August 12, 2005

GCC: Three Questions with Martha O'Connor

When Martha O'Connor's debut novel,The Bitch Posse, launched, I was on tour and crazy, and while I blogged her, I never sent her 3 Questions. DREADFUL! OVERSITE! Because she's interesting. And because this was a book that got a lot of pre-pub buzz, so much so that I read it in ARC form (sent in by Alert Reader David). It was hard-edged and sad and lovely, and the level of craft blew me away in that she sustains 6 separate voices and it WORKS. So I tracked her down and made her do them NOW, figuring, better late than never...

JJ: Well. Martha! At last we have 3 questions... I've written a novel with a somewhat hard-edged protagonist who engages in, shall we say, "questionable behavior," what with all the beating heads in with liquor bottles and the sex with every boy in her high school sophomore class. And then here you come with three even HARDER edged girls who are big druggy-cutters who perpetrate some felonies of their own. When I was on the road, talking about gods in Alabama, I found myself feeling very defensive, trying to make it PERFECTLY clear that I was not Arlene and Arlene was not me. I can only imagine it must have been even more difficult for you. How did you handle it?

MO'C: At times I have sensed that people (reporters mainly) have really, REALLY wanted me to say that the book is based on actual events. I suppose it makes a better story~Writer Excorsises Own Demons Via Edgy Novel. But personally I feel my deep dark secrets are really no one's business, and besides, I really really REALLY want it to be about the book, not me.

For awhile when I was discussing this novel with my family, they felt
the need to point out inconsistencies between the book in my life, as
if to prove to me it was fiction. (!) My dad said, "But THAT'S not
why you were kicked out of the National Honor Society! It was because you..." and then he proceeded to explain the REAL reason I was kicked out of the Honor Society. Of which I was already well aware. Et cetera.

One thing I will promise: I do not have a deep, dark crime in my past that has haunted me for fifteen years!

JJ: I WANT MORE BOOKS BY YOU. What are you working on now?

MO'C: I am so supersitious about talking about unfinished work! It's like dancing in the kitchen when you have a souffle in the oven. But I am working on a novel. The novel I am working on is dark. That's all I'm sayin'!

JJ: I think your cover is fantastic...tell me how you ended up with it.

MO'C: St. Martin's involved me and my agent in cover art and wanting to know what we thought, if it was OK, etc. Several concepts floated by us and then they hired Rodrigo Corrall's freelance firm for this one. I think they did a great job. To me it looks like Amy whispering into Rennie's ear. The only problem is that people who've never met me want to know whether it is me on the cover. I have to tell them NO.

I wasn't sure about the checkerboard pattern on the spine at first and fought it a bit but now I see it in person and I think it is absolutely brilliant. It really stands out.

I'm happy with this cover and you're not the first person to compliment it.

Thank you so much for hosting me, Joshilyn!

Posted by joshilyn at August 12, 2005 5:56 AM

I can see Martha's book from across the room on my bookshelf. With that checkerboard pattern I don't think I will ever lose it!

Posted by: Heather McCutcheon at August 12, 2005 11:18 AM

Man - either you are an early riser or Mir kept you up all night -- and then had enough focus to blog an interview!

There's the Georgia Literary Festival tomorrow in Elberton. As a (early) rising literary star in Georgia, do you get many invites to events such as this one? Having read about it, I would have thought you would be a natural fit (even though you aren't from Elberton).

I listened to your GPB interview on Cover to Cover a week or so and enjoyed it. The settings for your novels being in the South and "illuminating" aspects of small town rural southern culture, do you identify yourself as a southern author? Bailey White, Fanny Flagg, Ferrol Sams, Jan Karol - all of their works I've read are not only set in the south but some are as much about the south as about the story being related. (or at least you can learn about the south while the story is told Someone like Kinky Friedman sets his novels (the ones I've read) between New York, Hawaii, and Texas and doesn't especially focus on life in the south. Do you see yourself "venturing out of the South" in future novels? I understand you lived in or around Chicago for some time, did (or will) life there inspire any ideas for novels?

Just curious!

Posted by: Bob at August 12, 2005 12:00 PM

I hope y'all find yourselves with a copy of The Bitch Posse and a free Sunday to read. It's captivating, entertaining, and a total keeper.

Posted by: Cele at August 12, 2005 12:37 PM

TBP has been on my wish list for a while (when I first saw the title, I thought, "Sheesh, is the author someone from my book club?").

Thanks for the intriguing questions and answers.

Posted by: Edgy Mama at August 12, 2005 1:50 PM

THE BITCH POSSE is totally great and so is Martha and so is Joshilyn TOTALLY TOTALLY--which makes this, like, a really neato-jeato Harmonicas Converging thingie, or whatever they call them.

I *should* actually know what they call them, being pretty much Californian and everything, but I'm in Boston right now doing the old Bazillion Mayflower Gone-to-Seed Whackjob Cousins Gin-and-Tonic Extravanganza. As a result, everything but Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup casseroles and lime green belts with hot pink whales on them has been wiped from my memory banks by Puritan No-Nonsense Moral-Fiber Mind Rays.

I think.

Could just be wimpy coffee. Or not enough gin.

Meanwhile, Martha's cover is gorgeous (as the stunning writing to be found within so splendidly deserves), and I love the checkerboard part.

Posted by: Cornelia Read at August 12, 2005 2:01 PM

I read both books and was floored at the depth of emotion and plot contained within the pages. Both books were the can't-put-'em-down kind.

I've recommended both novels to family and friends alike as well as making sure I weave it into conversation with total strangers at the grocery store. : -)

Joshilyn and Martha are on my 'must buy as soon as their books are available list'.

Here's hoping there will be many more books (and all of them bestsellers) in your futures.


Posted by: Sonya at August 12, 2005 2:21 PM

Y'all are just nuts.

Posted by: Jilly at August 12, 2005 9:21 PM

First of all the checkerboard is PERFECT on Martha's cover! Great decision, GREAT BOOK! Second, aside from making all our characters MEN, just how DO we avoid everyone on the planet "assuming" the edgy bridezillas in the story have all the characteristics of and run a parallel life to the author's? Just my opinion, but I think this natural assumption of many people may be the one thing that holds many writers back from their best work. That fear of "Oh NO, what if Auntie Em reads this?" or "What would my 5th grade teacher THINK...."

Posted by: Diana at August 13, 2005 3:55 PM

Judith Martin/Miss Manners wrote a novel set in Washington (having been a White House social secretary) and sighs that everyone assumes the letters to Miss Manners and made up and that the characters in her novel represented real people. No winning, apparently.

(Barbara Kingsolver, talking about the same problem, posits the notion that people just cant imagine a nice girl like her *lying* so it all must be true.)

Posted by: rams at August 13, 2005 5:31 PM

People are ALWAYS going to think that you are writing about yourself and others you know, even when you aren't.

I just received an honorable mention for a story I sent in to a Fiction contest--but the award was for best Nonfiction. Yes, the story is written in first person, from the pov of a woman, whom I don't name, but it's fiction, as I clearly wrote on the cover sheet!

Posted by: Edgy Mama at August 14, 2005 11:57 AM

Well, since rams pointed out above, there's just no winning this one, maybe it's best to just keep 'em all guessing which things we did and which things we didn't... Joshilyn, I wish you'd repeat that funny story you told on Cover To Cover about you and hubby visiting the publishing house for the first time (about why the people were trying to get a look at you). That's a prime example of this dilemma...

Posted by: Diana at August 14, 2005 1:51 PM