Friday, March 02, 2007

Monica Drake, Clown Girl

I had this big, long, detailed description of Clown Girl written out and then my computer decided to make a sound like this: chuggg chugg eeekkkk, chuggg chugg eeeek and then it just kind of..died. So I had to take over my sons computer and write this out from my memory. Don't you hate it when things like that happen?
I will tell you what Clown Girl is not, it's not happiness, bright sunshine and feel good. It is dark and kind of twisty. It is sad in parts, funny in other parts and well written throughout. All I can think is that author Monica Drake has an amazing mind and crazy imagination.
Clown Girl is the story of Nita, aka Sniffles the Clown, who lives in a run down place called Baloneytown. She is holding tight to the hope that her boyfriend, Rex Galore, is going to come back to town and sweep her off her big clown feet and the two will live happily ever after. Of course it doesn't work out that way. There is a rubber chicken named Plucky, a police officer, a pot dealing ex-boyfriend and fellow clowns Matey and Crack, just to name a few characters from this novel. If you are looking for a different kind of book by a fabulous writer then you need to check this one out.
Where did Baloneytown come from? Why not write about a place like New York City where there are lots of neighborhoods full of destitution and poverty?

I wanted it to be a fictional terrain, so I could use the landscape to my own ends. The main character, Nita, is very much a pedestrian, and I wanted to mapout her walking paths in a way that would line up neighborhoods--Baloneytown, For-Salesville, KingsRow--in a way they don't necessarily naturally fall in any real city.

Also, the style of this novel isn't strictly realism. It’s more cartoon or comic in ways. For that, I needed a cartoonish version of a town, something that could show the grit of a city with the colors and bounce of a clown world. Voila! Baloneytown.

The book is dark, kind of chilly and mysterious. Did you set out to write this kind of a book?

I did. It's the kind of book, or kind of writing, I most enjoy--aiming for a mix of sad and funny, and most of all trying to get at something, trying to express a feeling about the world.
What kinds of books and movies are you drawn to? Do you like things light and happy or murky and warped?

I like to be caught by surprise, and to laugh, in that way that happens when a kind of truth hits you in the funnybone, and it's funny and sad and real all at once. I love the writing of George Saunders. I love movies like Being John Malcovich, things that just keep getting crazier and wilder as the story lines go on. Are Baloneytown and the clowns a metaphor for something? The main character, Nita, uses clowning as a vehicle for self expression. Not all the clowns in the book use it in the same way, or see it in the same way, and that’s part of the conflict she's up against; Nita’s relationship to what she views as her art is fueled by big ambitions and a longing to connect, to make life meaningful.

How would you describe Nita a.k.a Sniffles?

She's an optimist, and a dreamer. She's ambitious and plagued by abandonment issues, but she still believes she can forge the life she wants out of what she's got through sheer creativity and determination. She's little bit Horatio Alger, a little bit Bozo...

Clowns are universally known to be somewhat creepy, is that why you chose clowning as Nita's profession?
I'm not sure clowns are universally known as creepy. People have different responses, and it varies culturally. I've been told that the fear of clowns is more prevalent in the US than in other places. If that’s true, what does it say about us as a country? Is it just that too many people have watched "It", the movie with Pennywise, a terrifying clown, written by Steven King, or does it go beyond that to say something more, maybe speaking to an intolerance of the unknown, the chaotic?

For all I know it's a comment on a loss of innocence, or a fear of innocence. I chose to make Nita a clown because I worked as a clown, briefly, many years ago, and the experience has always stayed with me and resonated against so many other jobs, so many other events...I'm interested in what it means to put oneself out there, into the world as a clown, and what it means to be clown identified. It’s all about taking risks, about exposure, vulnerability and living outside the norm.

Rex was never planning to come back for Nita was he? It was a one sided love affair.

What I was trying to do with this is show Nita's view of Rex as all projection. It's a story she's telling herself. I didn't want Rex to come across as a complete cad; he's not what Nita wants, but who say she has to be? He hasn't made her any promises.
He's low, as an artist, near the end, but I think that helps Nita realize she's been giving away too much, sacrificing too much, and not taking care of herself. She can't keep throwing herself at the world, or at Rex. This is the moment she starts to think about taking better care of herself and her craft, her work. To hold a little something back, keep it in reserve, and reconsider her position in relation to the world.

Tell me about the Sewanee Writers Workshop. Did attending the workshop help you to hone your craft?

The Sewanee Writers Workshop was great. I'm not sure how much it helped me hone my craft--it's a very short workshop--but I met a lot of writers I admire, like Tim O'Brien, Amy Hempel and Arthur Miller. It was inspiring. Events like that help make the world of writing, the career of writing, seem more real and obtainable, and that's important, or it was for me, tube able to keep going.

What are you working on right now and will there be balloon tying, clowns or any other circus performer types in the book?

I've got some pieces that might line up into another novel. No clowns, balloons or circus performers in this one--at least not yet, but who knows? I revise a lot. A dozen revisions later...we'll see!


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