August 8, 2006

3 Questions: Martha O'Connor

I am guest blogging every Tuesday all month long over at Literary Chicks. Today I finished blogging the tale of a plane with no snakes, unless you count the pilot.
Here is the first part: How to make a 90 Minute Flight Last 13 Hours
Here is the grandless finale: How I saved the lives of Over 20 Babies. And One Dog.

HERE on FTK, for your delectation, I have the multi-talented Martha O'Connor, author of The Bitch Posse. She'll answer my three questions, and then I'll gabble on about the things I liked very best about her book. Fair warning, my friend Martha is NOT a PG kinda girl, but it's an honest and interesting interview for teens and adults.


JJ: As a Southern writer, I think everything is about locationlocationlocation. How did growing up in The Midwest influence your work? A better way to say that might be, could these books be set anywhere else?

MO'C: I think the Midwest has always been the bastard child of fiction. It’s not New York, it’s not either of the coasts, it’s not the charming South… it’s just “the middle of a ****ing cornfield.” And I use that exact phrase in my book.

I can definitely relate to girls growing up in that bleak, endless plain in the center of the center of the country. I mean, I was one of them!

As to your question, could the book be set elsewhere?--Well, of course. But I think to work, it’d have to be a place that’s isolated and provincial. Because you see, the girls in the Bitch Posse were all desperate to get the hell out of there. And that’s a key motivator in the book.

In AA it’s called “the geographic solution,” where you try to physically remove yourself from a situation (moving away, changing jobs, leaving your spouse) in order to solve all your troubles. Of course, “the geographic solution” is no solution at all. But these girls are seventeen; they don’t know that! Hell, lots of adults don’t. That said, writing about people who are trying to take “a geographic” is easier when the place they’re leaving is unappealing to many of us.

It’s also worth saying I understood none of this when I was writing the novel. I’m a very unconscious writer!

JJ: What's the best STUPID LITTLE perk about having your book sell? You must here confess what RIDICULOUS dorky thing has pleased you WELL beyond the scope of it...

MO'C: I saw someone reading my book on an airplane while I was on book tour. A few rows behind me, a man about my age had his nose buried in MY BOOK and was flipping pages so quickly they almost lit fire. Zoiks! I said to myself. The writer’s dream come true. I couldn’t help getting up and walking over.

“Hey, that’s my book,” I said.
He put it down and smiled. God, he looked familiar. I wondered if he was famous or something.
“I know,” he replied. “It’s Emma’s, she let me borrow it.”

Emma’s? Holy crap. This mysterious man on the airplane was none other than my old friend from high school, Paul. I hadn’t seen him in fifteen years! He just happened to be on the same flight as mine, on his way to Australia on business. His wife (and high school sweetheart) Emma had told him that my book was a page-turner and he had decided to take it as his airplane book.

I signed his book, and we spent awhile catching up and sharing kid photos. All in all, it was a terrific experience that got me in two ways: the whole It’s a Small World After All idea and, of course, the Someone is reading my book on a plane! thing. I don’t think anything will ever top that.

JJ: You've overcome some pretty high hurdles in your life....can you tell us how your personal understanding of addiction helped create the layers in your book?

MO'C: In my life, I have learned quite a bit about addiction and compulsive behaviors. As a recovering alcoholic, I have been able to get an inside perspective at the life of an addict.

Much of The Bitch Posse is about addiction and how it is spawned in adolescence and carries through into adulthood. My three girls all come from extremely dysfunctional situations, and addiction plays a role in this dysfunction. First, Cherry’s mother is a cocaine addict. Cherry herself has to play the “mother” role and often mothers her friends. As an adult, Cherry struggles with addictive self-injurious behavior. As for Amy, her parents are alcoholic, and she is relentlessly critical of them for it. However, she is alcoholic herself—perhaps even as a teen, but certainly in her adulthood—and fails to realize it. Finally, Rennie’s life is also torn apart by an adult’s compulsive behavior. (I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t read the book.) As an adult, Rennie becomes addicted to sex.

Why do addictions carry through generations of a family? Is it a vicious cycle that is unbreakable? I like to think the answer is “no.” I don’t think the solution to mystery of addiction lies solely with genetics. There is hope for the addict. I’m living proof.

Interestingly, I wrote this book without fully understanding how addiction played a role in my own life. I have now learned that I have used my own addictions as a way not to have to feel the feelings. Also, I’ve discovered that one doesn’t have to be addicted to a substance to be an addict. One can be addicted to success, to praise, to work, to violence, to snobbery, to drama, to resentments or to many other abstract things. In the end, they all come from the same source.

Battling addiction is hard work and requires dedication. (But then, so does being an addict!) You can’t just “sort of” want to get better and be successful in the long term. But the first step is admitting you have a problem.

It may be hard work, but recovery is very rewarding. I know I have become a better person through facing addiction and learning how to recover from it. In my novel, I think I created a glimmer of hope that my characters might eventually recover from their own compulsions, too.

JJ: You did. My favorite things about your book were the teeny tiny, shimmering grace notes and the amazing highwire act you did with 6 voices. I remember starting the book and going "Oh, she can't sustain this --- 3 voices speaking from the past, 3 in present, first and third person depending on character and place in time, There is NO WAY to SUSTAIN these voices, keep them seperate and individiual, make, for example, the teen Cherry's voice consistently resonate with the older Cherry's..." But then you did it. Bravo. Okay, that wasn't a question. Just a well deserved compliment. THANKS MARTHA.

Posted by joshilyn at August 8, 2006 7:12 AM

The ending of the SnakePilot On A Plane story was worth the wait, Joss! (Thought I'd tell you that here instead of there because I tried to leave a comment on the LC blog for the first part of the story and it never got approved/posted, so evidently they thought I was a hunk of canned processed meat instead of a reasonably normal [in a weird sort of way] person.)* Hopefully you and your luggage get to stay home for a while now, yes?

Loved reading your interview answers, Martha!

*Warning: Double parenthetical asides used by a professional commentor on a closed course. Do not try this at home.

Posted by: DebR at August 8, 2006 8:26 AM

T'was a good book. Saw the paperback out in Borders yesterday.

Posted by: Heather at August 8, 2006 9:38 AM

Comment the first: The Bitch Posse is now right at the top of my Books That Must Be Purchased list.

Comment the second: That story was SO WORTH THE WAIT, Scarlett!

Posted by: Aimee at August 8, 2006 10:29 AM


Just wanted to let you know that your link to Literary Chicks actually is a link to "Jackie Cooper".

Love your blog and I will be posting a *glowing* review of BETWEEN on my site this week.


PS- Great name!

Posted by: jocelyn at August 8, 2006 1:37 PM

Just wanted to let you know that... YOU'RE IT! I tagged you for a very fun book meme.

Posted by: mom on a wire at August 9, 2006 9:02 PM


Posted by: plavix 75 mg at August 12, 2006 11:54 PM

Uniquely written, an absolute page turner!
Even when the book was continued,
I could not stop thinking about it!
I am eagerly awaiting the next :-)

Posted by: Meredith at August 17, 2006 11:54 AM