The Beatrice Interview

Anne N. Marino

"I'm going to spend [Thanksgiving] writing. I don't care about the holiday, I've got work to do."

interviewed by Ron Hogan

I was supposed to interview Anne N. Marino at a fancy brunch spot on the Upper East Side that I'd pretty much picked at random out of a restaurant guide when we were trying to decide where to meet during her brief stay in New York. But after twenty minutes sitting around waiting for a glass of water, let alone a menu, we ended up walking across the street to a great diner and resuming our conversation. Marino's first novel, The Collapsible World, is a tautly drawn story about a young woman struggling to cope with the pressure of caring for her drug-addicted father after her mother's disappearance. Marino began the novel in graduate school and then spent three years, off and on, seeing it to completion...but the story of how it ended up being published should be told in her own words:

AM: I had just finished the first draft. There's a pub in San Francisco, the Edinburgh Castle, that does a lot of readings. I've read there several times, and I know the manager who sets them up. He's friends with Irvine Welsh, and Irvine was going to come do a reading. For months before then, I begged to be put on the bill, and he finally agreed. So I read, and afterwards I chatted with Irvine for a few minutes. He said he liked what I read, and I said thank you, then he asked if it was from a novel, and I said yes, and he said, "Well, send it to me."

So I did, and then he sent it to Amy Cherry, his editor--now our editor--at Norton. He'd called me from London to let me know that he was sending it to Amy, and I frantically called him a few times after that, saying: "It's only a first draft, it's not ready yet!" He said not to worry about it, that wouldn't be a problem. Amy wrote me a letter, saying that she'd read the novel and liked it, and asked if we could talk about it. She asked me to rewrite some stuff. So I spent a couple weeks rewriting it, and sent it back, and they made me an offer.

RH: It's rooted in North Beach, a very specific neighborhood of San Francisco. Is that your part of town?

AM: No, I never lived there. I go up there a lot, though. What I like about North Beach is that it's very neighborhood- y, and I wanted to write about a neighborhood. It's really one of the safest parts of San Francisco. Because Lillie and her sister both navigate through the neighborhood at night alone, I would go to North Beach and walk around at night by myself, too. I knew a lot of people who worked up there, in the bars and cafés, so I could always pop in and say hi to people, have a drink, and then be on my merry way. And you can always get a cab in North Beach; it's the only place in San Francisco where you can actually get a cab. (smiles)

RH: How early in the writing process did the visual theme of the maps come to you?

AM: Pretty early. I have a specific method that was taught to me by one of my professors in graduate school about how to outline a novel. So I wrote down everybody's name, who they were, what they did...The idea behind this concept of writing a novel is that the main character's occupation is very important to the image-pattern of the novel. What they do has to be important to how you tie in all the imagery, because it's part of what the character's desire is.

RH: So you had the dynamics between the characters worked out in your head before you started writing?

AM: A good part of it was. What I did was to sit down and decide what everybody was doing--who are these characters and what do they want? But when you're writing, there are always twists and turns. So there were a lot of surprises. And a lot of stuff I planned had to come out. I'd write a whole chapter and then think, "Oh God, that sucks!" or "What does that have to do with the story?"

RH: Had you ever fired a gun before, as you have Lillie do in one chapter?

AM: I have, actually. A good friend is a deputy sheriff in Marin County, and I asked her about it one day, even before it came up in the novel. I told her I was curious about it and asked her to take me to the range one day, and she did. It was a really intense experience. We still go together--I haven't been with her in a while; she goes more than I do.

That's sort of where the idea of Rick, the good-hearted cop boyfriend came from. I felt that Lillie needed somebody in her life that was a little more stable.

RH: Who are some of your favorite authors?

AM: I was thinking about that this morning, because I knew you were going to ask me that. (smiles) I read a lot of contemporary fiction; I figure I should be reading my peers. I like Aimee Bender, Susanna Moore--she wrote In the Cut, which was a great book. Howard Norman, who wrote The Bird Artist, one of my favorite books. Richard Price: I loved Blood Brothers, but then I tried to read Freedomland this summer, and I didn't like it as much. I've seen him speak a few times, though, and he's really interesting. Dorothy Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina. And then Flannery O'Connor, Carson McCullers, Shirley Jackson.

I read a lot of short stories, especially in this last year. I haven't had time for very much reading, which has been disappointing. I read the New Yorker faithfully. There was a great short story a few months ago called "The Male Gaze" by Lucinda Rosenfeld, which made me think, "Damn! I wish I'd written that story!"

I've had two short stories published, both in really obscure magazines which I think are now defunct. (smiles) I like writing short stories a lot, and I'm working on a few now that I want to finish.

RH: So are you mainly working on those stories, or are you planning a second novel?

AM: I'm working on a novel. I'm going to a artist's colony in November, so I'll work on the second book there. A few people have asked, "Where are you going to spend Thanksgiving?" Well, I'm going to spend it writing. I don't care about the holiday, I've got work to do.

RH: Have you been to a writing colony before?

AM: I went to Ucross in Wyoming a couple years ago. I finished most of The Collapsible World there, writing every day from noon to six. It's great--they take care of you so all you have to do is write. There were five other people there, three visual artists and the rest of us were writers. You'd come in at dinner time, and people would ask, "What did you do today?" There was one woman there, and one day, she said, "Oh, I made a couch." And the next day she'd done five paintings, or a sculpture--she was just so talented. And the feeling is, if they're working, I'm working. If they're famous writers and they're in the room next door writing, I'm writing.

RH: It helps you find the structure and discipline to write, then?

AM: I need structure. I work really well in a structured environment; I work really well under pressure. I've found it hard to write at home. I really want to get to a point some day where I can have an office outside the home where I can just go to write. I'm a fundraiser in real life--well, writing's my real life, but, you know, to make money--and I have an office that I go to for that. I don't want to do that in my house; I don't mind writing in my house right now, but that's only because I have to. I want my house to be work-free. I want it to be where I go to relax, to be with my family.

BEATRICE Suggested further reading
Jane Mendelsohn | Complete Interview Index | Joy Nicholson

All materials copyright © Ron Hogan