June 29, 2016
Five Beers, Five Questions
Who: Authors Matthew Norman and Jessica Anya Blau
Where: A dive bar with dangerous parking (try to get out of the lot without getting hit by oncoming cars) in North Baltimore. Three TVs played the baseball game. The pool table was in continuous use.
What: Natty Boh, a beer the locals drink.
How Much: 3 dollars a can.
Present: a nice multi-racial mix that properly represented the people of Baltimore.
But: With the exception of the bi-racial lesbian couple eating burgers, everyone looked like they could use a good long stint in rehab. Especially the guy with the open, weeping, mouth sore who asked Jessica to play pool with him.
Beer One: When and where do you write? How many minutes/pages/hours a day?
Matt: This book took freaking forever. I totally blame my kids. They’re like these cute little time vampires. We didn’t have kids when I wrote Domestic Violets, then we had two pretty much right away. So, I found myself trying to write a second novel—which is stressful anyway—with no time, very little energy, and zero sleep. The kids are a little older now, so it’s not as bad. I write from 9 to 11 p.m. on weeknights in my little office upstairs, and whenever I can on weekends.
Jessica: I write at the dining room table, in cafes, on airplanes. I write at the nail salon getting a pedicure. If I have 15 minutes or more, I’ll work a little.
Beer Two: Do you drink and write?
Matt: I never used to. But lately, for the book I’m working on now, I’ve started experimenting with drinking and writing. Maybe a beer or a jack and coke. I’ve never tried full-on drunk writing. I can’t imagine any good would come out of it. It’d probably be like two paragraphs and then sleepy time.
Jessica: I drink tea. Or coffee. Or water. If I’m feeling really edgy I’ll have a Coke Zero. I love Coke Zero so much, but I’m afraid of it—afraid of the fake sugar and the caramel coloring. The other day I was at the Royal Farm holding a Coke Zero and trying to talk myself out of it when this super skinny-limbed-but-bloated-belly woman walked in and picked up a Coke Zero. I said to her, “I love this stuff but I’m trying not to have it.” She said, ‘Yeah, me, too, it’s so bad for your teeth.” And then she smiled and her teeth were the color of wood rot. Not wood, but wood that’s rotting away. I walked out of there with nothing.
Matt: Speaking of drinking and writing, who’s a writer you’d want to drink with?
Jessica: Any writer. I like writers because they often have slim or no boundaries. It makes for interesting, open conversation. I always feel I’m a day away from death so I don’t have time for insincere conversation.
Matt: Yeah, when I’m hanging out with writers I’m actually myself, which is nice. I think it’d be fun to drink with Nick Hornby. We could talk about British stuff. I’m pretty sure I was supposed to be British.
Beer Three: Are you neurotic or crazy in any way?
Jessica: You don’t look neurotic at all.
Matt: I know. I look like the guy who should be doing your taxes. Like, “let me walk you through your deductions.” You don’t seem as outwardly neurotic as I do. You have a California surfer vibe. You look like a writer, though.
Jessica: Do you think writers are better looking than most people?
Matt. No, not at all. (Looks up at Jessica who’s laughing.) I mean, yes! Writers are hot. I mean, Jesus, look how good-looking we are.
Jessica: How are you neurotic? I don’t believe you’re neurotic.
Matt: I’m always terrified that there’s something hanging out of my nose or there’s food stuck in my teeth. I have this constant urge to cover my face.
Jessica: Yeah, me, too. Is there something in my nose?
Matt: (checking Jessica’s nose). You’re good.
Jessica: How are my teeth? (Baring teeth.)
Matt: Clean. Me? (He tilts his head up, Jessica checks his nose, it’s all clear. He shows his teeth. All clear there, too.)
Jessica: How else are you neurotic?
Matt: I have a hard time making eye contact with people. I really have to concentrate on not looking down or staring over someone’s shoulder. There’s this little voice in my head that coaches me. Stop looking away. You’re an adult, you weirdo. Just make eye contact.
Jessica: Can you make eye contact with your wife?
Matt: Yeah, it’s easy with her. She accepted all my crazy years ago.
Jessica: Your kids?
Matt: The vampires? Yeah. They’re cool.
Jessica: The dog?
Matt: Of course. My dog totally gets me.
Jessica: My dog’s breath smells like fish.
Matt: Mine, too! He’s fourteen. I’m not a math person, but that’s like 200 in human years.
Jessica: My dog is in a diaper and she has crusty moles on her back. When I pet her, it’s like doing a luge run—all swoopy as I avoid the tiny crust volcanoes.
Matt: OK, you win.
Jessica: And she’s missing one eye and the eyehole sometimes spontaneously bleeds.
Jessica: Eye Stigmata!
Beer Four: How many books did you publish before you started telling people you’re a writer?
Matt: What did you say before then?
Jessica: I’d say I teach, or I’d say that I stay home with my kids. But when the second book came out, I just said it. It was scary but I did it.
Matt: I still don’t tell people. I never freely admit to being a writer.
Jessica: What do you say?
Matt: I say I’m an advertising copywriter. If I’m drinking, I say I’m a horse whisperer or a stunt man.
Jessica: I’m going to start telling people I’m on the Canadian curling team—you know, that sport where you sweep the ice with a broom?
Matt: Hey, that guy over there keeps checking you out. I think he has a crush on you.
Jessica: The guy with the mouth sore? He asked me to play pool with him before you got here.
Matt: Man, it must be such a pain in the ass to be a woman. Being a guy is great. I get to basically be invisible in bars. It’s like a superpower.
Beer Five: If you had to get a tattoo tonight what would you get?
Matt: Kurt Vonnegut used to draw this little self-portrait when he signed books. I’d get that on my shoulder. (He pulls it up on his iPhone) How badass would that be?
Jessica: Would your wife care?
Matt: Oh, she’d be pissed!
Jessica: Let me draw it on you in a Sharpie and then when you get home, tell her you got a tattoo.
Matt: Can you draw?
Jessica: I can draw that. (Jessica copies the K.V. profile on a bar napkin.)
Matt: (clearly impressed) Damn. That’s legit.
Jessica: Let’s do it.
Matt: Hmmm. I don’t know. I think you should practice on someone else first. Hold on. I’m gonna go ask the mouth-sore guy to take his shirt off.
JESSICA ANYA BLAU is the author of The Wonder Bread Summer, Drinking Closer to Home, and the bestselling, The Summer of Naked Swim Parties. All three books have been optioned for film and television. Jessica’s fourth novel, The Trouble with Lexie, is available now.
MATTHEW NORMAN is the author of the novel Domestic Violets, which was nominated for a Goodreads Choice Award in Best Humor. His writing has appeared on Salon, the Good Men Project, and the Weeklings. His second novel, We’re All Damaged, is available now.