interview on BBC Radio
Today, in a half-arsed effort to stay away from carbs, I ate fried chicken and Dole mandarin oranges for lunch. Tonight was the author’s reception. I’m usually all amped up for interviews and events but all those eyes in a room sometimes scare me.
I choose an outfit upstairs (leather skirt, vintage red leather shoes, customized vintage Motel Cuban shirt tied at stomach, tights), and sneak down with my book bag. I find being in heels, even low ones, unsettles me a bit. It’s as if my feet aren’t firmly planted on the ground, in a metaphor way as well as a real way. The reality becomes metaphorical and them resettles itself in a physical unease over my body.
I pick up a beer, spill a bit, hope no one notices, wipe it up and put it back on the bar. I order a Rum and Coke and make eye contact with another loner – a woman with long, silver-blonde hair and red lipstick. She looks interesting and elegant and poised. She is drinking seltzer water. She says she can’t drink. I don’t ask why, in case it’s something medical. (It could have been because she had to drive home, in hindsight.)
After I have my drink I go to look for her but she has disappeared. I find her after a few minutes, talking to a man. She jokes that he is not her partner and this is confusing for me as I think you have to be in on the fact that he is to get the joke and not think she is being serious. She laughs when she says it, but she could be laughing because I have just suggested this stranger is her partner. I’m confused but I smile anyway, like this :)
She turns out to be very nice, and to have come from New York and written a book, half poetry and half prose, a sort of memoir of her dream analysis that took ten years to complete and years afterwards to collate and write an account of. There are many different writers who do different things. I feel like I learn this as I look around the room and talk to some more people.
A woman called Lisa comes to say hi. She seems very nice and I want to talk to her more, but I am across the table and in the middle of talking to Sarah, the first woman. Lisa says she writes for tweens. I’ll try and find her later.
Next I run into the author I’m doing a panel with tomorrow. Her name is Emily Jeanne Miller, and she has written a book I think sounds just like my kind of thing. Luckily, we have googled each other so we at least recognize someone at this event (which was a concern beforehand! Would you know if you were standing next to Jodi Picoult?). Her book:
Brand New Human Being | A deftly plotted exploration of marriage, family, and the road from child to parent. A page-turning debut that overflows with heart and grace.
It’s set in Montana, and I ask her why she moved there. She replies for graduate school and asks me if I know the area.
I think: from a River Runs Through It… but was that in Missouri?
‘…I’ve seen films set there.’
‘Like A River Runs Through It?’
‘Yes! I was just thinking that!’
‘That was such a good movie.’
‘Oh, so good.’ And Brad Pitt was dreamy in it, I add silently. Like he was in Legend of the Falls.
‘Have you seen Legend of the Falls?’
Aw dude, you read my mind.
We watch the speech by Jud Ashman, who is utterly inspiring and has written (fittingly) a beautiful speech. He reminds me so much of Matt Damon, particularly when he smiles and the sound of his voice and accent. SO much. Picture included. You’ll see.
After, Emily and I talk a lot more – although we float the idea of not doing so, so the material isn’t old the next day. We find we have a lot in common: we’re both more at ease with writing male characters but don’t know exactly why, we’re both embarking on a follow up novel and we both came to the literary world recently. There was more stuff but I forget now. We’re also both on the New Voices Panel at 11.15 tomorrow morning at Gaithersburg Books Festival – come on down!!!
As Emily talks, I get more excited to read her book. She’s beautiful, smart, funny and confident. I bet it’s going to be awesome. Looking forward to the panel tomorrow and to meeting our moderator! The woman who stops up from slapping each other and stuff in the middle of talking.
After Emily and I have talked for a while, novelist Brad Parks comes over to chat to us and extols the virtues of bangin’ out a book every ten weeks. WOWZA. I thought I wrote fast. Impressive! We talk about characters and how we rarely ever set out to write, as you might think. A character just pops into your head and you have to write truthfully what they do. When Brad introduces himself, he says he is a thriller writer and hands me a nifty business card/bookmark. How wicked! I need to get one. Then he asks Emily what she writes. This brings me back to: there are lots of types of writers. Emily ums and ahs and Brad says, ‘Ah! You write “literature”!’
Next, Jud Ashman introduces himself and then comedian John DeBellis joins us and some Gaithersburg organisers for a chat. We discuss British TV crime shows like New Tricks and Broadchurch (highly recommended) and laugh a lot. There seems to be such a great team here.
John and I sit at the bar and talk for a while after all the people who plan these things better have gone to bed. He worked as a writer on SNL and Seinfeld back in the day, and has four daughters and some advice for me:
‘Maybe you fall in love and think this is it, or maybe you don’t know, but if life has taught me one thing it’s to take your time. Take your time. Get to know yourself. You have a lot more time than you think you do now.’
I am totally in love with this book — I devoured it in two days. I even cried a little.
It all comes down to the main character. Max is an intersex teen who has always identified as a boy, but certain catastrophic events lead him to question who and what he is. I just adored him.
Thanks!! So glad you loved Max :))
Golden Boy, a new novel about an intersex teenager, is quickly becoming a critics’ favorite. We chatted with its young author, Abigail Tarttelin, about the issues it addresses
It was a great interview!
Young adult / Contemporary / GBLT
The Walker family is good at keeping secrets from the world. They are even better at keeping them from each other.
Max Walker is a golden boy. Attractive, intelligent, and athletic, he’s the perfect son, the perfect friend, and the perfect crush…
You have to be alone a lot if you want to be a writer. That’s something that some people find it hard to understand. They think you don’t want to spend time with them, but you do. You just have to sit by yourself occasionally, to let the cogs whir. I haven’t spent a lot of time alone lately, but I find whenever I am I get an idea or two. Or at least, I have an urge to put words on a screen.
Gaithersburg is a city of contradiction. The air is warm and soft and smells partly of rich, green vegetation and partly of gasoline. I can feel the twin scents coming at me from both sides of the road as I walk out to get some food.
The plane was a little delayed and my luggage temporarily lost, but everything came together in the end and I had a great car drive down with Victor, my driver, who was the coolest suited guy holding a white piece of paper with a name on it in baggage check.
In the car, we drove for an hour and talked about places, politics and people. Victor has moved around a lot and I wanted to know if he made plans before he left for a place. He said mostly not.
‘What kind of books do you write?’ he said.
‘Oh, they’re – I’ve written two, this is the second coming out next week – they’re both really coming of age novels.’
‘Congratulations!’ Victor said. ‘You’re gonna be famous soon.’
‘I’ve had a really good week,’ I said, a little shy about it. ‘It’s been mentioned in Vanity Fair, Cosmopolitan and O Magazine.’
‘That’s great! Vanity Fair, that’s big!’
‘Yeah, and Oprah I’ve known about since I was a toddler. She’s huge. So that’s really exciting.’
‘Ah that’s great. Good for you. It’s nice when nice people do well.’
I smiled. ‘Thanks. You know, I hate it when I really like an actor or someone and then someone says to you, ‘Oh yeah, I met them, that guy’s such a dick’!’
‘Yeah, that’s bad. Let me tell you about Sarah Jessica Parker. I had her in my car with her son and her husband…’
Oh no. I didn’t want Victor to say she wasn’t nice! I love Sex and the City!
‘…he sat in the front here, with their son behind me, and she was sitting where you’re sitting…’
Please please please.
‘…and she was just as pleasant as you see her on TV. She was so nice.’
Victor had also had Stevie Wonder and Tommy Lee Jones in his cab, plus a bunch of other people I forget now because it’s late.
When I arrive at the hotel, reception has mixed up my room a little, so I email my (lovely) publicist (who figures it out in no time – thanks Mell!) and lie out on my bed. It’s 7.30pm but the last time I ate was a bitesize spanakopita nine hours ago so I feel the need to forage. I throw on a coat and head out of the bizarrely freezing air-conditioned to **** room, and into the balmy night.
The sun has sunk below the trees and left stripes of purple across the sky. I turn onto the main highway and take the sidewalk to a strip mall nearby. I choose a Subway and ordered a six-inch sandwich, a bag of Doritos and a coke. It comes to $7. Immediately I think: I’ve figured out how to eat on the road and not go broke. Fast food. What a revelation. Only sixty years behind everyone else (eighty?).
Another customer, a slender, older, African American man, tells me to go for spinach on my sandwich – the healthy option. He’s right. It tastes great.
Outside the subway I linger on the corner, next to a surprising crop of pungent pink flowers. What are they doing in this tarmac-filled carpark? A little relic left by someone trying to make the world a more beautiful place. The world feels a lot more alive and full of potential and excitement and adventure here than in the hotel room, next to my computer, that sits there, calling me to my emails. I play with the idea of staying. I try sitting on the bench, but it’s cold on my thighs and that decides it.
Another Gaithersburg contradiction: on the way back, as the sun set behind me, I sat on some steps outside the back exit of a shop to eat a few Doritos and watch a bit of life. In my left ear, from the trees that lined the vacant hotel parking lot, I could hear birds singing to each other. In my right ear, the one nearest to the highway, I could hear the roar and drone and rage of engines firing incessantly, determinedly, resolute and self-confident.
The contradictions make me think that America might have been built by two kinds of people: those that want it all and those that want to get away from it all.
I slipped through the buzzing contingency of Japanese tourists, stood alone in the elevator, and ate my sandwich in my room with the lights off, looking out at the sky.
Follow me on tour to Gaithersburg Book Festival, New York, Boston, Colorado, Toronto, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles over the next few weeks using hashtags #goldenboytour2013 and #booktour on instagram, youtube, twitter and wordpress.