Thursday, August 20, 2020

Darin Strauss

Darin Strauss is the bestselling author of several books. The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in fiction writing and numerous other awards, Strauss has seen his work translated into fourteen languages and published in more than twenty countries.

His new novel is The Queen of Tuesday.

My Q&A with the author:

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

Tough one. I picked The Queen of Tuesday because I hoped it a) sounded cool, b) was mysterious, c) made sense once you realized the book was about the most famous television star of all time.

The book has tough to name because it's tough to peg: It's a half memoir/half fiction hybrid, about a speculative affair between my grandfather and Lucille Ball.

What's in a name?

Letters, generally.

More serious answer: I wanted to show how much sway Lucille had over America at that time. Her show (which in real-life aired on Monday nights, but in my book -- to show that it was a novel -- ran on Tuesdays) had the country all to itself on that night.

The nation's reservoirs are said to have dipped when her show broke for a commercial. (The whole country, flushing as one). Also, Lucille Ball was kind of a proto-feminist and progressive. She had one of the first famous American interracial marriages, and she fought to get her Latinx husband on primetime TV; she was a secret communist; and she invented the idea of reruns so she could have kids and still keep her job.

Anyway, she was a Queen, or as close as we get in this country to one.

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

Ha! A lot -- by the fact that it's got raunchy sex, and by the fact that the raunchy sex features my real-life grandad. And that the sex he has is with Lucille Ball, whom I didn't appreciate at the time.

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

I think beginnings are hard. Endings are also hard. As are middles.

Nothing comes, that is, without ulcerous tears. I change beginnings of novels more -- but maybe only because I have most time to futz with them.

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

They're always me, and the farther their life story is from mine, the more like me I think they are. In my books, these characters are like me: Eng, the conjoined twin from Thailand in my first book (Chang & Eng); Darlene Stokes (The African-American female doctor in More Than It Hurts You), and -- curve ball -- my grandfather, Isidore Strauss, in this one. My favorite character ever is my imagining of Lucille Ball, in this one. But she's not me at all.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I play guitar, seriously enough that I considered trying to be a professional player instead of a writer. So: music. There's a great, famous quote from Updike: "Nabokov writes prose the only way it should be written, that is ecstatically." I think the Beatles, in "And Your Bird Can Sing" embody that; I put the song on often when I write. When I want to come at something from an odd angle, I listen to Monk's take on a standard. Like that.

Also, in this book, my family are characters -- named, and accurately portrayed. So: they were a big influence on this story, of course.
Follow Darin Strauss on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue