and one of
The New Yorker
’s “20 Under 40”
—Forthcoming from Alfred A. Knopf, 2/1/2011—
Q: "Swamplandia!" is a continuation of the story of the Bigtree Wrestling Dynasty whowe first met in "Ava Wrestles the Alligator", a story that appeared in your debut storycollection "St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves". Where did you originally get theidea for this family?A:
These folks have been around for years now—since I was 22. In the very first draft of thisplace that I wrote, Ava was a murderous boy named Hector and I believe my very wise, verykind professor actually sighed out loud after reading it and said, "Oh Karen—I just do notknow what you are doing here." And this was a bummer, because neither did I! All I knewwas that, unlike my other characters, who generally left me alone after I '"finished" andpublished or abandoned a story, these Bigtrees kept rattling around inside my head. Their world, "Swamplandia!" was a place I could really see in full color behind my eyelids, whichdoesn't always happen. I'm going to resist my inner list towards a terrible pun now (their world "sucked me in!" I was "swamped!" etc).And the world of the novel really is, in kilometers, pretty close to home. I grew up in SouthFlorida and our family's trips to the Everglades and to Key West probably form the literalbedrock of the Bigtrees' strange world. We took field trips to the Shark River Valley, and to aSeminole reservation.Alligators have always fascinated me, too. They were always a rumored presence in Floridabodies of water--this primordial monster grinning its way across a Miami Springs golf course,or swimming with this reptilian insouciance through the canal behind a grade school..
Q: Do you have a favorite library or librarian from your past?A:
I have a favorite English teacher, this patron saint of grammar, Miss Madeleine Timmis,who gave me Michael Crichton and John Grisham books on the sly and without whoseencouragement I would never have become a writer, I'm convinced. And I still remember thewhole-body thrill I felt at age seven when our grade school librarian, Sister Patricia, gave me"special access" to the grown up kid books early on, which was maybe the best compliment of my life to date—to get to exit the patronizingly carpeted "bean bag" area of our very tinylibrary and freely touch the spines of the "adult" (read: Nancy Drew) books. I don't know asingle writer who doesn't cite the library as their favorite childhood place—I remember it asa nerd's Valhalla.
Q: Are you the type of author that spends a good amount of time on research? Or do you justjump in?A:
Oh, I love to procrastinate with "research," especially the lazy kind you can do on theinternet! I can spend an hour researching some lame question like, "can a manatee do longdivision?" or whatever. But I don't recommend this approach. I do think it's a good idea toread enough that you feel like you have earned the authority to make a big imaginative leap.