Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Jessica Anya Blau talks about The Trouble With Lexie, Face Yoga, Prep School, being funny, writing and why she loves to dance (ha ha, made that up)

She's hilariously funny, enormously talented, and the kind of loving friend you want to kick back with all the time.  I'm so thrilled to have Jessica Anya Blau here. The Wonder Bread Summer, Drinking Closer to Home, The Summer of Naked Swim Parties (Don't you love the titles?) and now, Her latest--and greatest, The Trouble With Lexie. Want to see some of the raves?

 "Blau has a steady nerve, as well as a wicked imagination . . . It takes you a little while to realize that what you're reading is top-notch comic writing because you're getting all the stuff you normally get in literary fiction as well: rites of passage, the complications of fractured families, the works."

-Nick Hornby

"Jessica Anya Blau is one of the funniest writers--ever. No one captures the oddities, joys, and yes, the pain of modern life with such frankness, humor,

and sly-witted style." -ZZ Packer 

And, you have to read this small excerpt, too:
The problem wasn't so much that Lexie had taken the

Klonopin. And it wasn't even really that she had stolen

them . . . the problem, as Lexie saw it, was that she had

fallen asleep in the bed of the owner of the Klonopin.
And the owner of the Klonopin was the wife of her lover.

 Jessica's at Book Court July 8th, at 7, and I'm going and everyone else on the planet should go, too. Who knows, maybe she'll dance! (Thank you Jessica!)

What is it about prep schools that somehow intensifies everything that possibly could happen in our lives?
Maybe it’s that when you take people out of the routines of home, family, parents and  neighbors, they open up in a way they don’t usually. People reinvent themselves, recreate themselves and let loose when they’re away from home. You see this sort of group intensity/lunacy in adults when they go to conferences and writing colonies. They work hard, but they also play very hard—everything’s more charged up, your senses are sharper, you’re more engaged in what’s going on around you. Then, if you take that hyper-awareness, that openness, and couple it with hormones, exploration and close living quarters, there’s more drama than can fill a library of books.  

Tell us about the writing of this particular book (I always think that each book is a whole different process.) What was different for you here?
 Every book terrifies me. I can be overwhelmed with insecurities doubts, second-guesses. I have to continually talk myself into the work—remind myself that the process is what matters. I find great relief in transporting myself through my work. It’s a such a pleasure to be away from myself, my thoughts, my mind. This book was different because there was much chaos in my life during the writing of it: the city sewer system rerouted into my basement; I cleaned up my hundred-year old house and sold it; I moved into a new apartment; and I ghost-wrote a memoir that’s coming out in the fall. The copy edits for Lexie came in around the same time the memoir was due. I was working 18 hour days. But I kind of like that because, as I said, I like getting away from myself.  

I love your characters! Can you talk about how you develop them—and how sometimes they turn out in ways you just didn’t expect?
Lexie is essentially me. Well, a taller, prettier, blond me. From a more messed-up family. But the way she thinks and how she thinks are versions of me. I haven’t made any of the disastrous choices she makes in the book (knock wood!), but I’ve certainly made many poor choices and I’ve certainly thought of doing the things she does. Dot, the 82 year old woman, is a version of my daughter, Maddie. It’s how I imagine my tap-dancing, straight-shooting, utterly un-vain daughter will be like as an old woman. Daniel, the guy Lexie falls in love with is based on men I’ve met—he’s constructed out of many different men, but I had a very fixed idea of who he was and what he was like. Physically, I was thinking of Coach Taylor from Friday Night Lights. Wearing a Rolex, or whatever is even more expensive than a Rolex, and a custom-made suit. Amy, Lexie’s best friend, is a composite of all my best girlfriends: someone who's open about past mistakes, self aware, non-judgmental and accepting. The kind of friend we all need. Janet, the uptight, rule-following, sporty woman  . . . well, you know her, right? Every school has someone like her. Someone who lives for the school, wears the school colors, goes to away games, is frugal as anything, but will leave the millions she's hoarded over a lifetime to the school when she dies.  

I love how live-wire funny your novels are—and how live-wire funny you are in person. And I know how hard it is to write funny—at least for me.  Is it for you?
I don’t really have a sense of myself as funny, but that seems to be the thing readers and critics always say.  I certainly don't try to be funny. Although sometimes I’ll read over something I’ve written and I’ll crack myself up. I’m not sure if those things that make me laugh when I’m working on them are the things that make other people laugh. With my first book, The Summer of Naked Swim Parties, when I read the loss of virginity scene for the first time I was utterly stunned that people were cracking up. I honestly had no idea it was funny. That scene, in particular, was written exactly as things had gone down for me (I threw up in the middle of losing my virginity on a beach with my surfer boyfriend) and I knew it wasn’t particularly sweet or romantic, but didn’t realize it was funny until I read it aloud to an audience. 

What’s obsessing you now and why?
Oh, Caroline, man, you don’t even want to know what’s obsessing me! Okay, maybe you do because you asked. Right now I’m obsessing over face yoga. I essentially slap, pinch, pucker and contort my face in a pathetic attempt to stave off wrinkles. I don’t want to do Botox or injections or anything that might make my face look like a rubber mask. But I also don’t want to shrivel up like an apple doll. It’s pathetic that I think about this stuff. I’m embarrassed, But, what can I say, it’s the truth. I do it mostly in the car, at red lights and stop signs. As soon as I press on the brake, my fingers go crazy on my face. I try to position my car so the person beside me doesn’t have to witness this. Today I forgot and this blond, beardy guy looked over at me smiling and gave me a peach sign. I think he felt sorry for me. 
What question didn’t I ask that I should have?
Maybe you should ask how and why I could be so shallow and vain as to obsess about face yoga when there is so much cruelty and unfairness in the world. The answer is this, in spite of the fact that as soon as I finish typing this, I'm gong to slap the underside of my chin thirty times, I really am trying to be less selfish and more aware. I do want to be a better citizen of the world more than I want a face as smooth as my giant bottom.  

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