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Thursday, December 15, 2011

#28 Megan Abbott

Twenty Questions with Mourning Goats
Megan Abbott

Recommendations are a hell of a thing, and Megan was highly recommended by a friend to not only interview for the site, but read for pleasure. When doing the research for this, I found a lot of common connections between other Mourning Goats authors and am positive that a lot of our readers would enjoy her work. Thank you for answering my questions, Megan! Everyone else, go pick up what's currently available, as well as her next book coming out in July!

1. What comes to mind when you hear, "Mourning Goats?"

Every time I see it I misread it and think of the Mountain Goats, the band.

2. What was it like having The End of Everything being named one of Publisher’s Weekly best books of 2011?

Very exciting. With so many books coming out all the time, you’re always so grateful to be singled out.
So much of publishing is the feeling of being down a mine shaft, calling out, “I’m here! Really!” Best of
all was to be in the company of so many other wonderful writers, Kate Atkinson, Laura Lippman, Reed
Farrel Coleman.

3. Do you think living in Queens puts you around the center of the publishing industry? Has it affected anything in your writing career?

Proximity to Manhattan does have its conveniences. But in some ways, it’s challenging. You become so
aware of the business of books and I have to try to forget all that in order to write. The business side, the
networking, it can be overwhelming, and stressful. It’s important to shut it all out and crawl inside your
own head. Find the story, find the character, find the voice.

4. You did a PhD in Literature from NYU, how do you think it shaped your career? Your writing?

I think so. I loved graduate school. It was this priceless opportunity to talk about books around the clock.
To uncover so much. It brought my mind to life, in many ways. And I discovered classic hardboiled and
noir fiction there. It’s where I first immersed myself in Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain. And that’s
what started me writing.

5. Do you think you’ll ever have the opportunity to write full-time? Would you want to?

I pretty much do write full time, but I have no desire to quit my part-time job (at a nonprofit social service
agency) because I think I’d go crazy if I didn’t have some place I had to be a few days a week. It pushes
me out in the world, forces me to have a part of my life that isn’t publishing and isn’t solitary. And the
place I work, Union Settlement, does important work among the hardest of circumstances and it inspires
me. Keeps me grounded too.

6. Do you feel like you’re being asked less questions about being a woman writer of noir/crime/etc,
these days? I don’t see sex as a reason to write in a certain style.

Hmm….I haven’t noticed any decline in those questions yet. But I think they’ll keep getting asked as long
as we keep defining genre so narrowly, and defining gender so narrowly.

7. It sounds like you love Raymond Carver, he’s one of my favorites of all time, do you feel like he’s been an inspiration on your own writing?

Oh, boy, I love him. He was one of my big revelations in my early 20s. But his style is so contagious, and
my attempts to mimic it were terrible, so I had to force myself to stop reading him for a long time. A few
weeks ago, though, I was at Dove & Hudson, this great bookstore in Albany and I picked up the recent
biography by Carol Sklenicka. I couldn’t put it down and it was like falling in love all over again, and
getting your heart broken too. Beautiful.

8. Do you think that being a writer nowadays is a lot less of a lonely thing because of the constant connections online?

Maybe. Probably. That’s a great question. I would say yes, but I also think it’s awfully dangerous. My
life has been transformed by finding so many people online with the same book-loves as me, the same
odd interests. For years I thought I was sort of a freak for some of my tastes (for obscure true-crime, for
unsolved cases, etc.) and now I know there’s thousands of souls out there like me. But the risk is that
I might spend all my time on Facebook, talking about the Winnie Ruth Judd murder case, instead of

9. Have you been in any writing workshops or groups? What do you think of them?

No. I have a rotten time showing anyone my work until it’s finished. I count on my agent and editor. Too
many voices in my head paralyze me. I am always impressed with writers who can do that, who have a
thick enough skin.

10. What was it like growing up with two parents in higher education? Do you think you were pushed harder than your peers?

I think my parents’ greatest gift to me, one to which I owe everything, is the way they encouraged me all
the time to explore every interest—from 1930s gangster movies to Frank Sinatra to Sigmund Freud. They
would take me to used bookstores, old movies, museums, trips to unusual places—if I expressed even a
passing interest in something, they’d find ways to fuel it. I’m so grateful for it.

11. You met Sara Gran, the co-author of your blog, The Abbott Gran Old Tyme Medicine Show, in
person for the first time at the same place (Poisoned Pen Bookstore, Scottsdale AZ) I met two of my favorite authors, Craig Clevenger and Will Christopher Baer, what do you think having another
author in the same genre as a friend, has done for your writing and for your life?

I feel like Sara and I were separated at birth. We grew up in very different environments (suburban
Midwest vs. Brooklyn), but we have an unbelievable amount in common and I know there’s nothing too
strange, esoteric or obscure to share with her. Funnily enough, we don’t talk too much about our works-in
-progress, or publishing, because, I think, both of us find relief in not having to talk about that. In having
someone with whom we can just talk about weird books we find, the endless pleasures of Twin Peaks, or
why Jacques Lacan is so hard to read.

12. On your last book tour you traveled all over the place, including Scotland! What is touring like
with you? Do you enjoy it?

I am not a natural at it, it’s true. I don’t sleep and generally want to hide under the nearest table the whole
time. But it’s led me to unforgettable experiences, from drinking pony bottles of Miller at a dive bar in
San Francisco’s Tenderloin to exploring Edinburgh Castle at the crack of dawn.

13. Do you have any kind of writing schedule or is it just when you can fit it in?

I write all the time. I start at 7 AM most days (unless I’m at the office) and go off and on all day. There’s
just no other way for me. I lose the thread of the book otherwise. And I don’t know what to do with
myself. It’s a compulsion, even though I do write very slowly.

14. Your first published piece was poetry, do you still write any?

It was? Really? I did write poetry in college—do you mean the college literary journal? At age 19 or so, I

do know I wrote many, many variations on Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy.” Mostly, I think my early poems were
stories in disguise, and my stories were novel fragments. I think I’m meant for the longer form.

15. When you were writing your dissertation for your PhD, you needed an outlet and started writing fiction, can you tell us a little bit about what went down there?

Boy, I just needed a break from critical thinking, from analysis. And I loved the books I was reading so
much—Chandler, Cain, Himes, Hammett. So I began a novel on the side as a way of, essentially, writing
my way into the world of those books. Somehow—and I’m still not sure how—it became Die a Little, my
first book.

16. I read somewhere that you think that the best writer of all time was William Faulkner, what makes you think that?

The Sound and the Fury was the book that changed my life. A transformational reading experience and
the only time ever that I finished a book and then immediately began it again from the beginning. I can’t
think of any other writer who’s so smashed the world around us, built a dark, glimmering new one, and
invited us in. You read him, and you are his. His books own you.

17. I’ve heard whispers of your books being turned in to movies, what’s happening with them, now?

Die a Little (for film) and Queenpin (for TV) are both under option now. We’ll see, but you know the
siren song of Hollywood. I try to manage my expectations and focus on books!

18. Are there any new authors you’d like to give a shout-out?

Too many to mention for fear I’d leave someone else out! It’s an exciting time for crime fiction. In other
genres, there’s a memoir I’m dying to read: Darcy Lockman’s Brooklyn Zoo, about a psychotherapist’s
year rotation at Kings County Hospital. I was able to get a sneak of the first chapter and was mesmerized.

19. What’s the best advice you’ve received for a career in writing? Best you can give?

Read constantly, read what you love. Write all the time, write the books you want to read.

20. What’s next for Megan Abbott?

My next novel, Dare Me, comes out in July. A journey into the dark world of cheerleaders. I think of it
as Fight Club set in high school. It’s about the warrior hearts of young women, seeking a chance to roar.
And, of course, there’s a crime.

Thank you!