You struck the supposedly galvanizing “Wonder Woman Pose” for at least the requisite two minutes. You’re writing with your favorite fountain pen. Also, you’re making up the questions, here. What’s with the racing heart?
I’m so much more comfortable with writing fiction than writing about my fiction.
Maybe you’ll calm down a bit if you focus on how you came to write this story of addiction and female friendships and lovers and betrayal and the human negotiations that endlessly fascinate you.
I’d written before about intense female relationships. I knew I’d be driven to dive into the topic’s sublime pools and scary quicksand again, and, eventually, that particular obsession attached itself to the germ of a story that had haunted me for years.
When I was young—maybe twenty?—a much older woman I knew only a little took me into her confidence and told me how a dear friend from out of her very distant past recently had contacted her and asked her to perform an appalling favor. That story stuck with me. Every now and then, over the years, I’d think of its basic outlines—the old friend, the favor—and I’d cast it with different characters, imagining the relative power of the friends, trying out various histories for the relationship and different responses to the request for the favor. I never wrote down any of those thoughts, though. Then, a couple of years ago, as I walked by my bedroom dresser, I scribbled a couple of lines on the bottom half of an old paint store bill (a crinkly green sheet of paper that did not take ink well, as I recall). I do that sort of scribbling all of the time, most of it never developing into anything, but, in this case, I found myself going back to what I’d written on the green sheet of paper, occasionally adding a question or another sentence or just re-reading what I’d already written. I’d stuck the scribbled-on bill in the dresser drawer, and it was like this glowing thing in there, kind of holy to me and also kind of radioactive. I didn’t quite want to write the story. I suppose that I understood that it would stir up memories of my own more dramatic female friendships. Also, I was working on a novel at the time. Then there came a day when I wanted to jot down another thought and I couldn’t find the bill. I tore up the dresser. No luck. I felt very upset at the loss, and so I sat down and started writing the story.
Originally, this was a short story. What made you turn it into a novel?
It was a long short story (almost forty pages when the good editors at Cutthroat ran it). Even so, as I’d worked on the story, I kept forcing myself to chop out things (the main character’s husband fascinated me, for instance, but I didn’t quite know how to accommodate him in my story of a female friendship). Well, eventually, I wound up showing the published short story to Nancy Miller of Bloomsbury Books, and she confirmed what I suspected, and I let the short story grow into a novel.
How did it change?
The novel allowed me to show in much greater detail—while creating more suspense—how the choices the characters made in their early lives played out over time (the narrator, forty-one year-old Charlotte, betrayed her friend, Esmé, back when the two were graduate students at the Iowa Writers Workshop, and that betrayal led to secrets and lies that have had far-reaching consequences). I also could develop the characters in ways that I hadn’t in the short story. Charlotte sometimes speaks of herself as having been “raised by wolves,” for instance, and the novel not only allowed me to show her in scenes with her parents, but also provided me with the space in which to show how she had learned to be less of a “wolf” over the last twenty years.
By the third paragraph of As Good As Dead, Charlotte has told us that she betrayed Esmé. By the fifth page of the book, we learn how. Why reveal this information so early in the book?
The revelations go far in helping readers to know Charlotte. One of the things I love most as a reader is how fiction allows us to become intimately acquainted with other “people”; more deeply acquainted, in fact, than we are with most people in our real lives; and what a relief it was to me as a young reader—what gratitude I felt!—when I read the fiction of Jean Rhys and a few other writers, and I met female characters who weren’t conceived along narrow lines of what was acceptable behavior and thought in a woman! Charlotte tells us that she did something shameful twenty years ago, she continues to feel the weight of what she did, and she is willing to hold herself up for criticism. Those are good things to know about your narrator. I suppose that I should add: the early revelations add to the book’s suspense.
Good enough. So, is our heart still pounding?
Let me—no, no, it’s back to normal.
ELIZABETH EVANS’S five previous books include The Blue Hour, Suicide’s Girlfriend, and Carter Clay. Her awards include the Iowa Author Award for 2010, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, the James Michener Fellowship, a Lila Wallace Award, and the Four Corners Award. She has been a fellow at various arts foundations, including Hawthornden International Writers Retreat, Yaddo, and MacDowell. A long-time professor in the Program in Creative Writing at the University of Arizona, Evans makes her home in Tucson.
Author photo by Steve Reitz.