3 to 5 Questions for Authors:
In Which A Librarian asks a Talented Author a Small Number of Questions
Courtney Maum is a contributor to the New York Times bestselling essay collection, “Worn Stories,” and the book reviewer for Electric Literature’s satirical “Celebrity Book Review.” She is also the author of the novel “I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You,” which we are reading for Books & Brewskis this month, and we are sooooo excited to talk about it (and even snuck in a little teaser talk at the last meeting).
The publisher describes the book as: “a love story in reverse, set in Paris and London, a failed monogamist attempts to answer the question: Is it really possible to fall back in love with your spouse?” The B&Bers who’ve read it already (over-achievers!) describe it as: “funnnnny!” Read more about the IHSMFHWY here and our interview with Courtney below:
Q: How much research did you do for the setting of this book? Did you travel to Paris? Become familiar with the art world?
A: I lived in France for five years and am married to a French man, so all of the Paris stuff came from my own eyes and heart. As for the art world—the art world functions closely enough to the literary and fashion world for me to parody it. There’s always going to be an “It” artist; a flavor of the month. There are a lot of egos, a lot of mixing of hi-culture and lowbrow. And when I was in high school, I dabbled in art myself—I was really into oil painting and mixed media collage. I miss it, actually. I find making art very therapeutic.
A lot of the research I put into this book, though, I did as I went along. I’m obsessed with realistic details, so for example, when Richard goes on his “man date” with Harold, I did a lot of research into the actual cafés that were available in that area, to the layout of the strip mall and such, all the way down to the distance between the strip mall and the park. It’s probably not necessary for me to put that level of realism into the book, after all, it’s a novel, I could just make it up, but it’s comforting to me somehow. I want to believe that these people really exist in the world that we know.
Q: Your main character, Richard, can be pretty unlikable (although I did read an Amazon review where a reader said she kind of wanted to sleep with him). Is it harder to write or relate to an unlikable character?
A: Thanks for calling that review to my attention—I stay away from the cavern of online reviews, but I’m glad that Richard has a willing fan somewhere! Whether or not you like or relate to an unlikable character has to do with voice. I’m able to engage with nearly anything if I like the way a voice is written. For example, I just finished Martin Amis’ “Zone of Interest” which is written from the point of view of Nazis during the Second World War. And not the repentant kind. By making his narrators extra repelling, extra horrifying, by pushing them to the absolute limits of the vileness they already contain, Amis ended up creating an incredibly moving read. The book takes its power from the unlikability of its main characters. Because they’re so heinous, we’re afforded a view into the Holocaust that we’ve never seen.
As a writer, you have to like your narrators. I ended up feeling a lot of compassion for Richard—it makes sense to me, the mistakes that one can make when a marriage starts feeling stale. As for Amis, there is so much word play in “Zone of Interest”, I imagine he was able to keep going because the mechanics of writing that book were fun. The subject matter is horrible, but the writing of it—the over the top buoyancy of the language—must have fueled him along.
Q: Could you tell us a backstory detail about one of the characters that you didn’t include in the book?
A: Sure! In the first version, there was a mysterious architect named “Monsieur de Beaupuy” who ends up being the buyer of “The Blue Bear” painting that Richard did for his wife. The catalyst that got me to start writing “I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You” in the first place was that I passed a handwritten note in the Paris gallery district that read, “Mr. Architect, you wanted to buy the Blue Bear and you were wearing an elegant hat. Please get in touch.” So the story started off with me asking, who is this architect? What is this Blue Bear? The entire first draft centered around the relationship between Richard and the architect. But it didn’t make the final cut!
Q: What’s the most creative thing you’ve done to dispel writer’s block? Did it work or fail miserably?
A: I don’t know if it’s creative, it’s more embarrassing than anything else, but I like to put on really cheesy music and dance around the house. I’m talking really cheesy, like One Direction. Sometimes it helps for me to listen to really manufactured music that has had a high level of commercial success. I’ll listen to the chord progressions, the song’s overall length, how quickly the song moves to the chorus, and I’ll get a notion of how my story should progress.
And, of course…
Q: If you were a Dewey Decimal number, what number would you be?
A: Just for the record, I had to look this up! I haven’t had to encounter the Dewey Decimal system since I was like five years old. I have absolutely no head for numbers, so I wouldn’t be one. I’d be the library card. The one with all the “due dates” on it in the back
Thanks Courtney! We can’t wait to discuss and celebrate the book on March 31 at The Filling Station Microbrewery and we look forward to reading more from you!