Friday, August 14, 2020

Q&A with Sarah Gerard

Photo by Frankie Marin
Sarah Gerard is the author of the new novel True Love. She also has written the novel Binary Star and the essay collection Sunshine State, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The New York Times and T Magazine.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for True Love, and for your character Nina?

A: I wrote more about the genesis of the book and my process of revising it in an essay for Literary Hub called “On Falling in Love With Your Characters.”

In brief, I was getting divorced, and asking broad questions about what love is and how it operates—as I put it in the essay, my conception of love had suffered a trauma, and I began writing to account for it.

I felt the need to examine love narratively, which is to say looking closely at all of its multivalent conflicts, but I wanted to do so in a fictional space because I could explore more than if I were hamstrung by the facts of my own life.

Nina’s voice is the result of my desire to convince my readers to come along with me as I explored very uncomfortable topics like addiction, infidelity, abuse, abortion, and suicide. I thought the best way to do that would be to make her funny.

Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, "Yet, though Nina’s primary quest is for self-knowledge, she turns every possible insight into a reiteration of what she already knows best: the shape of her ravenous need." What do you think of that description?

A: I don’t agree that Nina’s primary quest is for self-knowledge—her primary quest is for love, hence the title. Though, supposing it’s true that she’s seeking some knowledge of herself, it can be said that she’s trying to find it in other people.

But I feel the need to temper that statement with another: Nina isn’t looking for knowledge of herself in other people so much as a version of herself reflected back to her that she can love. The reason she’s unsuccessful is because what she wants is impossible. She’ll never find it in another person; she’s the only person who can provide it.

Q: The novel takes place in Florida and New York. How important is setting to you in your writing?

A: I’ve written quite a bit about Florida, including in my essay collection Sunshine State. I find it to be a consistent source of interest for me, given its unique ecology, history, and culture, and my personal connection to the place, having grown up there.

I find a lot of my subjects in Florida, and it’s a set of easy metaphors for me, as a storyteller. In True Love, for instance, setting the opening of the book in Florida gave me the image of red tide, a fungal infection of the ocean that kills thousands of animals and turns the water red—a very particular symbol when a reader connects it to love.

New York was another set of metaphors, and moving the story there a third of the way through the novel places everything under greater pressure. The story becomes claustrophobic and Nina’s environment is threatening in a way that in Florida it wasn’t. She’s struggles more in New York, but she’s also a gentrifier—so the setting lends her characters and the story greater complexity, too.

Setting shapes everything: why characters are who they are; why they act the way they act; how people react to them; what they’re able to think and do and be; the whole shape of the story.

Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?

A: The whole book is the takeaway. I hope it generates discussion. I hope people argue about it late into the night.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: As far as major projects, I’m working on a nonfiction book and another novel. The novel is called Aquarius, and is loosely based on the story of my childhood best friend, who committed suicide. I can’t say anything more about the nonfiction book, but it’s my primary focus right now.

Shorter-term projects include some short stories. I have a few coming out in the coming weeks and months, actually: “The Midnight Preacher,” in the Tampa Bay Noir anthology from Akashic Books; “The Killer,” in Guernica; “Glass,” in the queer fiction issue of McSweeney’s; and I have another, “Mission,” under consideration. And there are more in process.

I find short stories to be helpful exercises and diversions when I’m in the muck of a longer work.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I stand with the protestors in Portland. 

Also, if you like an author's book, tell them. We love to hear it.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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