Welcome to my stop on the Sex & Violence Blog Tour!
Sex & Violence is such an intriguing book -- one that's perfect for those of you who enjoy gritty contemporaries, male POVs, and (readable!) literary writing. My review is here if you missed it!
Author Carrie Mesrobian has graciously agreed to stop by and answer a few of my questions about the book.
Carrie's bio: "I have worked as a teacher in both public and private schools. I teach teenagers about writing at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. However, the best job I ever had was when I worked in a thrift store pawing through donations of cast-off junk. Loved that job so much! I live with Adrian, my husband, Matilda, my daughter, and Pablo, my dog/publicity manager."
Jen: Thanks so much for stopping by to chat about Sex & Violence -- your book, that is, which released on October 1. In my review, I confessed that I found the title of your book a little intimidating. It's a fairly provocative title for a story that's actually pretty understated. Can you talk a little about the contrast between the two?
Carrie: Well, Sex & Violence was not my original title. I wanted to be call it The Cupcake Lady of Tacoma because…because I am crazy? I don’t know. Let’s credit my editor Andrew Karre with coming up with Sex & Violence and nixing The Cupcake Lady of Tacoma. I was a little uncomfortable with Sex & Violence myself, when we decided to go with it, because it’s kind of in-your-face. Being that I am terrible with titles, I have to admit I didn’t press very hard for anything else. And after working on the book and using that title for a while, it grew on me, as a title and a theme. Evan’s situation conflates the two in a way they hadn’t been before, but both are conflated in our culture all the time already. Also the title pretty much forces you to contend with the subject matter and tells you rather quickly if you might be interested in checking things out.
Jen: I have to agree that Andrew's title is a little more catchy. But I'm a little squeamish and was relieved that your story offers minimal details about the assault suffered by Evan. Instead, the reader follows him post-assault as he is put into a new setting and has to figure out how to renegotiate friendship and romance and people's questions and concern for him and all the details of everyday life. What made you decide to take this approach?
Carrie: Well, to be honest, I’m not a fan of writing violent scenes. Which is weird, because writing sex scenes is a lot like writing violent scenes or fight scenes; you have to keep track of lots of moving parts and conflicting intentions. And I like writing sex scenes! But the first instance of violence in the book isn’t one that Evan can be conscious for, anyway, so that was my escape hatch, which was convenient, since I don’t have the stomach for it. Given that the world is and always has been a very violent place – we are open about showing violence in the media, that’s for sure – I don’t think it makes a ton of sense to walk readers through such scenes. They can imagine all too well, I feel. (Now sex! Sex is a totally different story, but I digress…)
Jen: Ha - we'll save that for another interview. Okay, I realize that I seem full of complaints, but I am not a fan of epistolary devices in books. However, one of my favorite parts of your story was reading the letters that Evan had to write as part of his therapy. Can you tell us more about his therapy and the letters?
Carrie: You know what’s super funny? I’m not a fan of that device, either! I usually am annoyed by it because it seems very ‘writerly’ – a solution that someone comfortable with words would deploy and this kind of shows the writer’s underpants and knocks me out of the narrative when I’m reading. I don’t like it when main characters are ‘writers’ because that seems very easy. And like Tom says in the book: who writes long-ass letters anymore, you know? The only people I know who write long letters are my writer friends. (And me, too; I’m a blabbermouth in email and whatnot.) So the device can go wrong in books for me very often. It’s even worse when the letters recreate dialogue and include all kinds of description! Because, as if! So, it was a weird decision, yes. I started them as a way to get into Evan’s head and then they just stuck, because they advanced the plot in certain ways.
As far as Evan’s therapy, I needed him to be invested in getting better at some point, so he couldn’t just go to the sessions and sit there like a lump. I didn’t want the therapy to miraculously cure him fully, which it did in earlier drafts. I wanted him to have to work for it, for him to flail a bit. The letters give us a sense of him figuring things out, I think.
My personal experiences with therapy always included assignments the therapist gave me. Most of those assignments had some written component. My therapists were always very cognizant of each session driving us forward to some conclusion or understanding, me learning some new coping strategy. I don’t really understand how people do therapy without such take-home work, I guess. In a strange echo of this, at the end of the book’s revision process, my editor assigned me to write more letters on specific topics to make sure the letters were distributed evenly throughout the narrative.
Jen: Okay, I have to ask about The Cupcake Lady. I have so many questions and thoughts about her and why she was included in the story. Without spoilers, is there anything you can say about her? (I'm sure Heather and I will have one of our epic email discussions about this...)
Carrie: The Cupcake Lady was one of those things that was in the original draft but when I put her in there, I wasn’t sure what the point of her was. Just that Evan is dropping this name and is secretive about it, but doesn’t reveal what happened with her right away. So it took a while for me to come up with her meaning and function.
She’s a figure of male wish fulfillment. She’s the catalyst for his mercenary ways when it comes to sex. She’s also a kind of mother figure. A figure of comfort, and then betrayal. She’s a complicated mess, too, when you think about what happened to Collette and the issue of rape and consent. Is she the monster or is Evan the monster? I don’t know what I think of her, of what she did. I think maybe we are quick to dismiss or forgive what she did, too, because she’s female. Depending on your own personal experiences, what you think of her behavior could run the gamut, I think.
I’m really dancing around the point, aren’t I? Oh, Spoilers! You such cruel and terrible masters!
Jen: That's okay. I like that you don't have all the answers about her either. And I want everyone to wonder who she is and what she's up to with that pastry bag...
On a lighter note, I read your recent blog post about things you're interested in discussing at the moment. So let's talk about a few of those.
Topic A: Your dog's psychological problems. (My dumb computer would not let me add the photo of Pablo you sent, so I took this one off your website.)
Carrie: I have the sweetest, cutest dog ever. His name is Pablo and he’s five years old and we adopted him from a rescue. He’s kind of strange-looking, because he’s half basset hound and half catahoula or chocolate lab, who knows. But man! This dog is a total nutjob. He’s scared of everything! Staircases, dishwashers, certain types of furniture. He’s not afraid of storms or fireworks, strangely enough. But he’s a fearful, giddy boy. Everything worries him. If I move his dog dish one inch, he won’t eat out of it. He goes on hunger strikes because he’s afraid to enter the kitchen. He even chews on his claws like some kind of worried nail-biter. We’re currently remodeling our house, so his comfort zone, our sofa, is gone and he’s a total wreck. I think about him a lot and talk to him all day, because I work at home and he’s my mostly companion.
Carrie: Like Baker and Evan, I have a lot of rules. Many of them are about my appearance. I’m kind of a lunatic about certain kinds of clothing; I get obsessed with having certain garments and will hunt for them for years in thrift stores and online. So, back in my 20’s, I wore a lot of silver rings. It was my thing; I did more traveling then, and I’d buy a silver ring wherever I went and I had rings, sometimes one or two, on every finger. They weren’t, like, skulls or freaky Ren Faire kinda stuff. Just, really nice sterling silver rings. And then it was like, one day, I just woke up and thought, I can’t stand this. I was like, oh my god, I am covered in JUNK! I have short, stubby fingers, anyway – why the hell was I drawing attention to them?
Because I have long hair, too, I’ve never bothered with earrings, much. You can’t see them and they tangle in my hair. And necklaces ruin the line of my shirts and bracelets just draw attention to my Danny DeVito arms. Watches are okay, I guess, but I don’t really need one, because I have a phone, you know? I guess I would rather spend my money on actual clothing. I’m not a big fan of accessories, you might say, beyond hand-bags, really. Unless they are supposed to keep you warm, like a hat or scarf. But, a REAL hat or scarf, not one of those infinity scarves women wear for no discernible reason beyond style.
Man, that was a lot of words on such a fluffy topic! Now I feel kinda vapid. Moving on!
Jen: I am not a jewelry person either -- wearing it makes me feel claustrophobic.
Okay, on to TOPIC C: Fandom as a concept
Carrie: I teach writing to teenagers at a place in Minneapolis called The Loft Literary Center. I taught this Harry Potter class one summer and one of my students explained in passing that she “shipped” Draco and Hermione. I had to stop her and have her clarify and by the time she did, the whole class was babbling about their OTP and canon and Alternate Universe and my head was spinning. So I went home and did a bunch of Googling so I wouldn’t look like a total idiot. Most of my writing students write fan fiction, actually. For years I would nod indulgently at them, think of it as some quaint little beginner activity. Something you’d graduate from, after you’d grown up and realized you needed to pay bills and think up your own original content if you wanted to get anywhere as a writer. And I’d read some of it, here and there, and always feel guilty and embarrassed and vaguely upset, like, “BUT JK ROWLING DID NOT WRITE THAT! THAT IS NOT OKAY!”
But then I became obsessed with The Walking Dead and Norman Reedus. Which, if you follow me on Twitter, is more than obvious.
|This is not from Carrie's Twitter -- created by FixItOrDeal.wordpress.com|
I think it’s a really cool concept because I like to think about the reverberations between reader and writer and characters; it’s like this living, breathing thing. Once you release your book out into the wild, you can’t contain it anymore. People are going to do with it what they wish, whether they review it kindly or hack it to pieces. And fan fiction and fan art are just another way of participating with the story and the author, so I think it’s very, very cool. Plus there’s something so fun and carefree about writing it and reading it. It’s like playing and I don’t do a lot of that, as my 10-year-old likes to remind me. So I’m happy to have it in my life now.
Jen: I didn't know much about fanfic until I read Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. I'm actually reading an ARC of a book called Fic: Why Fanfiction is Taking Over the World. That might be hyperbolic, but the book is pretty interesting!
Thanks so much for stopping by, Carrie. This was so much fun. I'm giving away a copy of Sex & Violence tomorrow on Freebie Friday!