Sunday Ramblings: The Girl in the Hat

When I first met Anna Fonté, I was drawn to her hat. No it was not a sunhat or a skullcap, it was a bold, feathery, colourful hat with lace and ribbons and it dipped over one eye. I have never seen anyone real in a hat like that except of course Princess Diana, while at the Melbourne Cup, and of course in movies.

What’s with the hat?, I wondered. And as if she heard my thoughts she chirped, “I have always admired women who have the style and panache to wear a hat. It takes nerve to wear a hat because when you put it on you suddenly become a character,”

“And even if your face is partially obscured, you convey an odd mixture of desiring privacy and wanting to be seen. There’s something slightly old fashioned about hats, and something singular and self-contained about their wearers. I also like that they decorate the head which is, to me, the most interesting part of one’s body, because it houses your imagination and intellect.”

And because her answer was so awesome we got to talking. That was how I met the girl in the hat, in my head.

In reality, I stumbled upon her blog and really liked it so I threw her an email and we began and awesome conversation on an email thread:

Why the hat, and do you really wear hats?

For all (the above) reasons, I thought the Girl in the Hat would be a good way to describe what I’m doing on my blog. I’m posting chapters from my latest novel, short stories, poems, and personal things. I tell stories, so Hat Girl is the perfect icon for the publicness of the blog and the privacy of my imagination.  She dramatizes the fiction.  Hat Girl a character; she says things I’d never dare.

I do have a hat collection, but I rarely have the guts to wear them outside the house. Lately, my girls and I have been using them for dress-up.

What do you do apart from writing stories?

I taught high school English for ten years and then took time off to be with my two daughters. So I’m a full-time mom, I write, I garden like a drunken sailor, I cook like a mad scientist, I go thrift shopping at least once a week, I’m an amateur photographer, and I have two blogs, Girl in the Hat and Optic-Nervy.

As you know, blogging is a major time suck.  Blogging while doing anything else is quite a trick, like patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time. Or driving while texting and eating a sandwich.  It’s like juggling: if one ball represents mothering and another ball is blogging and the third is writing, I’m afraid that the writing ball keeps falling to the floor and rolling under a giant pile of dirty laundry.

I recently watched Neil Gaiman’s commencement speech and am asking you your thoughts only because it inspired me and I wanted to bring it up here.

Neil Gaiman has been inspiring me ever since I first read the Sandman series.  His contributions to my graphic novel collection are huge. So I guess I just like hearing what that guy says, in any medium.

The things he says give me hope.  For example,

  1. He said that when you feel naked and exposed, you know you’re doing something right as an artist.  This is very reassuring because I have that feeling all the time, like I’m standing here with my skirt blowing up over my head.  Writing, even if it’s fiction, is a brazen act of self exposure.
  2. He said you learn to write by writing.  As a person who doesn’t have her MFA, I feel very heartened by this idea.  And it’s true– every day I write I get better, sharper, deeper, and more real.
  3. He told us that when we don’t think we can do it, we should “pretend to be someone who could.”  In other words, success is an act. (Exactly why I invented the Girl in the Hat; she can do anything!)

I also like what he said about sharing your writing.  This clip came out just as I was getting paranoid about putting my writing out there for free. Gaiman reminds me that fear is the mind-killer. I prefer to believe that fearlessness will be rewarded.

Commencement speeches are always so rousing, so hopeful. On days when I’m feeling a little low, I should remember to watch a couple on YouTube for a little pick-me-up. One thing that brings me down is that I don’t know if I’ll ever make a real, bonifide career in the arts.  The most money I’ve made is $10 for a short story.  On the other hand, I must remember that I’m writing for The New Yorker and several indie filmmakers, so it’s only a matter of time. (To understand completely, you have to watch Gaiman’s commencement address first.)

What do you write?

I write literary fiction.  I know, I know, it’s not very cool to admit that these days. Fantasy and MG and vampires are much sexier. Liking literary fiction is like saying you don’t like cellphones or you wear your grandmother’s swimming cap, so for my last novel, What Would Water Do, I tried to spice it up a bit. It’s about a young writer who adapts a victorian novel into a screenplay and sells it. Sounds a bit too highbrow, right? Okay, so then the starlet who’ll play the lead hires the writer to help her prepare for the role.  It’s about their relationship and their struggle for control. The writer thinks she’s the one who can “read” reality best, the starlet thinks she fully understands the situation.

It’s like watching a mud wrestling match between Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller, with commentary by Murakami.  I thought it would be fun to write tabloid stuff literarily and that I could bridge the gap between academic types and those who like trashy magazines. I had to write the whole thing before I knew what it was about, so now I’m going back to the start for another edit– I’ll be posting revised chapters soon.

What started you writing?

I was always a reader first.  I read my eyes raw.  I’d walk around with a book in front of my face, the book was better than anything I could see in real life, for me.  And then I taught high school English so I could read some more.  I agree with Gaiman that you learn to write by writing, but I also learned from reading.  The writing was more tentative. First poetry, then essays, then novels, then short stories, and recently back to poetry a bit.

I had to write two novels before I could tackle a short story.  I had to do fiction before I found the nerve for autobiography.  I’m thinking my next thing will be a screenplay.  What the hell.

Something about having babies pushed me to write novels.  Perhaps it was hormonal, or paranoid, or the result of spending so much time looking at small things; little feet, little mouths, little messes to clean, but for whatever reason, my two novels coincided with the births of my two girls. (If that means I’ll have to have another kid to write another novel, I’m doomed.)

Hmm are you saying giving birth and writing are kind of the same thing?

Absolutely.  But really, having a book is much harder than having a baby. One is instinctual and one completely isn’t.  (I think we’ve extended this metaphor to the brink of good taste, because I’m getting some rather disturbing visuals.) Reminds me of a performance artist in the ’70’s named Carol Schneeman who pulled a scroll from her vagina.  Suffice to say, she made it look easy.

(Sorry hope the V word did not scare you)

Lastly would you share an excerpt from your book.

Here’s a short one.

Drew’s life has become hyperbolic and the fact that it all seems somewhat implausible nags her—at a red light, or when the music pauses between songs, in the stillness of dawn before her apartment building shudders back to life, standing at the Lilien’s picture window overlooking the vast expanse, or in the middle of a sentence when she realizes she is using entirely too many exclamation points, especially on the phone with her father—and something deep inside her anticipates the looming peak and slump but now, at this moment, everything is so easy, so exciting. When you’re wearing fabulous shoes and the right lipstick, flying down the Santa Monica Freeway in a power-everything, air-conditioned series seven BMW with the AC on full blast and one hand tickling the breeze, past the billboard advertising breast augmentation and you gaze up and think, why not?  Why the hell shouldn’t I just buy myself a new pair?  Breasts:  symbols of desire and fulfillment, badges of femininity, connotations of denotation, signifiers of signifieds. You deserve it!  Big, heavy, bossy boobs that bust through buttons to stare them all right in the eye and shout, look at me when I’m talking to you!  Breasts that stand up for what they want because we all know reality is overrated and you think, Hell, yes! and you press down on the accelerator and throw back your head and laugh with delight and astonishment, laugh at yourself and with yourself at the same time in a crazy maniacal cackle like Emperor Ming the Merciless or Dr. Jeckyl or Thelma and Louise all rolled into one glorious package.

Anna talks a bit more about her book in her recent post. Check it out.

And this is Sunday Ramblings this week, once again thank you for tuning in, and I hope you enjoyed our little conversation with Anna.

Next week Maggie Blaha has something to say about to-do lists.

For those who are in town (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia) don’t forget Readings this Thursday (14th) at The Red Beanbag and Ali’s book launch on the 30th at Mollydooker’s Coffee Bar! Looking forward to meeting some of you’s.

Have a great Sunday and an awesome week ahead.