Monday, June 14, 2021

Melissa Larsen Interview - Shutter

Photo Credit: Emily Hlaváč Green

Melissa Larsen has an M.F.A. from Columbia University and a B.A. from NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study. She has interned and worked extensively in publishing. She lives in San Francisco, and Shutter is her first novel.

When/how did you realize you had a creative dream or calling to fulfill?
This is such an interesting question! For me, it was a gradual realization. I grew up in a very creative household—my father and older brother are writers and my mother is a poet, and that’s just my immediate family—so I was always supported and encouraged and inspired by them. I was also very intimidated by them! They are each of them incredibly talented and dedicated artists. So instead of writing (barring a few very influential college writing classes) I really focused my attention on a career in publishing.

It wasn’t until I was settling into a job at a publishing house that I realized that my creative well was completely empty. This realization—that I was unhappy, not because of the job, but because it felt like I had no identity outside of it or my family and friends—was also slow to reveal itself. I left publishing, pursued my MFA, and I fell in love with the work of writing. This was, and is, an enormous privilege that I am very grateful for.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
Holding the actual physical copies of the book! Shutter was just an idea that I’d thought and talked about for years. I’d printed it out myself (too many times to count), but this was really something that existed purely in my mind and my computer (same thing!). Because of my writing process, I hardly shared the book with anyone. One of my very closest friends didn’t read it for three years! She almost killed me during the wait. So now, many years later, to be able to give my family and friends a copy of it to hold, to read, has to be the most rewarding experience so far. I am also consistently overwhelmed with the joy that comes from seeing others reading it.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?
There is so much to choose from, but there is one that comes immediately to mind, because I return to it again and again. In undergrad, I was lucky enough to do an Independent Study with Lara Vapnyar to write a novel—except I wasn’t writing. I hadn’t sent her any updates in a while, so we arranged to meet in person. I described my writer’s block to her in excruciating detail. The gist was that I couldn’t move forward in the story until I got the first few chapters exactly right, but I didn’t know how to get them exactly right without moving forward in the story. She listened closely. She let me talk myself out. Then she told me, “You’re using your perfectionism as a way to procrastinate. Stop. Edit later.” I still do this—I’m working on it!—but I hear Lara’s voice in my head every time and it helps.

In your debut novel; SHUTTER, can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about it
Of course! Shutter is the story of a young woman who runs away. In the wake of her father’s death, she runs away from her mother, her longtime boyfriend, and her hometown, and finds herself in New York City, sleeping on the couch of an old high school friend she has barely kept up with. She soon finds herself auditioning and agreeing to star in a mysterious filmmaker’s latest project, but he won’t tell her what it’s about. There is no script. She will just have to trust him.

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
That they can’t put it down or sleep until it’s finished!

What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating Betty?
Everything about Betty was a surprise. Which sounds hyperbolic, but it’s true. There was a certain point in the first draft (I can’t tell you which without spoilers!) when I felt her take over the story. I was in the driver’s seat for the beginning of the draft—I was the one deciding where the story would go—and then suddenly, I felt her grab the wheel. Here’s what I’ll say: she’s tougher than she first appears.

You have the chance to give one piece of advice to your readers. What would it be?
Any kind of advice? Well… I would have to say, even though it’s been repeated a lot this past year: Be kind to yourself and to others.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
Oh I love this question! I also have no idea how to answer it. There are too many options! I would want Betty to meet someone comforting. I just finished reading Outlander so of course my immediate impulse is to say Jamie Fraser, but that’s butting in on his relationship with Claire! Instead I’ll cheat—I’d like to take her out of the Shutter universe and plop her into The Princess Bride universe. Much more comforting.

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
Anxiety! I had to repeat Lara’s advice to myself a lot.

If you could go back in time to one point in your life, where would you go?
Would I continue on living from that point in time? Or am I just visiting? I think if I would continue on living from that point in time, I would start over. Relive it all. Not to change anything, but to enjoy it.

Where did you go on your first airplane ride?
I honestly do not know! We traveled a lot when I was young. I still hate flying, though. You’d think I would be used to it by now, but I am brutally uncomfortable the entire time. I’m just a wreck by the time I arrive at my destination.

What is one unique thing are you afraid of?
I’m almost afraid to say it here, because I might summon it. I’ve forgotten the name of this phobia, but I’m not even going to search for it on Google because I do NOT want to see any photos of it. It’s basically…a fear of clusters of things? I am sickened by the seeds of a bell pepper or a papaya, for example. That’s all I’ll say. Too gross. Too freaky.

What is your most memorable travel experience?
While I was living in New York, my brother moved to New Zealand, and I wasn’t able to see him for about eighteen months. I’m very close with my brother, so this was a pretty difficult time for me. I managed to book a series of flights that would get me to New Zealand—in just a short 40 hours! I took three planes, flew around the world, and arrived in New Zealand a totally different person. And I got to see my brother again.

Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heart break or have never loved before?
True love with a guarantee of a heart break!

A young woman agrees to star in a filmmaker's latest project, but soon realizes the movie is not what she expected in this chilling debut novel.

In the wake of her father's death, Betty Roux doesn't allow herself to mourn. Instead, she pushes away her mother, breaks up with her boyfriend, and leaves everything behind to move to New York City. She doesn't know what she wants, except to run.

When she's offered the chance to play the leading role in mysterious indie filmmaker Anthony Marino's new project, she jumps at the opportunity. For a month Betty will live in a cabin on a private island off the coast of Maine, with a five-person cast and crew. Her mother warns against it, but Betty is too drawn to the charismatic Anthony to say no.

Anthony gives her a new identity--Lola--and Betty tells herself that this is exactly what she's been looking for. The chance to reinvent herself. That is, until they begin filming and she meets Sammy, the island's caretaker, and Betty realizes just how little she knows about the movie and its director.

You can purchase Shutter at the following Retailers:

1 Winner will receive a $10 Amazon Gift Card.