Layne Fargo is the author of the new novel Temper. She is the co-creator of the podcast Unlikeable Female Characters, she has worked in theater and library science, and she lives in Chicago.
Q: How much did your own theater background affect your creation of Temper?
A: To be honest, I never thought I'd use my theater degree for anything practical until I got the idea for Temper! It was a lot of fun incorporating my backstage knowledge into the book.
Although since I no longer work in theater, I made sure to consult with friends and family who are still active in that world - including my partner Nathan, who's an actor with Otherworld Theatre Company here in Chicago, and Christina Gorman, a good friend of mine who is both an actress and a fight/intimacy choreographer.
Christina's expertise was invaluable as I was writing the scenes involving stage combat, since I had to first understand the safe way to perform violence onstage in order to come up with the very unsafe ways the characters in Temper do it.
Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?
A: The storyline definitely evolved as I was writing it, but I always knew the ending. The final image of Kira and Malcolm was one of the first things that came to me, and it's stayed basically the same throughout the writing process.
I had no idea how controversial the ending would be, though! People seem to either love it or hate it. The ones who hate it often say they were disappointed because they predicted what would happen from early on in the book - which is, ironically, exactly what I intended! I wanted Temper's ending to feel inevitable, sort of like a Shakespearean tragedy, rather than trying to pull a shocking twist on the reader.
Q: You're the co-creator of the podcast Unlikeable Female Characters. How did you come up with the idea, and do you see your characters Kira and Joanna fitting into that framework?
A: The idea for the podcast came about because my co-hosts (Kristen Lepionka and Wendy Heard) and I all love to read and write about women who are not nice, not compliant, and not willing to play by the rules of the patriarchy. Some people may consider these characters "unlikeable" but we love them!
The plot of Temper centers around abuse, and I wanted to create characters who didn't fit the stereotype of the perfect, innocent victim. Kira and Joanna are selfish and manipulative and often downright cruel, especially to each other, but that doesn't invalidate the abuse they suffer at Malcolm's hands. There's a tendency to dismiss women like them (especially overtly sexual women like Kira), so I wanted to challenge readers to empathize with them instead, even if they don't particularly like them.
Q: Did you always know you'd be focusing on Kira's and Joanna's points of view? Did you consider including Malcolm's as well?
A: Originally the book was written in Kira's point of view only. I added Joanna pretty late in the writing process; she was a very minor character in the initial draft. Now I can't imagine the book without her voice!
I never considered including Malcolm's POV, because I feel like there are quite enough books (and movies and TV shows...) trying to get us to sympathize with charismatic, psychopathic men. Malcolm is most interesting to me through Kira and Joanna's eyes. He's a mirror for their own ambitions and desires, and as the story unfolds we discover that they're both putting a lot of meaning and import on him that he really doesn't deserve.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: My second novel will be published in 2020 by the same imprint as Temper (Scout Press). It's another psychological thriller, about a female serial killer who hunts abusive men on the college campus where she teaches. Although the story is totally separate from Temper, both books explore similar themes of rage and revenge - and of course, this new project has plenty of "unlikeable" female characters as well!
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Back in 2017, when I was revising Temper, I was lucky enough to be chosen for the Pitch Wars mentoring program, and now I'm a mentor (co-mentoring this year with author Halley Sutton, who was my mentee in 2018). To any unagented writers out there who might be reading this, I can't recommend Pitch Wars highly enough. It changed my life!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb