20 Questions with Mourning Goats
INTERVIEW FIFTY EIGHT
Jessica Anya Blau
I was lucky enough to meet Jessica a few weeks ago and sneakily stole her phone, sent myself an email requesting an interview, and then wrote back to her with the questions... she may have handed me the phone to do it, but I say what I want, it's my interview. She's fantastic, her books are fantastic, and YOU are fantastic for reading them. Enjoy the one, the only, Jessica Anya Blau!
1. What comes to mind when you hear, "Mourning Goats?"
Rutting bucks. I realize goats aren't bucks but a mourning goat just reminds me of a rutting buck. And a rutting buck reminds me of a guy with a bottle of imported beer in his left hand. So I guess you could say that I think of guys drinking beer when I think of mourning goats.
2. When Nick Hornby speaks, people listen, what happened after his glowing review in The Believer?
My publicist sent the review to me when I was out running errands. I was on a hectic schedule and couldn't stop and read it so I forwarded it to a friend (while at a stoplight) and had her read it to me over the phone. And then I just laughed. It made me immensely happy. As for what happened to the book . . . I guess we'll see, right? The book just came out.
3. What's it been like publishing through Harper Perennial?
Oh, I love all the people I work with there. They're funny and fun and authentic. No one seems to be playing any part--they're all exactly who they are. And my editor is brilliant. I feel very lucky. Also I have a great publicist who takes good care of every book he has even when you're not Cheryl Strayed or someone like that.
4. You didn't start writing until you moved to Canada after college, what was the prompt?
Loneliness. Pending lunacy. I found I felt okay about myself, my day, my life, when I wrote.
5. For your novel WonderBread, you have a blurb from another Mourning Goat Interviewee, Paula Bomer and you're email pals with Nick Hornby who answered the goats questions last year, do you think that with the connectivity of social media more authors are becoming pals and then helping each other? Do you think it's a necessity in these hard publishing times?
Well, Nick wrote me after that review and, of course, I had to write back and thank him for the review and all that. He is a supremely generous person. I met Paula when she asked me to read with her in New York and found her to be so fascinating and smart and funny, too. I don't think it's "necessary" to help other people out but I do believe that we're all in this together. We writers. And even we people on Earth. It's hard to write and it's hard to get published, and it's even harder to get a published book noticed. If we look it as a community, a group of people who love each other, then it makes sense that we help each other out the best we can. So, no, I don't think it's necessary but I do think it's the right thing to do. We should treat each other kindly and as generously as possible.
6. Are any of your books being optioned for the big screen? Which would you most like to see?
I think Wonder Bread Summer would make a great movie and I'd love to see it on the screen. Drinking Closer to Home would probably be the most difficult to make into a movie. I think Drew Barrymore should play the mother in Naked Swim Parties. It is hard to think of her as a mother, but she is the age of the mother in the book. And she'd be perfect standing at the grill, making pancakes, with nothing on but an apron.
7. Do you have an average timeframe that it takes you to write a book?
About two years. And then there's the year of revisions with my editor if I'm lucky enough to have sold it.
8. Have you ever had negative feedback from anyone you've written about? Either way, does that change anything?
No. My family is used to me writing about them and I pretty much just crack them up. Other people don't see themselves the way I see them. I've had many, many people tell me they thought one character or another was based on someone in particular and they're usually wrong.
9. What are your thoughts on social media? Does it help or harm writers?
I'm on book tour now (actually I'm on an airplane right now) and more than one person has come up to me at a reading and said they showed up because I posted the reading on Facebook. So I guess it helps. I get sick of myself pretty quickly, sick of the sound of my own voice (and my voice in my head, too), so I try to tweet and Facebook post about other writers, ideas, and images as much as possible. Then I stick myself in there from time to time because I do want people to come to readings and I do want people to read the book.
10. How did you get your agent, Brandt and Hochman Literary Agents, Inc. New York, NY? What was the process like?
I met Gail Hochman in the French House at Sewanee. It was late at night and we stood on the porch and talked about kids. She showed me pictures of her kids. I didn't know she was an agent. Later, after we had talked for a good long time I said to someone, "Who was that woman? She's hilarious." They told me who she was and I wrote her name down somewhere. When my book was done, months later, I sent it to her and . . . well, here we are.
11. If someone were to tell you one thing before you started writing, what do you wish it had been?
You aren't as dumb as you think.
12. What's the scariest part about giving a reading?
Standing there and having people look at me. It's terrifying. I try to pretend I'm someone else. Someone who isn't scared out of her mind and trembling inside. I fake myself out. I also try to remind myself that no one really gives a shit about me and even if I bomb, the only one who will remember is me. Nothing I do will make the news, so it's stupid, really, to be so afraid. I once stepped out of a jacuzzi in a women's locker room, and vomited and passed out, NAKED, in my own vomit. Sometimes I tell myself that no matter what happens, it probably won't be as bad as that.
13. Did I hear right? WonderBread is taken from a lot of real events you've been through?
Yup, sure is. Here's the round up of stuff I've encountered in real life: 1. The bread bag full of cocaine. 2. The girl (moi!) working at a dress shop that's really a front for cocaine dealing. 3. The quadriplegic with the head pointer who makes "erotic" films (in real life the guy made sex films that he called "art", in the book the guy makes porn). 4. The blind date with the quadriplegic (my blind date was with a paraplegic). 5. A guy named Vice Versa (the real one wasn't a hit man). Hmmm, there's more, but I can't remember right now.
14. What's the hardest thing you ever had to write?
The hardest things for me to write are promo/ad copy sort of things. Fiction is way easier than stuff like that. Actually, the hardest things to write are mission statements, essays, statements of purpose. The kind of stuff you have to write to get into colonies. I find that kind of writing agonizing.
15. Did I hear that the very first story you sent out was published? What did that feel like?
It did and I was shocked. I was staying home with my baby, pulling weeds from the lawn with my crazyass next door neighbor who had screws in her mouth for teeth and liked to weed my lawn with a fork. I was sitting in the park all day, talking to other mothers, watching my crawling baby eat sand and crawl up the steps to the slide and then slide down face first. When she napped I wrote. I didn't tell anyone, it was my secret. I had no idea if anything I wrote was good or not. Getting that story published gave me the courage to apply to graduate school.
16. I saw your first two books have book trailers, is The Wonder Bread Summer going to have one? What do you think they do for the book?
I'm not sure they do anything for a book. In fact, I'm pretty certain they do nothing. But they're sort of fun to make and fun to look at. I think shorter is better. I don't' think any book trailer should be longer than 60 seconds. We are making one for Wonder Bread. We were going to shoot it last week but my schedule got too crazy. I think we're shooting it next week.
17. Have you ever considered doing the audio book version of your books?
Hey, I'd do the pantomime version of my book if someone wanted it!
18. Do you participate in any writing workshops, or is it just you and your editor?
I have a writers group. It's me and three guys, they all have at least two books out and they're all great writers. We eat dinner. They drink wine. We talk about everything. And then we give macro responses to each other's work. No one's really into the minutiae and that's how I prefer it. It's our editors who get into the micro.
19. On your website it says that you have a novel in progress called Running from Vice Versa, are you nervous about giving away too much too soon?
Really? Does it say that? That was my working title for The Wonder Bread Summer. My webpage was recently updated. I don't think it says that anymore, does it? OH, maybe on the HarperCollins page for me it says that, doesn't it?
20. Other than Running from Vice Versa, what's next for Jessica Blau?
I have five things going at once and I'm feeling somewhat paralyzed. I'm feeling a bit scared and I don't know why. I think it's because I'm in the middle of promoting Wonder Bread and so I can't get my head away from it enough to really dive into something else. I have three first chapters to a new novel (three different novels). And I have short stories I'm writing. And other stuff, too. I need to pick one thing and just dig in. I need to ignore myself for a while (my constantly critical self-doubting, niggling voice) and just do it. I'm starting tomorrow. I swear.
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