Go Forth (Vol. 3)
by Brandon Hobson for The Believer Logger, October 18, 2012
"Literature: Interview with Courtney Eldridge, Part I"
by Rebecca Keith for BOMBLOG, June 22, 2011
"Literature: Interview with Courtney Eldridge, Part II"
by Rebecca Keith for BOMBLOG, June 28, 2011
Newtonville Author Questionnaire
Newtonville Books, June 2009, Interview with Jaime Clarke and Mary Cotton, co-owner
by Brandon Hobson for The Believer Logger, October 18, 2012
I first read Courtney Eldridge in an issue of McSweeney’s and was so floored by her work that I bought her collection, Unkempt, and her novel, The Generosity of Women. I implore you to go out today to an independent bookstore and buy these books. Eldridge is a writer of extreme talent who writes smart, funny, and well-crafted prose. She’s a strong voice in fiction today. I spoke with her via email about humor in her work, her unusual voice in fiction, and what she’s currently working on.
BRANDON HOBSON: Many of your characters from your stories from your collection Unkempt seem helpless, yet you manage to maintain a nice balance of humor. Can you speak to this connection between struggle and humor in your work?
COURTNEY ELDRIDGE: Well, I think we’re all pretty helpless without a sense of humor. Then again, that first book was written during a time of intense personal struggle, both in terms of trying to figure out how to write, how I write, more exactly, and simply keeping a roof over my head while living in NYC. Now, of course, in hindsight, I wish I’d had far more humor about my personal circumstances and my work, both.
BH: Voice seems important in your work (I’m thinking particularly of the voices in The Generosity of Women). Is voice something that drives your fiction most? Does voice inspire you?
CE: The truth is I don’t know how to start a piece without a voice. I mean that literally: if I can’t hear a voice in my head, if I can’t hear the words as I type, I can’t write a word. Until I hear something, there’s just nothing doing, you know? Whether it’s fiction, non-fiction, a character’s voice or my own, same difference.
I think that has to do with how I came to fiction. Growing up, my parents, the three of us, we didn’t have much to our names, certainly not books. But what we did have, the one material possession that we sacrificed for, was vinyl, my parents’ record collection. There was always, always music playing in our house—if there wasn’t, the moment I walked through the front door after school, I knew either no one was home or one of my parents was sick in bed and I had to be quiet. And if my parents didn’t turn me on to many writers, growing up, they certainly shared their appreciation of a huge range of voices, musical styles, and lyrics. I got into writing through record stores first, the library second.
BH: You’ve described your work in the past as “putting on sock puppets and talking to yourself ‘right and left, right and left.’” Can you elaborate on this?
CE: Here, again, I have to plead only child. I did actually play with sock pockets—well, I would play alone all day with my stuffed animals and dolls, making up elaborate stories, Barbie and Babar on safari in Kenya, that sort of thing. I just didn’t consider writing it down for about twenty years, is all. I always think of myself as a late bloomer when it comes to writing, because I didn’t start writing seriously until my mid-twenties.
BH: Whose work influences you most? Why?
CE: Well, of course different writers influence you at different points in time. Overall, I’d say Rick Moody has most influenced me. Because he’s always striving to try something new with his work but as honestly as possible. And when it comes to others—writers, artists, and musicians, you name it—he’s as supportive and generous as anyone I’ve ever met.
Let’s see… there’s Robert Walser, Joan Didion, Stephen Dixon, Robert Coover, Grace Paley, Thomas Bernhard, Amy Hempel—I’ve lost count of how many literary crushes I’ve had over the years. And though I read Henry Green’s Loving; Living; Partygoing every few years, and he knocks me down again—I always feel so small, reading him, but in the best possible way. Like looking at the stars on a clear night.
More recently—I don’t know where the hell I’ve been, but still. I finally read Sam Lipsyte and I could not stop laughing and then I couldn’t stop quoting—just so many lines I’d quote to myself, laughing all over again. “I have eyes. They do business.”
BH: What’s next? What are you currently working on, and can you tell us much about it?
CE: My next novel will be published by Amazon Publishing in spring 2013. It’s called Ghost Time; it’s my first attempt at YA, and it’s the first of a trilogy. The protagonist is a 15-year-old girl named Thea Denny who happens to be a brilliant young artist, and I thought the best way to learn about her would be to figure out a way to work with young artists. I started looking around, seeing all this incredible artwork by teenagers—work that was as good as anything I ever saw back at art school, and the thought, “What if God was a teenage girl?” came to mind. This was in 2009: I’d just moved to Argentina; publishing was in crises; and speaking no Spanish, I found myself dependent on my computer for communication.
With all that in mind, I wanted try to write something different—not just the subject matter, but in terms of how I’d written up to that point, which was hermetically sealed, to say the least. So I started Saccades Project, which includes a website, blog, YouTube channel, FB page and flickr pool. (Twitter is my downfall—the project has a Twitter feed, but I haven’t figured out what the hell to do with it yet.) And under that digital umbrella, I started approaching teen artists I admired, explaining the concept and asking them to contribute a series of their work, eight images, accompanied by a YouTube playlist of eight songs that I could use as inspiration—that I could basically sketch to with this story and this teenage character in mind. Every day, I’d post one image and the song the artist chose, like an AV postcard, and at the end of the day, I’d post the sketch, generally anywhere from 800 to 2,000 words per day.
Up to that point, I was struggling with social media, how to use the internet in a way that felt genuine to me and appropriate for the project. And it worked. A friend stopped me four months after starting the project and posting the first sketch online; he’d printed out all the sketches I’d done up to that point, and he said, “Do you know you have 1,000 pages of writing here?” At which point I stopped seeking contributions and started putting the book together.
Working with artists, that continues. The only difference, really, is that I now work with artists of all ages and from all over the world. In the next month, I’ll start the second book, the sequel, and I intend to work in the same way. A trilogy is such a huge undertaking, so this project keeps me honest.
Brandon Hobson’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in the Believer, NOON, Puerto del Sol, Post Road, New YorkTyrant, Web Conjunctions, Forty Stories: New Writing from Harper Perennial, and elsewhere.
by Rebecca Keith for BOMBLOG, June 22, 2011
I can’t help but wonder what would have become of our greatest writers, had they been confronted with current technology. Really, can you imagine John Updike writing a status report: “New poem out in Black Boot Brigade in Ireland. Check it out!” In part one of a two part interview, Rebecca Keith talks to novelist Courtney Eldridge about art school, self promotion, Saccades Project, and working with young artists.
What happened was, Courtney Eldridge wrote a book of short stories, Unkempt, and I wanted to read everything she ever wrote after that collection. When her novel, The Generosity of Women, came out in 2009, I got my hands on the galley as soon as I could and was swept away by the six narrators, from Joyce, a high-powered, brassy Chelsea gallerist, to Bobbie, her best friend and a successful gynecologist. As flawed and self-absorbed as some of them were, their voices were unforgettable. Before The Generosity, Courtney and I had almost met at a party for my job at a literary nonprofit. Let’s be honest, I probably wrote her a sweet little note urging her to come to the party. She showed up, but we didn’t actually get to meet. After that, we became pen pals in the most Anne of Green Gables kindred spirit via email way.
So when the novel came out, I jumped at the chance to interview her. We had a two hour phone interview when she was living in Buenos Aires (she’s since moved to LA), and since then we have continued to gab over email about writing, art, punk rock, and an antique locket I found filled with tiny postcards of Buenos Aires. More recently, we discovered a shared love of Jefferson Airplane which led Courtney to tell the story of the first time she ever got high: eight years old, when she stole not one but two pot brownies during one of her parents’ parties, to the soundtrack of "White Rabbit." One morning last summer I saw a teenage girl and her mother heading across 29th street. The girl, tall and a bit awkward, was toting her modeling portfolio, and her mother looked pleased and unfazed by the Midtown-ish bustle. They reminded me of Lynne and Jordan, a suburban mother and daughter from The Generosity. I wondered what the characters would be up to now, after the novel’s end.
Courtney describes her work as putting on sock puppets and talking to herself, "right and left, right and left." Her characters have such strong voices you feel like they’re calling the shots. Her intricate plots double back on themselves as she skillfully manipulates time and perspectives. Since The Generosity came out, Courtney has written two more novels. Ghost Signs has a teenage protagonist, Thea, with a Louise Brooks/Clara Bow haircut. The spark for the book came when Courtney asked herself, "What if God was a teenage girl?" and she sees it as a possible YA crossover novel. The other novel, DECCA, is a sci-fi thriller set in futuristic Los Angeles, a major departure from her previous work.
Newtonville Books, June 2009, Interview with Jaime Clarke and Mary Cotton, co-owners:
Newtonville Books: Name a childhood hero.
Courtney Eldridge: In childhood, I think I had more heroes than pairs of underwear--fortunately or unfortunately, some things never change. But as a little girl, the shortlist of my heroes included: Annie Oakley, Amelia Earhart, Lauren Hutton, and, for a couple years, sometime around 1981, I became completely obsessed with Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was, at one point, the richest woman in the world, not to mention queen of England and queen of France. I mean, for a while there, I was like Raingirl, the way I could spout off facts about her marriages to Louis VII and Henry II and her son Richard the Lionhearted and on and on … But it wasn’t any of that that caused my obsession, actually, it was Eleanor’s portrayal as penned by James Goldman and embodied by the stunning Katharine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter. A particularly classic Eleanor quip I’ve always loved:
“I even made poor Louis take me on Crusade. How’s that for blasphemy. I dressed my maids as Amazons and rode bare-breasted halfway to Damascus. Louis had a seizure and I damn near died of windburn … but the troops were dazzled.”
Now that — that, gentlemen, is how you win hearts and minds. And the first time I watched Hepburn recite those lines was the moment I realized the sheer power of words, language — what it meant when people said the pen was mightier than the sword, yes.
NB: Name a work you wished you’d written.
CE: Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion. For the seeming effortlessness with which it makes these technically daring leaps of faith, shifting back and forth from first-person to third-person narrative; its total disinterest in conventional plot devices; the sheer density achieved with such sparse language; dialogue cut like diamonds; and the way in which the author redefined the meaning of a “chapter” every single page. All that, and it’s set in Los Angeles, in Hollywood, for god sake? Honestly, I’ve read it fifty times, easily, and still have no idea how Didion pulled it off. For me, it was the book that completely changed my concept of what a novel was, not to mention the possibility of what a novel could be.
NB: Name a writer in history you would’ve like to have been a contemporary of and why.
CE: Many great writers/periods immediately come to mind, from George Eliot to Flannery O’Connor, Jane Bowles to Virginia Woolf to Isaak Denison. However, obviously, as a writer living in these times, here’s the problem when I think about those women and living in those times: I’m a lousy excuse for a Catholic in any age, I cannot imagine writing under a pseudonym, forget contracting venereal disease from my philandering husband and/or drowning myself with rocks in my pockets.
To open up the question, well, many of the writers I most admire are musicians, songwriters and poets, equally, and I admire them for the honesty, individuality, and passion of their voices and their words. That list would include the likes of: Janis Joplin, Chrissie Hynde, and, of course, Patti Smith. But, I guess if I had to choose just one, I would want to live as a contemporary of Patti Smith, New York City in the early seventies, because it was such a dangerous and magical time and place to be a female artist trying to break new ground.
NB: Name a work of yours whose reception you’ve been surprised about and why.
CE: I think I’ve been most surprised that my novella, ‘The Former World Record Holder Settles Down’, was translated into French and published there as a novel. That, and the fact that the book was well received in France, of all places, was pretty shocking. But when I was invited to visit in 2006, I kept getting asked all these questions about bowling — the story mentions bowling and baseball, equally — the French were fascinated with bowling and baseball not at all. Had anyone asked me, I would have gladly shared endless mind-numbing details about, say, oh, Jackie Robinson or Don Zimmer, the Buddha of Baseball, but the history of bowling in the United States? Well. Obviously I didn’t do my research. And I felt like such an asshole for that reason and too many others to name.
NB: Correct a misperception about you as a writer in fifty words or less.
CE: Well, I think it’s generous, not to mention a little presumptuous, to think that any reader has a perception of me, period. So, really, if there were misperceptions, at this point, I guess I’d have to side with the all-publicity-is-good-publicity rule. Come on: I’ve written a collection of short stories and one novel, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
NB: Name a trait you deplore in other writers.
CE: Easy: envy. But that’s a trait I deplore in myself as a writer, first and foremost.
NB: Name a regret, literary or otherwise.
CE: Professionally, I regret how much time I’ve wasted — and still waste on occasion — worrying what others will think of my writing. Personally, I deeply regret how I’ve handled certain relationships, and times, even now, when I don’t know how to correct my mistakes. Fiction is far easier in that respect.
NB: Name your greatest struggle as a writer.
CE: Earning a living.
Juked #6, Spring 2009, Interview with Lindsay Walker (print edition only, but check out juked.com)
Lindsay Walker: In the Acknowledgments you credit the artist Robert Szot and his painting exhibit from which the title of the novel (presumably) comes. Was there something about that painting, or exhibit, or artist that inspired you? Were there other titles you considered?
Courtney Eldridge: I’ve never actually met Robert Szot, and I have only seen a handful of his paintings. Szot was a friend of an ex of mine, who was storing some of Rob’s paintings for him. This was in December 2004, I think, and my ex had a warehouse space in Brooklyn at the time, and after looking at a few of his paintings, which were maybe five foot by five foot canvases, I asked about the artist, and that’s when my ex- told me the title of Szot’s exhibit was, “The Generosity of Women”. Which was just so … so you-cheeky-little-art-boy-you, but at the same time, I was humored. I couldn’t help laughing, really. And over the course of the next year or two, that title kept coming back to me. That was how the book began about a year later, with a title that I wanted to turn inside out.