If you're not already aware, Australian blogs are currently being infected with the wit, humour and intelligence of the one and only Libba Bray. From saz101 to Novels On The Run, and now I have the immense pleasure of welcoming her here! Who is Libba Bray? Uh, only the planet's most fascinating writer, who broke the awesome-o-meter with Beauty Queens, Going Bovine and the Gemma Doyle trilogy, introducing us to the likes of Captain Bodacious (like, only the coolest hot-pirate reality show ever), MoMo B. ChaCha (an Elvis-obsessed dictator with a stuffed monkey; also loves Captain Bodacious), Shithenge and a punk-rock angel. Not to mention every other character and creation she's ever dreamed up. This woman is fifty thousand shades of entertaining, insightful insanity.
To celebrate the recent release of her amazing new novel, THE DIVINERS, the ever lovely booknerds at Allen & Unwin gave me the opportunity to interview her, where she somehow managed to work with some of my ridiculously lame questions and produce a series of truly fascinating answers! Proven fact: Libba Bray can even make idiots look awesome. I might have to invest in a pocket-sized Libba.
Libba Bray Interview
With The Diviners set in the 1920's, did you do much research into this era? What's the most fascinating thing you discovered?
Libba: I did tons of research, and I have to say, I enjoyed every bit of it. (Wow, way to sound like a real nerd, Lib. I don’t get out much.) I started by doing general reading on the period, books like Terrible Honesty: Mongrel Manhattan in the 1920s by Ann Douglas, Modern Temper: American Culture and Society in the 1920s by Lynn Dumenil, and Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s by Frederick Lewis Allen. Then I moved on to more specific books such as Playing the Numbers: Gambling in Harlem between the Warsby Shane White, Stephen Garton, Dr. Stephen Robertson and Graham White; and Flapper: A Madcap Story of Sex, Style, Celebrity, and the Women Who Made America Modernby Joshua Zeitz. I made use of New York City’s many resources: the New York Public Library, the New York Historical Society, the Manhattan Transit Authority’s archives, the Museum of Chinese in America, the Paley Center for Media. I did walking tours of New York neighborhoods with two historians. And when I really needed to knuckle down, I hired a research consultant, Lisa Gold, a librarian in Seattle, who was able to get me articles and primary sources I desperately needed. Hooray for Lisa! Hooray for librarians!
I think one of my favorite small discoveries was about the widespread quackery belief that radiation was good for you. There were some crazy theories—belief that it could cure mental illness, epilepsy, and the common cold. All sorts of products touted the wonders of radiation. I came across an ad Al Jolson did for a therapeutic irradiated patch for the throat that Jolson claimed really helped his voice. (Yikes!) But my favorite was a “health drink” called Radithor which was water that contained 1% radium. A wealthy businessman named Eben Byers used to drink the stuff like soda. When he died—horribly, as I’m sure you’ve already gathered—the Wall Street Journal’s headline read: “The Radium Water Worked Fine Until His Jaw Came Off.” Fun stuff.
What are three things writing The Diviners (or writing in general) has taught you?
Libba: 1. It’s important to read and understand the lessons of history.
2. Don’t drink irradiated water.
3. Prohibition was a silly idea.
Where is the spookiest/creepiest/most haunted place you've ever visited (or would like to visit)?
Libba: Oh, wow. Great question. As a fan of haunted house stories, I’ve always wanted to visit the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California. http://www.winchestermysteryhouse.com/ And as someone obsessed with the movie, “Rosemary’s Baby,” I’d love to get a peek inside the Dakota apartment building where it was filmed.
(The Dakota, c. 1912. Corner of Central Park West & W. 72nd Street, New York City)
But I’d have to say that the creepiest/scariest/most haunted place I’ve ever visited is my own mind. J
Which character, from any of your books, has been the most entertaining to write?
Libba: Hmmm, now see, if I pick a favorite, all of the other characters will get their feelings hurt, and then when I come home, they will have Vaselined the toilet seat and replaced all the songs on my iPod with Pokemon versions in revenge. But I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that all of those girls in BEAUTY QUEENS were a criminal amount of fun to write.
Do you have an easier time channeling hilarious, creepy, or emotional scenes?
Libba: I’d say I probably excel at the unintentionally hilarious, which others interpret as downright creepy which then leads to a lot of emotional crying on my part.
How do you want to be remembered in 250 years time when bright, young, robotic-minds wander a museum of ancient 21st century books and stumble across one bearing your name?
Libba: As that author who was part of an international scandal involving Ryan Gosling, street mimes, and a drag queen musical featuring the songs of Burt Bacharach.
Lastly, how do you think the world is going to end?
Libba: In a bureaucratic bungle. In fact, I’ll bet that’s already happened and the world has ended, but someone forgot to send out the memo, and so we’re all still wandering around the office wondering why nobody’s made coffee.
1920s New York. A teen clairvoyant. An old evil. It has begun...
Evie O'Neill has been exiled from her boring old home town and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City - and she is pos-i-tute-ly thrilled! New York is the city of speak-easies, rent parties, shopping and movie palaces, and soon enough Evie is running with glamorous Ziegfeld girls and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is that Evie has to live with her Uncle Will, curator of the Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult - also known as 'The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies'.
When a rash of occult-based murders comes to light, Evie and her uncle are right in the thick of it. Even Evie's new pals - hoofers, numbers runners and activists, but all swell kids - are drawn into the investigation. And through it all, Evie has a secret: a mysterious power that could help catch the killer - if he doesn't catch her first...
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