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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.