Pixelated is the digital, double-blind, lit-inclined conversation series.
In each episode we put two writers on a sort of blind-date, and have them interview each other. The result? Who the hell knows. All conversations are 'manuscript-first', meaning they were typed as you see them.
Andrew: Welcome to the twelfth installment of PIXELATED. I’m here with Lily King (author of four novels, including the most recent, EUPHORIA, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2014) and Monica Byrne (author of her debut, THE GIRL IN THE ROAD, Broadway Books, 2014).
Normally, I bring on two authors whose work may not seem alike, but who have given me similar impressions. In this episode, I have two authors who have recent novels about immense, other-worldly travel—but the similarities really stop there. It’s almost as if EUPHORIA and THE GIRL IN THE ROAD are each other’s inverse reciprocal. Where Lily harvests material from the 1930s, Monica jumps to the future. Lily keeps her character in a stable (albeit infinitely foreign) environment; Monica’s characters traverse continents. And yet both balance nearly contradictory achievements: consistently vivifying the reader’s imagination, and strengthening the reality already set.
Before we get started, first things first: would you each a) kindly describe where you are and what you see, and b) confirm whether you’ve met?
Monica: Hi! I'm at my kitchen table in my apartment in Durham. And no, I haven't met Lily, but am pleased to
Andrew: (Also Lily—just so we're all on equal footing, both Monica and I were just listening to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Np_Y740aReI)
Lily: i am visiting my in-laws in Key West, Fl right now. It is about 90 degrees in the shade here and i am in a dark room with all the shades down except one half of one. My kids and husband are wandering in and out, peering at the screen, and moving away.
what is that youtube video?
and yes, pleased to meet you too!
Monica: "Justify My Love" by Madonna. I watched it at an impressionable young age. My sisters made me. Our Dad walked in on us, of course. "Hey, whatcha watchin?"
Dads have a sixth sense about that stuff.
Lily: Ha--funny. And so true.
Monica: Andrew, are you going to ask us questions, or should we just jump in about stuff we're thinking about?
Andrew: I've got some questions, but I find these usually are much more entertaining the less I talk
Monica: Well shit now I wanna read EUPHORIA lol
Andrew: It usually turns out one of your niece's is dating the other's cousin, or your old veterinarian is also repped by the other's agent, etc.
Lily: I need to also say that every now and then a Conch Republic tourist "train" goes by with a very loud yet incoherent guide.
Andrew: Noise-canceling headphones have become necessary to me
Monica: There is a train called Conch Republic? There is a thing called Conch Republic!? Tourism is so WEIRD.
Lily: And I want to read Girl in the Road! Great title by the way. Especially for a futuristic novel. Why that title?
Andrew: Could be a prequel to The Girl on the Train
Lily: yes! jump on that bandwagon!
Monica: Hahaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa no it couldn't. At all.
I STARTED that bandwagon, yall!
Lily: i suck at typing fyi
Andrew: Lily—you don't hand write do you?
Andrew: No way
Lily: then i have to put it into the computer, very slowly.
Monica: It's called The Girl in the Road because in the middle of the novel there's a dead girl in the road who more or less poses the question of whether or not it's worthwhile to live. Which is the same question the main characters are wrestling with.
I type with one hand. It's going to fall off when I'm ~60 and then I'll start using the other one.
Lily: wow--what is the future like in your novel? are there certain concerns you have that are played out there?
and one hand, seriously???
i need all the hands i can get and it still takes forever.
Monica: Yes. I type as fast as most people type with two hands. I go to coffeeshops and I'm like a circus freak sideshow. What are your writing implements? I imagine if you write longhand, it must be a lovely ritualized process...?
Lily: alas, i don't do sort of lovely pen and ink mss. i have to write on lined paper with a plastic pencil. my writing is small and illegible, even to me, and sometimes when i read it over i have to go through the motions of the squiggles to figure out what i've written.
Monica: Oooh. What an intimate relationship with one's penwomanship, though. I only write morning pages in longhand, but it's an enjoyable and almost erotic act.
Lily: are morning pages sort of journal/warm-up pages?
Monica: Exactly! I've kept a diary in some form or another since I was nine, and this--first thing in the morning, head-clearing--it the form it now takes. If I don't do it for more than two days in a row, I get angsty and short-tempered. Like...mentally constipated.
Lily: it does feel intimate. it feels very physical and satisfying but i do it because that's the way i've been writing since high school when i got sort of somewhat serious about writing.
Monica: Do you have a daily practice? I'm always like "all successful writers I know have some kind of daily practice" but I feel like I've needed to examine that statement.
Andrew: Have you ever tried typing Lily? Or is it too slow going?
Lily: i've basically been on book tour for a year so anything i say about a daily practice does not apply to this year. in general, in a perfect world, i write in my journal first then turn to the notebook that houses the novel i'm working on. i work on that for as long as time permits--usually until the kids come home from school.
Monica: AGGHHHH and now I'm looking up Lily's book and I've heard of it and have really f*cking wanted to read it and just downloaded it. OK. Coming back to the conversation now, hahaha.
Lily: i write short stories on the computer sometimes, and putting the stuff from the notebook into the computer is definitely a full rewriting that involves a lot of fresh words and creativity while sitting at the machine.
Monica: Ja. I hear you. Routines get disrupted by publicity stuff, which I've found out the hard way this past year.
Lily: how have you liked it?
or--what have you liked and what have you not liked?
and tell me about your daily practice. Oh mine very much involves a strong cup of tea at 10:30ish am. Maybe the most imp part of my practice.
Monica: I mean...I love it. I really do. Public performance of being-an-artist was always part of the plan. It just means my focus is a little more scattered among many pots, many burners.
Oh God yes. Mine involves coffee. Lots of coffee, flavored with cinnamon or rose or cardamom, depending on where in the world I'm writing about.
Speaking of which...WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? I wanna talk travel!
Lily: i just find it hard to live with the extrovert who has to go to book events and the introvert who needs to be writing alone in a room. do you?
Monica: Hahaha. As long as I keep the events to a minimum, no. I have a profound exhibitionist streak that loves dressing up and performing in public. And then I come home and cuddle up on the couch with a book. Perfect balance!
Lily: i love talking travel. mine is not all that exotic. i lived in Paris for 2 yrs, Spain for 2 yrs and Italy for 1 year. I love learning languages. I travelled all over Europe. Also China (mostly Beijing area), Peru, Mexico.
Monica: Not all that exotic!? Are you kidding!? This is a dream lineup! WOW.
Lily: Andrew mentioned continent-hopping in your novel. Tell me about that.
Monica: I'm learning another language for the first time in my adult life, exactly because I want to be able to travel more fluidly in more parts of the world. So, first: Spanish. Do you speak Spanish?
Monica: Yes. For The Girl in the Road I traveled to Ethiopia and India for research. But I've also been to Italy, Morocco, Fiji, Samoa, The Cook Islands, Australia, Belize, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, the UK, Hong Kong, and Iran.
Lily: yes. after French it was really easy to learn. And i had it down---and then i moved to Italy and now, 8 years after italy, i cannot speak either well. it is a terrible mash of the two that i can't seem to sort out. i'm taking italian lessons these days and we just laugh and laugh at how bad i am now.
oh because after italy i went back and studied spanish and destroyed my italian...
Monica: Awwww, I believe you. I try to speak German sometimes (which I learned in high school) and I feel like an elephant on skates.
And now it's even worse that I'm taking Spanish. I'm like, "Eres wirklich cómica," and then am like, ahhh, fuck.
Lily: i would love to learn german. i'm fascinated by it--all those compound nouns they can make. i want that in english!
Lily: Ha! At least you can hear which is Spanish and which is German. With Italian and Spanish they just coexist way too well.
wow wow just seeing your travel list. yikes. amazing. where among those would you live if you could?
or what place do you feel you are not done with, if any?
Monica: You know what I'm realizing? I was so scared of learning a new language because I'm so versatile in English, it's my medium, and I hate the thought of being considered stupid or slow when I speak another language. But the interesting thing is, learning a language is like learning a set of constraints, and constraints are gold to an artist. You DON'T have all the options you're used to for expressing yourself, so you have to improvise. I always thought Nabakov's metaphors were just from another planet, and that's because English was his second language, and constructions just occur to him that never would occur to us.
I know EXACTLY what you mean when you're asking that question. I'm not done with India, Iran, and Belize. Not by a long shot.
Lily: yes, EXACTLY. i love not knowing all the cliches in another language. i love the freedom of that.
Monica: When I go back to India, it'll have to be for a year at least. There's just too much there. It's worlds within worlds. Belize, I've been back to four times; my next novel is set there. Iran....oh, Iran. I get overwhelmed just thinking of it.
What about you? Where would you go back to, if you could?
Lily: i remember writing a paper in Spanish when i took a class at the university in the town where i lived and thinking it was the most brilliant thing, i think because it was all so fresh to me. i remember thinking that teacher wasn't as impressed as I was. it was, i'm sure, riddled with grammatical errors.
why and when Iran?
Monica: The idea of getting good enough to make my way in Latin and South America is so intoxicating.
Monica: I went to Iran for a month last fall. I have Iranian and Iranian-American friends here who love their homeland, and it just made me really curious, to cut through all the fearmongering bullshit in U.S. media.
I felt called there. When I feel that way about a country, I pay attention. There's something there that's calling me and I'll find it when I get there. Like a homing beacon.
Lily: When we went to Peru we travelled for 5 days up a tributary of the Amazon and went to this Sat night town dance at the one hut with a generator and a disco ball and i was able to talk to all the teenagers there and remember being so so grateful that i could.
Monica: Oh woooowwwwwww.
Did you dance? What music did they play?
Lily: we did dance--we danced with the girls and then the boys came out reluctantly. i wish i could remember the music. i'm sure i have it in my journal...
Monica: Hahaha. Boys reluctant about dancing. Some things are common in every culture
Do you remember your first high school dance?
Lily: i LOVE that feeling of being called. And I love that feeling of getting to a place that is speaking to you so personally and unexpectedly. that happened to me in Venice. That place you reverberates for me. i am not done with it. I don't even see the tourists when I'm there. weirdly, i do not feel like a tourist. i feel like i am a part of it, meant to be there. it's odd.
Monica: Yes yes yes. It's that kind of feeling that makes me believe in past lives. San Ignacio, Belize, felt like home the moment I set foot in it.
Lily: Yes, that's what really struck me, was how similar the scene was to what I had known. I remember my first middle school dance. my mom was a chaperone and i had a boyfriend named Greg who was my boyfriend for exactly 3 weeks before he broke up with me in the lunch line, but we were going out during the dance and he asked my mother to dance i remember so vividly them dancing together. my kids think this is crazy on every level and are horrified but it is a great warm memory for me. They played mostly Eagles' songs.
You??? Your first dance?
Monica: He danced with your Mom!? That is SO SWEET! What a charmer!
Lily: And after that I need to hear why I should go to Belize.
Monica: Yes, I was in seventh grade, kind of lumpy with braces and glasses, the whole nine yards...nervous as fuck, of course...and it turned out that my Peer Counselor (a senior who's assigned to a 7th-grader to help them adjust to high school life), Ted Newton, also a family friend, asked me to dance. It was incredibly kind and gentlemanly of him.
Lily: Oh so sweet. God bless the kind understanding ones.
Monica: As for Belize, I'm talking about Cayo in particular, the wild western region which is basically one gigantic Maya city buried under the jungle.
Monica: San Ignacio is its capital. I keep going back because it has an effect on me I don't understand, but it's so intoxicating I'm writing my entire next book about it---how Cayo is more real than the rest of the world, somehow.
Lily: Fascinating. Can I go back to that question I asked about why you set your novel in the future and what you were trying to explore by doing so?
Monica: I dream about Cayo at least twice a week. And it's always the same: very vivid, sitting down to escabeche or ceviche, and thinking, "This time, I'm actually here."
Oh for sure! The Girl in the Road had to be set far enough in the future to allow for the existence of the Trail, which is a 3,000-mile-long bridge crossing the Arabian Sea. I put that at about 2068.
Lily: That is so cool to have a place that has such a hold on you.
Andrew: Lily, Monica—hate to jump back in here, but we're at time
Monica: But once I was there, in 2068, of course I had to start asking what that world was like. Some of it is optimism---universal birth control, greater sexual freedom, greater queer acceptance worldwide. Some of it is cynicism---the persistence of slavery, abuse, and exploitation.
Andrew: So I'm going to ask for final thoughts.
Monica: AW NAW lol
Lily: Whoa. Amazing. Cannot wait to read it. But I have so many more questions!
Monica: Well I wish I could post a screencap here of the "Thank you for buying Lily King's EUPHORIA, it is sent to your Kindle"
Andrew: Y'all can read each other's books, and then become pen pals, and enjoy not having every word you type published on the site!
Monica: My final thought is I'm really fucking glad to know you, Lily. I hope we meet in person someday soon.
Lily: Thank you! I need to get yours in paper, unsurprisingly. I am still in the past, you are in the future. So glad to know you too, Monica. Happy writing and may our paths cross soon.
Monica: Thank you. And thanks, Andrew.
Lily: Thanks, Andrew!