The Bitch Posse, Martha O'Connor
The Bitch Posse isn't a feel good, laugh a minute novel, full of rainbows and unicorns. It is a tough, gritty, haunting, powerful, touching book of friendship and emotion. I read it late into the night and then woke up early to finish it. After I closed the book the only word I could use to describe it was: "Wow!"
Martha, do you have your own Bitch Posse and do you think I could belong ?
Hon, if you have to ask...Seriously, of course you can be a member! But I'm just warning you, my Bitch Posse these days mainly shoots the shit on things like milk cartons that need to be painted certain colors for school artprojects, end-of-the-year teacher gifts, whether God has a grandpa, and why Pluto and Goofy are both dogs but Goofy can talk and Pluto can't. (Yeah, what the fuck's with that? And while we're at it, why doesn't Goofy ever BARK?) Anyway, I guess we've all grown up. In some ways. You know those cute little kids' shirts that say things like "Anarchy in the Pre-K" and "Rock 'N Roll Grade School"? That about sums it up.
The opening scene in the book…were you nervous writing it and wondering how well it would be received?
The opening scene is a sex scene, and convention has it that you don't open with a sex scene. BUT... when I wrote this book, I believed it would never be published. (See below.) So I turned off ALL the censors and didn't care one bit what anyone might think. When it began to look like the novel MIGHT be published (my agent told me she was planning to send it out for auction), I got a little nervous, but figured that scene would be like a litmus test for the novel. If you couldn't make it through THAT scene you probably wouldn't care for The Bitch Posse at all. In that case, you'd need to close the book, back away from it slowly, do not pass Go, do not collect $200. The reactions to the scene have been really interesting. Some people have told me they think it's either a) the saddest scene in the book or b) the funniest scene in the book or c) both. And some people have been absolutely outraged by the scene. Ah, well. It is what it is and if people don't like it, they can skip it. Or burn it. Whatever.
Tell me how the book came to be written?
Back in February 2003, I was extremely discouraged and ready to throwin the towel on this whole writing thing forever. A few months before, I'd finally landed an agent for Unpublished Novel Number Four (count 'em, 4). Four was a light, sweet, almost chick-lit mystery...think Bridget Jones meets Miss Marple. In fact, that was how I pitched it. I had written it t to satisfy what I believed were the needs of the marketplace. I had carefully crafted it to SELL. And I found an agent who thought so too. Until the rejections started pouring in. They were kind rejections, at least. Some praised the writing and found the story lacking. Some gave kudos to the story, but found the narrator too prickly. Some found the narrator delightful, but weren't so sure about the writing... You get the picture. By February my then-agent informed me we were running out of options. Though I pouted for awhile, I ended up doing what I always do to distract myself: start something new. To my surprise, what came out wasn't a mystery, nor was it chick-lit. It wasn't very friendly at all! It was dark, edgy, risky, and different. This novel resided in the country of Mary Gaitskill, Joyce Carol Oates, and AM Homes... my favorite writers. My favorite writers.
It finally clicked: Of course... WRITE WHAT YOU LIKE TO READ. Duh! Why hadn't I figured THAT out? I zoomed through the first fifty pages, firing on six cylinders. Then, I decided I wanted some feedback. The first person I asked was my husband, also a novelist and my very best reader. He read the pages in one sitting and said:"You have to finish this book. It's the best thing you've ever done." I didn't believe him, though. No, I decided I needed some insider feedback... from my agent, who was my advocate, right? Who knew what was best for my career, right? I sent her my pages and crossed my fingers. When I opened her email, I was sure she'd say SOMETHING encouraging. Here's what I read instead: "I'm so sorry, Martha. I'll never sell this. It's too dark, too depressing. It's not my thing at all and I can't imagine who the audience would be. You need to put this away for good, and write another mystery with the same detective."
Wow. Somehow, I hadn't expected that reaction to something I knew full well far surpassed anything I'd ever done before. But, but, but, she was my AGENT. She knew the INDUSTRY. She was right, wasn't she? It took a lot of support from family and friends, but in the end I got the encouragement I needed to break ties with this agent and finish the novel on my own. Because I'd been told it would never bepublished, I turned off ALL the censors, and that's how I got the nerve to write the opening scene you mentioned... and many of the scenes in the novel. And boy, was I ready to write it. The first draft poured out of me in six short weeks. I took several months to revise it and then sent it to several agents, landing a new one within two weeks. She worked with me on the novel for another few months and then promptly sold it at auction four days after she submitted it. I'm still debating whether to send that old agent a signed copy. Maybe when the paperback comes out...
What do you like to do for fun?
I spend time with my husband, Phil, and our 8-year-old boy/girl twins. After all my wild days, I've become a regular homebody. We love visiting the beach (there is something so healing about the ocean), parks, the pool, and hanging out with friends. I read several books a week, also, and fill my head with writer gossip. Clicking back and forth among Readerville, Maud Newton, Beatrice, Sarah Weinman, and all the other addictables I've linked on my own blog, I think I've patched together the E! Channel for writers.
Finish the sentence: If I were a high paid celebrity I would –
Become a spokesperson for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and try to raise funds to help cure Type 1 Diabetes, which my son developed exactly one year ago (dx date: 7/14/04). Type 1 Diabetes affects millions of children and adults and strikes suddenly, usually with no family history. It is the leading cause of adult blindness and nontraumatic amputations and is a leading cause of stroke, heart disease, kidney failure, sexual impotence and many other complications. The average lifespan of someone with Type 1 Diabetesis shortened by 15 years. People with Type 1 Diabetes require frequent blood sugar tests (8-10 times per day) and insulin shots (4-5 shots per day) just to stay alive. By the time my son is 18, he will have pricked his finger approximately 40,150 times for blood tests and will have administered nearly 20,075 insulin shots. Is this the way for a child to grow up?
My hat is off to actress Mary Tyler Moore, Olympic Gold Medalistswimmer Gary Hall Jr., and former Miss America Nicole Johnson, all very outspoken celebrities who manage Type 1 Diabetes every day, as well as to the countless children I know with this disease (some as young as 10 months old), and their families. So, if I am ever a high-paid celebrity, my efforts will continue to go toward finding a cure for this devastating, life-threatening disease. No one can shut me up about it now, but if I'm ever famous, I'll have a bigger stage! (Cindy if you could link the following, I would bevery appreciative) To find out more and to donate please visit: Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and StemPAC, the political action committtee for stem cell research
I have a theory that generally speaking, kids who had a rough time in high school make great writers. What do you think?
I think anyone who steps back and watches human interaction is a great observer and would make a great writer or artist. Sometimes we do this by choice, sometimes by necessity, sometimes by a combination ofthe two. Being different in any way allows us to look closely at what makes us human and how it feels to be an outsider. The girls in my novel are outsiders. I was an outsider, myself. For a while, I desperatelywanted to fit into the "It Crowd." (My audition for 8th grade cheerleader had to be the gawkiest, baby-gazelle like performance evermade, and would make excellent blackmail material should it exist on tape anywhere).
But the "It Crowd" wouldn't have me. Then, by choice, I became a black-clad, Smiths-quoting, black-lipstick wearing, smoking, leave-me-the-fuck-alone goth girl. The It Crowd stayed away from me, and I liked things that way. But no matter which face I showed on the outside, I was always, always scrawling my thoughts and observations in journals and poetry books. Being quiet and holding back gives you tremendous freedom to analyze, to take apart and put together people's behaviors, to play the writer's games of What If and Why D'you S'pse. So I imagine you're right... many if not most writers were outsiders in high school.
To win a free copy of The Bitch Posse, please send the url of this blog to five people and email me at Distressedjeans@juno.com with BITCH POSSE in the subject line.