Interview: April 20, 2010
Question: Where did you get the idea for this novel? Was there a particular scene that you envisioned first?
Pamela Ribon: It started out with a very different story, one still stemming from the concept of “Well, I don’t have the kind of money needed to have my own Eat, Pray, Love healing experience. What do I do to get out of this sadness and confusion?” In earlier drafts, the main character had made a huge mistake, and was starting from zero with absolutely everyone in her life. That story was more about trying to determine good relationships from bad. At the time I’d just started up with the Los Angeles Derby Dolls, and my agent was fascinated with what I was physically and mentally going through just to learn how to play. She’s the one who suggested that Charlotte’s story could take a similar direction. I joked, “You mean I should write Eat, Cry, Shove?” And it sort of took off from there.
Q: How is this novel different from (or similar to) your previous novels?
PR: It’s similar in terms of dealing with changes in your important relationships– your partner, your family, your best friend… I’m interested in the roles we take on for other people in our lives, and what happens when the power shifts, when the players in the game disobey the rules. The biggest difference between this novel and anything I’ve written before is that I’m writing about sports. I have a whole new respect for people who can describe the action in a game both accurately and passionately -- sports reporters, color commentators, J.K. Rowling. That woman invented an entire sport and we all read it and said, “Yep. Got it. Brooms and magical glowing shuttlecocks. To the Quidditch match!”
Q: What drew you to roller derby? Are any of Charlotte’s experiences in the arena based on your own?
PR: My sister and I used to watch roller derby on cable television when we were little. Back then it was as fake as the WWE, but we didn’t care. We didn’t understand a single thing that was going on, but we liked how fast they went on their skates, and how they’d knock the crap out of each other.
My introduction to real roller derby happened just like any other derby girl, I’m sure: at the opening weekend of the Sex and the City movie. I was there with two of my girlfriends, one of whom groaned as she took her seat. “Sorry,” she said. “I’m so sore. I just started training with the Derby Dolls last night and my thighs are killing me.” I was right there beside her at the very next practice. She somehow snuck me in without an orientation or audition (Behold the power of a Derby Wife). In fact, I didn’t see an actual bout until I was already in training for my first Baby Doll Brawl. Come to think of it, almost everything in my life that I love I somehow snuck into when nobody was paying attention. Roller derby, acting, writing, and at least half of the relationships I’ve been in.
I really did break my tailbone. I now know the meaning of the threat, “You’ll never sit right again.”
Q: What inspired you to include Charlotte’s passion for miniatures as a major theme?
PR: The miniatures came out of a number of ideas that were circling my head about solving a problem that has no right or wrong answer. Charlotte feels like her life is beyond her control, that there’s nothing she can definitely hang onto. At some point during the writing of this novel, I found this little clay doll of a girl wearing a backpack and a polka-dot dress. She’s looking up to the sky, her fists clenched and pressed against her chest, just pleading with the world. And I’d been reading about Occam’s Razor, but I’m afraid if I explain that any further, I’ll sound ridiculously pompous. The short answer is: Charlotte is afraid to take control. The miniatures are all hers, and they are her gift. She got scared of where they could take her, but the reality is she’s the one who decides where they go. At first she thinks that a miniature, like Charlotte’s job, has a right way and a wrong way to do it, but as she grows with her work and takes risks, she finds a new direction, a new way to express herself. That’s how she takes control again.
Q: Which scenes were easiest for you to write? Which were the most difficult?
PR: It is hard to tell a story about two people not being able to make things work without someone appearing to be The Problem. I don’t think that’s realistic. People sometimes make the mistake of assigning “weakness” to characters that endure heartbreak. I never understood that. Don’t we all often struggle much longer than anyone else in our lives can tolerate? Sometimes we do it to keep someone we love, sometimes it’s to understand exactly what’s wrong in an attempt to fix it… but I think often it’s just so we feel like we won.
I wouldn’t call any of the scenes “easy” to write, exactly, but I had fun writing about how I think about roller derby. The only problem was after I’d write about a jam I’d get amped to skate. Sometimes I had to miss practice in order not to miss a deadline. Then one time I jammed my finger at practice. I had to keep my finger in a sling for a couple of days, making it so that I hurt myself playing roller derby badly enough that I could no longer write about nor play roller derby. That was the worst.
Q: How were you able to infuse a novel about coping with grief with such refreshing humor?
PR: I’m worried that I didn’t, but I’m even more concerned people will think I wrote that question. So thank you, Stranger I’ve Never Met Who Wrote Question Six. That’s nice of you to ask. I assure you early drafts of this novel were quite devoid of humor.
The voice of John Goodman came out of this struggle. I was trying to find a new way to tell an old story – girl is sad over a boy – without making Charlotte sound either pathetic or bitter. Both Charlotte and Matthew deal with their emotions by detaching and distancing…which is why they’re ultimately doomed. And for both of them we learn that the greater the distance they put between themselves and their problems, the harder they fall when gravity inevitably brings them back to reality. Wait, was this a question about how I made sad things funny? I don’t know. Comedy = distance + time. I didn’t come up with that equation, but it works.
Q: Does your life have a narrator?
PR: Sometimes. When I was little and couldn’t fall asleep, my mom would suggest I tell myself stories until I fell asleep. Somehow that voice continued into my waking life, and would keep me company when I was having some of my most boring moments. And if I’m being really honest, I suppose the narrator started approximately when I gave up my embarrassingly large clique of imaginary friends.
Q: If you were in Francesca’s place, what advice would you give Charlotte?
PR: Get over yourself.
Q: Do you have any plans for another book? If so, what will it be about?
PR: I just stared at that question for thirty minutes and then had a panic attack. Thanks.