Alissa Nutting, Ph.D., a first-year professor in the English department who teaches fiction and nonfiction writing, is working on the manuscript of her first full-length novel, tentatively titled “Tonight Comes the Town.” To read the excerpt, click here. John Walsh, editor of John Carroll magazine, and Nutting discussed this excerpt from her novel and writing in general.
JW: What have you published already?
AN: A collection of short stories titled “Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls,” which was published in 2010. The book was selected by judge Ben Marcus as winner of the 6th Starcherone Prize for Innovative Fiction.
JW: What inspired you to write this novel?
AN: The time I spent in Alabama while I was earning my Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. I also was inspired by Flannery O’Connor’s book “Wise Blood,” which falls into the same category of moral satire that my novel does. “Wise Blood” takes place in the South and is about one man’s journey of becoming a believer. Blindness and sight is a major trope. The blindness, at some points, is literal in O’Connor’s book, but it’s completely metaphorical in mine.
JW: What’s the plot of your novel?
AN: It’s the story of a teenage girl, who’s adopted. It covers her life from the age of 13 when she’s orphaned through the age of 19. She had horrible birthparents who died. Her adoptive parents saw her on television and adopted her because they wanted to be part of the spotlight. They’re horrible in a different way than her birthparents were.
JW: From where is the excerpt taken?
AN: The fourth chapter of the book, near the beginning of the story.
JW: What’s the main theme of the novel?
AN: Exterior versus interior. The way in which things can seem beautiful or good from the outside, but a closer look reveals something more sinister.
JW: How do you like to write?
AN: On the couch with a laptop. Writing consumes all my spare time. In the summer, I write nine to 10 hours a day. I always do it if there’s nothing more pressing.
JW: It seems, from this excerpt, your writing is laced with black comedy.
AN: I consider my writing to be sad, but others call it funny. I feel comedy is the greatest tragic tool authors have. In theory, we tend to separate the serious and comical, but they’re completely interconnected.
JW: What genre would you categorize the novel?
AN: Southern Gothic. Common themes of this genre include deeply flawed characters, decayed or derelict settings, and other sinister events relating to or coming from poverty, racism, and violence. The style is existential fabulism. It’s mostly realistic with one fantastic element that makes us think about our own mortality.
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