Tuesday, April 9, 2019
Q&A with Marcia Butler
Marcia Butler is the author of the new novel Pickle's Progress. She also has written the memoir The Skin Above My Knee, and is a professional musician, an interior designer, and a documentary filmmaker. She is based in New York City.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Pickle's Progress, and for your characters?
A: My protagonist, Pickle McArdle, is an identical twin living in Manhattan. He and his brother, Stan, are pretty much indistinguishable. Years ago, I had a girlfriend, also an identical twin, who told me she was worried that her husband-to-be was attracted to her sister. He denied this when she questioned him, of course. But I remained suspicious. How could he not be attracted to the sister, who looked exactly like her? This curiosity became a point of exploration in my novel: the mercurial realities of attraction.
Another idea that came to me concurrently, was the true story of a couple who committed suicide by jumping from the George Washington Bridge. I wondered how two people might first, come to that devastating decision together, and then second, actually carry it out.
My character, Junie, has made such a plan with her boyfriend, but he ends up going over on his own. She is stranded in the middle of the night, still alive on the bridge, and is found by Stan and his wife Karen who happen to be driving across the bridge. Pickle then shows up in the early hours of the morning to rescue them all. This intersection of trauma and family literally sets the opening scene in my novel: an iconic bridge on a rainy night, and all four characters will never be the same.
Q: You've written, "Pickle's Progress is a deep exploration into all the ways that love might exist." How do you see love motivating your characters?
A: I believe that some manner of love motivates most characters in fiction. Perhaps not outwardly, but much of the time people are reacting to relationship with another. Yet, love can show up in many disguises and wear many masks. In my novel, I explore the notion of what a person will do to be loved. To what lengths will he/she go to keep his/her beloved close. And who will be deceived in order to accomplish this? Further, how does a person’s familial background set a template for the way they get the love they never received? My novel stretches these questions to their breaking point.
Q: The novel is set in New York City. How important is setting to you in your writing?
A: I am a New Yorker, at least since I was 18 years old, that is. The city’s smells, sounds, colors, grit and architecture are imprinted into my psyche. In my debut novel, I wanted to pay homage to the city that made me a woman, nurtured me into a creative person, and where most of my personal love relationships were born and grew, and where some died. Pickle McArdle is, in many ways, a typical New Yorker; he goes with the flow when he knows better than to fight, and pushes hard when he is wronged.
Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?
A: The title came to me in a flash one day as I was listening to Igor Stravinsky’s opera The Rake’s Progress. Pickle McArdle is a modern-day rake. And he is manipulating everyone around him in order to progress in his love life - or at least keep the status quo. The two words had a catchy alliteration. But they also referred to the irony of Pickle’s situation: Pickle thinks he is making progress, but he’s actually treading water. You can’t manhandle love. The more you do, the worse everything gets.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I am almost finished with the first draft of my next novel, which is about a moose named Bindle who lives in rural Maine. Bindle roams on land owned by two families. One is 4th generation Mainer, and the other is a relatively new transplant of about 20 years. I explore aspects of a complex social class system in this wonderful state through the prism of the two families and how they perceive each other. Of course, Bindle looms large in the action. And yes, she has a POV! Working title: Bindle Rising.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I am making a documentary film called The Creative Imperative. Through the voices of actors, writers, musicians, artists and dancers, I attempt to distill the essence of creativity and what it means to be an artist in the world. It will release in Spring 2019.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb