 30 days left to live, what would you do?
Worry a lot less and write a lot faster.