What’s the most surprising thing you learned while writing it?
Early on, I wondered if I was going to switch perspectives, which is what I did in “Ugly Girls.” As I kept writing, I fought against that. And I wondered why, because I love doing that kind of thing. I fought and fought with it in my head, and had a lot of conversations with my husband about it, and I finally, toward the end, came to the realization that this is only Greg’s story. I finally accepted it.
I also kept a journal as I was writing. I never do that. But I remember that with “Ugly Girls,” people asked me, “What was your intention when you wrote this or that?” And I didn’t remember. With this novel, I was going to take ownership of all of that — I wanted to keep track of everything I was doing, and the daily journal would just be a paragraph of, “Here’s what I set out to do today.”
In what way is the book you wrote different from the book you set out to write?
Once you settle into the narrative and you allow it to take control, it doesn’t matter what you intended. Very early on, I describe what Greg looks like. Once I could see him clearly, it totally changed my view of him and I had to go with it. I thought, O.K., this is who we’re dealing with here. He’s on this quest, but he’s actually not trying that hard to find his son. So what is he doing? It’s almost like I was writing about a hero and I ended up writing about an antihero. I hear everything from “Greg is really sympathetic” to “I hate Greg.” I love Greg, and I love being around him. In general, I like unreliable narrators. I think that’s just reality.
I remember thinking that this novel was going to be a love letter to parenthood. And maybe it’s still that, but it ended up being more about one small moment of grace. And as a parent, I think, if you end on that note it’s a good thing.
Who is a creative person (not a writer) who has influenced you and your work?
Cindy Sherman, the portrait artist who takes photos of herself in various costumes and makeup. They’re beautiful, crisp, very professional and considered portraits of freaks, and they’re all her dressed as these different characters.
But to me it’s almost an unfair answer, because she is a writer. I don’t know if she’s actually written the characters down, but I feel like she could tell you — not that she would, or that she’s obligated to — “Obviously this is Janice, and she’s the receptionist at a small airfield and she cans every other day and.…” These characters, to me, are a story in full.
I think the first thing I saw was her clown series. For a long time my Facebook profile picture was one of her clowns. This was right before my wedding, and my husband said, “You have to change that,” and I didn’t understand why. A lot of people think they’re hard to look at, and not pleasing. I love the grotesque nature of being human. I love bodily functions, I love awkwardness, I love yearning, and body language and bodies. I love shame.
Persuade someone to read the novel in 50 words or less.
If you like awkward conversations, Florida, heat and sweat and junk food, this is a bite-size story, and I think it will move you in every sense of the word. You might laugh, you might cry, you might be disgusted, and what more could you want out of a book?
This interview has been condensed and edited.
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