Melville, The Internet, and Having No Rules
A Q&A with Aimee Bender
Aimee Bender is the author of the novels The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake—a New York Times bestseller—and An Invisible Sign of My Own, and of the collections The Color Master, The Girl in the Flammable Skirt and Willful Creatures. Her works have been widely anthologized and have been translated into 16 languages. She lives in Los Angeles.
Name a childhood hero.
Frank Baum and/or Ray Bolger (same theme).
If you had to order your work by how successfully you completed what you set out to accomplish, what would that list look like?
That’s too hard to answer, but for a very specific reason—I can’t seem to think of intention as part of the deal—it seems like whatever I intend never really plays out on the page, so they all fail that.
Name a writer in history you would’ve like to have been a contemporary of and why.
Virginia Woolf—would’ve loved to go on a walk with her and just listen to her talk while we walked by a pond and some geese.
Name a work of yours whose reception you’ve been surprised about and why.
The first book, The Girl in the Flammable Skirt—just that some people were reading it and liking it and going for the fantastical elements—that was amazing and thrilling to me.
Correct a misperception about you as a writer in 50 words or less.
I don’t try to be weird for weird’s sake, which some people believe on occasion.
Name a trait you deplore in other writers.
I don’t like it when writers have strict rules about what writing is supposed to do or be.
Name your five desert island films.
Thinking of what might be good to watch (and rewatch) on an island: The Piano, Stalker, Truly, Madly, Deeply, Laurence of Arabia, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure
Name a book not your own that you wish everyone would read.
Funny that you have to say not my own—seems like it’d be kind of intense if I said my own book there! I tend to think most books are not for everyone. But I guess I might say Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet. Such a wise book.
Name a book you suspect most people claim to have read, but haven’t.
If you could choose one of your works to rewrite, which would it be and why.
Can’t do it. They mark that time.
Share the greatest literary secret/gossip you know.
Herman Melville invented the Internet.
Name a book you read over and over for inspiration.
Angela Carter, The Bloody Chamber—I teach it for a fairy tale class and I love rereading it and new lines pop out each time—wolves eyes as sequins stitched on the night—gorgeous! Also am rereading Nine Stories at the moment—so good. So helpful, too.
Name the writing habit you rely on to get you through a first draft.
A manageable set amount of time, every day (except Sat or Sun).
Name a regret, literary or otherwise.
Not noticing when I’m gritting my teeth trying to get through a draft. Which tends to not be a good sign.
Name your greatest struggle as a writer.
Getting out of the way. And I space out a lot. Concentration.
Name a question you get about writing to which there really is no good answer.
“Where do you get your ideas?”
Name a question you wish you had been asked.
This is strangely difficult to answer. How about: “What’s your current writing preoccupation?” And I would say there are a lot of them, but right now it’s something about how words glue to a page, and when that happens, and why. How words earn their keep on a page. So many of them get swept aside.