20 Questions With Mourning Goats
Monica has a lot going on right now with teaching, a family, a new novel, two films, and a plethora of other exciting activities, but she fit in Mourning Goats, and we're happy she did! I definitely never thought one of our interviews would involve juggling and a vibrator demonstrator, but as you read below, it has!
1. What comes to mind when you hear, “Mourning Goats?”
I ran this question by a friend. She immediately said, “An erection.” I have no idea why. Personally, I think of a mournful bleating, a forlorn field, a gently clanging bell. Maybe the impression falls somewhere in a combination of the two, an erection in a forlorn field, a solemn bleat, a thrill, a bell. Mourning Goats. Rock on.
2. Kristen Wiig, of Saturday Night Live, is planning on starring in and writing the script for Clown Girl's big screen adaptation, where is she in the process and what do you think about it?
I’m excited to see how she interprets it and translates it to the screen. I have no idea where they are in the process right now. Those Hollywood folks don’t keep me updated.
3. You’ve already seen one of your stories go from paper to film, what is it like watching your story? Georgie’s Big Break was just made into a short film by Andy Mingo.
That film is in process right now too, and I think it’s going to be fabulous. Andy Mingo has re-conceived of the story in a mocumentary form. He’s making use of Wordstock, Portland’s literary festival, as a backdrop, and blending the line between truth and fiction. We've got a great line-up of celebrities stepping in for roles, too, including Zia McCabe of the Dandy Warhols, Willy Vlautin of Richmond Fontaine, and Cheslea Cain, thriller New York Times Best Seller author. It’s a great chance to work with creative people I admire, and people who make me happy. I’m thrilled to see the story move into a new form.
4. In Clown Girl, there’s a lot of talk about juggling and balloon tying, can you tell us how the novel grew from a temp job out of college to where it went in your novel?
The clown work I did wasn’t so much a temp job out of college as one of the many jobs I had while in school. I went to Portland State University, an inexpensive commuter college in the city, and I worked the whole time. I never had that experience of dedicating myself to school without carrying one or more jobs on the side.
In college I studied animal behavior, psychology, art history, theater arts. I look at my transcripts now, and see how little focus I had, but how much stone solid enthusiasm. I was a hand-raiser. I was in a movement arts class when somebody needed a clown, and I raised my hand. I got the contact information, and later got the job as one of two or three hired to be a clown at Portland’s “Food Fair,” a corporate event in the convention center where restaurants came together to promote their image. While I was working that first gig, individual companies at the event hired me, so I had a string of clown work.
Later, at other jobs, the clown energy would stay with me. I’d feel it as I worked selling art, and when I made phone calls for telemarketing. I felt it as I carried trays in restaurants and asked customers to follow me, as a hostess. It was all clown work, in one costume or another, on a changing stage. It was a way to see the world. At the same time, I was working on art, painting and drawing and writing stories.
I wanted to capture some of that in Clown Girl, to show what it means to be a creative person in a world that may not always be receptive to the art in question.
5. I enjoyed your book on my kindle. What do you think about e-publishing? Do you think it’s going to take over, or will there always be paper books?
I don’t know anything about e-publishing. Sometimes I read on my computer, but love my books. I’m glad Clown Girl is now an e-book, but I don’t know when or if I’ll start reading novels that way. Was it a good way for you to read?
6. If you look up Monica Drake on youtube, the first two videos are of or about you, then they almost all focus on music or news about Monica and Drake (musicians). What do you think about the access to information on the web? What does it mean for authors and publishing?
It’s amazing to be able to be in touch with readers and writers so easily. I’ve heard from readers in Ireland, Australia, Italy and Thailand. I wouldn’t know my novel made it to those places if readers didn’t send me notes, or friend me on Facebook. I’ve seen pictures of my novel in bookstore windows in far-flung towns. That makes my heart sing. It’s outrageous, in a good way, really. I love it.
7. I love the story you tell about the first time you met with Spanbauer’s writing group at the condemned house, could you tell the readers about this meeting? What was your favorite part about your time with them?
When I first met Tom, he was teaching an evening class set in a grade school. We all sat at tiny chairs, in the grade school library, and talked writing. Then he moved it to his house. He gave out an address, and I signed up. I took the bus, looked for the house. It was dark, winter, and raining, and when I got there the only house had a big orange “condemned” sticker on the front door. The steps had fallen away. It was scary. But I went up and into the yard and around the side of where the steps should be, and knocked on the door, and Tom was there. It was the right house, on a dark and stormy night.
That was the first big hurdle to learning to write—to be brave, and knock on that door, in the dark. It seemed so wrong, and yet so inviting. Those of us who were willing to take that step, I think we were a self-selecting and daring crew.
My favorite part about my time in Tom’s Dangerous Writers workshop was definitely the brandy. The brandy started after the wine, and the wine only started after workshop wrapped up, because we took the work seriously and didn’t drink while we read or commented, but after workshop nobody wanted to go home and Tom’s couch was as a good place as any to sleep.
But wait. Maybe you mean something else. Something more about writing.
In that way what I liked most about Tom’s was the sense of urgency and camaraderie. We were all in this writing thing together, for better or worse. One night Tom held his hand over his big dinner table, and said, “Lets pile up the rejections. Send work out, and we’ll pile’em right here.” And in that way he gave us all permission to fail, with the understanding that if we persisted and let ourselves fail, sooner or later we’d break
through. He said, “Clock in, do your work, eventually you’ll get a raise.” I still imagine that invisible pile of mingled rejection letters, and somehow that’s an image of success in my mind.
8. Did I read right, you’re still doing workshops with Chuck, as well as Chelsea Cain (author of Heartsick)?
Yes, we meet once a week. It’s an honor and a party.
9. You went to the University of Arizona for your MFA, what can you tell us about the experience? Did you enjoy the MFA?
These are questions I still ask myself…Did I enjoy it? At the time, when I was at the University of Arizona, it seemed a hard, alienating, competitive place, where I met some fabulous people. Oddly, I feel closer to those people outside “the program,” than when we were writing and sharing work together on a regular basis.
It was very unlike the workshop situation I’d been in with Tom Spanbauer. What I learned in Tom’s workshop gave me the motivation to start writing and keep going. What I learned in grad school had more to do, perhaps, with how to critique the work of others, and so look more objectively at my own writing.
10. Splatter Art with Painter Boy, is probably one of the funniest/saddest sex stories I’ve read, please tell me that wasn’t based on a real story.
Ha! So glad you got a kick out of it!
11. You are an associate professor at Pacific NW College of Art, what do you teach and do you have any book recommendations from class?
I teach composition and literature to art students.
12. Hawthorne, your publisher for Clown Girl, said that their first print run was 2,000 more than normal for their books, what did you think when you heard that? Also, what are your thoughts on Hawthorne overall?
Hawthorne has been great. They design the most beautiful covers I’ve seen anywhere, really, and they get behind each book they produce. It’s a small operation with a big heart and a genuine love of literature. The company was started with the aim of finding literary work corporate publishing wouldn’t take on. They’ve done a great job of it.
13. You’ve had a lot of success with your short stories (Arizona Commission on the Arts Award, the Alligator Juniper Prize in Fiction, a Millay Colony Fellowship, and were a Tennessee Williams scholar at Sewanee Writers Workshop), what do you have your eye on next?
I’ve just finished another novel. I hope it finds success out there.
14. Your husband, Kassten Alonso, is also a novelist, is there a lot of collaboration here when you’re working on a piece, do you share, what is life like living with another writer?
We both work really hard all the time. Day jobs, night writing, parenting. It’s a lot of work. Sometimes we talk writing. More often, we talk about our lives, our days.
15. You have a young daughter, where do you find the time to write? What’s a typical day look like to Monica Drake?
I'm a mother and a professor, and I have about sixty students each semester. I spend a lot of time thinking about reading other people's work, coaching them along when and as I can.
But I've always been busy, always working, usually more than one job, so I'm used to carrying an idea or a sentence in my head until I find time to write it down. I don't manage to write every day, and certainly not at the same time each day--that kind of writing guide book wisdom assumes a level of luxury, based on time and autonomy.
Instead, I try to balance everything: home remodeling, sheet rocking, child care, grading, riding my bike, writing, workshop, reading, cooking...all of it.
Also, I make things more complicated because I tend to be enthusiastic. I say yes, when invitations sound fun. This coming week I'll be modeling swimsuits in a fashion show, if you can believe that. Today I have a swimsuit fitting, between writing time and when I take my daughter to ballet.
16. I heard you once took a job demonstrating vibrators, care to elaborate?
Ha! Where are you getting this? Actually, I was offered the job, and I took it, but then when I showed up on the first day they said I had to dress better. Dress better? I was in black jeans, a turtle neck. I was in ordinary Portland, Oregon fall clothes. I didn’t want to spend money to make money, even if the amounts under consideration were small all around. I said, “No thanks,” got on my old clunker bike and road home again.
17. Are you still saving Schipperke’s? Any more psychic dogs in your life?
I have one dear rescued Schipperke at my feet right now, Ruben, sleeping soundly.
18. You’ve had a few different agents over the years, do you currently? How have they influenced your writing and publishing?
I’ve had two agents over the past decade, both really top-notch, but at the time neither seemed quite right for selling the work I was writing in particular. That was earlier on in my writing career, especially the first agent, which was a really long time ago. We parted on good terms. I sold Clown Girl myself, instead, then went on to sell foreign rights and movie rights, all un-agented.
I believe Clown Girl proved itself. It’s a small-press book that’s found its way into the big world. Now I have new novel completed, and I’d like to find the right agent to sell the work. For a while I worked selling art. From that experience, I know that a little conviction can go a long way. I’m looking an agent who can speak about my work with conviction, compassion, and love. If there were a match.com to hook writers up with agents, I’d sign on. For now, I’m in conversation with an agent or two. We’ll see what happens.
19. Do you think being a clown earlier in your career helped you move into teaching easier?
Yes, completely. As a teacher, I don’t try to take on the role of having all the answers. Instead my aim is to model a willingness to take risks—risk taking is a clown quality—and to encourage students to feel okay about taking risks, too. I try to let the class be casual, smart, surprising. That’s my goal, anyway.
20. You’re currently working on The Stud Book, can you tell us a little bit about it? Do you have a time frame for when it will be out?
I’ve recently finished this novel, and am the start of looking around for the right match with an agent. It’s an edgy dark comedy. It takes some risks, with broad humor and bawdy scenes, and reaches what I hope is a serious and significant level of content, despite some good times. In some ways, it is similar to clown girl in using an element of physical comedy, but overall its very different. It has an ensemble cast, and a social
conscious I think. We’ll see how readers interpret what I’m trying to do.
Thank you, Monica!
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