Jessica Anya Blau, author of the Shebook Mating Calls, chats with us about real sex, stinky cheese, and the universals of human experience.
What prompted you to write Mating Calls?
Much of my fiction is inspired by real life. Usually something happens in my life that hooks in my mind (imagine my brain is a sea sponge and events are floating debris—some lodge in there, some float by). When I’m spacing out (which I do often), I frequently pick and pick and pick at the memories lodged in my head. I look at events from my point of view and, frequently, I imagine them from other people’s points of view as well. It is this imagining of events from the point of view of others that often sets me off to writing. It is also this imagining that keeps me from watching TV news and reading more than the headlines in newspapers. This projection into other people’s lives can be terrifying and overwhelming with things like war, famine, genocide, and so on.
Are there any themes, characters, or imagery that you find recurring in your writing? What are they, and what is their origin?
People often comment that there is a lot of sex in my writing. I suppose there is, but I don’t think of it as sex writing. Most of the sex my characters have is awkward, embarrassing, uncomfortable, or just downright bad. For me a scene in which a character has bad sex creates a lot more tension and reveals character in a much deeper way than a scene with great sex. Sex is a part of life, and it is a part of who we are and how we interact and connect with people. So it’s something I look at when I look at my characters. When I’m writing sex scenes, I’m never focusing on the act—who sticks what where. Instead, I’m focusing on the internal lives of the people involved in the act: how it feels to be a particular person with a particular other person doing a particular thing.
What advice do you have for an aspiring writer who is just starting out?
Be courageous. It is terrifying to write. It is terrifying to show your writing to other people. It is terrifying to send it out. And then it’s terrifying to have strangers read it. It takes an incredible amount of courage to work hard at something that might never get published. (Every published writer I know has mountains of unpublished work.) In order to write, you have to choose to do it anyway. Do it even if it’s scary (that’s your best work). Do it even if it will never get published (let go of that idea during the process, worry about it when you’re done creating). Do it even if other people hate it. This is your life. You’re going to die. If you want to spend the short time you have writing, then write. Don’t let naysayers keep you back. Also, protect yourself a little by not showing unpublished work to people who don’t “get” you, or people who are envious that you’re doing something so courageous, or people who are afraid of being abandoned when you succeed.
Do you worry about not having the authority to write about situations that you don’t know firsthand?
No. I truly believe that the human experience is universal. We are all afraid, lonely, we all love and want to be loved, we all long for things, we all hate to be embarrassed. If you can imagine your own pain and loneliness, you can imagine the pain and loneliness of anyone else. There are certain things that we might not be able to accurately understand without experiencing them (being in a concentration camp, say). But as writers we can certainly try to imagine what it might be like. And that’s what writing fiction is—it’s the act of imagining what it might be like to be someone else and do things we may not have ever done.
What’s an odd fact about you that not many people know?
I am a weirdo, so I could answer this question any number of ways. I’ll tell you this: I pretty much don’t like eating any food that smells like a part of the human body (fish, mushrooms, some cheeses). If you can’t imagine the body parts that correspond with particular foods, send me a note and I’ll fill you in!
What writing projects are you working on now?
I’m currently working on a novel inspired by my Shebook The Problem with Lexie.
Do you have a quote, mantra, or thought that you’d like to end with?
One of the things I frequently tell myself is Do more. I have this great fear of running out of time (death), and there is so much I want to do before I go. I know I can work hard enough. I just hope I can work fast enough.
Another mantra I have is this: Just keep moving forward. Whenever I’m stuck or stalled or even being lazy I remind myself that nothing will happen unless I move forward. Even a step in the wrong direction is a step. So, yes, Do more and Keep moving forward!
Jessica Anya Blau is author of the Shebook, Mating Calls