Friday, May 19, 2023

Q&A with Breanne Mc Ivor




Breanne Mc Ivor is the author of the new novel The God of Good Looks. She also has written the short story collection Where There Are Monsters. She lives in Trinidad and Tobago.


Q: What inspired you to write The God of Good Looks?


A: This book was born out of my own experiences as a professional makeup artist and a woman living in Trinidad and Tobago.


I always had an interest in fashion and beauty, but studying makeup was almost like being indoctrinated into a cult of good looks. We were taught that there were very narrow parameters of attractiveness and women who didn’t meet those criteria should fake it with makeup.


Female makeup artists were told that we could never have an off day, never just run to the mall bare faced in jeans and a T-shirt, because prospective clients might see us looking sloppy and decided not to use our services.


For a time, I bought into that beauty doctrine; I wore a full face of makeup once I was leaving the house and I was intensely critical of my own physical appearance. I was in my 20s and doing things like using concealer to eliminate “wrinkles” and restricting my diet. It was a toxic mental state to be in but, at the same time, I was treated so much better when I looked more conventionally beautiful.


I no longer work in beauty, but I still have a lot of questions about the industry. Is there a way to enjoy makeup in a way that celebrates your individuality? Or will the industry always involve preying off female insecurities to sell more products, pushing women towards one standard of attractiveness? How are women affected by the commodification of beauty in a patriarchal society? Who or what deserves to be called beautiful? The God of Good Looks is partly my wrangling with those ideas.


I’m a Trinidadian and the book was also inspired by life in modern Trinidad and Tobago. Our hangover from colonialism means that the class structure of the plantation still echoes through society.


This book is partly a Trini rewriting of Pride and Prejudice as Bianca and Obadiah – two characters from radically different social classes – clash due to their spiky personalities and their assumptions about one another. Of course, like Elizabeth and Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, they may be most powerful when working together.


Q: You’ve mentioned the writer Derek Walcott as an initial inspiration for your character Bianca. Can you say more about that, and about how you created Bianca and Obadiah?


A: I was commissioned by the Bocas Lit Fest and the Caribbean Literary Heritage Project to take part in “Inspired by the Archives.” Basically, I had to explore local literary archives and write a piece based on something I’d read. Derek Walcott had an unexpectedly hilarious personal journal; he even conducted a self-interview, which began:


W: Why have you succumbed to this self-interview?

W: For the money.


Those became the first lines in Bianca’s journal. At this point, I didn’t think I was writing anything other than a short story commission and I envisaged Bianca as someone like Walcott was in his journal: witty, warm, and socially perceptive. I even made her an aspiring writer like DW.  

I’d never consciously planned to set the story in the Trinidadian beauty industry, but fashion and makeup gushed onto the page. Maybe, at the time, I was so immersed in the world that I simply had to write about it.


Obadiah started life as a composite of many male makeup artists I met. He has an intensely cultivated persona as a cold, cruel beauty genius, and he seems to take pleasure in belittling Bianca.


When I eventually realized that this was going to be a novel and not a short story, I wanted to pull back the curtain on Obadiah. The novel alternates between Bianca’s diary entries and Obadiah’s first-person narratives and, in his sections, I wanted to show readers how different his internal world was from his God of Good Looks persona. I actually think that Obadiah is quite sweet underneath it all!


Q: The Kirkus Review of the book said, in part, “Mc Ivor uses the beauty industry to explore the rifts created by poverty, sexism, and class in modern-day Trinidad, revealing how ingrained misogyny can be in a patriarchal society and how hard it can be to overcome.” What do you think of that description, and how important is setting to you in your writing?


A: I’m so grateful to Kirkus for such an insightful reading of the book. The beauty industry is often unfairly associated with frivolity, and I wanted to use beauty as a lens to examine all the issues Kirkus highlighted.


For example, Obadiah was born in one of the poorest parts of Trinidad, but he works in an industry that often caters to the upper classes. So, he develops a beauty persona he believes will allow him to be successful. I wanted to look at what he sacrificed as he became The God of Good Looks and whether there was space for him to be his most authentic self while working as a makeup artist.


I also wanted modern Trinidad to jump off the page, so setting is hugely important. I wanted readers to see Carnival as if they were standing on the roadside, hear the waves crash in the ocean, feel the heat of the dry season, smell the tamarind chutney from the doubles vendor’s stall, and taste the macaroni pie, pumpkin soup, and chicken chow mein.


Reading can transport you to countries you’ve never physically visited, and I hope people who close this book feel as if they’ve been to Trinidad.


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 first draft of this book was a different beast. It was told entirely from Bianca’s perspective, and it actually had a murder near the end!


I think that draft was both doing too little – readers had almost no insight into Obadiah’s interior world – and it was doing too much – I tried to cram every single issue I cared about into one bloated book. So, I thought I knew how the book would end but thankfully I realized just how bad that draft was and I reworked it.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I actually started writing what I thought would be a short story, but I think it has mutated into my next novel. As I’m answering these questions, I realize that’s how The God of Good Looks started. Maybe part of my process involves never knowing when something will turn into a book? I’m about 40,000 words in, so that’s about halfway through!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I’m a big fan of books with a strong comedic element that turn reading into a compulsion and make you feel like you’re on an adventure with the characters. I hope The God of Good Looks can show readers that sort of good time. Probably the most backhanded compliment I ever received was from a friend who read it and said, “I laughed out loud. Anyone reading this would think you’re funny in real life too.”


If anyone would like to keep up with my writing – or see occasional pictures of my spice garden or the books I’m reading – you can find me on Instagram or Twitter @breemcivor.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

No comments:

Post a Comment