Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The incredible Megan Abbott talks about Dare Me, The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, feeling slightly crazy and so much more

Come on, who doesn't love The End of Everything and Dare Me? Both novels are gorgeously written and filled with unease, dread, and yup, brilliance. I've admired Edgar-winning author Megan Abbott's work for years and when I saw she had befriended me on Twitter, I pounced and begged her to come on the blog. 

The End of Everything was on the Best Books of the Year lists from Publisher's Weekly, The Boston Globe, Baltimore City Paper and the Washington Examiner. Megan now teaches at the Crime Fiction Academy at New York City's Center for Fiction and her work has appeared in the New York Times, Salon, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, The Believer, and more. And, she's also the author of The Street Was Mine: White Masculinity in hardboiled Fiction and Film Noir, and the editor of A Hell of a Woman, an anthology of female crime fiction. She's been nominated for three Edgar Awards, Hammett Prize, the Macavity, Anthony and Barry Awards, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Pushcart Prize. Oh, and did I mention she is writing the script for her Hollywood optioned, Dare Me?

I'm thrilled to have her here. Thank you, thank you, Megan.

What I so deeply admire about your work is the lean, mean and fiercely gorgeous prose you employ. So, what kind of writer are you? Do you plot things out or fly by the seat of your pen? Do you write every day or when the muse’s whispers begin to turn into shouts? What’s your writing life like?

Thank you for your kind words! I force myself to be rigorously disciplined because I find writing it infinitely hard and isolating and would like to be doing almost anything else. (At the same time, however, I only feel truly happy when I’ve written, so there’s the rub.) Because I’m slow I have to block out the day and even though I don’t write the whole time, I need to live in the world of the book all day, writing it fits and starts off and on from early morning through the afternoon. Which makes me pretty unpleasant to be around in the daylight hours!

You tunneled into the dark heart of girls in Dare Me so expertly that it felt as if you were chaneling them. What kind of research did you do for this novel, and what was that like? And why do you think the territory of adolescent girls is so rich--and such a minefield for events?

About half of it was compulsive online eavesdropping, primarily through chatrooms and message boards focused on cheerleading. The other half was my own vivid memories of being a teenager. The intensity of feeling at that age, the yearning, the passionate friendships—filled with highs and lows, betrayals, breakups. It’s your practice for adult (or young adult) relationships. And it’s thrilling and devastating. I thought I’d forgotten all that until I started writing the book. It all came flooding back, all the heartbreak, exhilaration and humiliation. That stuff is ageless, and leaves it marks.

So Dare Me is headed for the Silver Screen and you’re writing the script. Is it hard to re-envision your novel as a film?

I tend to be pretty inspired by movies and this book in particularly so. The cheer stunts seem to call out for visual spectacle. The trickiest part is a somewhat unreliable narrator that means I need to find different ways to render her interior life. But the challenge is exciting.

Does anything surprise you about the writing? Anything make you want to hurl yourself out of a window?

It always feels slightly crazy to say so, but my characters constantly surprise me. The protagonists inevitably turn out to harbor darker motives. The more troubled characters, or antagonists, tend to work their charms on me. That’s the best part. The “hurl out the window” part for me is revisions. That sudden awareness that the world you thought you’d rendered so perfectly, so richly isn’t working yet. And you’ve got to find a way to make it work, to live for the reader as it lives for you. Thankfully, my two first readers, my agent Dan Conaway and my editor Reagan Arthur, are so expert I feel unduly lucky in that capacity.

You said on your blog that “writers and artists really have no choice but to convey their own peculiar views, no matter how strange the picture may be.” I think this is one of the most astute descriptions of what it means to make art that I’ve read. Can you talk a bit more about this, please?

Ah, that’s not me, that’s the wonderful writer Karolina Waclawiak (How to Get into the Twin Palms), who guested on our blog, though I absolutely agree. While we perhaps do have a choice, I don’t quite understand what the purpose would be. To me, the primary pleasure in writing is in the relationship between author and reader. It’s what I love about reading too. There’s this crackling possibility that you will connect—that your weirdnesses may be theirs too, or will become so. It makes the world feel more intimate, richer, less lonely. And that, in turn, they will share something with you that makes everything look and feel different. That opens up new vistas. That exchange between writer and reader is about as magnificent as life can get.

What’s obsessing you now and why?

I’m reading the most wonderful biography of Charlotte Brontë, by Rebecca Fraser. I’ve always been fascinated by the Brontë household, these elaborate fantasy worlds—Angria, Glass Town, Gondal—the siblings created, growing up in such a remote yet exotic location as the moors. And I don’t think I ever realized quite how maligned all three sisters were for the subversive qualities of their books. What they were writing was seen as radical, dangerous, wild. And, of course, it is. I’ve always been drawn to writers or artists who formulated full-scale imaginary universes—another obsession is the work of Henry Darger, a self-taught artist who devoted most of his solitary life to creating these elaborate collage paintings chronicling the heroic adventures of the “Vivian Girls,” seven little girls who faced war, enslavement and countless travails. They’re powerful to see.

What question didn’t I ask that I should have?

Do you faithfully DVR The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and watch it with unabashed delight? And I guess that’s its own answer.

1 comment:

Marisa Birns said...

Enjoyable interview! Yes, the feeling of HAVING written is one I know well. So is the first one.

I agree with Caroline, your writing is elegantly gorgeous.