Thursday, 22 July 2010

Interview With Alice Becker

My interview with the fêted author, taken from The Fuzzbox Pangina (June 2010):

Tell us about your latest book,
My Crazy Family.

It is a tale of families, I suppose. Families and how they screw us up! Ha-ha-ha! In my last book, Auntie Janet’s Gallstone, I drew heavily from my experiences with my Auntie Janet. She is such a brave woman and I felt I had to tell her story, you know? I didn’t even think about it, I just wrote it down. In this book, I took a different approach. I looked at my family and thought God, what a bunch of crazies! This would make for such a funny book, and people could so relate. And judging from the feedback so far, I think they have!

Could you outline the plot for us?

Well, there isn’t a plot as such. I know, crazy right! I just sort of wrote down some of the anecdotes my family tells, or just snippets of conversation. Like one part of the book is just my dad, who is crazy, talking about the time he lost a sock behind the bed, then couldn’t find it for weeks. I won’t spoil the ending by telling you where it ended up! But this book is really, um . . . experimental. It has more in common with really great writers like B.S. Johnson or Gilbert Sorrentino. It’s like a more accessible take on those guys.

Do you have a good relationship with your readers?

Oh, totally. With my last book, I got so many letters from people saying things like ‘my aunt had her gallstones out too, I can sympathise’ and ‘your characters were almost believable.’ I was really moved by some of the feedback I got from you guys! I’m successful ‘cause I’m just like everyone else, you know, writing about regular people I suppose. I’m easy to read. I was discussing this with Mike [husband] by the pool yesterday. ‘Cept he wasn’t listening AS USUAL! He’d lost the keys to the Ferrari, AGAIN!

What advice would you offer young writers?

Write from the heart. Write from experience. Write down the day-to-day details of your life. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar. Just express yourself. Keep an ear tuned to the problems in your family, and write them down. Nothing is sacred. People love reading stuff they can relate to! No detail is boring or irrelevant. We are lucky in this country to have a print culture that encourages people to write the first thing that comes into their head and print it, almost without exception! As long as it is real. And about families. And real. You have to feel it. Did I mention that it has to be real? Ha-ha-ha!

How did you react to your almost immediate success?

I was totally blown away. I’d just starting writing when people were flinging awards at me. I mean, literally – agents came to my house and threw money at me when I was trying to write! It was little distracting to be honest. I mean, it can’t have hurt being married to the man who owns Penguin Books, and having a dad that owns Random House, and performing oral sex on every book reviewer in America, but I’d like to think it’s my talent that carried me to the top. That and the guy I paid to write my books for me.

Thank you, Alice.

Hey, no problem. I read some of your stuff, by the way. Couldn’t really get into it. Too many ten-dollar words. And it’s like you won’t let yourself open up. Just let it out, man! Don’t be shy, let it out! Stop hiding behind the dictionary, speak your soul and readers will come.


OK. Don’t be rude. I don't see you winning any prizes, mister.


Alice Becker has published forty-five novels and three non-fiction books on writing. Her 1997 novel, The Mopey Girl With PMT, won the Picoult Prize for Page-Turning Brilliance That Appeals to Normal Readers with Regular Jobs That Don’t Have the Time to Read Books, What With Looking After the Kids and Doing the Housework and Trying to Maintain a Social Life.

M.J. Nicholls writes this blog. A short story he wrote a year ago and thought was too pants for publication,
The Legend of Liz Armhole, appears in the latest issue of the Rose & Thorn Journal.


  1. You said pants!

    Completely unrelated, and yet, that is what pants are for, I just realized at work yesterday I was holding a book by David Foster Wallace in my hand (I'm just adding the "in my hand" so that real people won't be confused as to why I would be holding this book with any other part of my body).

    We've had this book on sale for ages, and no one has bothered buying it (since they were real people who wanted to know with what people were holding various items). Consequently I've been moving it back and forth between our discount sections (the neat and pretty one where you know what you get; and the terrible, messy one where gold might be struck amongst all the plastic dog turds).

    Yesterday, though, I read the name of the author for the first time, and it felt like destiny. A true visionary (your words, not mine. Oh, and Zadie Smith's, according to the jacket of the book [I'm just adding that so that real people won't be confused about whether I was wearing a magical, talking jacket]) in MY (well, not *my*, but you know) bookshop!!!

    Since this book had been on sale since the 13th (I'm just writing that in numbers so that real people won't be confused with all the letters in thirt... Fine, I couldn't be bothered to remember how to spell it) century, it was really, really, really cheap. I bought it for a cup of coffee (for real people: the PRICE of one. We don't actually accept coffee as currency in my [not *my*] shop).

    I haven't read it yet, but if it is absolutely pants, I blame you (and Zadie Smith) that I didn't buy a cup of coffee instead.

  2. Wow. I'm delighted to hear you have been chosen by the book you were supposedly holding up by your hands. (Dubious story, if you ask me).

    I might have inadvertently quoted Zadie Smith if she too said "visionary", but it's often used to describe Mr. W. I say this because I haven't read any of his two novels, so the blame should fall solely on Zadie should it turn out to be pants.

    And what's the title? Damn you Collett, you forgot to tell me! And might I add that was a mighty large line break. I have drawn a very festive giraffe in the blank space, in lime-green pants, reading various Foster Wallaces. He dazzles.

  3. The title is "Glemsel" (ha!), and it's not a novel. I could give you the original title as well, of course, but I forgot (and I would have to look it up. That is one extra internet explorer tab I just did not see myself open right now... Forgetfulness? Nah... Probably not)

    I'm very proud of the line break. And with what you chose to do with it. Now send it off to!

  4. So, so weird. I had already planned to go out and buy Infinite Jest today.

    Loved the interview, Mark. Especially the end-p-not the fact that it ended, silly, but the end itself. Oh, you know what I mean.

  5. *snarf* Having a hard time telling whether the interviewee is hysterical or you are (I can be dim that way)

    I'm cracking up though, that nobody seems to have thought about 'cracking a book' you know... holding it in your butt crack. *coughs*

  6. Hello Tart! Don't mention butt cracks around Chris. He gets excited.

  7. Full marks, Mark.

    Up until question 3, you had me thinking it was real!

    S U B T L E

    My gorge was rising, my fingers twitching with a potential reply, and guts knotting up.

    My only complaint, you should have kept it up and not given the game away.