We’ve got a special treat for you today – a visit from Therese Fowler! Way back in 2008, Therese took a spin on the dance floor to celebrate the publication of her first novel, Souvenir. And today she’s back with her THIRD novel, the delicious Exposure.
Therese Fowler is the author of Exposure, Souvenir, and Reunion. She holds a BA in sociology and an MFA in creative writing from North Carolina State University, where she also taught undergraduate creative writing before leaving to write fiction full-time. Her work is published in nine languages and is sold world-wide.
Don’t forget to stick around after Therese’s interview to enter to win a copy of Exposure!
Therese Fowler Takes the Deb Interview!
Talk about one book that made an impact on you.
One of the requirements for my MFA in creative writing was to read a certain number of books (I forget the number) from a designated reading list of classic literature. Among the books I chose was Vladimir Nabokov’s famous, and infamous, Lolita.
Lolita is one of those stories that almost everyone has heard of, in one way or another. The name Lolita has come to represent a certain kind of girl—an over-sexualized pre-pubescent temptress, usually. My impression before reading the novel was that it was going to be a salacious tale of this temptress and the sorry man she set her sights on.
Was I ever wrong.
It was 2003, and my writing aspirations leaned toward what I’d call upmarket chick-lit, which was an emerging genre at the time. I’d been reading Anna Maxted, for example, and imagining myself writing American versions of her sorts of books. I’d come into that MFA program without any prior writing training and very little exposure to Literature (note the capital L) beyond assigned reading in high school and then two rather narrow English lit courses during my undergrad studies, when I was earning a BA in sociology. So the MFA reading list was a kind of high-brow buffet of offerings, and Lolita was that enticing pan of cherry-topped Black Forest cake.
I began reading. My first surprise was that the book is written in first-person, and that it’s a fictional confessional, the tale of a murderer who has what he refers to as a “fancy prose style.” The narrator, who calls himself Humbert Humbert, claims to be a man of elevated tastes and passions, foremost of which is young Dolores, who he has nicknamed Lolita. We know from the start that everything has gone wrong for H.H., and the question is, what happened, and why, and how?
The plot is suspenseful, the story engrossing, the narrator—for all his faults and his overt pedophilia—clever, intelligent, and almost sympathetic. Almost. And that, folks, is a literary feat that it very, very difficult to pull off.
Above all, I was captivated by Nabokov’s use of language and the musicality of his prose. I thought, Wow, so writing can look like this. Reading Lolita made me strive to be a smarter, better writer. In doing that, I didn’t abandon my previous goal; rather, I refined it and made it truer to the novelist I hoped to become.
Talk about one thing that’s making you happy right now.
With a new book—my third—just out, I’m like a new parent who’s jubilant and sleep-deprived and overworked all at once. There’s more stress involved than I ever imagined there would be, back when I was an aspiring writer. In those days, I thought that a publishing contract would be the ultimate affirmation of the book’s quality and worth. Now I understand very keenly that the ultimate affirmation comes only from my readership and their response to my books.
I don’t mean to say that I need every single reader to be overwhelmingly delighted with every book I write. That won’t happen; it can’t happen, because every reader brings his or her own unique self to the story, and any one book will resonate better with some readers than with others. Think of a multi-published author whose books you’ve read and enjoyed: don’t you have a favorite book among that author’s collective works? For example, I admire all of Ann Patchett’s books, but I love Bel Canto foremost.
Knowing that this is the way of it, my goal is always to be true to the story I’m telling, and to make every book I write a good and worthwhile read. Happily, I’m beginning to hear from readers who’ve now read all of my books (an author’s joy in itself) and are eager for the next one!
Which talent do you wish you had?
I wish I could sing well. Having one of those amazingly clear, true, resonant singing voices—the kind where you simply open your mouth and out come these sounds that turn people’s heads, make them gravitate toward not you but the beauty of what emerges from you—well, I think that would be an astonishing gift. When I was young I had a “nice voice,” nice enough to sing solos in school play productions and recitals, which led to the typical little-girl fantasies of life on the stage, in films, maybe even as a recording star (I idolized Bette Midler and Olivia Newton John). Obviously fate had other ideas for me, and I’m not complaining! But you can see some of that little-girl me in Exposure’s Amelia, and in my love for Ann Patchett’s novel Bel Canto.
Share something that’s always guaranteed to make you laugh.
I love absurd, random, smart humor like you’ll find in Douglas Adams’ novels, in Monty Python shows and films (a cow flung from behind a castle parapet, anyone?), in spoofs like Airplane! and Hot Shots! Part Deux (alas, Charlie Sheen…). Smart humor in general never fails to delight me; lately I’ve been finding that in a lot of what the writers cook up for Mad Men’s Roger Sterling. Campy humor is great too, a classic example of which you’ll find throughout The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
What’s the strangest job you’ve ever had?
Back in the late 80s, when I was very young and married to a guy who’d joined the Air Force, we got stationed at Clark Air Base, in the Philippines. For the better part of my first two years there, I was unemployed because most of the civilian jobs at the base went to local hires (which made sense). When I did finally get a job, it was as something called a “merchandise control monitor” working for the Merchandise Control Office. There was so much black-marketing of American goods that an entire agency had been formed to help combat it, and my job, initially, was to be one of maybe two dozen people who worked in the base commissary—that’s the grocery store—standing at the end of the check-out counter with a pre-printed pad of paper in hand, examining the customer’s ID, noting their name, Merchandise Control number, and then any items they purchased that were on my form—kind, and quantity.
Every service member had a file at the agency’s HQ, which was a pair of Quonset huts staffed by actual Civil Service employees (I was a part-timer at first, and thus not officially C.S.—my office position would come later) and run by two civilian men who seemed to hate one another. In each file were the cumulative purchase records of all “sensitive” items bought at either the commissary of the BX (base exchange), which was a kind of miniature Wal-Mart. If for any reason you came under suspicion of possible black-marketing behavior, there would be a record of your purchases from which an investigation could be mounted.
So let’s say you were a service member’s spouse and were at the commissary, shopping for your groceries and general household goods. Say that in addition to reconstituted milk (you couldn’t get fresh milk except off base) and eggs and cheese and Doritos, you bought a box of laundry detergent. I would note the quantity, brand, and size (number of ounces) on my form. If you bought Vienna sausage, I marked that down. Spam? Hmm… A rib roast? Depending on what else was in your order, that might get you flagged for a follow-up visit (we’d write “Go” on the top of the form, and circle it, to alert the higher-ups). If a review of your file suggested cause, more senior agency employees would drop by your house unannounced to see whether that rib roast was in your freezer, and if not, when you’d cooked it and for what occasion.
The U.S. military could not be too careful about those rib roasts.
Later, I was promoted to a position in the office proper. I wanted to be an investigator, but never made it that far. My days were spent working in customer service, issuing ID cards to newbies and temporary IDs to visiting military members, and documenting things like the sale of a TV set from one member to another—a transaction that required the seller and buyer to visit the office together in order to fill out the proper paperwork, which would then be matched to the member’s belongings when he/she packed out in preparation to PCS (make a Permanent Change of Station).
Yes, that was me, working long hours under arduous conditions in order to keep you safe back here at home.
But even better, leave a comment below to be entered to win a copy of her newest novel, Exposure (US addresses only)!
There’s a quote from our own Deb Eleanor on Exposure‘s jacket, describing it this way:
“Complex, gripping, and rich with emotion, Fowler’s 21st-century Romeo and Juliet beautifully blends ripped-from-the-headlines drama with honest and carefully drawn examinations of family, loyalty, honesty, and the power of love.” ~ Eleanor Brown, New York Times bestselling author of The Weird Sisters
You can learn more about Exposure on Therese’s site!
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