December’s author interview is with Laura Goode, whose first novel, Sister Mischief, was released by Candlewick Press in July 2011. Both Kindle and Paperback are available on Amazon.
According to your website, you’re currently writing a noir mystery novel, a bunch of poems, and probably a screenplay or two, among other works. How do you decide which creative project takes precedence on any given day? Do you work on a set schedule?
Ha, yes. As a career rule I tend to be a bit genre-schizophrenic, but generally, though not always, I concentrate on one project at a time. Sometimes I’ll spend several weeks on a draft of novel A, and then a week or two on poem cycle B, or whatever, but I do find that I usually need some time to sink into any given project. That said, in a higher-level way, I’ve never completed long works in the same genre consecutively—as in, I got a degree in poetry, then published a novel, then wrote and produced a film, and now I’m back to working on a novel most consistently. But it took me like ten years to figure that out about myself.
I do try to be disciplined about my work schedule, because I find that the only way to call yourself a writer in good conscience is to write, and the only way to write consistently is to treat it like a job. My schedule sometimes varies according to where I am in the world and my life, but I’m usually most productive if I can carve out the hours of 8am to 1pm for writing, with as little douching around on email and Facebook and the news as possible.
Your latest novel, Sister Mischief, is about an all-girl hip-hop crew in Minnesota. The book features incredibly vibrant characters, each bringing her own emotionally complex personality to the story. How do you create such powerful characters? Are they based on people you’ve known in real life, or do they come purely from your imagination?
I spend a lot of time getting to know my characters and their biographies, and almost never by basing them on real people with real biographies. I find that more commonly I’ll composite aspects of several people, or draw on a particular tenor of a relationship, than source a character in a person themselves—I love writing very banter-y female friendship dialogue, in this vein, which is certainly derivative of my own female friendships. But for a character to make sense in the logic of the fictional world I’m building, it’s really important for me to know, like, when they were born, what they don’t usually tell people, what their vices are, what their kryptonite is, how their parents fucked them up—so in a sense, I need to know a lot more about my characters than I would know about a lot of people in my actual life. It’s my contention that no matter how many characters we write, we’re always writing about ourselves, anyway.
You’re also a filmmaker. Your first feature film, Farah Goes Bang, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April 2013. What do you love about filmmaking and how has your writer background influenced that pursuit?
I feel like I’ve been so many people, and played so many roles, in my capacity as a filmmaker that it’s more of a catchall term than an occupation in and of itself. The whole pursuit definitely began with my writer self, when Meera Menon and I decided to co-write the FGB screenplay. That was a hilarious and amazing experience in which I learned a ton about writing as a collaborative, rather than individual process—the film was a comedy, so if whatever we were writing didn’t make at least one of us laugh, it was out. I learned so much from Meera about filmmaking throughout the whole experience, but beginning with the screenplay—why it’s a bad idea to write a 7-page scene for film, how to make things visual, how to say a lot without writing much. So all of that was fairly wonderful.
Then there was the actual making of the movie, which was also fairly wonderful, but in a completely different way. I had to transition from primarily being a writer to primarily being a producer, which was the kind of huge challenge that makes you feel so completely out of your depth that you have to grow a lot to catch up. Not one single day of pre-production, production, or post-production on FGB did I feel like I even remotely knew what I was doing, but there was never any choice but to keep going, so I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and learning. I made a fuck ton of mistakes, and I relied on some really smart people around me, and I pretended I knew what a lot of words I had never heard before meant, and eventually we had a film in the can. There was something about production and producing that drew on a different skill set that I’ve always had, but haven’t always used as a writer of fiction or poetry, which is the ability to collaborate, to annihilate a to-do list, to basically be so fucking anal-retentive that you get a lot done. It was refreshing to use that super type-A side of myself, and it was an amazing kind of summer-camp experience to get to spend so many days surrounded by smart, talented, committed people, rather than in front of a computer by myself.
I read your article on Indiewire, Collaboration, Not Competition, about how you worked with your best friend and longtime artistic collaborator Meera Menon on Farah Goes Bang. You mention that you and Menon share a “bottom line about women and art.” Can you talk a little about what that bottom line is?
As I mentioned earlier, Meera is not only a dear friend, but someone who’s taught me so much about the discipline of filmmaking—I think one of the best qualities of our friendship, and our collaboration, is that we come from two really distinct artistic backgrounds and points of view. She’s a filmmaker and I’m a writer, so we’ve always stretched each other by being compatible, but not at all the same. So I think that illustrates some of the origins of our even having the impulse to collaborate as women artists.
Meera and I are both pretty deeply committed to feminism, which I think is another thing—maybe the main thing—that‘s always drawn us to each other. And somewhere along the road of conceiving FGB, we realized that the bottom line we share was this: So many of the images, films, narratives we encounter on a daily basis represent a male point of view, but in order for them to be complete, women’s stories have to be told by women themselves. I’m not saying men can’t or shouldn’t write women—in general, I’m an advocate of writing outside your immediate experience—but I think 50% of the world’s population has been largely excluded from our artistic canon for, like, all of history, and that it’s up to all of us to change that. So in terms of Farah, and the approach we take to all our artistic endeavors, I think the bottom line Meera and I share is this: As women artists, we have a responsibility to tell truthful stories about women’s lives, and if the institutions that surround us aren’t willing to give us the space, permission, funding, or sanction to do that, we’re going to create those support mechanisms ourselves. We’re going to find them in each other. One of the most insidious tools of female oppression has been building competition between women to tear each other down because we believe there’s only so much room on each rung of the ladder for so many women—like we have to knock each other down to get ahead because we’re really competing against each other, instead of against everybody. Fuck that. My life’s work is building a new ladder.
I also saw on your website that you received your MFA from Columbia University. What would you say were the most essential things you learned as a writer from going through this process?
Take your writing seriously, or no one else will.
What you put into the act of writing is directly proportional to what you will get out of it.
Deadlines are helpful.
Calm the fuck down. You’re 23. You’ll get published when you get published.
Don’t trust teachers who want to make you write like them. Trust, deeply, teachers, who want to make you write more like a better version of yourself.
Sex and alcohol play an outsize role in the production of literature, but they are not in and of themselves producers of literature, no matter what your drinking buddies tell you.
The subway is a great place to read and write.
Learn to write not just when you’re inspired, but when you have the time to write.
I had the good fortune to see you read some of your work in San Francisco and you were really fantastic on stage. Do you ever get nervous reading your work in front of other people?
Oh, thanks! I get a little nervous immediately before a public appearance, but once I’m actually talking, I really enjoy that kind of performance. I’ve been involved in the performing arts in various capacities since I was a kid, so I have a lot of problems, but shyness isn’t one. In fact, I mean most of what I write to be read out loud.
What advice do you have for writers who are just starting out, or who are still trying to make it?
(Standing in front of the mirror, muttering to myself in the leggings I haven’t taken off in two weeks)
There is no “making it.” This is a story someone made up once upon a time that stuck somehow. Publishing a book is not making it, and neither is publishing a bestselling book, and neither is getting famous. People who have done all of those things are still hustling all the time. So “making it” is a myth. It’s more like making it fucking happen. Or making it up as you go along.
You will probably have to do some kind of moneymaking bullshit at the same time as writing. So if you can do something else and not hate yourself all day, you should probably do that. Only be a writer if you are prepared to write a lot, and if you are actually useless at doing anything but writing.
It’s easy to love having written something—there’s nothing more amazing than feeling the thickness of that finished stack in your hands. But if you mean to keep writing, it’s best to love writing, too, which often means loving confusion, procrastination, endless redrafting, stumbling upon the perfect opposite of what you thought was going to happen next in your story and eagerly chasing it down, and producing a little bit every day even when it isn’t easy, even when it isn’t in a flight of literary rapture, even when you think what you’re writing might be total bullshit, or is.
No one will give you permission to do what you love most. No one gives a shit unless you make them. The world is not waiting with bated breath for the arrival of your genius vision. None of what you want will be handed to you. You have to take it.
Laura Goode is a poet, novelist, dramatist, essayist, feminist, educator, spelling bee kid, avid correspondent, dance party instigator, unicorn master, French fry enthusiast, amateur rapper, and warrior of the heart. She was raised outside Minneapolis, received her BA in English and Comparative Literature and MFA in Writing from Columbia University, and now lives and writes in San Francisco. Her first novel, Sister Mischief, was released by Candlewick Press and is described as “the world’s first interracial gay hip-hop love story for teens.”
For more on Laura Goode you can:
Visit her website
Like her on Facebook
Follow her on Twitter
Read reviews of Sister Mischief on Goodreads
Buy Sister Mischief on Amazon