Sunday, May 24, 2020

Anna Dorn

Anna Dorn is a writer living in Los Angeles. A former criminal defense attorney, she regularly writes about legal issues for Justia and Medium. Her article on juvenile life without parole was published in American University Law Review. She has written about culture for LA Review of Books, The Hairpin, and Vice Magazine.

Dorn has a JD from UC Berkeley Law School, an MFA from Antioch University-Los Angeles, and a BA from UNC-Chapel Hill. Her debut memoir, Bad Lawyer, will be published by Hachette Books in Spring 2021.

Dorn's debut novel is Vagablonde.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Vagablonde is about a blonde criminal defense attorney who wants to be a rapper. The title—a portmanteau of "blonde" and "vagabond"—speaks to her voyeurism into cultures that are not her own in order to "feel something." I wanted to write about cultural appropriation from the perspective of the appropriator—the only perspective I can write with any degree of authenticity. It would be weird to write a novel that takes place in America and doesn’t address race in some way. So I wrote what I knew: a white woman grappling with her own complicity.

What's in a name?

I came up with my protagonist's name, Prue Van Teesen, when I was in college. She was sort of an alter ego, a bolder and less nerdy version of me. I wrote raps under the name Prue and Vagablonde. One thing I like about rap is it allows you to feel bossy and powerful. I'm naturally pretty timid, afraid of everyone and everything. Rapping allowed me to be someone else who felt self-assured.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

Oh god my teenage self would be so shocked and appalled by the drug use. The whole book would frighten her. But she would also find it funny. She was dyslexic so she would appreciate that it's easy to read.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I find beginnings much easier. I typically begin writing with just an idea of a character and see where she takes me. I write the first third of the book very quickly. I tend to lose steam in the middle. The end normally comes to me in the drafting process. I like subtle, ambiguous endings that don't require much plotting.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I see myself in all of my characters. Prue is probably the most similar to me, especially on the surface. We're both lawyers with artistic ambitions. We both have serious neuroses surrounding food and our hair. We both enjoy the fleeting high of drinking on amphetamines. We both can be self-absorbed and shallow. We both confuse a “good time” for “genuine connection.” We are both Virgos.

Prue is definitely cooler, prettier, and more unhinged than me. She's a very exaggerated version of a part of me.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I love this question! I try not to get too much inspiration from other books because then I end up trying to copy them. I'm very inspired by Lana Del Rey. Like me, she's an East Coast native who fled to California. Her music captures that sublime and haunting side of California I am completely obsessed with. I get a lot of inspiration from my friends, who are all geniuses. I'm active on Twitter, which at times I find shameful, but I also think it's good for my writing. I'm interested in the way language evolves and try to communicate in the simplest, most contemporary way. I like the democratizing power of Twitter, where voices you wouldn't normally hear are given a megaphone and encouraged to shout. I'm also inspired by nature—trees, the ocean, the sky. In nature, my ego dies and my thoughts relax. I remember that I know nothing and I'm not special, which opens space for clarity and perspective.
Visit Anna Dorn's website.

--Marshal Zeringue