Apparently Christine Rice was in a foul mood the day I called to chat about her debut novel Swarm Theory (University of Hell Press, April 2016). Although I did not read the book, nor had I done my research, I expected her to be more gracious. Sadly, she was rude and uncharitable. I had heard the rumors but, alas, she was much, much worse than the stories Hypertext Managing Editor Chelsea Laine Wells had shared with me (temper tantrums, screaming, etc.).
The following reflects our conversation. I have deleted all expletives (hers) from this draft. For the unexpurgated interview, click HERE.
So it looks like you’ve self-published about a dozen books. Good for you.
I think you’re confusing me with another writer by the name of Christine Rice. She is, like, maybe half my age… with long hair.
My bad. So you’re an opera singer? A mezzo soprano? A woman of many talents…
Again… not me.
So you’re neither of those Christine Rices? Remind me… why are we even talking?
I was under the impression that you were going to ask me about my debut novel, Swarm Theory, published by the indie University of Hell Press.
Nice plug. (Imagine me smirking.) What’s it about?
Is it a romance? It’s a romance, isn’t it?
Just give me the elevator pitch.
I’m still working on my elevator pitch.
Well you better get on that.
Yeah, thanks, I will.
Just sum it up so I can ask a few more questions. This interview is tanking.
The book is set in a fictional town based on my hometown outside of Flint, Michigan. If you’d read the book, you’d have read the front cover copy. It goes something like this:
It’s a time of hippies, heroin, All in the Family, AIDS, recession, and The Brady Bunch.
Against this backdrop, a teenager struggles to deal with her father’s infidelities and mother’s mental illness, a dissatisfied housewife reaches out to her lover’s daughter, a Marine held in the Iranian Hostage Crisis exacts revenge on town bullies, a young woman tries to make sense of her life after a brutal rape, and an embattled priest takes in a man with AIDS.
Swarm Theory’s interlocking narratives investigate what happens when people come together—whether it’s to do admirable or horrific things. Here, intimates and strangers alike can’t help but be intertwined, their unpredictable journeys providing a backdrop for characters complex, honorable, and not.
Set in a town transitioning from farm fields to subdivisions, Swarm Theory reveals our often misguided, dark, and life-sustaining dependency on others.
Sounds dark. What’s with that?
The things that take my attention, the things that really upend me, are often quite dark. Violence of any kind, especially violence directed toward women and children, is epidemic in the United States and around the world.
But why write about that?
I didn’t set out with an agenda to write about it. The stories evolved out of things I’d experienced or things I’d seen or people I knew.
I am not sure how to process all of the things I hear and experience so, I suppose, those things turn into stories.
Why can’t you just move on?
I’ll need you to answer my question. That’s how this whole interview thing works. I ask. You answer. (Imagine me tapping my fingers until she responds.)
These are things that keep me up at night, things I can’t accept. So I write about them. I don’t think we can just “move on.” Some things stick, you know?
No, I do not know. What else do you write about?
I write about things that make me happy to be a human: compassion, understanding, bravery, nature, love, and faith.
I thought we were starting to connect.
We were not. (Honestly, this interview is TOTALLY BORING. I’m Googling Kardashians now.)
Yes. Hold on. OK. What took you so long to publish Swarm Theory? Aren’t you, like, ancient?
I am not ancient.
Okay. Well “ancient” is relative. But the question still stands: what took you so long?
Well, I finished my first novel in the spring of 2001. I found an agent and she started shopping it around in August. Then 9/11 happened and everything changed. At that moment, a book about a Lebanese-American family wasn’t very appealing to publishers.
In the grand scheme of all of that pain and loss, my very insignificant failure seems selfish to even bring up. All the same, that experience really shattered my self-confidence. I mean, when you land an agent and you prepare yourself for publication and it doesn’t happen… it just really shook me up. I never stopped writing, but I did stop submitting my fiction for a very long time.
Boohoo. That sucks. Poor you.
(Rice clears her throat, says something unintelligible.)
I read somewhere that you write in your pajamas. Is that true?
No. I wake at 5:00 a.m., shower, curl my hair, eat a hearty breakfast, put on a navy blue suit, and strike power poses for exactly 11 minutes before sitting down to write. I would never write in my pajamas. That’s weird.
Are you in your pajamas right now?
What’s the best thing about writing in your pajamas?
Can we move on?
(Eye roll.) If we must… May the record reflect: for a nobody indie author, you are incredibly difficult.
I usually require 24 blue M&Ms to be overnighted to my office (packed in bubble wrap) before beginning an interview. So consider yourself lucky.
I am calm.
Seriously. I’m going to have to end this interview right now if you don’t calm down.
I am calm.
Why do you have such a high opinion of yourself?
What’s your take on the Cub’s chances this year?
They’re going all the way, as long as Schwarber stays healthy.
So I’ve heard that this is a novel-in-stories? What’s that about? Is it a book of short stories or a novel? I mean, what the hell? If I were going to write something, I would write either a collection of short stories or a novel. Take a stand, woman.
Well, it’s a hybrid, for sure. It’s a novel. It’s a collection of short stories. Each story is informed by the stories surrounding it. I wrote the novel from multiple characters’ points of view. It’s not really a new concept. The novel-in-stories has been around for a long time. Check out Winesburg Ohio.
It’s a book.
I only read the classics. Contemporary writers blow, man.
See, that’s just lazy. There are so many amazing contemporary writers. I’m not going to accept that from you. Seek out contemporary authors. Go on Goodreads. Ask your friends what they are reading. Have you read Chris Abani or Jesmyn Ward or Peggy Shinner? Or Donna Miscolta or Emily Gray Tedrowe or Rebecca Makkai or Eric Charles May or Toni Nealie or Annita Sawyer or Aviya Kushner or Patricia Ann McNair or René Steinke or Chelsea Laine Wells or Darcy Steinke or Jess Walter or Junot Diaz or Bud Smith or Paulette Livers or Megan Stielstra or Sherman Alexie or Chris Terry or Christine Sneed or Garnett Kilberg Cohen or Tony Bowers or Kiese Laymon or Ben Tanzer or Jennifer Egan or Cyn Vargas or Virginia Bell or A.M. O’Malley or Zoe Zolbrod or Elizabeth Crane or Bonnie Jo Campbell or Rob Roberge or Jessie Ann Foley or Geoff Hyatt or Brian Costello or Wendy C. Ortiz or Shawn Shiflett or Eugene Cross or Gina Frangello or Don De Grazia or Colin Channer or Elizabeth Earley or Sheree Greer or Elizabeth Strout?
Did you just call me lazy?
Yes. Could you ask me about Hypertext Magazine?
What about it?
Do not use this platform for shameless self-promotion again. EVER. You’ve been warned.
Let’s move on.
I thought you were an adjunct professor. Nice career choice there. How’s that working out for you?
I do wear a lot of hats. I have fantastic students at Columbia College Chicago. They are brilliant and pretty much amaze me every time I go into class.
So you didn’t get the memo about how badly it blows to be an adjunct professor, huh?
No. I did not.
Last question: What’s the best thing about being a writer? The whole writing-in-your-pajamas thing?
Yes. And the fact that, even though I’ve been writing for a hell of a long time, I feel like I’m just getting started.
CHRISTINE RICE is the author of the debut novel Swarm Theory (University of Hell Press/April 2016). Stories from Swarm Theory have been published in Roanoke College’s Roanoke Review, American University of Beirut’s Rusted Radishes, Farleigh Dickinson University’s The Literary Review, Chicago Literati, and Bird’s Thumb. Her essays, interviews, and long-form journalism have appeared in the The Big Smoke, The Millions, the Chicago Tribune, Detroit’s Metro Times, The Good Men Project, The Urbaness.com, CellStories.net, F Magazine, and her radio essays have been produced by WBEZ Chicago. Christine is an adjunct professor in the Department of Creative Writing at Columbia College Chicago, the managing editor of Hypertext Magazine, and the director of Hypertext Studio Writing Center.