Talk about unboxed. I’ve read a lot of wonderfully weird books in my service to WU, and Jim Krusoe’s literary novel Girl Factory, was about the weirdest, most wonderful read I’d had in years. Maybe it was that at the time I’d been in the middle of one of my own increasingly bizarre adventures in California, but Girl Factory kept me in excellent company while I was away from home. I completely identified with the protagonist, a service industry drone named Jonathan. Except when he went off the reservation in a breathtaking plot twist.
In addition to novels, Krusoe has published five books of poetry and Blood Lake, a collection of short stories. His debut novel Iceland, garnered high praise and comparisons to Kafka. Krusoe’s stripped voice packs multiple meanings in one sentence, and his tight plotting kept the pace brisk. Girl Factory had me laughing out loud while I kept asking myself, “how the hell he’d do that?” One thing’s for sure. I’ll never go into a frozen yogurt shop again without wondering what’s in the basement.
In addition to writing novels, Krusoe teaches creative writing at Antioch University and Santa Monica College.
We are pleased to present part one of our interview with Jim Krusoe.
Q: Tell us about your road to publication.
Jim Krusoe: The road was interminable. I had a draft of this book completed about seven years ago, and while various people liked various parts of that draft, no one liked the whole thing (or even the same things). So about thirty rewrites and five years later I was about to throw in the towel, when Lee Montgomery at Tin House, who had read an early draft, asked if I wanted to give it another go. She called for some huge changes, which I agreed with on principle, but after that it took me two years to figure out how to accommodate her ideas. Then I suppose I did another dozen drafts adding new sections and cutting others. So I should have abandoned it, but there were parts of the story I just couldn’t shake.
Q: That’s amazing. Usually the story goes that everyone rejects it, and then it goes into a drawer. What was it about this particular story that kept you and others coming back to it? Did you feel that because an editor wanted to see you revisit the story, that you felt obligated to keep going?
JK: In the first 30 or so drafts of the book I was worried that the story was too straight-forward, so I had added a 60 page section right in the middle where basically nothing happened. I love the idea that a book can do that, but clearly, it was a stumbling point for many. What kept me trying to solve the puzzle was the image of those women trapped in the basement of the yogurt shop. It was far more a compulsion than an obligation, and a friend of mine compared, I think rightly, my character’s efforts trying to revive these women to my own efforts trying to bring the novel to life.
Q: You are a poet as well as a short story writer. How has writing both helped you with your fiction? Do you recommend writers explore poetry as a way to help them discover their voices?
JK: I recommend that everyone read poetry. I don’t think poetry helps anyone discover a voice, so much as to pay attention to the possibilities of new ways to create sentences. Poetry is, after all, about putting things together that we don’t normally think or as necessarily related, so to read verse expands a person’s vision, which is to say the possibilities for a person’s life.
Q: Your new release GIRL FACTORY is about the most unboxed book I’ve read. In fact, I’m not going to be able to go into a frozen yogurt store without wondering if there are women floating in acidophilus pods in the basement. What was the inspiration behind this story? What point did you want to get across with this book and why?
JK: Those ladies in yogurt in the basement only came into the third or fourth draft. Originally it was a much too interesting novel about a guy in an unusual mental institution. But when my character escaped the State Hospital he walked into a yogurt parlor and the hairs on my arms started to tingle. Something was going on there, I knew, but didn’t know what. Possibly it was the process of fermentation itself, even though in real life I’m not anything like a huge yogurt buff. That was when I started everything over.
I wanted readers to think about several things, but one of them is a question I ask every day: how much is in out power really to change things?
Q: Your protagonist Jonathan starts out as an Everyman character and as we work our way into the book, we find that all is not what it seems with Jonathan. Do you feel that playing with reader expectations is one way to keep the reader surprised? What should writers be mindful of when creating characters who may not be very likable in their actions?
JK: I don’t know anyone who is exactly what they seem. Nor do I know what writers should be mindful of, period. But it occurs to me that many people who do bad things still manage to seem likable to themselves. I used to tell students that a writer has to love all his characters, good or bad, and as in operas, the villain deserves a great aria or two. As for me, I think constantly about the things I’ve done that I’m ashamed of, and yet I keep acting, not always to the good, either. Except in degree, I’m not so different than the unteachable Jonathan.
Next week, Krusoe reveals the advantages of writing for a small press, and what he’s learned while teaching others creative writing.
Girl Factory is available now at all online book retailers.
Click HERE for Part Two of our interview with Jim.