Monday, May 7, 2018

Florence Gonsalves talks about her gorgeous debut LOVE & OTHER CARNIVOROUS PLANTS, love, grief, being young, being self-destructive and getting it as together as you can.

When someone,e specially Martha Rhodes, the head of Four Way Books and a brilliant poet,  tells me, "You gotta read this," I always do (unless it's about vampires. Then I never do.) And I'm always happy that I did. I absolutely loved Florence Gonsalves LOVE & Other Carnivorous Plants (great title, right?) and I'm honored to host her here.

I loved, loved, loved this book. (I’m a sucker for anything about identity.) What was the “why now” moment that got you writing this?

I’d had ideas for Love tucked in a brain drawer for awhile, but when I graduated from college with no “real job” prospects, I started writing in the backroom of my parents’ house. I couldn’t envision having a “normal” career, so writing stemmed out of a deep, deep insecurity to do something with my life. Looking back, I was having a huge crisis of identity: who am I now that I’m not a college student and how will I make a living so I can move out of this backroom of my parents’ house?

Tell me about the wonderful title: Love & Other Carnivorous Plants.

I wish I remember how the title came about exactly, but the writing process is so mysterious! It was previously called Where There Are Flowers, plus other things I can’t remember that were not very captivating. I’ve loved Venus Fly Traps since I got one in fourth grade – they’re delightful little anomalies – and at one point I put a literal plant in the story, then saw other ways that themes of consumption wove into Danny’s struggle.  

So much of this book is about grief and love and finding our way.  And I loved that you dropped out of pre-med to find your way in writing! Can you tell us about that?

Oof, pre-med! I was just terrible at it – labs, problem sets, I simply could not do the work, which was terrible for my ego and also forced me to change the path of my life. If I’m not going to be a doctor, what am I going to do? What happens now that there isn’t a set plan? Obviously that struggle is reflected in Danny’s character. Sometimes writing feels indulgent and I think about doctors saving lives while I’m typing away in Starbucks but a friend once said that there are different ways to heal people— sometimes a book can do just that and I write with the hopes of having an impact.

I’m always interested in how a writer approaches a novel, especially a debut. Do you feel like you learned anything or did anything not turn out the way you had expected it might?

I learned that I have to write a lot and then throw away a lot. I didn’t know much of anything until I put it down on paper (even though I tried to make outlines). The result was like building a huge rock with all my words, then cutting and carving and shaping that rock into something that resembled a book. It took a lot of trust to believe that the story was there even when I couldn’t see it, but I’m getting more courageous about going forth blindly, then going on a deleting spree.

What’s obsessing you now and why?
Ada Limon. Her poetry is wow and I love things that make me feel something even if I can’t put my finger on how or why they’re so evocative.

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

Hmm, how about a book that influenced Love? In high school I read Catcher in the Rye (like most everyone else) and the tone of the book was hugely inspiring to me. Up until Catcher, I didn’t know a book could be written in the way a teenager thinks. I thought books had to be “literary” and that stopped me from writing one. With the permission to write like my friends and I think and talk, I felt capable of attempting to tell Danny’s story.

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