Author2Author: Colleen Curran & Martha O’Connor (Bonus Round)

Colleen Curran: As a fellow first novelist, do you read your reviews? I’m finding this such a strange part of the process. I told my publicist, only send me the good ones, I don’t need to read the bad ones. And I like that so far. Luckily, the reviews have been really good. But I still don’t really find it a pleasant experience. And then there’s Amazon, B&N, etc. I think I’ve got some religious nuts on my tail or something on Amazon, so I’ve been avoiding reading that as much as possible. But my coworkers like to tease me with stuff they get off Amazon. Like yesterday at a board meeting, my boss, also a writer, was chanting, “Sinful thoughts! You write sinful thoughts!” I hit him and then we went for a beer. What’s your experience been like?

Martha O’Connor: I don’t read reviews, other than the quotes my publicist sends me for my site. I decided not to read them a long time ago, after I read the New York Times assessment of one of my favorite novels, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita: “There are two equally serious reasons why it isn’t worth any adult reader’s attention. The first is that it is dull, dull, dull in a pretentious, florid and archly fatuous fashion. The second is that it is repulsive.” To me, Lolita is one of the most brilliant novels ever written. It showed me what a novel could be. Of course, that review is not about Lolita, but about how much it upset the reviewer. Recently Claire Tristram, author of the penetrating, beautiful and provocative novel After, said something really interesting to me: “Any time you write about sex and violence in any context beyond the set-in-stone genre boundaries, you’re going to get weird reactions from people, and those reactions always have far more to do with them than with your book.”

My job’s to write. So other than the reviews that get passed to me for use on the website, or ones that come my way by mistake, I don’t read them and am keeping my nose in my own new book. One thing’s for sure… I’m getting a lot more work done that way!

Did you write your novel in chronological order from start to finish, or did you write pieces of it and shuffle them together later? What are the benefits to using this approach?

Colleen Curran: I’ve been writing short stories since I was fifteen and always wanted to write a novel, but the task seemed so huge and overwhelming, I had no idea how to start. I’d also been submitting short stories for publication ever since I was fifteen, but with no luck. I got rejected everywhere. Ten years later, I was ready to throw in the towel. I had a series of dead-end day jobs, but finally landed a good job where I was an online journalist. I was ready to quit fiction writing altogether and just write nonfiction. But I still kept sending out my short stories. In the first month at my new job, one of my stories got picked by Jane for their fiction fontest. Then, the same editor recommended me for a literary anthology, The Dictionary of Failed Relationships, where I was included with some of my favorite writers, like Susan Minot and Pam Houston. I finally felt like I had a fighting chance. After years of feeling completely outside of the publishing world, with no connections, no positive feedback from anyone, maybe I finally, finally had a chance.

Whores on the Hill started as a series of short shorts. I was a short story writer, so I felt like I could handle that. Also, my writing time was from five a.m. until seven thirty a.m. every morning before work, so the short form also suited my schedule. I didn’t write the chapters in chronological order. I was writing them all over the place. But it was fun and I was really enjoying myself. Ten months later, I had a draft done. I started looking for an agent. My dream agent, someone I couldn’t believe even asked to see the manuscript in the first place, read it in full and said the writing was “spectacular” but declined to take it because, he said, “well, it has no plot.”

I was devastated. I knew I needed to revise, but I had no idea how. I sat down and cut out 100 pages. I wrote 150 more. Any scene that didn’t move the plot forward? I cut it. Any scene that didn’t change or illuminate character? Reworked or rewritten. I changed characters, I changed the climax, I rewrote the ending seven times. I revised for six months, the hardest thing I’d ever done. I was miserable and stuck one minute, then elated and joyful when I’d make a breakthrough. Finally, I sent it back to the dream agent, prayed and crossed my fingers. He called, took the book and sold it in a week.

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26 June 2005 | author2author |

Author2Author: Colleen Curran & Martha O’Connor

When Whores on the Hill and The Bitch Posse, two novels that both feature teen girl trios getting into big trouble, showed up in my mailbox on consecutive days, I figured the gods of parcel delivery were trying to send me a signal about how I should be scheduling my website. So I sent word out to Colleen Curran and Martha O’Connor, and once the three of us had sorted through everybody’s tour schedules–well, okay, I’m not on tour yet—the conversation got underway…

oconnor.jpgMartha O’Connor: The teenaged girls in both The Bitch Posse and Whores on the Hill cultivate badass, take-on-the-world images, but scratch the surface and one finds heartbreaking vulnerabilities. In your novel, Astrid seems the toughest of all. What about that image draws Juli and Thisbe to her? What’s really going on beneath Astrid’s tough outer shell? And finally, in your opinion, how does toughness relate to vulnerability, not just in Astrid but in all three “Whores on the Hill”?

curran.jpgColleen Curran: I grew up in the Midwest during the late 1980s and early ’90s. Growing up, all the super cool girls were badasses. At least, in my estimation. These were the girls who listened to the Violent Femmes, the Smiths, the Cure, the Cramps, PiL, the Dead Kennedys, Siouxsie and the Banshees, etc. My friends and I thought it was truly the coolest thing in the world to be a badass girl. These were the girls who wore mohawks or had asymmetrical hairstyles or cut checkerboards into the backs of their hair and wore long underwear under their skirts with big black boots. For me and my friends, to be a badass meant that you were smarter than everybody else and you understood the world and you had a worldly wisdom about you and you were a true individual.

Now, looking back of course, I know this is all a pose. That just because a girl looks tough on the outside, doesn’t mean she’s tough at all on the inside. And that copping a certain style of dress or hairstyle doesn’t make you a better or bigger person; it might just mean you’ve got cool hair. But in high school, teenagers are struggling so hard to find a sense of identity. And clothes, hair, music–these exterior symbols signify identity. Teenagers value them so much because it’s the clothes and hair and music that gives them a sense of self.

In Whores on the Hill, Astrid, Juli and Thisbe want to be strong women. They want to be tough and indestructible and independent. But they really have no idea how to do that. So they turn to the only strong female role model that they have. Deb Scott is a legend at their high school, the baddest of bad girls, the girl who wouldn’t take shit from anybody, the true original. Astrid, Juli and Thisbe try to model themselves after the myth of Deb Scott, but they find it incredibly hard to live up to the legend–because really, that’s all she is–a story, an ideal that is impossible to live up to. And I think that’s a universal issue for all women (and men); how do we live up to the ideal versions of ourselves or who we want to be?

Mostly, I wrote about girls like Astrid, Juli and Thisbe because I didn’t see any other books out there where young women are grappling with sex and drugs and identity. Books like The Bitch Posse, actually, but of course I didn’t know about it at the time.

(more…)

24 June 2005 | author2author |