December 18, 2010
Are you sure that your stories aren’t based on yourself or on people you know?
They’re not. I really do make things up. I’m not doing that “write what you know” b.s. That’s what my diary’s for, so if you need to fall asleep fast, that’s the thing to read. (I’m not saying you should read my diary. It’s full of embarrassing, narcissistic crap. Boring, yes, but embarrassing too).
Come on. We’re all friends here. You can tell the truth. What about that poor girl in “Quality of Life”? You weren’t involved with some psycho rich guy like she was?
No, thank God, I wasn’t. If I were living the life Lyndsey lived in “Q of L,” I’d either be in an asylum by now or in prison for offing Mr. Fulger.
I heard that you’ve just finished a novel about a woman who marries three men. At the same time. What’s that about? Is she a nympho or something?
No, she’s a clinical psychologist, and one day she gets the idea that having three husbands would be the perfect recipe for domestic tranquility. She’s a nutcase, as you can probably tell. While I was writing the novel, I thought a lot about how women, more than just about anything else, are still expected to be cute, demure and virtuous, but at the same we’re expected to look like sex goddesses. If you start to look for them, there are so many outrageous contradictions in our society, for example, one minute we’re told that we should indulge ourselves and buy the double cheeseburger and large fries; the next, we’re told how shameful it is to be fat – buy these new diet pills and lose twenty pounds in three weeks! In this novel, Claire, the main character, is defying the unspoken rule, another contradiction, that women are supposed to be sexy but not want sex.
Okay, so she IS a nympho. I couldn’t help but notice that your characters’ sex lives are a big part of your stories. The stories in your collection, Portraits of a Few of the People I’ve Made Cry, are about people, mostly women, trying to figure themselves out in relation to the men they love. They also jump in the sack quite a bit.
That’s what a lot of us do, isn’t it? Claire isn’t a nympho. She’s just aware of her sexuality, and she knows that an important part of her identity is informed by whom she chooses to spend time alone with, naked or not. It’s the same for all of us, I’d have to say. The characters in Portraits are pretty vulnerable and hopeful and sometimes act foolishly. I think quite a few of us have offered ourselves to people we’re attracted to without asking many questions first. Self-respect doesn’t figure into romantic relationships in the way it often does in platonic ones. It’s fascinating to me why this is the case. Why are we willing to risk so much of ourselves – both our mental and physical well-being – in relationships with people who don’t treat us very well? In some cases, they’re also little more than strangers.
Aren’t you afraid that your parents and other people close to you will think you’re a perv for writing racy stuff?
You can’t be afraid of what people will say about your work, otherwise you’re going to have a very loud invisible audience in the room while you’re writing. And just like when you’re in the sack, you don’t want an audience. At least I don’t think you do. I don’t, in any case.
What has been the most exciting part about publishing your first book?
Finding that it exists separately from me in a way that I could sort of imagine but not experience until now. For example, someone, I don’t who, is selling multiple copies of it on eBay. Review copies that weren’t actually read by reviewers have also appeared on Amazon Marketplace. The book is out in the world living its life, like a grown-up child, and although Portraits grew out of nothing but some electrical impulses in my brain, it now exists as a means for some Web entrepreneurs to make a few extra bucks. Hey – more power to them. I’d do it too if I could.
Seriously, what’s the best thing about having a book out there in the big, messy world, instead of a lone story in a lit mag?
I think the book is a real looker, for one. The cover image, by photographer and artist Terri Bell, is just so lovely. And a few people have actually stopped following Lady Gaga’s Tweets for a couple of minutes to read it. Some of them even tell friends about it or give these friends a copy of Portraits. Time Out Chicago’s books editor, Jonathan Messinger, named it one of the seven “best unexpected books of 2010.” Sometimes I get letters from readers too, which is nice, because I’ve also sent letters to writers I admire. Some of the ones I’ve written to over the years are Jim Harrison, Steve Almond, Sharon Olds, Jonathan Franzen, Lorrie Moore, Michael Chabon, Carol Anshaw. Most of them wrote back.
What’s the worst thing about having a book out there?
Okay, I knew this question was coming. That pesky Web again: early on I looked at my Amazon sales rank so often that I worried the site would start blocking me because it thought I was trying to hack into it. When I peered abjectly at my book’s rank, it felt like I was checking the size of a pimple on my chin. If it looked pretty good, I’d say, “Okay, I’m going to be all right.” If it looked bad, I’d say, “Shit! I’m never going to stop eating generic Cheerios and live the glamorous life.” Needless to say, I worry a lot. Not just about my book, but Portraits ranks high on the list of recent worries. Of recent joys too though.
You eat generic Cheerios?
No. I was making a joke.
Good, because cereal companies have figures on file that designate how much non-cereal matter they can include in their products. Like rat droppings and whatnot. Cheap brands probably have more rat droppings than the more expensive brands.
That’s disgusting. Thanks so much for enlightening me.