Rufi Thorpe Dissects Friendships in Debut Novel – 2014
An exclusive Authorlink interview with the
By Diane Slocum
Growing up, Lorrie Ann had it all – a wonderful family, charm, beauty and a desire to be kind and good. Mia didn’t. Her single mother drank. Mia was pregnant at 15 and she claimed her heart was a small, dark stone. Yet, toward the end of high school, no matter how much she tried to do the right thing, nothing seemed to go right for Lorrie Ann. As their lives spin into tumultuous young adulthood, Mia tries to understand their friendship and their changing roles.
|“I wanted to write about a character who was trying to be good, but kept finding spatial contradictions . . .” |
AUTHORLINK: Where did the idea for your story start?
THORPE: For me the story started with Lorrie Ann, with the idea of a woman who finds herself in a position where there are no good choices to make. I wanted to write about a character who was trying to be good, but kept finding spatial contradictions, almost optical illusions, in terms of what being good actually entails. But the story really came alive when I found Mia and understood that this was the story of trying to love someone who was going through that kind of ethical dilemma, that this was a book about friendship. That’s when the story started to have some heart.
AUTHORLINK: How did your own experience with Corona del Mar influence your characters?
THORPE: I grew up in Corona del Mar, and it is an odd place, both wealthy and ramshackle, a vacation spot from the forties that was abandoned for many years. Today it is more unified with the rest of Newport Beach, and, of course, much more wealthy. In many ways, the place I grew up is simply gone. Sometimes I feel like I hallucinated it. But there was something about that unreal place, that dislocation from rest of the world, that seemed essential to the making of a girl like Mia, who would be at once fierce and horribly afraid, constantly second-guessing herself, yet brave enough to put it all on the line when it counts.
AUTHORLINK: How did you put together the elements of Lorrie Ann’s problem with Zach’s birth?
THORPE: I knew that Zach was going to have cerebral palsy, and so then I set about understanding what kinds of birth trauma can cause cerebral palsy. Misoprostol was something I was aware of from my own research about birth when I was pregnant, but misoprostol was not something that was used on me. Lorrie Ann’s birth and my own were very different. I had a c-section that was almost a text-book example of the cascade of interventions: I was induced with pitocin, they pressed hard for an intrauterine catheter, which necessitated an epidural, which led to me pushing flat on my back having not had sleep or food or water in 24 hours, which led to a c-section mostly due to my own exhaustion, the baby’s elevated heart rate, and my doctor’s boredom and impatience. I can still remember, he was giving me a vaginal exam with one hand and holding a Starbucks in the other.
|“I do hope the emotions I felt after my birth helped me to understand how Lorrie Ann might feel after hers.”|
What I learned most from the experience was that my birth was not seen as sacred by anyone but me. That in those moments, especially when I was in surgery, I was not a person to them at all. I was lucky to emerge from the experience with a healthy baby, and goodness did people ever want to remind me of that! People said nothing but that to me for weeks. “At least you had a healthy baby.”
But of course, Lorrie Ann did not emerge with a healthy baby. Her labor was only the beginning of her hardship, not an isolated traumatic event. But I do hope the emotions I felt after my birth helped me to understand how Lorrie Ann might feel after hers.
AUTHORLINK: Did you know about Inanna before you started the story? Did you plan to make parallels to her story?
THORPE: I did know about Inanna before I began writing. I received a peeling red paperback copy of Diane Wolkstein’s Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth from an ex-boyfriend. “I think you should read this,” he said, and I think he knew he was setting off a bomb, that there would be something in that book that spoke to me in the deep wordless way that only a few books in a lifetime can speak to you.
Inanna is an ancient Sumerian goddess, and I guess what struck me was how different she was from the Greek and Roman goddesses I was more familiar with. She was powerful and dark, she hungered after death and went to the underworld on her own, giving up all her wisdom and power in the process. “Inanna was turned into a corpse/ A piece of rotting meat / And was hung from a hook on the wall.” That line really resonated with me as a way of describing not just my own birth experience, what it feels like to be awake while disinterested people cut you open and move around your internal organs, but what it feels like to come up against the futility of being human, to come up against your own lowest nature, your meat-ness. Inanna became a kind of narrative guide for me, of how a woman gains and loses and then regains her wisdom and power.
I wanted to include Inanna in the text in an overt way, but I knew Inanna wasn’t exactly a household name and that some amount of historical background would be necessary to orient the reader, so I decided to let Mia be working on a translation of those poems and to make that her career.
|“I think sometimes we get trapped in ideas of who we think we are.”|
AUTHORLINK: Your characters go through a lot of angst regarding who they are or are thought to be. What do you hope readers gain from your story?
THORPE: I think sometimes we get trapped in ideas of who we think we are. We are so quick to claim our identities when we are in our late teens, early twenties, trying to assert who we are by means of purple hair or remaining a virgin or liking spicy food. Anything that we can hold onto as some small flag of self-hood, of differentiation. But sometimes as we grow up, we have to let go of these more rigid identities and understand that we are complicated, and we have to give our friends room to change and grow as well. You can’t keep holding on to who your friend was at fifteen and what the dynamic was back then; you have to find out who she is now and allow new dynamics to develop between you.
AUTHORLINK: Have you published short stories?
THORPE: I have not, actually! I have written many short stories because short stories are encouraged in the workshop format which is how most writers are trained. And in the beginning, I was afraid to write something long. I can still remember when I was just starting out, I was in a community college Fiction 101 class and the teacher said, “I don’t think this is a short story. I think this is the first chapter of a novel.” I felt I had failed! Why could I not just write a proper short story? But my teacher just laughed at me. “Write the rest of it,” he said. And it was the best advice I ever got.
|“I think sometimes we get trapped in ideas of who we think we are.”|
The first time I wrote a novel– oh! It was thrilling and scary and intoxicating! I was in love with the biggness, the room for digression, the chance to know my characters more deeply, and most of all, an escape from the carefulness of short stories. I am not good at being careful and precise, and short stories demand this. I am a very messy writer, so I do much better with a bigger space to work in.
I did have a collection of interconnected short stories called The Violin Face that was collected in a Print-on-demand book by a small press in Australia, though, and I remain incredibly grateful for that encouragement. They were really the first people to take me seriously, and I am not sure I could have survived the long winter of my own learning curve if it hadn’t been for their faith in me.
AUTHORLINK: What surprised you about selling and publishing your first novel?
THORPE: I was most surprised by how appealing the entire book industry turned out to be. From the agents, to the editors, to the publicists and marketing people, through the sales reps and booksellers, they are all just people who love books. Their passion for what they do seems to be universally genuine. I have been astounded.
AUTHORLINK: What are you working on next?
THORPE: My next novel is a father-daughter story, a lovable fool and a dragon of a girl, who take a strange Eastern European vacation together.
|About Rufi Thorpe:|
Thorpe has an MFA from the University of Virginia. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and son.
About Regular Contributor:
Diane Slocum has been a newspaper reporter and editor and authored an historical book. As a freelance writer, she contributes regularly to magazines and newspapers. She writes features on authors and a column for writers and readers in Lifestyle magazine. She is assigned to write interviews of first-time novelists and bestselling authors for Authorlink.
This post was written by Diane Slocum