Trailer Trash is out today from Riptide.
I decided to ask Marie to visit the blog and answer a couple of my questions...
So, on to the interview
What drew you to writing Cody and Nate's story? And why choose 1986 and the AIDS crisis as a backdrop?
I actually started this story back in 2011. It all began with this picture. [attached] That image immediately became Cody in my head, and I jumped right in.
I picked the 80s partly because it's when I grew up, and I sort of wanted to dump some of my teen angst into it, but also because I really wanted to write about the days before things like MTV and the internet opened the world up for the average teenager. I wanted to capture that claustrophobic feeling of being caught in a small town in the middle of nowhere, with almost no access to the larger world.
The thing is, as stupid as it may sound, I was several chapters in before I realized setting the story in the 80s meant dealing with the AIDS crisis. That was also about when I began to see just how angsty the story might get (boy, I had NO idea, even then). I toyed with moving it back further, into the 70s, but that didn't feel right either. I didn't want to move it into the 90s or later, because it would lose that haunted sense of abandonment that permeated small towns back then. And to be honest, I just wasn't ready to deal with it.
In the end, I chickened out and abandoned the entire story. I stuffed it in a virtual drawer and moved on. I pulled it out several times over the years. I think I always knew I'd finish it eventually, but it wasn't until last fall that I finally felt ready to jump in. Even then, I moved the story back and forth in the 80s several times, trying to find the sweet spot -- early enough in the decade that the town of Warren might realistically not have MTV, but late enough that almost everybody at least had the facts about how AIDS was spread and didn't still think it could be caught from the swimming pool -- and eventually settled on late '86/early '87.
Was this book difficult to write?
Good lord, yes. And not just for the reasons listed above. It just seemed to throw up roadblocks at every turn. Just when I'd think I had a handle on it, I'd realize I'd taken a wrong turn, and I'd have to delete thousands of words. At one point (I think in early December) I finished the book -- or so I thought. It was only about 45k words (only about half what it ended up being). The thing is, it just felt WRONG. It had a beginning and a middle and an end, but I hated it. I just knew I'd screwed it up, but I wasn't quite sure how. Then one night, I was brushing my teeth, getting ready for bed, and it hit me. I suddenly knew exactly what had to happen, but it absolutely broke my heart to even think about.
Now, if you've read the book, you know what I'm talking about. I won't spoil anything, but there's one big event that happens at about the halfway point of the book. I spent several days trying to tell myself no, I didn't really need to do this horrible thing, but the more I thought about it, the more I saw that it really did need to happen. So once again, I went back to the drawing board. I had to cut more than 20k words at that point, and let me tell you, I cried real tears more than once -- partly because of what I had to do, and partly because of how much work it made for me. But, in the end, it was exactly what needed to be done.
And when you get to that point -- and you'll know, when you do -- just know that I cried too. I really did.
The scene setting was so good, subtle and I was pulled right in, how do you go about researching your settings for stories?
It varies from story to story. In this case, the setting was partially based on my hometown (which is also in Wyoming). The City Drug and the Chinese restaurant and the crappy bar on the edge of town were all pulled directly from the town I was born in. But, to be fair, my hometown was quite a bit bigger than Warren (the fictional town in Trailer Trash), and my hometown was only an hour from Salt Lake City, so it didn't feel nearly so isolated. But I've driven that horrible stretch of I-80 across southern Wyoming more times than I can count. I've stopped at the truckstops and seen some of the people. It's a really desolate, windy, barren area. There's nothing but sandstone and sagebrush and roadkill. You hit "scan" on your car radio, and the dial just rolls over and over and over and never finds a signal. There's just this feeling that if your car died there, you'd never find your way home.
That's what I was trying to capture.
Can you tell me one scene that really stood out for you when you wrote this book?
That's hard, because there were many (and one of my favorites got cut when The Big Bad Event was added and changed the entire last half of the story). Let me think...
The Wheel of Fortune scene is one of the first scenes I wrote, and continues to be one of my very favorite. I also love when Nate and Cody go to Rock Springs for the day. I felt like there were some really great moments there, both with Nate blurting out things he didn't realize he was going to say, and Cody trying to tell him why they can't be friends once school starts. I also really like the scene early in the story where Nate and Cody discuss the things they learned from their mothers.
Nate had told Cody he’d meet him after lunch, but he ended up going to the field right after he got out of bed. It was a bit after eleven when he arrived, and Cody was already there, a half-empty pack of cigarettes in his hand.
“Wind’s still blowing,” Nate said as he sat down.
“Welcome to Wyoming.”
He didn’t even glance Nate’s way. A brand-new day, and somehow Nate knew he was starting fresh with Cody. Whatever camaraderie they’d shared the day before had been wiped away in the night.
“I hear it’s really nice up in the northern part of the state,” he said, in an attempt to make conversation.
Cody sighed and tapped a cigarette into his hand. “I hear that too. I wouldn’t know.” He tucked the rest of the pack into the upper pocket of his jean jacket and pulled out a lighter. Nate waited while he turned away, cupping his hand against the wind to get it lit.
“How long have you lived here?”
Cody blew smoke, his other hand clenching around his lighter. “My whole fucking life.”
“Well, you graduate this year, right? Then you can leave. Maybe go to college—”
“Ha!” Cody shook his head, leaning forward to put his elbows on his knees. “Yeah, right. College.”
Nate wasn’t sure what that meant. Maybe his grades weren’t good enough, or—
“There’s no leaving this town. Didn’t I tell you it’s the black hole of modern civilization? I meant it, man. There’s no escape. You’re born here, you knock up some chick, then you die here. That’s how it goes.”
“Uh . . .” Nate had no idea how to tackle that happy thought. “You’re planning on knocking somebody up?”
Cody laughed without much humor and contemplated the smoldering cigarette between his fingers. “Pretty sure nobody actually plans that. Don’t change anything, though. Gotta have money to leave, and by the time you’ve got it, it’s too late.”
“I don’t care what you say. I’m leaving, as soon as I can. Packing up my car the night before graduation and leaving five minutes after they put that diploma in my hand.”
“And going where?”
“Home, I guess, for the summer at least. Then I’m moving to Chicago.”
Cody frowned at him, and Nate hurried to elaborate.
“My aunt lives there. She’s a real estate agent, and she owns a bunch of houses and apartments. She has one she said I could use while I go to school.” Although the idea of putting in college applications in a few months turned his stomach to knots.
Cody ground out the last of his cigarette against the side of the wagon and tossed the butt angrily into the wind. “Lucky you.”
Nate studied him for a moment, taking in the ripped knees of his jeans and the way they ended a bit short of his ankles. The arms of his denim jacket left his bony wrists exposed. His tennis shoes had holes in both toes.
A small knot of shame formed in Nate’s stomach as he finally realized it wasn’t grades standing between Cody and college. He thought about Warren—windblown streets lined with lifeless, dusty buildings. No flowers. No joy. No jobs. Even the houses seemed to droop in defeat. The people he’d seen didn’t look much better. Dead-eyed women not much older than him dragging their screaming kids through the grocery store. The line of rusty pickup trucks parked outside the shitty, seedy bar on the far side of town, no matter what time of day it was.
Maybe Cody was right. Maybe there was no escape.
Nate cleared his throat, trying to think of something that hinted at hope. “My mom always says, ‘Despair is anger with no place to go.’”
Cody chuckled and put his head down. He ran his hands through his straight black hair. “I guess that makes me Despair, then.”
“My mom also says, ‘When it’s dark enough, you can see the stars.’”
“Oh yeah? Well, my mom says, ‘If the world didn’t suck, we’d fall off.’”
Nate laughed. He wasn’t sure if Cody had intended it as a joke or not, but either way, Nate couldn’t help it. Cody looked over at him in surprise.
“Well,” Nate said, still laughing a bit, “at least I know where you get your cheery disposition.”
Cody blinked at him once as if trying to decide how to take that comment, but then he gave Nate a grudging smile. “And I guess I know where you get yours.”
“Yeah.” Now it was Nate’s turn to duck his head in hopes of hiding his expression. It was true his mother had always been happy and upbeat. Right up until May, when she’d walked into Nate’s bedroom and casually told him she was leaving his dad.
“Your mom sounds like some kind of brainiac or something.”
“She’s an English teacher.”
“Will she be teaching at the high school?”
“No.” Nate couldn’t look at him. He twisted the class ring on his finger, watching the way the sun glinted off the light-blue stone. “She didn’t move here with us. She’s still back in Austin.”
Cody didn’t respond right away, and when Nate finally glanced up, he found Cody looking at him with more compassion than he’d seen from him before. “That sucks.”
“You have no idea.” As soon as Nate said the words, he realized maybe he shouldn’t have. He didn’t know anything about Cody’s family situation. It was possible Cody knew exactly how Nate felt. He wondered if he should apologize, but Cody didn’t seem bothered.
“When I was a kid, it seemed like I was the only one whose parents were split.” Cody looked toward the distant motion of the highway again, as if it held some kind of answer. “People were always asking me why my last name was different from my mom’s. Used to piss me off. But the older I get, the more it seems like the norm, you know? I don’t know if there really are more divorces now, or if it’s just because I’m more aware of it.”
Nate had always known about divorce, but he’d always assumed it only happened to kids with fucked-up family lives. Somehow, he’d thought the “broken home” came first, and the divorce second. He hadn’t quite realized the divorce was often what made it “broken.”
“I guess I thought it couldn’t happen to me,” he said.
He hated it. Hated his life and his parents and the fact that he was now one of those kids. He hated coming home to a house where his mother’s music wasn’t playing. He hated having to do his own laundry and the fact that there was never a pot of soup on the stove or a batch of cookies in the oven, and the fact that he never, ever woke up to pancakes and bacon for breakfast. He hated knowing he’d taken those things for granted for so many years. And more than anything, he fucking hated Wyoming.
“Hey,” Cody said, and when Nate looked over at him, Cody smiled. “When it’s dark enough, you can see the stars.”
Nate tried to smile back, but failed. “I only see the dark.”
“Me too.” Cody nudged Nate’s knee with his own, and this time, Nate did manage to smile a little. “Guess it gives us a reason to keep looking up.”