Sunday, July 24, 2011

Q&A: Megan Abbott

Megan Abbott is an Edgar Award-winning novelist, co-headmistress of one of the finest blogs on the web, and – be still my heart – a current resident of Queens, New York. I’ve already sung the praises of Megan’s latest book, The End of Everything. It’s my pleasure to welcome Megan to the website to participate in a VKDC Q&A.

Q. What can you tell us about The End of Everything?

It’s the story of one early summer and Lizzie, a 13-year-old-girl, whose best friend Evie Verver vanishes. It’s inspired mostly by my own sense memory of Midwestern suburban summers of the early 1980s, a time before the predominance of central air conditioning and a time before the internet and the peak of stranger danger, when the suburbs felt like dark and thrilling places and yet places you were permitted to explore. All screen doors and drunken block parties and uncovering secrets through open windows.

Q. How easy was it for you to tap into your own childhood? Name one breakfast cereal and one cartoon show that this process made you remember vividly.

Apple Jacks and Yogi Bear! It was stunningly easy, and I never would have guessed that. You think you don’t remember anything and then suddenly you do. Once I started opening up those tunnels into the past, I couldn’t stop. They started opening without me trying. I include a very specific blow-up raft in the book—a yellow one festooned by the Hawaiian Punch mascot. I didn’t precisely know where it came from until last week when my brother, having just finished the book, reminded me that we had the same raft when we were kids, had spent countless afternoons at the community pool floating on it.

Q. The language is in the book is quite striking. You provide your protagonist Lizzie with a dreamy interior monologue that is frequently immediate, but occasionally provides Lizzie with the perspective of an older woman remembering that time in her life. How did you achieve that effect? Is the book set then, now, or somewhere in between?

I wanted the first chapter to be past tense and clearly from the perspective of Lizzie well past early adolescence and then we’d jump to present tense and to Lizzie at 13. I wanted to begin with a slightly larger view of the insular world of Lizzie’s head and then push us right into its center. But I have no idea how old the Lizzie of the first chapter is. Isn’t that funny? All I know is she still hasn’t fully lost all the gleam to her eye. Despite everything, she still finds enchantment and wonder in the Verver world. Which I’m glad about.

Q. You’ve written at your blog about the books of your youth that inspired you. What are some of your favorite coming of age novels?

I guess it depends how one defines coming of age, but certainly A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, and Starring Sally J. Freeman as Herself by Judy Blume and all the S.E. Hinton. Later, Catcher in the Rye and The Bell Jar. I’d add, in more recent years, Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell.

Q. These kids today, with their cell phones and social networks and playdates. Having revisited your own childhood, what do you think children today are missing out on? What do they have now that you wish you had then?

I think they are hindered from being the explorers we once were. I was not a particularly bold kid, but I certainly felt a sense of exploratory freedom. Parents today, so aware of various dangers and with so many means by which to track their children, seems to have eyes everywhere. I do think you learn so much as a kid by getting into trouble, getting (a little) lost, discovering some corners of the world on your own.

What I wish I’d had from now? Access to all the old movies in the world. Of course, if I’d had that, I’d probably not have left the house.

Movie Q. What movie released during your 1980s childhood best captures that time for you?

I’d say Little Darlings, The Outsiders, or Seems Like Old Times, which I inexplicably watched countless times as a kid.

Baseball Q. Speak to me of Jack Morris and the Detroit Tigers.

Growing up, my family members were (and remain) hardcore Tiger fans and I remember a household forever echoing with the sound of Ernie Harwell, my dad bemoaning Kirk Gibson’s mercurial bat and my brother and I assuming, respectively, Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell personas. I was always the least immersed in my immediate family, but it just formed the pulse of my summer youths. I still remember my first game—watching Mark Fidrych in his rookie year—and I still have my Tiger doll, dubbed Milt May, slightly battered—like the Tigers—but still roaring along.

Cocktail Q. You’re in a well-stocked bar. What do you order?

A gimlet, always. I must admit I’m basically a beer gal, but the Raymond Chandler lover in me compels me towards the gimlet.