Poor Janet just wants to be a good person and do the right thing, but in her impossibly corrupted society, there are no right things, and she doesn’t even have the option of escape. Feels awfully familiar right now. So what came to you first—Janet, or the situation, or something else entirely?
What came first here was not the situation, but the world, the idea for the world. There are obviously quite a lot of dystopian stories out there, in literature and film and TV, much of it dealing with the horror of living in surveillance states, with Big Brother type scenarios, and the terror and the paranoia endemic to those environments. A lot of this stuff is great, some of it classic and enduring, but a lot of it is also unbearably sad and bleak. So at this moment, with totalitarianism in the zeitgeist for obvious reasons, it occured to me it might be fun to turn the idea on its head—give us a more lighthearted, even ridiculous way of thinking about One Party rule. So here she is, this kind of zany all-American character, the working girl balancing life and career, but she’s doing it all under the watchful eye of the Party. The idea just delighted me, which is usually a good sign to start writing.
Did the story give you any surprises as you were writing it?
I think I was surprised by how quickly I came to love this lady I had invented. When we think about these kinds of societies, be it Stalinist Russia or North Korea, they are abstractions, with comic book villains at the helm and huddled faceless masses suffering in obscurity. But of course the people that live in these states are real people, living real lives, trying to find joy, like everyone. So although this idea really was kind of a joke, a bit, for it to work Janet had to be real, to be human and honest in her enthusiasms and her fears. So I fell in love with her, as we do with all of our protagonists.
How are you holding up with . . . everything? Are you still managing to write much?
Oh, thank you. I am so lucky. It is awful and upsetting and anxiety-provoking, obviously, but I am healthy and my family is healthy and I don’t work in an industry that has shut down or suffered waves of layoffs. I miss my parents. I miss my brother and his family. I miss eating at restaurants. But on balance, I am lucky. So, yeah. I am writing a ton. I channel all of my anxiety into work. It’s just what I do. I finished a novel and started a new one; I finished a TV pilot and I’m trying to sell another; in the first month of quarantine I wrote a trio of short stories for Audible, called Inside Jobs, that were about quarantine.
What can readers look forward to from you?
Thanks for asking! Whether they are looking forward to it or not, readers are going to have my next novel, The Quiet Boy, in late May, from my friends at Mulholland Books. And I have another piece for Audible coming out in January, a thriller called Q&A.
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