The author of acclaimed memoirs pulls fictive strings
Trisha, the teen protagonist of your debut novel, Rose of No-Man's Land, lives in a grim Massachusetts town called Mogsfield, but the setting for her explosive romp with new friend Rose is marvelously garish.
I based Mogsfield on a town called Saugus, which is on Route 1, which has a fantastic cluster of theme restaurants—it's like a trashy-foody Las Vegas strip with lots of neon. The city where I grew up, Chelsea, is also on the North Shore [of Massachusetts Bay]. I drove up and down Route 1 a ton when I was a teenager, and I was enraptured by it. For Trisha to take this turn into a weird, electrical wonderland... suddenly, there are more possibilities—or it seems like it.
Such as discovering your sexuality in the bathroom of a Chinese restaurant—
Well, once I got Trisha out of her room, there was so much for her to do.
But she's also processing who she is, even if she doesn't quite come up with an answer.
It was actually kind of fun, and really different, and somewhat liberating to work with a character who's obviously queer, but isn't yet in a place where there's a need to claim an identity. Having come out of, and still being part of, a community where that is so intense—identity issues are so intense—it was just great to have this kid who is 14; she's not a part of that world. She maybe inevitably will be, but right then, she's just experiencing sensation and thinking about things and trying to get some sort of truth about the situation or about herself, but it's coming from a really different, unpoliticized place. So it was fun just to let her use her sensation as a guide.
Was it harder to do than your four memoirs?
Definitely. With memoir, everyone's already done what they're going to do, more or less. With fiction, you have to be pulling the strings every minute, or nobody moves.
What's up with Rent Girl, the prostitution memoir you did with illustrator Laurenn McCubbin that's "now in development"?
We've got a producer who works in TV, Tony Jonas, and he's wonderful—he was the executive producer for Queer as Folk. So far, without looking at the book, people are saying things like "oh, that's sad" or "their lives are depressing and pathetic." The book is actually really funny, though, and it's been less than a year. It will happen.