In honor of Body Impolitic’s regular blogger Lynne Murray’s new book, Bride of the Living Dead from Pearlsong Press, of course our blog was a natural stop on her virtual book tour. Since we’d already announced the book’s publication, I thought it would be nice to have an author interview.
Debbie: In her cover blurb, Laurie [Toby Edison] calls the book “Jane Austen meets the Marx Brothers.” Is that the tone you were aiming for? Did you have a catch phrase of your own for what you wanted the book to be?
Lynne:: Laurie’s comment was more than I could have hoped for. I have studied various writers’ work, particularly when I was trying to write action scenes in mysteries, which don’t come naturally to me, but when I read Austen, I just feel like I’m living in her world, eavesdropping on her pointed remarks. The Marx Brothers are also total fun for me, so to be compared to both in one sentence is tremendous. If I had a catch phrase it would have probably been less inspired, so I’m going with Laurie’s!
Debbie: Your heroine is “midsized,” i.e., she’s fat by contemporary obsessive standards but she probably wouldn’t have been considered fat in a different time and place. Did you choose that size for her consciously, or was that just “how she is” for you? If you did choose it consciously, what went into your choices?
Lynne:: When the hero or heroine of a book is any size over “slim” in our season of insanity where vaguely average characters bemoan how fat they are, a writer is dealing with very loaded words to describe a character’s size. When I first consciously chose a fat heroine, Josephine Fuller, I introduced her as “over 200 pounds” because I was reacting to a book where a fat joke was made about an elevator being broken if a woman over 200 pounds got into it. That served Josephine Fuller well.
However, with this book, I specifically did not want to use a dress size or a given weight. When you drop numbers into a fictional text, you stir up reactions like: “Oh, she’s way too fat, totally fatter than me, I can’t relate to her at all.” Or for the more radical reader: “She’s not fat enough for me to identify with.”
Instead, I made the point that Daria could seldom find clothing in her size in the stores and when she needed something beyond jeans and a T-shirt her mother took her to a seamstress to have clothing made for her that fit. I wanted to make Daria’s experience of being too big to fit the most important factor.
Debbie: I’m very interested in Oscar [Daria’s boyfriend/fiance], who is human enough to be grumpy and nervous, and is still a remarkably good model for how a heterosexual man can treat a woman he’s dating (and later engaged to) respectfully, while still holding his own ground. Is that aspect of his behavior based on any models you know of in fiction (or film or other story format) or did you construct him from scratch? What’s your favorite thing about him?
Lynne:: It’s hard to pick one thing about Oscar, because he has a lot of the elements that I most admire, and I’ve been fortunate enough to know several men (and to be married to one) with such qualities. To me, Oscar is the quintessential good guy–smart but non-manipulative, funny, and happy to laugh at life’s absurdities. Often when a man says he wants a woman with a sense of humor he means he wants someone who will laugh at his jokes. Daria would probably scare off such a guy. But Oscar has the rare and wonderful gift of being confident enough in his own self-worth to enjoy it when Daria gives as good as she gets. Oscar has integrity, he takes responsibility, and he has friends who value him because he values and supports his friends.
Debbie:: And while we’re at it, what’s your favorite thing about Daria?
Lynne: Daria is surprisingly good at making the best of a bad situation, being able to laugh at adversity helps.
Debbie: You don’t mention this in your answer, but that sounds like something that Daria and Oscar have in common. Having that attitude to share it will probably serve them well after the book ends.
Do you have a sense of humor like Daria’s, or are you able to step outside yourself enough to construct a sense of humor really different from your own in a fictional character?
Lynne:: That’s a question I’ve never considered, but I suspect that I’m not so flexible. My best guess is that Daria’s sense of humor is similar to my own. From time to time I do try to sharpen up my wits by reading about how professional humor writers hone their writing. I keep having the yearning to write a straight-up farce, but when I attempt it, I start building layers into the characters, and the structure of a farce is notable for sacrificing depth for a kind of Rube Goldberg mechanical action. Much as I love to see a well-done farce, I’m not sure I could write one. But the question does make me want to ask another question back atcha—how can someone step outside themselves to create a different sense of humor? Examples, please!
Debbie:: I’ve seen books where the characters have very different senses of humor, different enough that it doesn’t seem likely to me that the writer has all of them. Terry Pratchett comes to mind here as a funny writer whose characters often have widely varying senses of humor. I don’t write fiction, but I expect that one way to step outside of your own sense of humor is by observation; seeing what kinds of things are funny to various people, and what kinds of ways different people express their senses of humor, and bringing those differences onto the page.
Did you consider putting in a supernatural/horror element to go with the title? If so, why, and if not, why not?
Lynne: The title was the very last part of the puzzle piece to fall into place long after the book was complete. For years the book was called A Guide for the Dysfunctional Bride, but Daria’s T-shirt collection and love of old monster movies became more and more important to the story as I went through many revisions of the manuscript.
I brainstormed with publisher, Peggy Elam, about horror movie titles at least one candidate became a chapter heading–“Attack of the 50-Foot Wedding Planner.” Bride of the Living Dead was my favorite, but I went back and forth about it for some time because I didn’t want to raise false expectations among fans of the undead. In fact, one zombie-loving blogger, mystery author Dani Fredsti, read the book with that expectation. She was kind enough to say that she came for the zombies and stayed for the humor. But her reaction and comments from zombie fans on her blog made me consider what the book would have been if I’d taken the story into the horror realm—zombie wedding caterers, vampire tuxedo rental companies, werewolf indie film directors. It would have been a different book for sure!
Debbie:: Maybe that’s next?
What went into the way you handle Sky’s anorexia? Have you known anorexic people? (Spoiler question: do you think Daria’s wedding is part of what enables Sky to seek treatment? And did you purposely not tell us how successful the treatment is, or is that just where the book ended?)
Lynne:: Honestly, to the best of my knowledge, I have never been close to anyone suffering from anorexia. However, I have been exposed to other conditions where a loved one is either secretly or defiantly pursuing a self-destructive course, and I think the frustration that friends and family members feel must be similar. I’m also proud of my characters in Bride of the Living Dead in that they came together as a family to optimize a situation where treatment was not a simple or affordable option. As far as Sky’s future, I wanted to create a situation that reflects real life in so many chronic, physical and mental conditions, where treatment is one day at a time and success is not so much a destination as a way of building better ways of coping and trusted resources to call on when the disorder arises again.
Debbie:: Thanks for writing the book! I really enjoyed it, and I’m sure lots of Body Impolitic readers will follow suit.