After being introduced to Theo, a seven-foot tall wooden, dancing, and rampant pig that guards the hallway, I sat down with Tupelo Hassman in the living room of her Oakland apartment, but as I turned on the tape recorder, she jumped up.
Oh shit! Are we really going to do this?
She ran off and returned a moment later having changed clothes, the clearance tag still hanging from her slacks. The Curious George pajama pants she’d met me in were quite cozy but she mumbled about “working at home” and “ink stains,” and I noticed that the sweater she’d put on over her tank top hid almost all of the large chest tattoo that was visible before.
I can’t decide how much to give a shit.
My appearance, as an author. As a person who does authoring outside of her mind and home. Shit. I’ve said “shit” twice already, wait, three times! Four! I’ve said “shit” now five times!
I’m a little bit nervous.
Don’t worry about the cursing, I’ll edit it out.
We talked about the years spent writing her debut novel, girlchild, coming out in February from Farrar, Straus and Giroux (perhaps a decade), about being too young to be a Cougar but not too young to qualify as a Puma as she prepares to marry a much younger man (which she will do in July), and about associating with “The Fancy People of the East” (publishing types), and the feeling this carries with it of being perpetually underdressed.
And having fat arms. Fancy People of the East do not have fat arms. Wait!
I don’t want to call attention to my arms. Can you leave that out?
Don’t worry about fat arms. I’ll edit them out. But, aren’t you planning on filming the book tour? Aren’t you bringing those arms with you?
It’s true, and I just bought the camera. My fat arms will be all over the documentary I’m going to make, Hardbound: A Novel’s Life on the Road. My fat arms will have to sign a release. Two releases. They might be the only ones that show up.
That’s why I thought it was worth doing, to see who shows up for a book out in the world. It’s the most ambitious idea I’ve ever had. It’s on the fence of crazy.
And it turns out that Hardbound is also the name of a pornographic film. But I’m told that’s good luck.
Speaking of good luck, what was it like to be called Boston Globe’s Breakout Writer of 2012?
For someone who feels like Katy Perry before she found Proactive, it was the best association I’ve ever had with a breakout.
Tell me about Rory Dawn, girlchild’s protagonist. You grew up poor, your mother died when you were 15. You and Rory have a lot in common.
It’s the first-novel trap, right? Rory Dawn and I started out much the same, our grandmas are an awful lot alike, for example, but as Rory grew, she and I grew distinct. The Rory Dawn of now has her own experiences. She’s much cooler and tougher than I am. She’s a bad ass.
Damn. Can I say “bad ass?”
Don’t worry, I’ll edit it out. Is it safe to say, though, that there is a lot of you in Rory Dawn?
If there is can I be sued for it? The reverse of A Million Little Pieces? Shocking headline: Tupelo Hassman — ONE BIG PIECE.
I won’t make a “shit” joke here.
Let’s move on. Your tattoo, it’s from girlchild’s epigraph, right? Can I see it?
Tupelo pulls down the cowl of her sweater. “On my honor, I will try” rolls in cursive across her chest, stretching almost from shoulder to shoulder.
It’s the first line of the Girl Scout Promise.
Because Rory Dawn is kind of a Girl Scout, I get it. A tattoo is a big commitment.
Writing a book is a big commitment. Everything is a big commitment. There are no decisions in life we get to take back. It’s all permanent, even if it isn’t all visual. Or… nothing is permanent, right? I don’t think we can have it both ways. It can’t be that some things we choose to do, be, or say, go down on our permanent record and some don’t. As much as I wonder at the idea of marriage, I’m positive divorce is a myth of paper.
Or maybe tattoos are a cultural thing. I come from a long line of pirates. And people with permanent records.
Isn’t Rory Dawn’s father rumored to be a pirate?
You read the book! You’re right. Please don’t include that bit about my coming from pirates.
I’ll edit that out. In interviews, at least, not everything is permanent.
You dedicate girlchild to your cousin—
My cousins. The ones who still live in that world that’s like Rory’s Calle. We only have the one name for each other, “Cuz.”
So, you’re essentially writing about their lives.
No. Am I? I wouldn’t say that. That’s the hardest part.
That they live there and I live here, passing. Not knowing whether I’ve sold out. If I wrote girlchild on the back of my mother and if she’d be okay with it all. Wondering whether I’ve invited tourists in, to flash their cameras, send postcards, and then head back to their lives and the casual expectation of juice in the mornings, casual talk of braces.
What did you want people to do?
Theo the Pig pirouettes in silence that follows. There’s no cursing or request to omit this part of the interview. Tupelo wants to be seen as clean-mouthed and armless, not descendent of pirates and certainly not the same person as Rory Dawn, and here she’s herself at last: a tattooed Puma sitting on the fence of crazy with the clearance tag still hanging from her new trousers, confused and hopeful.
I turn off the recorder and close my notebook.
You didn’t ask about Eugenics. It’s a big part of the book. For Rory.