“Wanna interview me?”
“Sure. Oh, you mean, now?”
“I don’t get time to think about my questions?”
“No, you do.”
“HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE YOU TO WRITE A BOOK? ………….. Jill, that’s the first question.”
“Oh, we’re not interviewing on video?”
“No. You can write it. Answer the question.”
I wrote Red Audrey as a short story when I was in graduate school. The story had almost the entire arc: Emily, Audrey, Nick, UPS, Hawaii, the clubs, accident. Jane wasn’t named in the story, and everyone called her honey. So, I was 23. And then I wrote it in scenes when I was 27. I had folders labeled “Emily” “Nick” and “Audrey” and I would write scenes at work and then put them in the appropriate folder. I’d wander around and think, Now I need a scene that gets me to blah. Or, I should write about that weird catacomb jazz club. In the end, I printed all the scenes out and spread them on my bed. I assembled the novel like that.
And then edited it for like 3 years.
I wrote Field Guide in a summer. And had to re-write it twice. My editor hated it. She said it was joyless. She didn’t really say that, but that’s what it felt like she said. And she was entirely right. The drafts were joyless.
Giraffe People was written over about 7 months. I wrote when I felt like it. And the story was just there. Like picking fruit. It was miraculous.
TALK ABOUT HOW PEOPLE ALWAYS THINK THEY’RE CHARACTERS IN YOUR BOOKS.
That’s an interesting thing. I suppose because my work is familiar. I mean, I write about things you think about, don’t I? That’s what I try to do anyway. To write about the experience of being human. And so it seems familiar to you. And you suspect that we had a conversation like that at some point. And you know you do that certain thing that appears on page 142, so I must mean you, right? I hope people do it because the work dings inside them. Lights them up.
TALK ABOUT HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT CANDY.
This is your question? OK. I love candy. Especially Japanese candy. I don’t really see any reason to eat anything else. When I was a kid in Germany, you could get these giant gummi bears in the vending machines. Everywhere! They were everywhere and they were the size of rats. It was the happiest thing ever.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT SPOKANE?
Trains. The trees here. The parks. I love the river and the brick houses. I love the derelict buildings and the hiking trails. I love how many farmers’ markets we have. There are like seven and a half thousand farmers’ markets here now. Or anyway like three. It’s amazing.
We have deer in our neighborhood. Porcupine, skunks, hawks, coyotes. I love the way Spokane resists change and then suddenly paints bike lanes all over the place. The yoga studios and the coffee houses are exactly proportionate.
WHAT DO YOU THINK WILL BE DIFFICULT ABOUT WRITING A COMEDY?
Well, probably just the sitting down and writing part. I have this story in my head — have had for a year — but still haven’t sat down to write it. I used to have awful dates. I mean mythological, they were so awful. I would go home sometimes and check myself for battle scars, shrapnel. The comedy is just endless. Lesbian dates are a particular kind of surreal.
I’m not really answering the question, am I?
WHICH OF YOUR CHARACTERS WOULD BE THE MOST IRRITATING TO KNOW IN REAL LIFE?
I refuse to answer this question. This question is traitorous. I like all of them. Not like children, or whatever, but I like all of them. That dude who was always hitting on Claire was an asshole though. So I pick him.
BUT I DIDN’T ASK YOU WHICH ONE YOU DISLIKED, I ASKED WHICH WOULD BE THE MOST IRRITATING?
Sheesh. I don’t know. Jane, I suppose. She has terrible boundaries. So there’d always be calamity and shit.
IF YOU COULD CHANGE SOMETHING ABOUT EITHER OF YOUR FIRST TWO BOOKS, WHAT WOULD YOU GO BACK AND CHANGE?
I wish I hadn’t put everything I put into Red Audrey. I mean, I put everything I could think of into that novel. The god stuff had no place there. That wasn’t Jane’s issue, it was mine. I wish I hadn’t quite pushed the language as hard as I did. I made it work too hard.
I love Field Guide. I wouldn’t change anything about it, except the title. We lie too much sometimes in fiction. Love stories fucking suck. Some of them really fucking suck. And we have to write those too. The nearly stories. The we-tried-so-hard-and-still-everything-burned stories.
WHY ARE YOU SO MEAN TO RED AUDREY?
What now? How am I mean?
TO THE BOOK? WHY ARE YOU SO MEAN TO THE BOOK?
First-pancake syndrome? I don’t know. It’s your fault actually. You told me parts were overwritten and I asked for an example and you read me one and I can’t think about that book the same way now. And I was young. I wrote that book a decade ago. It’s a first novel. It has first novel problems.
BUT WHAT DOES YOUR RESPONSE SAY TO THOSE OF US WHO LOVE THAT BOOK?
That’s a good question. You have to understand artists operate in a constant state of redress. We’re always looking to improve, to tell something better, to express an experience differently. If I couldn’t see the weaknesses in my novels, then I couldn’t strengthen them. You should have less faith in me as an artist if I tell you my work is flawless. It isn’t. It’s like me. Still working to figure shit out.
I’m glad you love Red Audrey. It’s gratifying that you love Red Audrey. I feel about the novel the way I feel about my teenaged self. Wistful and proud and embarrassed. We don’t have to agree about my work. If I were satisfied with it, I’d stop working.
WHAT’S THE BEST NEW THING YOU’VE DISCOVERED IN THE LAST YEAR?
Yard work. Yard work feels like meditation. I sometimes wander around looking for weeds. Why do I do that? I don’t know. It’s just so satisfying to pull them out.