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Interview: June 8, 2007

June 8, 2007

Nightlife columnist Andrea Portes recently published her debut work of fiction, HICK --- a gritty coming-of-age tale about a 13-year-old runaway's misadventures while escaping her rural home and neglectful parents in search of a "better life" in Las Vegas.

In this interview with's Alexis Burling, Portes reveals the various inspirations behind her protagonist, Luli, and discusses why she chose to chronicle such a tumultuous and confusing period of her character's adolescence. She also explains how her own upbringing in rural Nebraska worked its way into the story and creates the perfect soundtrack for her novel. From HICK's opening lines, it's apparent that you have a way with words. Why do you think it comes so naturally to you?

Andrea Portes: Well, that's very kind of you. I would say any acumen I might have with words would probably come from my love of words and wordplay. I have a bit of a crush on language.

BRC: You grew up outside Lincoln, Nebraska. How did you use your upbringing and surroundings back then to help you write this novel?

AP: Well, much of the settings are, actually, real places. Also, I tried to make the metaphors in the book sort of have something to do with the land, the sky, the sun, etc., in a way that I wouldn't do if the book were set, say, in the city. I wanted the dusty feel of the place to be almost a character in and of itself. The book is a sort of love song to the vast, lonely, American plains.

BRC: Do you see yourself in Luli, or is she completely from your imagination?

AP: There's definitely part of me in her. She's got a little bit of me, a little bit of Bone from BASTARD OUT OF CAROLINA and a little bit of Emma from CURSE OF THE STARVING CLASS, all smashed up together.

BRC: What does Luli look like in your head? Did your image of her change from when you started the writing process?

AP: She's always kind of looked the same to me, actually. I've always imagined her as having a giant, funny mouth and looking kind of like a muppet.

BRC: Luli seems wise beyond her years, yet she's only 13. Did you ever toy with making her older? How do you think the story would change if she was 17?

AP: No, it was always important to me that she be 13. That's the year that everything all of a sudden gets turned on its head for girls and it's an intensely confusing time, I think, because no one warns them.

BRC: The scene in the bar where Luli almost gets raped is so intense! Despite being scared, a small part of Luli actually likes the danger of being desired. Why did you add this? What does this say about Luli?

AP: I don't think it says much about Luli, actually, although she takes it upon herself to feel horrible about it. I think it says more about the fact that somewhere along the line, a decision was made to put a mind and soul into a piece of meat...and that, I'm fairly sure, many times these things are in conflict. I'm sure Luli isn't the only person in the world to ever have her body in conflict with her mind.

BRC: Luli says, "Miracle replacement me could dissect my own insides like a frog in science class, how bout that? … And so now that I got miracle replacement me, all the things that might be burbling up and boiling over…all those things that would tear me from the inside out, just get left somewhere between Lusk and Jackpot, hidden in a jam jar, gathering dust by the side of the road." These lines have such vivid imagery. Talk to us about how you work with your words to create images like this.

AP:Thank you. Um, I sort of throw a bunch of words and ideas together and then go to sleep or drive or walk around and they kind of come back at me in these phrases or passages I then try to jot down before they vanish into thin air. It's more like I'm listening and they are arriving. It sounds a bit odd but...that's really the only way I know how to make anything. I don't really even get the sense that I'm "making"'s just sort of showing up.

BRC: You write: "It's the tension of not knowing that gives fear free rein to run rampant and make up stories and make it worse …It lets it take over until fear is all there is and all there will ever be cause that's what you're used to… But once you know what it is you've been hiding from…you almost want to laugh out loud that you spent your whole life dreading it. You might as well be scared of the stars." How true, both in the story and in life. Would you agree?

AP: Yes, I think fear creates a kind of paralysis. It's a devastating "philosophy" really, if you can call it that. I think many people, actually, live in a state of fear without even really knowing it...

BRC: Do you think Luli loves her parents? Do you think they love her?

AP: I think she loves her parents with all her heart, actually. I just think they're never able to give her anything back. There will be some magical, dumb, drunken moments here and there but...that's just what drunks do when they've had a certain number of drinks. They suddenly become generous, loving, wonderful...and then the next day or morning or drink, they'll be completely different. It's almost worse that there's that inconsistency, I think, because it keeps a child hanging on.

BRC: What do you make of Luli's ultimate decision? Did you ever toy with writing a different ending?

AP: There, actually, was a different ending. But I think I kind of outgrew it. I had a little bit of a different take on the world and, by the time I was doing the final edit, with Fred Ramey, my ideas were completely different from what they had been.

BRC: Did the story change at all from when you first started writing it to its final draft?

AP:Yes, I mean, the basic ideas and structure were fairly similar...but the fine tuning and more intriguing passages came later, I think.

BRC: If you were to create a soundtrack for HICK, what songs would you choose and why?

AP:Well, I would definitely start with George Jones. And, of course, Patsy Cline. But, I would, also, have some of the goofier love ballads of the '80s in there as well --- "power ballads" I believe they're called. It probably wouldn't be complete without "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey.

BRC: You read scripts for Paramount Pictures. How did that affect your thought process and writing style when working on HICK?

AP: I think working for Paramount probably helped me write a better submission letter, for agents and publishers, because I knew what it was like being on the other side of things. However, I think my watching three obscure films a night, my senior year of college, probably helped more.

BRC: Do you prefer to read a specific genre of books? What are some of your favorite titles that you'd recommend to your readers?

AP: BLONDE by Joyce Carol Oates. THE PAINTED BIRD by Jerzy Kosinski. THE HOUSE OF MIRTH by Edith Wharton. THE BEAUTIFUL AND DAMNED by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

BRC: If you could choose three adjectives to describe your writing style, what would they be and why?

AP: Um...irreverent, curious and ragged.

BRC: What are you working on now, and when might readers expect to see it?

AP: I'm working on an East Coast novel about a bunch of blue bloods. I'm writing this right now from the Harvard Club, so I should probably go down and have a drink to do my research, but to be quite honest, I'm a little daunted as there are about 1,000 suits down at the bar, celebrating happy hour. Terrifying!