A Fake Interview for My Unwritten, Unpublished Book

A Fake Interview for My Unwritten, Unpublished Book

It’s been said many times around here that some day I dream of writing novels. One in particular has been living with me for the past three years. I know it so truly, madly, deeply and yet unwritten it has gone.

At this point that’s largely thanks to my own issues and fears and self doubts, etcetera and so forth. But I’m not here to talk about that today. I’m here to pretend!

This is going to sound part insane and part incredibly self-obsessed but whenever I’m struggling to work through a concept or theme or character or scene as part of my creative process, I’ll pose imaginary interviews to myself and pretend like the book in question is actually out there in the world. I’ll reverse engineer some fake question from some fake moderator or audience member and then actually, yes actually, talk it out.

The other morning I was reading an interview that Pádraig Ó Tuama did with Broken Sleep Books on his recently published poetry book, Feed the Beast. (Aside: If you’re not listening to Pádraig on Poetry Unbound, I highly recommend adding it into your podcast rotation.) About two questions in, the idea struck to creative exercise the hell out of this as a fake interview for my own book idea. Then this post essentially wrote itself. (The real ones know how much I love those one-day writes.)

Will I tell you anything of substance about the unwritten unpublished book that this fake interview is for? No, I will not. But I think you’ll be able to work some things out for yourself. When someday I do finish this book, and *new moons willing* publish it somewhere, it’ll be fun to come back to this and see if my answers hold up.

Q: When did you write the book, and what was the inspiration behind it?
I wrote it seriously in my early 30s. I say “seriously” because I had tried writing it for years before that but I wasn’t confident enough yet. The idea sprouted from a writing exercise in a creative habits class that I was taking during the pandemic, when I was 27 or 28. It started with their relationship and I can picture so vividly where I was when I first wrote them, at this Ikea table made of unfinished wood in my apartment in North Carolina. They were in a different setting then, but I couldn’t stop thinking about them. It’s a completely different story from how they started, but I like that timelessness aspect.

Q: How would you summarize this book in 100 words or fewer?
Multi-dimensional love story. Existentially dreadful. Visual. Unsettling. Disturbed. Chromatically intense. Empathic. Confrontational. Gothic. Aural.

Q: How would you characterize the style of your book? Can you provide some commentary around why you feel it falls into these categories?
I’m aware of how this sounds, but I’d describe the style as highly visual. There is a vividness to the imagery. It starts off really colorful and saturated in the style of Edward Hopper’s Cape Cod Morning then dulls and cools into Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival. The biggest battle I had in writing this book was finding a way to convey all of the very specific visual elements, and the feeling that they bring into the story, through the written word without beating people over the head with flatly descriptive prose. Not easy!!
I also didn’t want to write a true-to-form horror, or a contemporary, or a speculative, or anything like that. It’s annoying to say, and I think a lot of artists or creatives out there like to think this way about their own work, but I really did want it to be a bit boundaryless. Billie Eilish gave this interview once (I think for her first album) where she railed against her music being characterized as any one genre. She felt like what she was making didn’t fit into any of the typical boxed categories that we know today as listeners and consumers. Trust me, I’m no Billie Eilish, but I can identify with that sentiment. It’s something I aspire to if nothing else.

Q: During the writing of this book, did you learn anything new? Either about yourself as an author or about the crafting of the work itself?
I learned how difficult writing a book can be. It’s been the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. Truly. I never really subscribed to that adage that your writing brain is a muscle you have to exercise. But then I let mine lapse for a while and it took a lot of work to get it back, and then it took even more work to keep it. There were a lot of days where I didn’t want to show up for it and at one point, one long point, I’m talking years and years, I basically Pavlov’s Dogs-ed myself into this psychosomatic physical response to having a pen in my hand. It was bad.
Anne Lamott has a chapter in “Bird by Bird” about an internal radio station called KFKD that I remind myself of often when I have a hard time getting started. Let that voice play for a little while if you must, then turn it off.

Q: Can you list some of your main influences? Feel free to include writers, literary movements, but also any influences outside of the literary sphere that have had an impact?
Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting of series were probably my biggest influences. I’m obsessed with his adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House as well as the original work by Shirley Jackson.
As I was gearing up to get more serious about writing this, I rewatched The Haunting of Bly Manor and cried straight through the last three episodes. The final episode of The Haunting of Hill House legitimately haunts me in my daily life. I’m not after a few shed tears with this book. I’m after making people feel like their chests are collapsing and they can’t physically breathe for crying so hard. I want to make people feel so deeply that they’re physically uncomfortable for days or weeks at a time. So anything that made me feel that way in my own life leading up to and through the writing process became an influence to this story.
Philip K. Dick has a stunning quote that I used to open the book: “To live is to be haunted.”

Q: Please can you list some stylistic or technical elements contained within your work, and why you feel these are important?
I’m not very well-versed in stylistic or technical elements, but I toyed a lot with the concept of an unreliable narrator, and whether to make that narrator one of my characters or myself as the author or even the character of myself as the author, if that makes sense? (I hate when people tack on ‘if that makes sense?’ at the end of sentences and yet here we are.) I wanted to leave my readers with a feeling of distrust and unease throughout the book, because that’s a lot of what the characters are experiencing. Certain sentences can come into question depending on how you’re personally experiencing the world I’ve pulled you into.
Ali Smith has a phenomenal book called “How to Be Both” where half of all printed editions start with one narrative perspective while the other half have them flipped and start with the other, which intentionally changes the reading experience depending on the edition you pick up even though the overall story is the same. As a reader myself, I’m overly conscious that readers start forming their impressions and perceptions from the very first page, and I’m fascinated by how that might change based on which perspective you start with. Do you trust or like a character more than the others because of it? I didn’t ultimately go in that direction, but I think about it a lot and adore Ali Smith so much for it.
The perspective of this book took a long time to figure out. I had to literally pour over examples of the different variations and merits to the spectrum of third-person styles before I settled on how to achieve what I was looking to do. There are the two main characters, there’s the house, and then there’s me as the author, which as I said before felt at times like a separate character in its own right. Because I was so hyper-focused on the experience of moving through the story, it got really difficult to put down on paper at times. It was a balancing act.

Q: Can you give some commentary around the book’s central themes and why these are so important to you?
I’m still pulling this apart but one of the central themes, in my view, gets at the countless questions surrounding what is owed: to ourselves, to each other, in life, in death, in love, in connection. It digs into all that beautiful grey space which may not resonate for some but may strike uncomfortably close for others. It definitely did for me.
It also explores another Flanaganism which is that people mix up love and possession. I chose to look at that through the lens of the house instead of the main characters, with equal parts possessing and getting possessed.

Q: For someone who enjoys your work, which other authors do you think would be appealing to them?
This is about to be the biggest ego trip of an answer that’s ever been given. Think of these authors less as like my style and more as those who inspired me to work and rework and rework again my own narrative voice because theirs are so goddamn good. Shirley Jackson, Ali Smith, Sally Rooney, Yōko Ogawa, Caleb Azumah Nelson, Coco Mellors, Bassey Ikpi, Maylis de Kerangal, Ray Bradbury, Ernest Hemingway.

Q: Is there a personal story or inspiration relating to this book?
My own experiences with depression are a big well for me creatively. A lot of the grander ideas and themes in this book came from when I was in those moments and existing in a completely different state of being to where “normalcy” typically lives. It can be hard when those spans of time go for weeks and weeks, but I’m appreciative of the fodder they’ve given me to bring this story to life. And I recognize that I’m fortunate to be able to use it that way.

Q: Is there a particular audience you had in mind when writing this book? How did this impact the writing process?
People who want to feel deeply. I wrote this for the anyone elses out there who, like me, are looking for a good existential cry where you spiral for a bit about why we’re alive and what it means to be connected to others and then you go out and get a bagel.
Also as a funny anecdote, I always imagined my friends and family and the people who actually know me reading this book and absolutely hating it. Or at the very least, not really getting it. There were a lot of imagined ‘are you okay?’ texts, which means it turned out exactly how I wanted it to.

Obviously full credit to Aaron Kent and Broken Sleep Books as the source of these interview questions. Maybe it’ll be real some day.

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