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Author Interview: Megan Abbott
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Author Interview: Megan Abbott

Megan Abbott is the award-winning author of the novels Queenpin, The Song Is You, Die a Little and Bury Me Deep. Her stories have appeared in Wall Street Noir, Best Crime and Mystery Stories of the Year and Queens Noir. She is also the author of a nonfiction book, The Street Was Mine: White Masculinity […]

Megan Abbott is the award-winning author of the novels Queenpin, The Song Is You, Die a Little and Bury Me Deep. Her stories have appeared in Wall Street Noir, Best Crime and Mystery Stories of the Year and Queens Noir. She is also the author of a nonfiction book, The Street Was Mine: White Masculinity in Hardboiled Fiction and Film Noir, and the editor of A Hell of a Woman, an anthology of female crime fiction. Raised in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, she lives in Queens, New York. Visit Megan at www.meganabbott.com and on her blog The Abbott Gran Old Tyme Medicine Show.

1. Your second novel the Song Is You was based on the actual Jean Spangler, the Hollywood starlet who went missing in October 1949. What made you decide to make Evie’s disappearance the central mystery of The End of Everything?

MA:  I guess I’ve always been interested in the power of the missing person over the “left behind.” The missing become these screens onto which we project our own feelings, longing, fears. Because they can’t tell us what happened, can’t answer us, they become these blank slates we can fill with anything. Somehow that “anything” becomes ourselves. For 13-year-old Lizzie, in The End of Everything, that opens up the door for her. Her friend Evie’s disappearance opens up this whole world of speculation, mystery, misperception, wishes and desires.

2.  You have been dubbed “the new queen of noir,” and your previous novels were set in the past (1950s Los Angles in Die A Little and The Song Is You; 1930s Arizona in Bury Me Deep and the early 1960s in Queenpin). What was it like to write a book set in the place and period in which you grew up?

MA:  It felt more intimate, almost alarmingly so. For my previous books, any personal elements were buried so far into the story I couldn’t identify them (and wouldn’t want to!). Writing a book set in the suburban Midwest in the early 1980s—the time and place of my own 13th year—meant I could no longer draw on historical research, the fantasy of film noir. Instead, I drew on my own memory. And you think you don’t remember anything and then suddenly you do. I include a very specific swimming-pool raft in the book—a bright- yellow one with a big Hawaiian Punch mascot. I didn’t precisely know where it came from until last month when my brother reminded me that we had the same raft when we were little, used to take it every day to the Grosse Pointe Woods community pool until it faded white.

3.  The world has become even more sinister for young teens since you were growing up. Do you think you might use an even more contemporary, post-9/11 setting in your next novel?

MA:  My next book is set among high school cheerleaders in the present day, though in this case the sinister qualities come from within, which I think is usually the case. High school is or can be a terrifying place, a gladiator spectacle where only the strong survive. Of course, in my day, one’s life could be ruined by a note passed in class. By the end of the school day, everyone in school could know your darkest secret, or believe the most devastating rumor. Today, with text messages, it’s instantaneous. But I think it’s endemic to adolescence. We’re just this chaos of impulses, yearnings, anxieties and desires. When you think about, it’s an environment that calls for Shakespearean explorations of power!

4. You truly capture the essence of early adolescent friendship with the relationship between Lizzie and Evie Verver. Did you have a similar close friendship while growing up in Grosse Pointe?

MA:  Thank you. While she is not the basis for Evie, I had the same best friend through my elementary school years. She lived just a few doors away and we spent dawn until dusk together. There’s just a body closeness and an intimacy among preadolescent girls you never get again. I loved being in her house, prowling through her older siblings’ rooms, exploring this exotic terrain. Your best friend at that age is this exciting mix of “you are just like me” and “you are so different.” I loved how we knew each other, through and through, and yet there were parts of her life, her home, her family I could never penetrate. Later, in the noisiness of adolescence and boys, you lose that kind of intensity, don’t you?

5.  Why did you place Lizzie’s crush on Evie’s father, Mr. Verver, at the core of your novel?

MA:  In Evie’s absence, Lizzie and Mr. Verver serve so many functions for each other, fill so many needs. I’m not sure I originally intended their relationship to be so central to the book but somehow it became the pulse of it. They just took over. But I guess I’ve always been interested in those childhood “romances” many of us have with the handsome dad, the father of one of our friend’s who just doesn’t seem like a dad, who seems to represent all the possibilities of men, and against whom we may measure all men to come. And I began to wonder too what that adoration might have been like for those dads.

6. Which books made the greatest impression on you when you were thirteen?

MA:  A lot of the usual suspects—Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies. But I was always an all-over-the-place reader: East of Eden, Tender Is the Night, lots of biographies of writers (Kerouac, Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe) who seemed to lead such glamorous lives. Mostly, at that age, I didn’t want to read about being thirteen. I wanted to read about being 26 or 32, living in Paris or New York, writing books for Max Perkins and developing a drinking problem.

7. You have said that you have great admiration for authors Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain and James Ellroy. I also know you’re a fan of Daniel Woodrell. Which “suburban noir” writers do you like?

MA:  I don’t know who qualifies as “suburban noir”—those terms always seem impossible to define, don’t they? I think a lot of Ross Macdonald novels bring Lew Archer into the suburbs in wonderfully dark and strange ways. But other writers in the more suburban world whom I love are the Big Guns—Richard Yates’s Revolutionary Road (though I think I love Easter Parade even more), Raymond Carver, Updike’s Marry Me. I remember being very affected by Alice McDermott’s suburban novel That Night. And so many Joyce Carol Oates novels—she is a powerful influence on me.

8.  What are you reading right now, and why?

MA:  Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Nancy Milford. Milford’s biography of Zelda Fitzgerald was a seminal book for me as a teen and, just last month, the writer Melanie Rehak (Eating for Beginners and Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her) recommended this Millay biography to me. It is riveting, and terrifically sad. I can’t put it down.

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