I was fortunate to share the stage with author and librarian Laura Sims at a local reading event (check out the ongoing Spring Street series), and I happened to fall in love with Laura for this reason: She seemed really humble and genuine, despite the content of her fantastically successful recent novel Looker. She didn’t seem at all like the female stalker at the center of Looker.
I was intrigued by her outward vibe versus her character’s inner evil thoughts/deeds, so I asked her a few questions about how a “nice person” novelist pulls off such an authentic ‘bad woman’:
GLB: You seem like such a nice person. What does it take (i.e., what has to happen inside you) to enable you to write such a disturbed character as your female stalker?
LS: Ha! That’s a great question. My emphasis would be on the word “seem” — I “seem” like a nice person. But am I really? And how “nice” would I be if my carefully ordered life were to implode? One of the things I wanted to explore in the novel was the idea that many of us who seem to be fine and functioning adequately in society may be just one tragic occurrence away from losing our grip on reality and our place in the world. And where do we go from there? How do we react? My narrator obviously has issues that underlie her outsized, inappropriate reactions to misfortune, but she is also an Everywoman, someone who has gotten by pretty well until now. While I do find her disturbing, I also empathize with her — quite deeply. Even when she’s doing Very Bad Things. I’m also fascinated by the idea of women doing Very Bad Things, because we’ve been programmed through the centuries to stifle those urges, even though we have them. It was liberating to let this woman loose on the world, to follow her where she’d go, let her urges take her where they would. Megan Nolan, a columnist for The New Statesman, wrote a great piece recently about Looker and the female gaze. In it she says, “It sometimes feels that in service of basic feminist gains, women have had to assume the role of superior beings: wholesome, sane, moderate. ‘There would be no wars if women were in charge!’ we say, hopefully, alongside other glib phrases. Sometimes I want to scream that women are just as capable of being weird, lazy and violent as men, even if they haven’t historically been able to show it. It doesn’t flatter me to brush over my capability for violence, it dehumanizes me.” I love this, and wholly agree with it. Why should women always have to be so damn nice and well-behaved? And yet, I am a nice woman. And a generally well-behaved one. But I do like to explore the full human spectrum on the page — especially the darker side of that spectrum.
GLB: You came from a poetry background. How/why did you take this leap into fiction?
LS: Well, I started out, as a kid, writing both poetry and fiction, and then sometime during high school I decided I was a poet and became committed to that identity from then on. Then in my thirties, I felt that I wanted to write fiction again. I didn’t begin writing fiction until right after my son was born, but once I’d started it became the focus of most of the (limited) time and energy I had for creative pursuits. I don’t think there’s much of a dividing wall between poetry and prose, though — it seems like more of a permeable boundary. And my writing in either genre tends to be driven by the same things: voice, idea, emotion, atmosphere, and sound. The sound of the line is very important to me, whether I’m writing poetry or prose. In some ways, the novel is just an extension of the poem — it’s a very long poem, and one shaped by elements that don’t regularly appear in poetry, like plot, character, and setting (with exceptions, in both genres). Sometimes it seems like it’s all about the line breaks, and what those do to the words on the page, how they limit you or allow you to expand. I guess, in my thirties, I felt like I wanted to expand beyond the line breaks I had loved and lived by in poetry, and see where that led me.
GLB: As you’ve gone around talking about your books, have any stalkers approached you to confess their inner obsessions?
LS: Thank goodness, no! But I have been interested in the varying reactions to this character, which range from “I totally identified with her” to “I can’t stand her, she’s annoying and narcissistic.” I’m glad she and the book have provoked strong reactions in readers — passionate engagement is always better than indifference!
Laura Sims is the author of Looker, a debut novel. She has published four books of poetry, most recently Staying Alive, and is the editor of Fare Forward: Letters from David Markson. She lives outside of New York City with her family.
We are so fortunate that Laura will be our December guest!