What made you want to take Elyria to New Zealand, of all the places on the globe you could have taken her to?
It actually happened the opposite way— I love the New Zealand landscape and people and I kept writing these stories set there. But I wasn’t going to just write a pleasant story about how pleasant New Zealand is and I wasn’t going to try to write about being a local there, so Elyria grew out of this. Her weird-ass internal landscape a counterpoint to the pristine coast, mountains and epic vegetation there. Elyria is so cagey and curdled that the kind-hearted Kiwis don’t know what to do with her. That contrast is what made the story interesting to me.
I thought it was funny that Elyria tells us at a point in the book that she hates poetry, yet you open the book to find a John Berryman poem containing a line that is the title of your book. What was it about that poem and that particular line that resonated with you so much that you’d use it to name your book?
I’m not a huge poetry reader, but I was immediately and irrevocably drawn in by Berryman’s voice. I bought The Dream Songs ten years ago and have read and re-read them countless times over the years. However, I had about 200 severely awful working titles for the novel before I was reading Dream Song 29 and realized the right title had been there all along. I think this was only a few weeks before we sent it to publishers.
You earned an MFA in nonfiction, but your first book is a novel. How do you approach writing your fiction and nonfiction differently?
The main distinction for me is that writing nonfiction I use a voice pretty close to my own, and in fiction I contaminate my voice with characteristics that I want to explore. For some reason in the last few years, fiction has come much more easily. Before that I was attempting to write a book-shaped piece of nonfiction, but it felt too much like doing math homework, so I shelved when the novel started happening and was so much more alive.
What are you working on next?
Fiction short and long. It may or may not have something do with Christian anarchists, a highly complicated attempt to engineer the perfect relationship, an invented bodywork technique and megalomania.