Allegra Huston is the author of the new novel Say My Name. She also has written the book Love Child, written and produced the film Good Luck, Mr. Gorski, and is on the staff of the magazine Garage. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Newsweek and Vogue. She lives in Taos, New Mexico.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Say My Name, and for your main character, Eve?
A: I wanted to write a love story, and I wanted to base it on my fantasy—that one of the great songs would have been written for me. It’s my first novel, and I wanted Eve to be somewhat similar to me, so I made her 48. I didn’t want an old rock-and-roller, but a guy on the verge of making it big. That led into the story of an older woman and a younger man.
Q: Do you think attitudes have changed over the years regarding relationships between older women and younger men?
A: I think they’ve changed to some extent, though not enough. It’s still, "Ooh, an older woman"--a programmed-in response that older women are more knowing and experienced. There’s something predatory, lubricious, forbidden, edgy about the whole deal, though certainly as you look around, there are more relationships between older women and younger men.
The cougar thing drives me mad. What is a cougar? A beast. There’s a sense of desperation…It’s extremely demeaning. It’s annoyed me that women have bought into this. It’s another way to demean women.
I know a lot of people in relationships of that kind, and virtually without exception, it was the man who did the chasing. The idea of a predatory cougar chasing down a boy, or a man, helpless in her wiles is so offensive.
Q: How did you think of the unusual musical instrument that you feature in the novel?
A: I can’t remember how I cane up with the idea of an instrument bringing them together. They are hard people to bring together! I came up with the idea of her doing antique hunting.
I wanted him to be a reluctant rock star, with a close and authentic relationship to a kind of primal music. The music Micajah plays when he’s not being a rock star is the kind friends of mine play—Andalusian, Middle Eastern.
His journey at the end is a reverse of [the film] Latcho Drom…he’s following the evolution of music from the far desert to Europe. Micajah does it in reverse.
Q: Is it a real instrument?
A: It’s based on a viola da gamba, but it’s smaller. The viola da gamba, you play like a cello, but you hold it between your knees. I kind of made it up, but then I researched the viola d’amore, and I imagined something that [already] existed!
Q: How was the book’s title chosen, and what does it signify for you?
A: The original title for the book was "Night Blooming Jasmine"; that was going to be the name of the song. But the publisher felt it sounded like an epic set in the Far East.
We moved on to "For Eve" as the title…but we tried to come up with a name that would convey romance. "Say My Name" is not as accurate a title, but I hope it conveys the flavor of being intimate and close.
The relationship between the two of them is based on being seen. It’s wonderful when you have a relationship with someone who sees you for who you are. That’s what draws Micajah and Eve together…
Q: What are you working on now?
A: The screenplay of this. And my next book, which is going to be fairly different. It’s a psychological thriller.
I hope it will hit the same thing—what I wanted to do with Say My Name was to write a novel that has a popular storyline but is well written, thoughtful, and authentic: the thinking woman’s sexy novel. Maybe the next one will be the thinking woman’s psychological thriller!
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: For me, it is a love story, but it’s really the story of a woman’s self-empowerment through the medium of a love story. I didn’t want it to have a regular happy ending, “happily ever after” updated, because that didn’t feel real to me…
What is a happy ending for a 48-year-old woman whose marriage has ended isn’t finding a younger guy. That’s great, but the idea is to feel confident. She, having felt seen, can see herself…
--Interview with Deborah Kalb