Interview With Author Tanya Egan Gibson

April 17, 2012 at 12:18 am (Interviews) (, , , , )

Tanya Egan Gibson, photo from article:

I read How to Buy a Love of Readingby Tanya Egan Gibson at the very first of this year.  What a great start to 2012! The book left me nonsensically speechless.  It has really set a tone for all my 2012 reading and for how I want to grow my blog and develop the novel I have been working on for half my life.  It set a standard for writing in general and for reviewing books and treating authors that I hope to live up to.  I am thrilled to pieces to have Tanya Egan Gibson here with me today for a written blog interview, and I hope you enjoy what she has to say as much as I do.

  1. Fitzgerald is obviously a heavy influence for you, who else were among your first literary loves?

Kurt Vonnegut, for sure, in high school.  Slaughterhouse-Five changed the way I thought about what a novel “should be.”  C.S. Lewis in elementary school.  I loved the Narnia books.  I wanted a wardrobe.  Oh, and between that, all of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes tales.  I had a serious crush on Holmes—the more eccentricity the better.

I should probably clarify, too, that it took me a really long time to appreciate Fitzgerald.  I didn’t like The Great Gatsby in high school or in college.  It wasn’t until I was assigned to teach it at a high school in California that I saw it differently.  One of my students asked, “So why is Daisy such a bee-atch?”  Which snapped me out of concentrating on the book’s famous symbolism (The Green Light!  The Eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg!) and refocused me on the people (characters) and their desperation to be loved.

  1. My favorite part of HTBALOR is how raw Hunter comes across, how much his character development rings true.  That’s rare for a female author to write a male character so well.  Is he the character you identify with most? Or did you fall in love with him a little? (Admittedly, I did a little of both.)

As a lifetime watcher of shows like Beverly Hills 90210 (the original one) and its successors, I always found the rich-kid-who-lives-alone-in-a-posh-hotel-or-other-parentless-situation to be a cool trope.  (Yeah, we can call it a stereotype, but the literary ring of “trope” sounds much more forgiving.)   I’m fascinated by stereotypes because it seems to me that people (real people, not just characters) often end up becoming them of their own volition, giving up on some of their most interesting dimensions for the safety/security/ease of neatly defining themselves.

The rich-kid-who-lives-alone is nearly always a misunderstood “bad boy” who (when we meet him at, say, the beginning of a CW television series) is engaging in self-destructive behavior and has a mean streak.  Usually, as the series progresses, the character cleans up his act (usually for the love of a good girl) and he learns to become a responsible person (with, perhaps, a couple of dips into recidivism when the ratings need a boost) and discovers his inner poet/artist/recycling advocate/vegan.

So, when I wrote Hunter, I kept wondering what such a character would be like the other way around: What if the character was originally a responsible, mature-beyond-his-years person who knew who he was?  What if living alone with too much money and little supervision hadn’t turned him into a spoiled, self-destructive brat?  What if he liked to cook and knew how to clean and didn’t act or feel embarrassed about being a book geek?  What would it take for that character to end up turning himself into the self-destructive-kid-with-a-mean-streak stereotype?  Looks. And being looked at.

I suppose that’s a long preface and I still haven’t answered your question—sorry! What fascinates me about Hunter is that being so highly visible (an overnight hottie who never meant to be a hottie) deprives him of being himself.  He wants to be kind and gentle and loving and loved.  At his core these—and privacy—are what he most values.  But these aren’t qualities valued in an appearance-obsessed community or expected of him as the community’s golden child.

So many of the good things Hunter does for other people are quiet, under-the-radar, private.  Yet he’s constantly getting the message from his parents and peers—and even his college application essay prompts–that nothing matters if people can’t see it.  (Thank you, reality TV society.)  So he kind of splits himself into public-Hunter and private-Hunter.  And in so doing, unravels.

Which, finally, brings me to answering your question: Yeah, I probably understand Hunter the best out of my characters because he’s desperate to reshape his world into something lovely and full of love—and also made to feel embarrassed about such inclinations. Like private-Hunter, I’m hopelessly thin-skinned and I get crushes on authors (even dead ones) and I daydream about them being kind.  I’m very self-conscious, an introvert who pretends to be an extrovert because I really like people and like to talk with them—even though they often scare me.  I write about love and loveliness; I believe there is much love and loveliness in life waiting to be discovered.  (I’ve been called a Pollyanna.  To my face.)  But I’m no longer embarrassed by it.

  1. It’s clear you have a love/hate obsession-like relationship with meta-fiction.  It’s also clear how beautifully you write the layers of a book, like a rose in bloom or an onion being peeled.  When you are writing, do you find that meta-fiction lends itself to these unfolding layers or does it work against it?

Yup, I wrote a novel that makes fun of meta-fiction while taking the form of meta-fiction. So yeah, I do both love and hate it.  Oh, and thank you for the compliment.  Back to the love-hate relationship: It’s complicated.  Self-consciousness tends to get in the way of emotion.  (Have you ever watched a play where one of the actors is supposed to say something like, “I swoon for you!” but is too embarrassed to go all the way with it, his self-consciousness turning it hollow?)

Meta-, of course, is about consciousness of self.  But it also invites the reader backstage, saying, “Slip in behind the curtain.  It’s okay, there’s room.  Check out that actor’s insincerity!”  Maybe this affords the reader the opportunity to observe up-close that the actor is shaking, and gives him or her clues to the emotion behind the hollow “I swoon for you.”  Maybe the real story isn’t the play on the stage, but rather the story of why that actor is too terrified/nervous/exhausted/ill to embody the emotion of that line.  So the question is whether it’s worth sacrificing the outer story (the story being played out onstage with the supposedly swoon-worthy damsel) to this inner story.

For me, the answer is sometimes, and only if I’m sure that the main narrative (swoon-worthy damsel) is ultimately deepened, emotionally, by that meta- jolt.  When you go meta-, you’re sacrificing the readers’ waking dream—plucking them out of a world and then asking them to willingly reenter it.  That’s a lot to ask.

The short answer to your question: I cut way more meta-material than I ever use.

  1. One of the characters, Bree McEnroy, writes a meta-novel.  Do you have a favorite book from another author that fits this genre? If so, what is it and when did you first discover it?

Waterland, by Graham Swift, is one of my favorite books ever.  I discovered it in graduate school, where my love-hate relationship with postmodernism and all things meta- broke down into way more hate than love.  Waterland was assigned in a British Literature course I did, in fact, love–a respite from talking about literary theorists with difficult French names.

The novel is about a history teacher who is supposed to be teaching his students about the French Revolution.  But who, because he’s sort of losing it, starts telling his students about his own personal history instead.  Among other things, the book calls into question the difference (if any) between story and history.

  1. Your book references several fictional characters as authors and includes excerpts from their work.  Do you have full manuscripts of these books lurking away somewhere? Like J.K.Rawling’s Tales of Beedle the Bard and Quidditch Through the Ages, do you have plans to publish these?

No full manuscripts exist of Between Scylla and Alta Vista or Unwritten.  I promise.  I did write small excerpts of them for my website, though, where a few pages of each of these books “exist” on a virtual bookshelf.  In “Hunter’s journal” (on my website)—the story he wants to write about a girl and boy going on a ski trip in fact existed as a large flashback in an earlier draft of HTBALOR.  (It was originally the story of how Hunter and Carley, the protagonist of HTBALOR, met.  Later, it was replaced by a shorter flashback near the end of the book where they bond over an incident on the Long Island Sound.)

  1. As a writer, I dread asking this question (I have no idea if I will finish my own novel this year or this decade), but as a fan I am dying to know: when can we expect another book?

HTBALOR was published eight or nine years after I started writing it.  I’m hoping the novel I’m currently writing (the working title is LANDS) won’t take quite that long.  Like HTBALOR, it contains a meta- element, and getting all the layers of it to line up (while at the same time making each layer emotionally true to itself) is, as I indicated above, kind of tricky.  Plus, I’m balancing writing with taking care of my two wonderful children, ages 7 and almost-4.  One nice thing about LANDS: it takes place at a fictional theme park, so my children love coming along on amusement park research trips and think the pictures in my shelf full of amusement park research books are very cool.

  1. The cover art of the Dutton hardback edition, also featured on your website, is the reason I picked up your book.  As a writer and art fanatic with a Bachelors in Marketing, I can’t help but wonder: Were you involved in picking out this art, or was it all Dutton? If so, what was your level of involvement?

Dutton chose the cover design and illustration, which were done by an artist named Ben Gibson (no relation).  I think it’s beautiful, and I was particularly happy about the way the girl’s body.  The spine of the book kind of becomes her spine, but the rest of her body seems to blend into/disappear into the couch.  Weight is overly important in the fictional community of HTBALOR—the protagonist, according to the personal trainer hired by her mother, is 57 pounds overweight—and this rendering of Carley honors the conclusion of the book, in which the reader is never told what “size” she ends up.

  1. Does the cover art for this book represent your own art tastes? Who is your favorite artist? (Or what is your favorite piece?)

I’m kind of a Philistine when it comes to art.  Not a three-dogs-playing-poker or velvet-Elvis glow-in-the-dark wall art Philistine—but still pretty unknowledgeable.  (I did, at least, learn something from doing research for Bree’s never-to-be-completed book about art patronage.)  I’m particularly fond of my seven-year-old daughter’s pastel rendering of two orange Amazon rainforest frogs and my three-year-old son’s multi-colored blob paintings that he insists are either trucks, dinosaurs, or me.

  1. Carley and Hunter are both only children.  Did you have siblings growing up?

My brother wasn’t born until I was ten or eleven and we were raised in different households—after my parents divorced, my father remarried, so we’re half-sibs who were kind of each raised as only children.  While it’s wonderful to have a sibling as an adult (my brother is very cool), I definitely wondered, as a child, what it would be like to have someone there to do things with.  My daughter likes to tell people that my husband and I had her little brother “so I’ll always have someone to play with.”  Which is not exactly untrue.

  1. What is one thing you want your readers and fans to know about you?

I love reading and writing so much, and feel unbelievably fortunate to have a book out there in the world.  I love to write emails to authors when I enjoy their books, and when I receive emails/Facebook messages/Tweets from readers who connected emotionally with HTBALOR, it makes my day.  Reading, for me, is all about connection, and when people take the time to tell me that my novel made them feel something, I’m thrilled beyond words.

Please follow Tanya Egan Gibson on Twitter @tanyaegangibson.

Follow this link to purchase How to Buy a Love of Reading.


  1. Clay Washington said,

    This is a great interview of a wonderful author! As I’m a big fan of the novel, I appreciate the insights shared here. Question #6 has special relevance to me; I’m eagerly awaiting her next book!

    • Anakalian Whims said,

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it! I adore the fine lady and hope more people discover it and how wonderful it is.

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