Monday, January 11, 2021

Elizabeth Green

Elizabeth Green graduated from the University of the Arts with a BFA in theater arts. They have contributed to McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Hobart, Wigleaf, Necessary Fiction, fwriction : review, and others. Their hobbies include native gardening and aikido. Hailing from Upstate New York—Greenwich, to be specific—Green now lives outside Philadelphia with their husband and two cats.

Their new book is Confessions of a Curious Bookseller.

My Q&A with the author:

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

I hope the title entices readers to flip to the back and read the summary. The word Confessions is true to the spirit of it, in that it's an epistolary tale about a quirky bookstore owner in Philadelphia. Through emails, journal entries, blog posts and other means, the reader learns about the narrator's life through her quotidian confessions – be they truthful or not. The narrator is also curious – not in the sleuthing sense but in the off-centered sense. She is unique, cantankerous, bold, and so is truly curious by nature.

Also, she's a bookseller, and so what's more appropriate than calling it like it is? The publisher, I think, came up with the title initially as we were throwing ideas at the wall, and this one stuck the most. We certainly did go back and forth a bit with it, but in the end the editor, my agent, marketing and I all agreed that it was best to call it Confessions of a Curious Bookseller. I'm glad we did, because I think it's an intriguing title.

What's in a name? 

To be honest, the name Fawn Birchill came to me in a flash, like most names I come up with for the stories I write. I wrote it down, saw how it looked, said it aloud, and liked it. I like the crunchiness of it, if that makes any sense. Probably not, but it sort of gets caught in the mouth, which I like. It's strong but elegant, hard and soft. Her name grew into her as I wrote her and got to know her more.

What developed was that the dichotomy of the sounds informed her personality. She is at once impossibly frustrating and incredibly kind. She is cruel in one breath and in the next, charming (or tries to be). She is larger than life, but also deeply human. To me, her name, as it is sounded out, represents the opposition she fights within herself every day.

Also, I was living in Philly when I wrote it (lived there for 15 years). I absolutely love that city, so I had to set the book there. There is no place like it in the world, and it's where I've had the pleasure of meeting some of the most important people in my life, including my spouse.

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

My teenage self would not be very surprised! In my teens I was obsessed with absurdist theater, wordplay and the unreliable narrator that comes with that genre. I read Samuel Beckett, Tom Stoppard, Bertolt Brecht, Edward Albee, Christopher Durang and Caryl Churchill like they were going out of style.

My love of the deeply flawed and unreliable narrator became ignited however, when I came across the BBC's The Office by Stephen Merchant and Ricky Gervais when I was young and impressionable.

I think the teen would be happy that I experimented in this way, and leaned in to my interests. She'd be surprised I'm not acting (I went to theater school) but maybe there's still time for that someday.

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

It's much harder to write endings I think because I often change the ending more than the beginning. I always knew what I wanted to have happen to Fawn, our main character, but I wasn't exactly sure how I'd word it.

Fawn puts herself through a lot of heartache throughout the book, so I only thought it fair to give her a happy ending. The happy ending isn't exactly what you might expect, but I think it's appropriate. Equally true, those around her end up (for the most part) coming out on top (despite her cantankerousness and sabotage), which I also felt was important.

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

Fawn's insecurities, fears and general introversion aren't out of nowhere. Fawn is certainly larger-than-life and takes everything to the nth degree, but broken down, Fawn and I share a lot of the same fears.

Striving to impress family and perfect strangers is definitely something that might as well be a professional sport for Fawn. I've been in this trap for most of my life, and I'm still climbing my way out of that thinking.

I also feel a connection to Fawn's sister Florence, the more responsible and grounded of the two. To me, Florence and Fawn are two sides of my personality: The desperate need to break out and live a flighty, adventurous life (Fawn) and the comfort of a life that is regimented and based in reality (Florence).

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

My life in theater certainly influenced my writing. I grew up on the stage, so I think it was baked into me at a young age to want to impress people. It was an unhealthy way for me to look at it, but I took the applause and interpreted that as love. I think Fawn interprets love similarly. She thinks it comes from others' admiration where really it needs to come from within.

I take a lot of influence from my socio-economic background. A running theme in a lot of my work is the push and pull between the haves and have nots. I could write volumes on the psychological impact financial insecurity had on me as I navigated the world as a young adult.

I saw how family wealth gave people the kind of security and comfort that was completely foreign to me, and that ingrained security – at least from a financial standpoint – fascinated me. I knew people in high school and college who just didn't have that worry hanging on them. It was palpable. Financial insecurity certainly crops up often in my works, so clearly, I still have a lot to work out.

Also, my work in the service and retail industries both during and after college certainly influenced me. I had a lot of wonderful experiences working those jobs and met some fantastic humans, but there was also a darker side to it. I've had to deal and put up with some seriously crazy stuff that only people working in those industries would probably believe. It made me fully understand the cliché: truth is stranger than fiction.

On a less serious note, other huge non-literary influences include: Stephen Merchant, Ricky Gervais, Taika Waititi, Will Sharpe, Jordan Peele, Ari Aster, A24 films, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Donald Glover, Diane Morgan, Christopher Guest, Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith, and absurdist theater. For music: Tom Waits, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Balmorhea, Sigur Rós, Rachmaninoff, The Black Angels and others.
Visit Elizabeth Green's website.

The Page 69 Test: Confessions of a Curious Bookseller.

--Marshal Zeringue