IF I WAS SMART I WOULD EITHER KILL MYSELF OR IMMEDIATELY BECOME A RECLUSE: An Interview with Elizabeth Ellen
Brian Alan Ellis
Soon after conducting this interview with author Elizabeth Ellen, I finished PERSON/A, her debut novel, and not only is it a great book but it’s also like a great French film. It’s Paris, Texas. It’s A Woman under the Influence. Its HBO’s True Detective meets Anna Karenina—I think; I’ve never really read Anna Karenina LOL—meets that one music video where Britney Spears overdoses in a bathtub. It’s about love, obsession, narcissism, marriage, delusion, pain, pleasure, art, life, addiction—it’s about you, me, things that transform, that come apart. Basically, Elizabeth Ellen should win the Pulitzer Prize and then immediately be beaten to death with it because she’s so good, so human, so completely fucked.
Brian Alan Ellis: I’m about a hundred pages away from finishing your novel, PERSON/A. I wanted to do this interview after I finished it but my deadline is approaching so I’ll just assume the main character murders Ian and then leaves Lee for Sadie and the two go on a cross-country Molly bender à la Thelma & Louise—accurate, or no?
Elizabeth Ellen: OMG that would be such a better ending! I bet you’ll be pretty disappointed with my ending after that, huh? Damn. I’m sorry. Even I want that ending now…
BAE: So disappointed…
EE: I started your novel last night and the Duckie scene in Pretty in Pink has always been one of my fav in movie history. Like the first time I saw that movie, in the theater, alone, at age 16, I rushed to the mall music store and bought a cassette tape of Otis Redding’s greatest hits and that led to me getting into Ella Fitzgerald, too, somehow. I was so enamored with Duckie, though. Gay, straight or bi, didn’t matter. (Me, I mean; gay, straight or bi.) Of course the James Spader character was a 16 year-old’s fantasy bad boyfriend, too. Only Andrew McCarthy didn’t do much for me, that I recall. Wait. Why are we talking about Pretty in Pink? Oh yeah. YOUR NOVEL reference. Wow. Way to make this all about you, BAE. Hope you’re happy.
BAE: “Hey baby, when I write, I’m the hero of my shit.” LOL Bukowski.
EE: I know, right? Bow down.
BAE: There are a lot of great passages in PERSON/A, like:
“It’s hard to say sometimes which is more shame-inducing, a man who never searches for you or one who never stops.”
“I find the shadows in a room, move into them. I can’t tell if I am a true narcissist or my own best company and what does it matter.”
“I stop masturbating if I think there is a chance I won’t stop crying. I won’t let myself come if I can’t stop crying.”
I dog-eared a bunch of pages on one of the copies I have. I read 85% of it while on the toilet, FYI.
EE: NOW you tell me… Well now I have to read 90% of yours SAME to one up you.
BAE: In addition to PERSON/A, you have two other books coming out this year, which I find both exciting and disconcerting, like, are you planning to kill yourself? Are these your last artistic statements? You pulling a Salinger? What’s going on?
EE: HAHA God, if I was smart I would either kill myself or immediately become a recluse, right? Obviously I’m a dingbat who for some reason insists both on living and living publicly. Someone asked me if the books are a trilogy and they actually kind of are, all interwoven, even though they’re a novel/stories/poems. I just had never referred to them as such, either aloud or in my mind. But now I’m going to start calling them that. So this is the trilogy and then maybe I’ll write whatever it is called when you have four books that all relate.
BAE: A saga?
EE: AND THEN MAYBE I’ll kill myself or go away, Brian. Or just, like, die of natural causes. That happens too, you know. You just go to bed and never wake up. THEN people will read this trilogy. Maybe.
BAE: What were you like in high school? I picture you as a cross between Lindsay from Freaks and Geeks—smart, sensitive introvert—and James Franco’s girlfriend from Freaks and Geeks—reckless, troubled bad ass.
EE: Lindsay from Freaks and Geeks seems like an extrovert/very outgoing compared to how I was in high school. I was a total geek/nerd/introvert. I couldn’t talk to boys. Like, literally could not form words in their presence. I had three girlfriends who were all extroverts/way cooler than I was (not THE MOST popular girls in school but maybe second tier popular). They all had boyfriends and went to homecomings and proms and thought I was “weird” (I actually found a note one friend wrote to another saying so our senior year—with good reason, because I WAS weird!) but tolerated me for some reason, probably because we’d all known each other since third grade and for whatever reason formed a friendship and those things stick. God how bad I would have loved to have been Kim Kelly, though that was more my friend, Val. Val was a badass blonde. We were all a little scared of Val. I was a mousy brunette. But they let me hang around them and go to parties with them and if a guy got drunk enough, like black-out drunk, he might make out with me.
BAE: I was pretty low key in high school. I didn’t hang with one particular group. My best friend and I were inseparable. Both kind of arty, did TV production, wrote for the school paper, booked punk/hardcore shows outside of school, played in a band, published zines, etc. etc. We both floated around different clusters of people: goths, theater kids, punks, skinheads, nerds, hippies, stoners, jocks, cheerleaders, metal heads, rednecks, etc. etc. He was more popular than I was because he was a charismatic Jew who ran for class president, so I was semi-popular by default. Still very much the introverted outsider white trash who lived in a trailer park, though.
EE: I was chubby and awkward and had zero self-confidence. I was also an only child of a single mom who moved around a lot and had different men around a lot. Which I mention only because I think it added to my insecurities and weirdness and inability to speak in social situations.
BAE: Did you even go to your prom?
EE: No, I never went to homecoming or prom.
BAE: Same. I’ve actually never been to a school dance. Instead of going to prom, my goth girlfriend and I went to the TGI Fridays in the mall and walked on our bill like two shitheads. I still feel bad about that…
EE: God, you’re so lucky you had a goth girlfriend. How do you get one of those? Did you meet at Hot Topic or like a Fall Out Boy show? Is Fall Out Boy goth? I don’t even really know but I think goth girls are hot. Kind of Courtney Love-ish. Was your goth girlfriend mean? I hope she was mean.
BAE: She wasn’t necessarily mean, but we both were pretty nuts. She punched me in the face coming home from a Get Up Kids show once ’cause I mouthed off to her. Also, Fall Out Boy weren’t even a thing when I was in high school. My goth girlfriend listened to, like, Black Tape for a Blue Girl and Sisters of Mercy. She also was into Bikini Kill kind of stuff. She introduced me to a lot of rad music. She gave me my first hand job. Also, I think I lost my virginity to her while listening to “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” so…
EE: HAHA wow. TMI! Or JUST ENOUGH INFO. I always wanted to be the type who listened to Sisters of Mercy but I just wasn’t. Hole was about as far as I took it. Whatever that means.
BAE: What was your first relationship like?
EE: Hard to define. I briefly, summer before senior year, dated my best friend’s brother’s best friend. He was 23/24 and I was 17 and he played bass in a ROCK BAND and wore a pink satin blazer and had gel in his hair and took me to the Drive-In and made out with me on my bff’s couch during Miami Vice while she was out to dinner with her family, but then when he turned 24 he broke up with me for obvious reasons: summer ended. I had to start my senior year. It never got past first base (that I recall). But he was a great kisser, always tasted like Coca-Cola. Then in college I had my first “real boyfriend,” I guess. But not until my sophomore year. He was from White Plains, NY, and listened to the Misfits and Danzig and Henry Rollins spoken word tapes and wore a leather jacket and combat boots and had a devil’s lock and probably weighed less than me. We dated for three years. Lived together for two with all his skulls and knives and Sinatra and Green River records. He was great. Evan. Good first bf.
BAE: I give your college boyfriend 5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.com.
EE: Totally. And I didn’t even tell you I bought him a spur that he wore on one combat boot only.
BAE: How could you initially leave that out? That’s way hotter/more meaningful than a wedding ring, FYI.
EE: I know. It’s crazy, like where did he get that idea? Did he see someone else walking around with a spur on a combat boot at like a hardcore show in Connecticut—he made me go with him to one once on Christmas break while visiting his parents in White Plains—or did he just randomly come up with it? If only I knew…
BAE: If you could compare your debut novel to a debut album from a band/artist, which debut album would you pick?
EE: Fiona Apple, Tidal.
BAE: Hell yeah. “This world is bullshit.” Though I thought Kid Rock’s Devil without a Cause would have been your pick. The debut album equivalent to my debut novel would probably be Gun Club’s Fire of Love, though it could easily be the first Dixie Chicks record, or maybe even Alabama’s debut.
EE: Damn I’ve never even heard of Gun Club. You went deep for that one, BAE. Showing off! Dixie Chicks are sweet, especially ’cause they were involved in a CONTROVERSY. Did they survive that, btw? Are they still around? Alabama is one band I’ve surprisingly never listened to. They make me think of the Allman Brothers, though, who I love and saw on the H.O.R.D.E. Fest—which apparently stood for Horizons of Rock Developing Everywhere? What?—with Blues Traveler and Sheryl Crow, back in like ’93 or ’94, the summer my first husband and I married.
BAE: Like Blue Traveler, I dig coffee AND I dig tea… Also, I saw Dixie Chicks in concert when I worked event security in south Florida, right after they spoke out against George W. Bush, and I had to wand and frisk people as they entered the arena—don’t recommend!—but the ladies put on an incredible show… Anyway, if you were to pitch PERSON/A to a Hollywood producer by comparing it to one movie and one classic piece of literature, what would be your pitch?
EE: The Bodyguard and The Odyssey.
BAE: Fuck yes. Or maybe Showgirls meets Moby Dick.
EE: Well, Scott McClanahan already compared it in claimed earnestness to Moby Dick, so…
BAE: Marry, Fuck, Kill, Cuddle: Kid Rock, Joe C. (alive or dead), Uncle Kracker, WWE Superstar The Undertaker?
EE: I fell asleep last night thinking of these options but after your nice words about my novel all I could think was that I just want to cuddle everyone right now! So that’s my answer—cuddle everyone—and I’m sticking to it.
BAE: Fuck that. I need a real answer, EE!
EE: Really? Okay, okay, okay. Let’s see. Going to have to google The Undertaker, sorry. I’m lame. Okay, The Undertaker scares the shit out of me after that Google search so I’ll probably fuck him. Marry Kid Rock, obviously. Kill Joe C., which is easy since he’s already dead (R.I.P.) and I guess cuddle Uncle Kracker, who I saw open for Kid Rock a couple summers ago.
BAE: Much better.
EE: OMG can’t I just cuddle everyone, for real? People need cuddling right now. I think. Or maybe I’m wrong and they need to be fucked and murdered.
ELIZABETH ELLEN is the author of the story collection, Fast Machine, the poetry collection, Bridget Fonda, and the novel, PERSON/A. She is the founder and editor of Short Flight/Long Drive Books and lives in Ann Arbor. www.elizabethellen.net
BRIAN ALAN ELLIS edits the literary journal Tables Without Chairs, and is the author of several books, including Something to Do with Self-Hate, a novel. His writing has appeared at Juked, Hobart, Monkeybicycle, Literary Orphans, DOGZPLOT, jmww, Heavy Feather Review, Connotation Press, Electric Literature, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, People Holding, Hypertext Review, Queen Mob’s Tea House, The Collapsar, Fear No Lit, Talking Book, and Atticus Review, among other places. He lives in Florida. brianalanellis.tumblr.com