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You CAN Change Your Life

Novel finds laughs in corporate craziness, love, and lust.

Domestic Violets Novel
His hero's family name is Violet, providing a catchy title for Matthew Norman's first novel, Domestic Violets. An advertising copywriter with a wife and child, Norman writes about a copywriter with a wife and child who finally departs corporate life for a more creative career as a novelist. The protagonist's  father's a novelist, too. A famous one who wins major awards.

Norman's book is so real, so funny, that I immediately contacted him for an interview. His response was fast, generous, genuine, and made me laugh. See for yourself.

INTERVIEW WITH MATTHEW NORMAN

Q: Matt, the narrative's similarities to your actual life as a copywriter, aspiring novelist, husband, and father are obvious. How did you separate the two while you were writing, or was that really easy? Do you have father issues?

A: I'm happy to report that I have no daddy issues. My dad's a great, loving guy and my parents have been married since 1974.

As for the similarities you mentioned. . . . it's an inevitable question, but I never felt like it was difficult to separate myself from Tom. We have similar lives, but we're different people. He's more reckless and neurotic than I am. At least I hope he is.

HOW A BOOK BEGINS

Q: The first few lines of Domestic Violets (reproduced below--I added the italics) really drew me in. How many times did you revise this? Or was it even the original start of the novel?

I splash cold water on my face.

       This is what men in movies do when they're about to fly off the handle, when shit is getting out of control. I do this sometimes. I react to things based on what characters in movies would do. That's kind of ironic, considering I've always thought of myself as a book person.

       At least I think that's ironic. That word gets misused a lot.

       The water isn't refreshing like it's supposed to be. It's ice-cold and I gasp. As it swirls into a little cyclone on its way down the drain, I look in the mirror, ashamed and angry at myself.

       There's something wrong. With my penis.

       It's been an unpredictable thing for a while now, my shlong, all flighty and unreliable like some stoner uncle who shows up hammered at Thanksgiving and forgets your name.

A: That first scene was always the beginning of the book, from the first draft on. In terms of revising, though, I'm fairly obsessive compulsive about that sort of thing, so I worked and reworked it over again and again, of course. But the way the scene actually plays out has always been the same . . . for better or worse.

Q: Was this book "easy" to sell? Were you ever told that the in-jokes/writerly references might lose some readers? A writer writing a novel who has a Pulitzer-winning novel-writing father? (I dug all such references, personally, but then I'm writing a novel too.)

A: Ahhh . . . easy. That would have been nice. I won't go into specifics, but the book racked up a fairly impressive number of rejections along the way. I guess that's how it works with first novels. No one likes it until someone loves it.

My editor and the folks at HarperCollins really embraced the book's tone and voice, including the insider things you mentioned and all of the pop culture references. As I was writing, those things just kept popping in there. They felt very organic to my narrator's voice. I thought about resisting them, for fear of alienating people, but at some point I just decided to go all in.

Q: Your bosses' reaction?

A: My bosses are completely off the hook. The vast majority of the novel was written before I started working at my current job. Everyone has been very supportive, though, which has been great.

Q: Do you have another book in mind?

A: I do. It's coming along slowly, in fits and starts. Early drafts are ugly, ugly things.

BEING FUNNY

Q: Is your wonderful self-deprecating humor an act?

A: When I was a kid I discovered that people laugh when you make fun of yourself. I'm such a freaking idiot. (See . . . that's funny.)

Q: What's with Letterman? Yours is the second galley I've read in a week with a Letterman thread. Should I watch him to feel the pulse of America?

A: Another Letterman reference? Hmm. . . I hope my book comes out first. I don't watch him as much as I used to, but I've always liked him. I think he's incredibly smart, and I loved the idea of Curtis [the narrator's famous father] doing a Top 10 List on The Late Show. It felt like something Letterman would want to do. I probably wrote that damn Top 10 List a hundred times.

Q: The New Yorker's fiction editor thread: love it. Can you say anything about this?

A: We make fun of the ones we love, right? Honestly, I'm a big fan of the New Yorker. It generates some of the best writing in America. Giving Curtis an enemy at the magazine gave me the chance to stick it to "The Man" a little. Kind of like the silliest guy in the room making jokes about the smartest guy in the room. I hope they don't send goons after me.

Side note: I wonder what a goon from the New Yorker would look like. A big burly guy with a buzz cut and a tweed blazer? "Pardon me. If you don't mind, I've come to bludgeon you."

The Norman Nation is Matthew Norman's blog.

 

Copyright (2011) by Susan K. Perry

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