If you haven’t had the chance to read Mariah Adcox’s “Crybaby,” selected by Charmaine Craig as the second place finalist of our 2022 Novel Excerpt Contest, stop what you’re doing and go read it now. Then, enjoy this conversation between the author and assistant editor Jen Dupree!
I’m always drawn to unlikeable characters, and the narrator in these pages is—while not unlikeable per se—difficult, personality-wise. Can you talk about how she came to you and what it’s been like writing her story?
I really wanted to capture the attitude of someone who tries to fit in, who wants to do right, but finds herself mostly pretending to enjoy either fitting in or doing right. What do you do when everyone tells you to do what you want, but what you want isn’t what they want you to do? It’s a position I’ve found myself in and I wanted to bring that to life without being concerned about her being at all “relatable.”
One of the things I like best about these pages is the (often dark) humor. Do you intentionally find places to insert funny insights/sarcasm, or do they appear naturally in your writing?
I was really, really, resistant to writing that made others laugh because I was/am pretentious and I thought that funny writing wasn’t serious. So I spent a lot of time writing “serious” stories that no one liked and that made everyone very sad. I tried writing a single story once, telling myself it was just an experiment, that was less serious. It was the most fun I’d had writing in years and I guess that’s what I do now—not that I necessarily try to be funny, but that I try to write about dark things in a way that takes them less seriously.
Because this is a novel excerpt, I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about if and how the project has evolved since you started it.
The project started out as two sisters on a trip to California. But I found myself much more interested in one sister, the other simply serving as a foil. So I moved my main character to New York and the sister to California and put their conversations on the phone. This involved deleting about 50% of the original manuscript, which was terrifying but, ultimately, correct.
What’s been the most surprising thing about this character or this story?
When I’ve shared parts of the novel with peers and friends, the parts that I thought would be most strange or alienating are the parts that most people liked best.
What’s your writing process like? (Are you a morning pages person? An outliner?)
After my morning coffee, I make myself write for at least twenty minutes every day—I don’t have to write, but I can’t do anything else. I started doing this because I heard on a podcast that it’s what Jerry Seinfeld does. I’ve never seen an episode of Seinfeld in my life, but regardless I follow this advice and most days (if I’m good) end up writing more than twenty minutes. But some days (if I’m bad) I spend twenty minutes staring at a blinking cursor.
Interviewed by Jen Dupree