Summer in Words

Writing Conference

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An Interview with Monica Drake

Monica Drake by Bellen DrakeI contacted Monica Drake soon after her well-received novel The Stud Book was published. Her first book, Clown Girl, is a satirical comedy about a main character struggling to achieve her dreams. The Stud Book  portrays the middle age woes of four females who are friends since childhood living in Portland, Oregon. One reviewer says it’s about the messiness of life; that makes sense since it includes questions about how and when humans and animals reproduce. (hence all the rabbits on the book cover)  She’ll be teaching workshops on Friday and Saturday at Summer in Words. You can find her talking more about the writing life here. 

Q: Could you tell us a bit about The Stud Book, how it came into being, how the ideas first took hold?

A: There are two elements working together. A long time ago, I was young and held an internship at the Oregon Zoo. I spent hours there, watching animals, with a clipboard, recording animal behavior. At the time, the zoo had three infant Asian elephants. One of them was Rama, who is still there now. After that internship I went to London and then did other things, and didn’t get back up to the zoo much for twenty years, until I had a baby of my own. Then I took my infant to the zoo, the way all mother’s do, and that elephant, Rama, was still there. Now he’s grown up. I was back, watching him. I wish I could say he remembered me, that I was his beloved babysitter, but really I was just one more face in the roaming crowd to pass his enclosure. But after that, I spent a lot of time thinking about what it means to bring babies into the world. I thought about infant Asian elephants, and human babies, and all the endangered animals, and how much we, humans, can be essentially an invasive species, moving into areas and taking over. I had to find a way to consider my own conflicting emotions when it comes to the question of population and living anything close to a sustainable life on a fragile, crowded planet.
And then I looked for the comedy.

Q: I know you schedule writing around a busy schedule—how did you write this book in small increments at time, yet still create a unified whole?

A: I wrote two pieces as stories first. One, “Mr. Slips,” later became a chapter for a character named Ben. I wrote it for an event at Hugo House in Seattle. Then later I wrote “Georige’s Big Break,” which is part of the character Georgie’s storyline. So the first two pieces were designed to stand-alone and fit together as parts of a larger puzzle. From there I moved to sections that held interest for me, the parts I was ready to puzzle out. With limited writing time in any given day, I spend my time putting down the parts I’m most drawn to.

studbookQ: Could you describe your version of ‘dangerous writing’?

A: Perhaps it has to do with a relationship to audience–I’m not always writing to soothe or placate, but to move ideas around, taking risks with content, sometimes taking opposing sides, laying down idea-driven challenges, and drawing new paradigms that perhaps challenge established ruts or roles in contemporary culture, ways we’re taught to envision the lives of men and women.

Q: What challenges do you face when you write?

A: A tendency to procrastinate is always a challenge. And for all I can tell I might have adult ADD, but I do okay, wrestling my brain, putting my words on the page. And then there are external challenges–time, money, childcare, making time for other people. But on the best days, I can settle in to work, and keep moving the work forward. I have no problem in terms of ideas, thoughts, inspiration or writer’s block. There’s always more to work on, more than I’ll ever finish, it seems.

Q: What is your best advice for writers in 12 words or less?

A: Empathy.
Move into the world of your character’s your ideas.

Q: Sushi or pasta?

A: Everything in the right time and place! I’ve actually had both today. Mmmmm….

Q: When you are not writing what is your time occupied with?

A: Writing takes up all the time one might give it, ever expanding really. Beyond that, I’m busy teaching, taking my daughter to her events, hanging out with her, and with my husband, reading, and taking very long walks with the dog.

A: What books are on your night stand?

The nightstand is small and the pile is overflowing. There’s always something by Chelsea Cain, and I’m about to re-read Dora: A Headcase, by Lidia Yuknavitch. I also have amazing new work by Stephen Graham Jones I’m lucky to get to read before it is even in print–how cool is that?–and then the new longer story (or novella) by Joy Williams, just published as single on Byliner. I’ve just finished the graphic novel Calling Dr. Laura, by Nicole Georges, too. All good stuff.

Q: What’s next for you?

A: Onward! I have another novel in progress, a few essays in mind, a short story I’m drafting. More of the same and then more again!
Thanks for asking.