Monday, January 23, 2012

Author Interview with emily m. danforth

On your website you describe The Miseducation of Cameron Post as being about, among many things, "A girl named Jane Fonda and the hollowed compartment in her prosthetic leg." is there anyway you can elaborate on this without spoilers? If not, what else makes the novel so unexpected?

Well, that “synopsis” on my website is a bit cheeky, I suppose, and also maybe a little misleading, out of context, because it’s really built around Flannery O’Connor’s belief (one that I very much share) that “a story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to do so…a statement would be inadequate; so when anyone asks what a story is about, the only proper thing is to tell him to read the story.” I know that’s not a particularly satisfying answer, but I think it’s true: if I could have gotten at everything I wanted to get at in The Miseducation of Cameron Post with just a statement or a synopsis then I wouldn’t have needed to write a novel, right? So, you know, keeping all of that in mind: Jane Fonda is a character who appears in the second half (really, third act) of the novel. And no, she’s not the Jane Fonda—as in famous film actress, activist, fitness guru, and daughter of Henry Fonda, Jane Fonda—but certainly the Jane in my novel recognizes that her name, which, in most ways, is quite plain (plain-Jane), has this whole strange celebrity connection.

Jane is one of Cameron’s fellow “disciples” at God’s Promise, which is an evangelical boarding school and conversion therapy center Cameron’s Aunt Ruth sends her to when she finds out that Cam has been romantically involved with a girl from their church. (The novel goes into great detail about just what religiously informed conversion therapy is, but for our purposes here I’ll just say that it’s intended to fix the “sexually broken” (ie: anyone not exhibiting traditionally accepted gender and sexual identity traits). As you might imagine, a place like this has many strict rules and regulations and so its “disciples” (the teenagers sent there, some of them against their wills) have many secrets amongst them. In fact, the novel, as a whole, is very much about secrets and how the process of sharing those secrets (or not), and just how and to whom one shares one’s secrets, comes to shape the characters profiled within, especially Cameron.

As you mention above, Jane Fonda has a prosthetic leg and she does have a compartment she’s built within it to hide things, and some of those things are very much forbidden at God’s Promise. But this kind of hiding is also an echo of an earlier series of moments in the novel with Cameron, who before being sent to God’s Promise often stole small things and glued them to the inside of a huge Victorian dollhouse she keeps in her bedroom. Cameron’s an orphan, so the dollhouse, an elaborate construction built for her by her father, is imbued with all kinds of meaning.

Anyway, back to Jane: she’s a veteran of God’s Promise, she’s been around, is a little older than Cameron, and she’s absolutely unafraid to be exactly who she is, which is something Cameron isn’t yet sure how to do (partly, maybe mostly, because she’s just not yet sure just who she is). Jane is strange and complicated and, I hope, sometimes funny, and she plays a vital role in Cameron’s development, and her “big decision” at the end of the novel. It’s important for Cameron to realize that her own “sad story” is just one of many sad stories, and maybe not even all that unusual or tragic when she compares it to those of her fellow disciples.

You were born and raised in Miles City, Montana, the same place that Cameron ends up after her parents die, did you draw a lot of inspiration from your own life in telling this story?

Cameron is actually from Miles City, too; she’s also born and raised there in the novel. (It’s her Aunt Ruth who moves there to be with her (from Florida) after her parents’ die). Unquestionably my own childhood and adolescence in eastern Montana informed the sense of place in the novel: it’s cowboy country, big sky country (as the state tourism board would have it, though really, the sky is huge out there, just enormous), and lots of the folks who live there are very connected to the land, if not by profession then by passion or necessity.

There are less than a million people in the entire state, but it’s also the fourth largest state in the country, so even if you’ve never been there (and I recommend visiting—go to Glacier National Park, you won’t regret it) you can probably imagine the vastness of the land, the immense expanse of the prairie, and the way all of that “big sky” informs your daily life as a Montanan, even if you live in town, as Cam does. Also, the novel explores the often provincial social customs of a small western ranch town—the fairs, the festivals, the dances and parades—and what it’s like to “participate” in all of those events when you feel like an outsider, which Cam often does, both because she’s an orphan and because she’s a girl who “likes girls.”

Miles City is "best known for its Bucking Horse Sale"; what is emily m. danforth best known for?

 Hmmm. Well, I suppose I’d like to be best known for my fiction. But, at this point, among close friends and family, anyway, I’m probably best known for my uncanny ability to impersonate a squirrel eating a cracker and my prowess at the board game Clue®. I’m tough. So long as I get to be Mr. Green, anyway: I’m nearly unbeatable.

What are five things the reader should know about Cameron? 

1. She’s brave if not always entirely sure of how to direct that bravery.
2. She has a thing for dollhouse-dioramas (read the book to learn more about that).
3. She’s seen a lot of movies, many of them a whole bunch of times. You might even call her a film-buff, though she’d probably laugh at that.
4. She’s curious about the world and her place in it.
5. She’s ultimately a real romantic, even if she often gets sort of awkward and sarcastic to cover that up.

Lastly, because I have to ask, as a professor of literature, why does your name always seem to appear in complete lowercase? 

Honestly: because I like the way it looks. It’s a visual thing. It has absolutely nothing to do with my academic position. I love the lowercase e + lowercase m combo, those curves like sloping hills. That’s all. It’s not an e. e. cummings tribute (though cummings is great) or a political statement. I like the way it looks and have been writing it lowercase since junior high (maybe before that, even).

emily was born and raised in Miles City, Montana, a town best known for its Bucking Horse Sale-which was once listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for hosting the most intoxicated people, per capita, of any US event. She obsessively collects erasers, large-letter linen postcards from the 1940s, snow-globes, and neologisms. (She has an iced-coffee addiction, too.)

Thanks so much to Emily for stopping by In The Next Room! To learn more about her debut novel, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, stop by her website. Click here to check out the other stops on this tour

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