Written Revelry! Talking With Lauren Beukes About Her New Novel The Shining Girls! Out Now!

Lauren Beukes logo website

Okay, I need to award myself the Sleepy Theo!

Apparently, The Novel Strumpet’s email and my email were fighting and I didn’t know it. Doh! So, forgive me for posting this weeks Written Revelry late…

Bad Fanboy! BAD!

How much do we love The Novel Strumpet! In a word she’s awesome! Well, with comic con coming up like literally around the corner, there’s going to be a whole heap load of press to be done! Last year, Strumpie got the chance to talk with Lauren Beukes and her new book The Shining Girls dropped June 4th!

Check out the Strumpet’s interview below… And sorry for the delay. Bad Fanboy… BAD!

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Lauren Beukes logo website

Lauren Beukus:

At Comic Con last year I got the opportunity to interview award winning author Lauren Beukus who agreed to sit down with me and talk about her upcoming book “The Shining Girls” (out June 4th).

I was so glad to find that not only is the South African native a super talented writer but that she is also witty and easy going. Which was a good thing since the only place I could find for us to talk was on a bench in a hallway upstairs near some panel rooms. Novel Strumpet fail. She’s been a journalist, scriptwriter, novelist and is has lent her talents to the comic world with work on a six story arc for Vertigo’s “Fables”.

We chatted about books she loved growing up, how she hates the ‘genre’ label (although after a talk with fellow author N.K. Jameison she now refers to herself as Polygenreous), how watching the cartoon “She-Ra” with her daughter is not quite the same as watching it when we were kids-she suggested I avoid doing it- and the best part…her books!

With “The Shining Girls” she sets out to explore the visceral affects of murder and to take away the kind of glamorized polish we’ve put on it. It’s of special personal interest after someone close to her lost a loved one through a brutal murder. You can read about it on here : http://ow.ly/lymUt . After seeing the hard truth, she felt the need to make sure that she portrayed the reality of what murder is. But this wasn’t a nonfiction or personal account so she decided to get the story out with a serial killing time traveller thrown in for good measure.

So drumroll please….here is my interview with Lauren Beukus:

“Moxyland” and “Zoo City” have these futuristic elements to them, is “Shining Girls” also set in the future?

No and “Zoo City” wasn’t set in the future either it was set in 2011, I was writing it in 2010, but it is set in an alternate world. The “Shining Girls” is about a time traveling serial killer so it’s set between the 1930’s and 1990’s. The reason I didn’t bring it into present day is because with things like 4chan or other social media, the murder would be solved in 4 hours, so I didn’t want to have to deal with the internet, didn’t want to have to deal with cell phones, but I wanted to look at how society has changed.

One of the things Harper, the first time he jumps, is just stunned by is traffic. He’s from the 1930’s and he jumps into 1988 and the highways and the highway system, and how cars have changed cities and plastic shoes, like sneakers, freak him out. So it’s looking at that as well.

Also, he stalks his victims through time so I didn’t want to start too far back. I started in the 1970’s with Kirby’s story. I didn’t want to have a 50-year-old heroine, which I wouldn’t object to, but with this particular story the tragedy of her life is that she’s so young. Her life has become about trying to find the man who’s done this to her, because she survives the attack, and she’s trying to figure out this impossible mystery.

But what was tricky was keeping track of three different timelines. I have the real timeline, Harper’s timeline, and the books timeline and it was hectic. (Here she shows me a picture of her timeline map hanging on a wall. It’s astounding and a little intimidating to see how intricate it all is) And then I had to keep up with all the objects because he might take an object and leave it on someone else. So I’m like, “Who has the object?”

Did you have to put everything up (on the wall) and just keep moving things around?

Yeah, and I plan really immaculately. It’s so important to me that plot is immaculate that everything makes sense.

Lauren Beukes promo photo shoot the shining girls rare promo

Are you really big about doing an outline?

I always know how it starts and how it ends it’s the middle I have to figure out. There’s a great analogy from, I think, E.L. Doctorow about driving at night[…]and then things change along the way and that’s when I start tearing my hair out, because then I have to go back and fix things and make sure that everything is immaculate and does make absolute perfect sense. So that if someone does, and I really hope they do, go and maps out which objects go where and what girl is killed in what order then it’s absolutely perfect. I actually want to do an eBook version like “Momento” Director’s Cut where you go back and reorder it. Like from Harper’s perspective where you can see his timeline.

[In the first chapter I read it seems] he gives them something so he can find them later?

Basically he has these totem items he finds in a house…I don’t want to spoil too much of the story…but he finds this house and there are all these items in the house and they are the totem items which links the girls together, like a constellation through time. And he has to find the right girl since each one is linked to an object.

So it’s a different object for ever girl?

Yeah but he also has to link them so he’ll leave one on the body afterward so he’s really trying to create this constellation.

So….and don’t tell me if it spoils something or if you don’t want to…

Oh I won’t (smile)

Lauren Beukes promo photo shoot the shining girls rare promo Lauren Beukes by Casey Crafford

Do the totem items mean something to him?

They’re items he got from the girls and some have heavy personal significance and some are just of the time, but it’s all individual. Like he might have taken your earring, and it might not be the most significant thing to you but it is somehow representative of some aspect of you.

I’ve looked at some of your short stories and journalistic pieces and it seems that they carry themes revolving around women. Is that something you feel strongly about? Something you grew up seeing around you?

I’m a woman so I understand that, but I’m also into writing men. I absolutely identify as being a feminist, although that term has been horribly maligned, but in my writing there’s no agenda. There are things I want to say, and certain things I get angry about, but first and foremost it’s about telling a really good story. […] With “The Shining Girls” I was really interested in the subject of violence against women and how it’s been glorified and glamorized, these beautiful naked corpses. […]

So that was one part I was interested in. The other was looking at how society has changed for women. There’s one character who is working for Jane (Collective), a real organization in 1968-73 Chicago and they did illegal abortions. They would have 14 year old girls come to them from the projects with a jar full of pennies, that’s all they had, they were that desperate. And it’s so relevant…I didn’t intend for it but I guess it must be in the back of my head. But as I started writing it, all the reproductive rights issues started happening in the States and it was so crazy…so it’s a lot about how history repeats itself. How the same issues come up again and again and again. […]

As a writer have you found it hard to get the books out to other markets considering where they are set?

No, Angry Robot, my publishers on “Moxyland” and “Zoo City” are very forward thinking. They’re finding edgy new voices and breaking into new voices, which most people wouldn’t take, and the reaction has been amazing. People have been really excited to see a location that’s not New York, or Tokyo, or Los Angeles. At the same time “The Shining Girls” is set in Chicago because I lived there for a while and it has a lot of similar issues to South Africa. But I wanted to focus on the time travelling serial killer and if I’d done that in South Africa it would’ve been a history of Apartheid and that just wasn’t where I wanted to go with the book. I’m obviously interested in it and subjects of artificially imposed segregation, it shows up in my books, but this wasn’t the novel for that. I am going to do an Apartheid novel later, but the next two books are set in Chicago and Detroit.

You’ve been a journalist, a writer, you’ve done scriptwriting and in some way they all involve storytelling, is that what drew you to each one? All different ways of telling the story?

I wanted to be a novelist since I was 5 and I found out that [one of my favorite authors] made a million pounds (smiles) but it wasn’t the idea of getting rich it was more “Oh my god it’s a viable career! You can make up stories and get paid for that? Seriously?” It just took a while to get there. Journalism was a step along the way and I’m so grateful, it was like a backstage pass to the world. I went into these really amazing, interesting places that jolted me out of my comfort zone and exposed me to different people. Just transcribing tapes you get an ear for dialogue, for how people speak and how they speak differently. To hear a piece of dialogue that works really, really well and to be able to use that in fiction. And research and knowing that the real world is often more surprising than anything you can make up.

Then scriptwriting was about tight scenes. Coming in as late as possible, getting out as soon as possible, and again really making the dialogue work. And really having to think about action, because I worked for an animation company, and I had to describe things in a way that a storyboard artist could draw. And because we were all part of the same company I could go over and see what they were doing, what they were struggling with and they could ask me questions and it really forced me visually to see what’s happening. It wasn’t on purpose, it wasn’t that I plotted this career trajectory, they were just ways I could make money telling stories.

It just happened that they could very strongly help…

Exactly. It couldn’t have happened better if I planned it that way. I have an MA in Creative Writing but where I learned to write was journalism. Having to tell, sometimes really dull stories, you have to find a way to make them interesting. And that was a very useful skill as well, having to learn to write in different styles. That, and writing for different magazines.

[Other projects coming up?]

I’ve started doing research on my next book called “Broken Monsters” which will take place in Detroit. And “Zoo City” has been optioned by a South African production company so I’m working on the script now. It’s fun to revisit “Zoo City” and work with a collaborator I’ve worked with before, and because it’s a noir you have to concentrate. Noir is subtle and I’ve had people tell me that they enjoyed “Zoo City” even more the second time because they finally got everything. So I have to find a way to be a little more explicit and it’s interesting to go back and find the way to do that and make it clear. And with a movie you have to simplify. But I find there’s some stuff that I’ve written in the script that I’d like to actually go back and change in the book.

I think it’s always better when the author themselves is involved in the process. Whether it be as a collaborator or the actual writer.

Yes, and it does help that I have that experience. And it also helps that I’m not precious about it. I like collaborating, I love working with an editor, I like working with people who are going to push to make it more interesting or better. And a script is a different animal so you can’t do a side-by-side comparison. But it’s really nice and going really nice places so I’m excited to see how it’ll turn out.

And if it does well are you going to use it as a platform to get the others made?

Yes, I’ve [been approached] to do “Moxyland” as a TV series. Probably not set in South Africa, which I’m fine with. “Zoo City” is absolutely germane to that and I’d have had a problem changing that. And I know it’s difficult with a black female lead in an African country but I’ve got a South African producer and she’s absolutely committed to it. […] “Moxyland” I’m ok with bastardizing because it’s about the world, the issues are not relevant to just South Africa. So it would be fun to play with the location and characters. And TV shows can allow you to go deeper.

Rather than the 2.5 hrs for a film

Exactly.

BIG THANKS to Lauren Beukes for sitting down with me and chatting! And especially for being so gracious about it 🙂

If you want to learn more about Lauren Beukes check out her website. And check out “The Shining Girls” which comes out State side on June 4th, 2013. I also want to thank Michelle Aielli at Little, Brown and Company for helping to coordinate the interview.

The-Shining-Girls-Mulholland-cover Lauren Beukes promo photo shoot the shining girls rare promo  Lauren Beukes by Casey Crafford

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