Describe your latest book.
Clown Girl is a novel about a young woman, an artist, who is serious about clowning. She takes a lot of personal risks in an effort to forge the kind of life that matters to her most, a creative life, and a life of integrity. It's a book about what it means to make oneself vulnerable in service of a larger vision rather than give in to the everyday bullying of poverty, the lure of all the wrong men.
What's the strangest or most interesting job you've ever had?
For a while I worked as a clown, but there are stranger jobs on my resume. I once took a job demonstrating vibrators the store called them "muscle massagers" on the top floor of a downtown department store during the holiday rush. I didn't last three minutes. The woman in Human Resources offered me the job. I said yes. Then she said, "We'll expect you to dress better." I said, "Oh, okay, no thanks." The job wouldn't have paid enough to buy a new shirt. I went back downstairs, unemployed again, and rode my bike home.
Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
Anne Carson, Autobiography of Red.
Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.
"She would always sleep with her husband and with another man in the course of the same day, and then the rest of the day, for whatever was left to her of that day, she would exploit by incanting, 'French film, French film.'"
Amy Hempel, "Housewife," from Tumble Home.
How did the last good book you read end up in your hands and why did you read it?
Nick Flynn's memoir, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, was recommended to me by a bookstore employee (Powell's own Kevin Sampsell). I'm always looking for interesting memoir, particularly work that takes a leap into the imaginative, away from the literal.
Who are your favorite characters in history? Have any of them influenced your writing?
I'm crazy about Joan of Arc, and she shows up in my writing. I'm also interested in Florence Nightingale. Not the image of Florence Nightingale as a tender nurse with a lantern tucking in soldiers, the way we were taught to see her in grade school. She was a workhorse who said she'd been called by God. She was obsessive, relentless, irritable and enterprising. She reformed the British hospitals and launched the field of epidemiology.
Aside from other writers, name some artists from whom you draw inspiration and talk a little about their work.
Tony Oursler works with video and installations. He makes things that look like dolls, and runs video footage across their faces so they talk and have expression. His work is unsettling and compelling, and there's nothing like it.
Dogs, cats, budgies, or turtles?
There's a breed of a dog called a Schipperke that's got my number. These dogs are psychic. Once in a great while I'm overtaken by an urge to swing by the pound...and there's always a Schipperke calling my name. I've adopted three. The first one ate money. The second one, small as a cat, had glowing orange eyes, suffered from seizures and bit strangers. My heart went out to her. The one I have now has an amazing power: when he's nervous, he emanates a dead fish smell, maybe to ward off attackers. It's awful. Other than that, he's a great, loveable dog.
Recommend five or more books on a single subject of personal interest or expertise.
Five Short Novels That'll Knock You Out
These are books I read when I first started writing. They blew me away with their beauty and compression.
Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor
The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh
Bullet Park by John Cheever
The Vet's Daughter by Barbara Comyns
Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion