Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Audrey Burges Interview - The Minuscule Mansion of Myra Malone

Photo Credit: Christy Davis – From the Heart Images

Audrey Burges writes novels, humor, short fiction, and essays in Richmond, Virginia. Her presence is tolerated by her two rambunctious children and very patient husband, all of whom have become practiced at making supportive faces when she shouts, “listen to this sentence!” She is a frequent contributor to numerous humor outlets, including McSweeney’s, and her stories and essays have appeared in Pithead Chapel, Cease, Cows, and lengthy diatribes in the Notes app on her phone. Audrey was born and raised in Arizona by her linguist parents, which is a lot like being raised by wolves, but with better grammar. She moved to Virginia as an adult but still carries mountains and canyons in her heart, and sometimes, when she closes her eyes, she can still smell ponderosa pines in the sun.

        
  

Greatest thing you learned at school.
How to structure an argument to persuade a reader. Persuasive writing is not that far off from novel writing, it turns out. Either way, you’re trying to convince someone to be invested in your words!

When/how did you realize you had a creative dream or calling to fulfill?
As soon as I learned to read, I wanted to write. I began writing my own stories and illustrating them before I even knew how to spell. And I was very fortunate to have parents who encouraged those dreams and actively cultivated my interests. The very first illustrated “book” I wrote was called The Dragon Who Couldn’t Fly, and my mother put it in an actual binding, and wrote a real “About the Author” blurb, and pasted my school photo at the top. She still has it on her bookshelf.

Beyond your own work (of course), what is your all-time favorite book and why? And what is your favorite book outside of your genre?
The answer to both of these questions is the same book: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. The characters are so finely drawn, and their voices and perspectives are so precisely distinct. And there are passages and descriptions in that novel that have never left my head: a platter painted with forget-me-nots, or the particular delirium of a devilish fever. The bright green of a deadly snake. It’s just an unforgettable read. And I remember something Kingsolver says in her foreword: that it had taken her most of her life to find the maturity to write this particular book. That always stuck with me—the idea of a story that required maturity to tell. I read it as permission, actually—the freedom to accept that you need time and experience to learn how to spin an idea into a narrative, and how to honor what it wants to say.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
Hands down, it’s been seeing my family’s reactions—my parents, my brothers, my husband, and my children have all been my greatest cheerleaders, and all of them in very different ways. My kids made a miniature copy of The Minuscule Mansion of Myra Malone with my mom’s help, and my daughter took a big stack of my bookmarks to her school because she wanted to give them to all of her friends. Seeing their excitement reminds me that this is really happening, which remains so hard for me to believe.

If you could have written one book in history, what book would that be?
This is a hard one! I think this would be a toss-up between My Family and Other Animals, by Gerard Durrell, and I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith. Both of them are such fun, character-driven stories, and both authors are so skilled at weaving humor into books that center on very unique families.

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
Existential dread? I’m only half-joking. I wrote this book during some of the darkest days of the pandemic, and while I desperately needed the escape, there were times that it felt almost selfish to focus on a story instead of doing…something. I’m not sure what. I just remember there was a constant feeling of undone-ness and hopelessness in the air, when so much was still terrifyingly unknown. Myra’s closed-in protectiveness felt very real to me.

TEN RANDOM FACTS ABOUT THE MINUSCULE MANSION OF MYRA MALONE
  • 1) Most of the furniture—big and little—is completely imagined, but Alex’s bed and headboard are actually inspired by my childhood bed. I inherited it from my great-grandmother.
  • 2) The setting for Myra’s half of the book, Parkhurst, is loosely based on Flagstaff, Arizona, with a few elements of Payson and other towns on the Mogollon Rim. Grampa Lou’s place is near a fictionalized version of Cottonwood.
  • 3) The setting for Alex’s half of the book, Lockhart, combines elements of Richmond and Farmville, Virginia, with a few other mid-Atlantic cities thrown in.
  • 4) There is no such thing as an insignificant plant in anything I write. If there’s a flower or a tree, I put it there based on its meaning—either in the Victorian language of flowers, or from some other feature of botanical lore.
  • 5) Gwen is an Aquarius, and she’s the only character in the book who both knows her astrological sign and who will absolutely discuss it with complete strangers at length, given the opportunity.
  • 6) The scene in which Grampa Lou shows up with Vienna sausages, purchased in bulk, really happened: my own grandfather really did bring me a whole pallet of them when I was a kid, for reasons surpassing understanding. I have never seen a can of them without thinking of him, and there have been moments in my life where I’ve encountered a random can of Vienna sausages for no clear reason—sitting on the sidewalk next to my parking space, or tucked between boxes of cereal at the grocery store—and it’s like seeing him wink at me again.
  • 7) Myra’s experiment with miniature knitting is based on my own. I couldn’t do it. My mother, on the other hand, knitted tiny sweaters and mittens that still hang on my Christmas tree each year.
  • 8) I wrote the first draft of The Minuscule Mansion of Myra Malone in one month. It got a little longer, and some details evolved, but the bones of the book are the same. Once I met Myra, she was determined to get out!
  • 9) The outfit Gwen is wearing when she and Myra meet the first time is my dream childhood outfit. My inner child is still decked out in neon and Aqua-netted crimped hair. She is totally rad.
  • 10) Yes, I ended the book that way on purpose. And yes: there’s more.
What is the first job you have had?
My very first “real” job was at McDonald’s, but my first job as a grown-up—kinda—was as the manager of a very small, very sad miniature golf course, built from a kit on half an abandoned tennis court in Flagstaff, Arizona. It was the only mini-golf course for hundreds of miles, so vacationing families would find us in the yellow pages, and the same scene would play out dozens of times a week: a van would drive up, harried and desperate parents would unload their bored children while saying “won’t this be fun??” and I would watch their faces morph into horrified disappointment. But they always played anyway!

What is the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning?
“Do I have enough time to hit the snooze button?”

Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heart break or have never loved before?
Oh, the first one, most definitely. I’m the product of many a heartbreak. I don’t think I could write without it!

When you looked in the mirror first thing this morning, what was the first thing you thought?
“I did a bad job removing my mascara. Again.”

What do you usually think about right before falling asleep?
The cup of coffee I’m going to have the next morning. I get up before 5 AM most mornings, so my last conscious thought is usually about how I’ll bribe myself out of bed the next day.

What is one unique thing are you afraid of?
I don’t know if this is unique, but I have vicarious vertigo—that is, I’m afraid of heights for everyone around me. I won’t notice if I’m by myself, but if I’m with anyone else near a drop-off, I will drive myself and everyone else crazy trying to keep everyone far from the edge. I’m a laugh riot at the Grand Canyon.

What is the weirdest thing you have seen in someone else’s home?
Many years ago, when we were house-hunting, we visited a house with a bathroom that was completely covered, ceiling to floor, in purple velvet. It was draped in swags from the ceiling, tacked onto the walls, and puddled onto the floor. There was even a purple velvet toilet cozy. (Do they call them toilet cozies? They should.) It had very dim pinpoint lighting in the ceiling—I think it was meant to be a starry sky effect—so the room was small and very dark. It was clearly meant to create a dramatic, gothic effect, but all I could think of was how absolutely gross it had to be. It felt a little like stumbling onto a murder scene. I backed out of the room and then right out of the house. Points for personality, at least!

A woman learns to expand the boundaries of her small world and let love inside it in this sparkling and unforgettable novel by Audrey Burges.

From her attic in the Arizona mountains, thirty-four-year-old Myra Malone blogs about a dollhouse mansion that captivates thousands of readers worldwide. Myra’s stories have created legions of fans who breathlessly await every blog post, trade photographs of Mansion-modeled rooms, and swap theories about the enigmatic and reclusive author. Myra herself is tethered to the Mansion by mysteries she can’t understand—rooms that appear and disappear overnight, music that plays in its corridors.

Across the country, Alex Rakes, the scion of a custom furniture business, encounters two Mansion fans trying to recreate a room. The pair show him the Minuscule Mansion, and Alex is shocked to recognize a reflection of his own life mirrored back to him in minute scale. The room is his own bedroom, and the Mansion is his family’s home, handed down from the grandmother who disappeared mysteriously when Alex was a child. Searching for answers, Alex begins corresponding with Myra. Together, the two unwind the lonely paths of their twin worlds—big and small—and trace the stories that entwine them, setting the stage for a meeting rooted in loss, but defined by love.

You can purchase The Minuscule Mansion of Myra Malone at the following Retailers:
        

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you AUDREY BURGES for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of The Minuscule Mansion of Myra Malone by Audrey Burges.

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