Grace Krilanovich, the author behind The Orange Eats Creeps, recently visited the KQED studios to record an episode of The Writers' Block. Get to know her a little better with this Q+A, in which she talks about slutty teenage hobo vampires, growing up in Santa Cruz, and what song she would sing if she was held at mic point.
The Orange Eats Creeps is about a band of "slutty teenage hobo vampire junkies." How did you come up with that concept? Was there a runner-up idea with an equally ridiculous string of descriptors?
Grace Krilanovich: In the beginning, I jotted down a bunch of b-movie descriptors and types that we all know well: vampire, junkie, teen, hobo, each with its own allotment of pop cultural baggage (I would say "vampire" has the most, these days). I was looking for a place to start, to have a set of parameters dictating who these characters were and what kind of hijinks they might be up to. For me, at least, it's a way to stave off the paralysis that comes with starting a new story in the face of seemingly infinite possibilities. My classmate helped me rearrange a few ideas I'd written down -- one was "Hobo Junkie Teens," another one was "Vampire Hobo Sluts" or something like that -- into the Slutty Teenage Hobo Vampire Junkies concept that was the original title of this novel. (The runner up idea I had was "Ancient Egypt High School" -- which I realized later more or less exists as a kids cartoon series). Of course, after writing for a while, the story started to become more than that, the characters started to become more fully fleshed; they were like "real people" who transcended their crass, exploitation-style origins and started to raise the stakes. That's what one would hope, at least!
Before this novel, you hadn't really written fiction before. I've read that you have quite an unusual writing process, from listening to meditation tapes to using a handmade deck of cards to guide your writing. Tell us a little about that. Do you plan to use a similar strategy for your next novel?
GK: Before The Orange Eats Creeps, I wrote creative nonfiction/essays and stuff about movies and music. Fiction writing had always intimidated me because it seemed like you had to earn it, that it was something only "advanced" writers did. So I never even tried. How could I tell if my fiction was even any good or not? But, in the spirit of being a competitive MFA, I wanted to write a novel that could contend with a couple of the epic tomes that were taking shape in the program. That, and I thought it would be fun, especially since I was writing in secret (not showing any pages 'til the project was well underway -- several months in) so I felt free to write as psychotic and outlandish and embarrassing a text as I wanted. The meditation tapes and cards and surrealist tricks were in keeping with that, but also due to the fact that I didn't know what the hell I was doing. After a while, the pages were becoming more and more difficult to churn out, just ridiculously labor-intensive just to get from one paragraph to the next, so I used games to tell me what to write next. I don't think I would need or want to go that route again, and I haven't for my second novel. But that's because it's a different kind of book. With Orange, I felt like I had to divine the path from some other realm, and that if I sat down and thought about the story so hard it gave me a headache, it meant I was really on to something!
You were recently selected by the National Book Foundation as one of the 5 under 35. Is there a writer under 35 that you're crazy about?
GK: Charles Yu is pretty damn radical. Kris Saknussemm may only be under 35 in tortoise years, but I'm nuts about his books.
You grew up in Santa Cruz and eventually went to school in San Francisco. What is your favorite memory growing up and what are your favorite haunts in and around San Francisco?
GK: Santa Cruz is a very special and unique town with lots of nature and nice things to look at that I completely took for granted. As a youth, my parents used to accuse me of actually "hating nature," but really I just assumed every place on earth was festooned with pretty trees and meadows and ocean breezes and cool shops and good coffee. San Francisco remains mysterious. I don't think I will ever know it well. I recall liking this Chinese restaurant that was open till 3 a.m. that served spaghetti. And Amoeba SF is a great store.
You're on stage at a karaoke bar. What are you singing?
GK: For somebody who isn't among the karaoke-inclined, I sure find myself in karaoke bars a lot, for friends' birthdays and such, but really I'm just an observer. If I had to, if I was forced at mic point, I'd do a 1988 medley: George Michael's "Father Figure" into Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car," and round it out with Neneh Cherry's "Buffalo Stance."
What's the last album you fell in love with?
GK: Skip Spence's "Oar."
If you could invite 3 people (dead/alive/fictional) to your dinner party, who would they be and why?
GK: Peter Sellers, Alice Cooper and Bill Moyers are kind of a ready-made set that I'm guessing was never deployed at a dinner party. But it seems so right!
If you could live inside one movie, which would it be?
GK: There's tons of room in Anchors Aweigh, and I think I'd be quite comfortable there.
If you could visit any other time period and place in history, which would it be and what would you do there?
GK: As a teen, I was bent on moving to NYC so I could join Andy Warhol's silver factory. Nowadays I'd be more inclined to hang out on the fringes of weirdos in comfortable climes: first wave hippies in Bolinas, avant-garde literary France, of course, Henry Miller's Big Sur, or El Alisal and the Arroyo Seco here in L.A. circa 1900. Then again, there's the Chicago Dill Pickle Club in the teens, or postwar Manhattan so I could eat at Edna Lewis' Cafe Nicholson.
Listen to Grace Krilanovich's episode of The Writers' Block at kqed.org/writersblock. And be sure not to miss each episode as it becomes available by subscribing to The Writers' Block podcast!