Thursday, January 9, 2014
AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Nicole Chardenet
1. When and why did you decide to become a writer? Did you always want to be a writer?
I started out as an extremely frustrated writer, because I hadn't yet learned how to write. That didn't stop me though from writing down all the great stories in my head. Since I was functionally illiterate, nobody could read them including me. In first grade I was finally able to write my debut short story, The Little Fox. Unfortunately I lost it and Mom wanted to kill me. She thought it was a brilliant effort for a six-year-old whose grasp of literacy didn't include the proper spelling of most words and zero punctuation. Not that she was saying that just because I was her daughter or anything...
2. What authors influenced you when you were younger? Whose work do you enjoy now?
My early influences include Dr. Seuss and Maurice Sendak. I was also a fan of Little Golden Books and Grimm’s Fairy Tales, although later, when I could read Grimm's myself, I realized just how much Mom had cleaned up the sex and violence while reading them to me. These were the stories they told little kids a few hundred years ago? And they’re worried about Miley Cyrus and Grand Theft Auto today?
3. What was your main inspiration behind Sumer Lovin'?
My friend Sharon is a Jewish matchmaker, albeit not from New York, and I thought it was interesting that she was trying to hook people up together because I had just begun to realize that Toronto guys show much less interest in women than most other men. It got me to thinking about how funny it would be if a couple of women from cultures that do arranged marriages formed a consulting group to help Canadian parents arrange marriages for their clueless kids.
The Sumerian villainess Lamashtu came from doing Google searches and while there wasn’t much written about her, finding out that 'the space between her legs was like a scorpion' made me think, “Now THERE’S a new villain!” And since I was unleashing ancient Sumeria on the hapless city of Toronto, from there was born the Canaanite Liberation Front, misdirected into Canada via a tragic map accident…
4. What was the allure of a "fountain of youth" for you?
I think I was looking at the City Hall fountain one day and it came to me. That connected well with the storyline of the search for love and the need to look beyond superficiality in relationships. Plus I like the idea of anything that makes Toronto randier. It’s a great city in many ways, but it’s gotta be the most tight-assed city in North America. Hell, even our own rogue crack-smoking Mayor Rob Ford gets more action, apparently, than the rest of us.
5. Your relocation to Toronto obviously influenced the story quite a bit. How different do you think the story would've been had you still lived in the United States?
That’s an interesting question, because I began writing dark fantasy when I was still in Connecticut. It had a little humour but it mostly reflected my chronic depression at the time. Moving to Toronto has been a major improvement in my life and I'm happier, ergo far more prone to humour. I think if I'd stayed in CT my villains would be bankers and hedge fund managers. And my characters would be a lot more unemployed.
For sure, there’s more humourous inspiration in Toronto than there was in CT – here we have a highly vibrant creative culture with many writers, artists, movie-makers, musicians, etc. People are more social because it’s a big city. There are a lot more single people who can devote time to their passions rather than in CT, which is a very family-oriented, two-SUVs-in-the-suburbs state. And because nobody can get laid here.
6. Why Chinese culture interwoven with everything else?
I think it was because I have more Chinese friends here, and I worked near Chinatown at the time. Chao Wan embodies a lot of the good qualities in men that women like Rachel often ignore because they’re focused on less important stuff like looks and money. So Chao is short and bald and not at all what she favours, which is men who are big and manly and – she’s clearly not the made the connection – dangerous.
I wrote this a couple of years after moving to Toronto from uber-self-segregated Connecticut, and was still very much aware and impressed with the multicultural atmosphere here – hence the widely varying ethnicities and religions in Sumer Lovin’.
7. You talk a lot about racial differences in Sumer Lovin', between Muslims, Americans, Jewish and African Americans, and how they all seem to have something against each other somehow. What was the reason you included that in the narrative?
I don’t think they necessarily have something against each other, but there are definitely ethnic and religious tensions in any mixed society. I did make it a point to break a few stereotypes – Mahliqa is a strong, confident Muslim woman with fashion sense, who wears the hijab for her own reasons, not because she’s ‘told’ to do it (and after I wrote this, the media started reporting on Canadian Muslim women who wore the hijab for political reasons). Amita is a strong Indian woman as well. Rachel’s mother may be a Jewish stereotype (apart from the racism) but feedback so far from Jews is that I nailed the classic Jewish mother, so she’s still apparently very much with us.
There's a bit of tension, or maybe competition, with Americans and Canadians. Americans really are a smug bunch who regard everyone else as less important sometimes. Canadians get annoyed with Americans and are also a bit envious – sort of like having an older brother who’s good at everything but is an insufferable ass to boot. They don’t always like Americans but they’re always seeking Americans’ attention and approval. Canadians don’t see that most non-North Americans, though, would rather invite Canada than the US to dinner, because Canadians can be counted on to be polite and provide interesting conversation and not insult the other guests.
8. Virgin sacrifices are necessary to make your "villian" reach full power after she was forced away from Adam. Can you tell readers more about that legend and why you decided to use it?
The killer vagina features in many ancient mythologies, including the millennia-old Lamashtu. There’s the old ‘vagina dentata’, or vagina with teeth, that anthropologists think expresses male insecurity about women and male need to control – a man enters a woman strong and ready but leaves diminished and unable to perform again for some time after that – maybe a few minutes if he’s young, longer if he’s older. And I chose male virgins as a bit of a twist on the old mythologies that always seem to demand virgin girls. And because Toronto men seem a logical choice :)
9. Rachel is a woman struggling with her age and familial pressure, trying to make it in the working world, as many women are. Did you intend for her to be so relateable at the outset?
Write what you know! I’ve been a newcomer to Canada...Rachel deals with the emotional pain of wanting to settle down and have children at a time when she’s less popular romantically because she’s older, and she’s got unsympathetic people like her mother nagging her to do what she wants to do but doesn’t know how. Of course, Rachel unconsciously contributes to her problem by favouring the wrong sort of men – or blowing off potential good candidates just to please her mother, which is why she makes a choice in the end that won’t please Ma at all. That’s something I don’t relate to myself, actually, because I never wanted children, so I didn’t have the drive to get married the way a lot of women do. And my family has NEVER pressured me to do otherwise.
10. Are any of your characters based on real people?
Many may be inspired by others – as Rachel was – but there the similarity ends, mostly because I want to keep my friends. Sometimes, though, celebrities or strangers can provide a basis for characters. Rachel’s bullying Homeland Security ex-husband as described is actually based on a power nazi I saw at an airport, having a grand old time bossing everyone around and showing off his over-the-top sorta homoerotic manly studliness.
Mahliqa and Amita, I think, were inspired a bit from the Canadian TV show Little Mosque On The Prairie which does a bang-up job of making Muslims look like normal, funny, just-like-us Canadians. It really fights the stodgy, stuffy, humourless reputation they have. Mahliqa is so happy to be friends with a Jewish woman, and she’s based on people I knew in the States, white liberals who wanted to reach out to blacks and be friends with them. Interestingly, I’ve had a few Muslims try to 'build bridges' with me, having mistaken me for a Jew. My Pagan pentagrams get confused with the Star of David so I’ve had Muslims wish me a happy Rosh Hashanah or they ask if I’m Jewish with a big smile and act friendly.
11. What other works do you have out or are you working on something now that you'd like to tell the readers about?
My previous novel is Young Republican, Yuppie Princess, which answers that burning question, What would happen if a stuffy conservative yuppie wannabe in the 1980s accidentally stumbled into an alternate medieval universe with her dorky D&D-playing friends and became an actual princess against her will? With a prince who seems to be channeling Andrew Dice Clay?
12. Where do you see yourself and your career in the next ten years?
I see myself married to George Clooney and writing on the terrace of his Roman villa with a fine Italian vino at my elbow. With servants and Belgian chocolates and a breathtaking view of Lake Como and an Amazon ranking higher than Kanye West on his own awesomeness.
...Or did you mean where do I realistically expect to be in ten years?
13. Would you like to see Sumer Lovin' made into a movie? If yes, who would you like to play whom?
What writer wouldn’t like to see her novel made into a movie! I would love to see Angelina Jolie play Lilith, Lamashtu’s mother – in fact I had Angelina in mind when I wrote it, not because I was thinking of a movie role but because she was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. I think Selena Gomez would make a wonderful Lamashtu because she’s so gorgeous and I think she could pull off Lamashtu’s icy malice. Steve Reeves for Ammishtamru! No wait, he's dead. Maybe get that Thor hunk to play the Canaanite chieftain? Or Javier Bardem? George Clooney if it'll get me his phone number. Seth Rogen to play Dave the Virgin?
14. Will you ever write another novel with similar tones as Sumer Lovin'?
Already have! And it’s got Lamashtu in it as well, although she’s not a gorgeous crotch-killing psychopath in this one. It features more locations around Toronto which always pleases Torontonians and speculates on why it’s a bad idea to have sex with dead people. Okay, let me explain: Why it’s a very bad idea to perform a necromantic ritual on a dead rock star to be your boyfriend, no matter how big a fan you are and how drop-dead-sexy he was when he was still alive.
Oh, and if you ever wondered what Sarah Palin would be like if she were a witch…not that I’m saying any character in this forthcoming novel is based on Sarah Palin. Nosirree…uh, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
15. Thank you for participating in this interview! Can you please leave the readers with three things that might surprise them about you?
I used to be a belly dancer back in CT, doing ‘bellygrams' at peoples’ birthday or stag parties or whatever (no stripping). For fifteen years I was the terror of 40-year-old birthday boys in a tri-state area.
I once had to deal with a pissed-off Richard Simmons on the phone. I was working in the news department of a radio station and the on-air guy was supposed to interview him. He forgot to call him. So Richard called *me* and bitched me out for something that wasn't my fault.
I used to be a gigantic flirt and have three albums' worth of photos to prove it, but Toronto cured me.
Find Nicole Chardenet via the following links online:
Deux Voiliers Publishing