Thursday, February 21, 2008

Read This Book! Rachel Cline, My Liar

Rachel Cline's terrific novel, My Liar, explores the complex, thorny relationship between two women--a Hollywood film editor and a director. Like her fabulous debut, What To Keep, this novel is complex, gorgeously written and absolutely addictive. That's her, by the way, in the winsome photo. Isn't the flash of gold light great?

I loved the book so much that I emailed Rachel and asked her if she'd let me ask her a thousand questions (okay, just five) and she graciously agreed.

1. What's the difference between being a part of the film community and now being the toast of a literary one?

First off, the only thing I'm the toast of is my small circle of old, weird friends, which is not a complaint just a clarification. But the differences between the life of a movie-worker on the road and that of a fiction writer in New York are almost uncountable. Writing is truly a solitary activity, and even when I have a "day job," which I usually do, I still find it requires a lot of self-discipline to tolerate the silence, and to persist when there is no-particular-end in sight, and to remind myself that this is the only thing that has ever come close to making me happy so it's got to be a better use of my time than whatever it is that wants to yank me away from the desk. It's funny, because the thing I liked least about Los Angeles was the suburban-ness of it, living on a street where the only people I ever saw were the mail carrier and the neighbor kid on his Big Wheel. And now I live in the hive of all hives and I can barely tell you who lives in the apartment next door.

Right, but you were asking about the film community. I guess I never found the "community" part. I hated working on location--I missed my cats and my favorite New York foods (egg creams, hot dogs, pizza) and though I liked to drive I hated never being able to just walk. I was ultimately fairly happy in Los Angeles for several years, but only after I gave up on my career in the entertainment business and got a regular job where the same people showed up every day and eventually started to get my jokes. And I started to get theirs, too. It's a beautiful place, full of interesting people and great smells (unlike New York), but I grew up in Brooklyn and I don't think I'll ever be truly at home anywhere else.

2. What's your writing day like? Your process?

When I know what I'm doing, which is about 30% of the time, I try to get to my desk as soon as possible after opening my eyes in the morning. And I try to get up in the morning at least 3 hours before I have to be at work. The rule is: 2 hours of sitting or 1000 words of writing, and then I'm allowed to do other things, like shower and dress.
The rest of the time, I'm either choosing a new notebook/pen/talismanic photo, reading something tangentially related to what I want to do next, or worrying about being broke and never being able to write again.

3. At the heart of this terrific novel (well beside many other stellar ideas) is the idea of how work can affect friendships, in both good and not so good ways. Can you talk a bit about that? Do you think it's possible to have a great working relationship with a great friend, or do you think the balance of power shape shifts too much and too often?

I've actually had a lot of great and lasting friendships with coworkers, so no I don't think it's inherently problematic. But there are certain people in my life, usually--but not always--women, with whom I am just ferociously competitive. And it's not as though there's any overt confrontation or conflict--I've never been up for the same promotion, or compared bonuses, or anything like that. It's much subtler and more unsettling because I can never tell how much I'm imagining and how much I'm creating the situation out of my own squelched feelings. It's as though something in me triggers something in her and we wind up acting out all our childhood resentments, narcissistic fantasies, and plots for world domination while ostensibly sharing fairly innocent office gossip and fashion tips. So the key relationship in My Liar, between Annabeth, the film editor, and Laura, the director she works for, is a portrait of that kind of dynamic.
It's hardly the most important thing in the book, but one of the things I'm most proud of is a little subplot about an expensive blazer that Laura buys and later gives to Annabeth, and which comes to mean more than it should. To me, that's exactly how these things get acted out: through weirdly insincere compliments, exploitative requests for help, inappropriately expensive (or cheap) gifts... And Hollywood is like the world capital of all those things.
The other aspect of this competitive-yet-exploitative friendship that I think is really interesting is how storytelling fits into it. How the way the two people present information to one another is really unconsciously strategic, and the dramatization and plotting that go into the way we exchange histories with new friends. So, in My Liar, versions of that storytelling behavior wind up having consequences for all of the characters.

4. What's your next project?

I'm supposed to be working on a memoir, which is more than half complete, but I'm dying to get going on another novel and I have an idea that requires research in the form of a road trip through the Southwest. So my goal is to be able to do that next summer. My boyfriend lives in Chicago, and we often spend time together traveling somewhere else (usually somewhere like Cleveland or Buffalo), so I'm hoping we can expand our horizons a little more, next year.

5.What's your life like?

It varies a lot. Sometimes, I teach writing, which I love but of course doesn't pay the bills. Other times, I do various consulting jobs having to do with internet "content" and faceless corporations. The funny thing is, the older I get, the less I mind the corporate thing. I finally have more than one pair of dress pants and I actually kind of like it that the place I go to is silent, and airless, and utterly without drama. Plus, I love getting off the subway in Grand Central Station. To me, that's like visiting the Grand Canyon every day.


Clea Simon said...

I love this!! I'm going to adopt it!

The rule is: 2 hours of sitting or 1000 words of writing, and then I'm allowed to do other things, like shower and dress.

Rachel Cline said...

Go for it, Clea. But keep in mind that Word's counter-gizmo doesn't know the difference between "vague" and "inchoate," so sometimes you can rest easy after only, like, 750...