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Lost Ogle Q & A: Maya Sloan

8:36 PM EDT on June 17, 2010

We have a bit of a (deserved) reputation for being negative on this website.  That changes today...not really.  I am however starting to make an effort to showcase some of the cool things Oklahomans are doing that does not involve attempts to secede from the union (*cough* Randy Brogdon *cough*).

Anyway, I recently learned about a budding writer who is a native Oklahoman and chose to set her first novel, High Before Homeroom, in Oklahoma City.  Her name is Maya Sloan, and she agreed to do a Q&A before her book release at the Barnes & Noble on NW 61st and May on June 22nd.

You grew up in Oklahoma City, so to prove your Oklahomaness, here's a hypothetical: A tornado is coming, what are you doing?

hahaha! Okay, I grew up in Norman and Oklahoma City...I was in Norman till I was about 8.

Tornado: Well, what you SHOULD do is go to the basement and huddle under a mattress. What we'd do is stand on the front porch and watch the action.

Close. The correct answer is "play the Gary England Drinking Game." You get a B.

Your first novel, High Before Homeroom, is being released June 22nd and is set in Oklahoma City. How big of a role does the 405 play in your story?

oh, Gary England. I haven't heard that name in years! What are the components of the game? Is it, like, a shot for every warning or what? Wait, what comes after a "warning"? I forgot. Wow. Miss those tornados.

I was gonna mention drinking a Pabst while awaiting the impending doom on the porch, but I didn't want to seem like an alkie.

The lead character in the book is obsessed with Kerouac...so the 405 is a big part of his fantasies. And (spoiler alert) he loses his virginity off a highway "scenic turnout".

Actually, the original tattoo I wanted was just the outline of Oklahoma with the 405 running through and OKC starred...but then I got this crazy "artistic" tat artist instead, and now it looks like some weird psychedelic version of the state flag...

You should really investigate the "GEDG", it might inspire your next book.

But back to your portrayal of, as we call it, The City, is it more like Saving Grace (name dropping of Bricktown and characters with Murrah bombing scars, but otherwise could be set anywhere with lots of palm trees) or were you trying for an authentic feel?

Oh man. This is the craziest interview ever.

Okay, I gotta ask you a question before I respond...How many episodes of Saving Grace have you seen?

Like, three.

Oh, I LOVE these Saving Grace questions! So funny, but also kind of dead on. We're around the same age, so you've seen Oklahoma evolve and change the way I have...become more sophisticated and open over the years. As for your question, give Saving Grace a few more episodes... I do think that Saving Grace has authenticity. But the authenticity has little to do with the references (which, of course, I dig and think can be pretty dead on)...what feels real about the show is that once you get to know the characters they have a real sense of Okieness in their values, morality and flaws. I'm gonna have to say that many Okies who write about their state, even after they left - Nancy Grace, Tracy Letts, Rilla Askew are my favorites -- are going to all have their own interpretation of Oklahoma. But if you are a real Okie, it is hard to romanticize the state...it just doesn't lend itself to that. It has a lot of great qualities...but Oklahoma isn't exactly ripe for romanticizing.

As for my version....well...I wrote a book. It takes place in Oklahoma. It is my version of Oklahoma, and that's really all I can say.

Fair enough, but I'm fairly certain I'm done with Grace Hanadarko. I do agree, however, that there is a uniqueness to Oklahomans. So, in your book, what characteristics did you give to your main character that were influenced by your upbringing here?

  • Big imagination
  • Vivid fantasy life
  • Voracious reader
  • Cynicism beyond his years
  • Unpopular
  • Weirdness
  • Questioning the status quo
  • Thinks he knows more than he does
  • Sexual frustration
  • Restlessness
  • I have a theory that the main character in every novel is basically the author. In that laundry list of characteristics, which attributes would you NOT use to describe yourself?

    OMG, that was a leading question and I KNEW it was headed here...and I went with it anyway. Good interviewer, gotta say.

    I'll take it a step further and say EVERY character is basically the author. Which says a lot, considering my characters are so fucked up.

    Ummm...all of 'em. Obviously.

    One of the things I find fascinating about your book is that your main character is named Doug, and your name is Maya. Well, it isn't really the names so much as the fact that you are writing from theperspective of someone who does not share your same gender. How did you approach that barrier while writing?

    Teen angst transcends gender. You just write from the POV of a teenager...and if it's a guy character, just make him think about sex twice as much.

    Only twice as much? Seems like an underestimate. I'm not really sure how I ever learned enough in high school to get into college considering how much of my brain capacity was eaten up by pubesence. Maybe I'm just underestimating how much girls think about it.

    Anyway, in reading the blurbs for your novel, I noticed this quote:

    "Maya Sloan is a mad scientist of a novelist, filling her Petri dish with the cells of J. D. Salinger, William Burroughs, and Mark Twain, but ultimately this novel is her own glorious creation: a smart and wholly original take on what it means to yearn, in all its manifestations, in the 21st century."

    There was another in which the guy says your book is better than Kerouac's masterpiece. That's a nice pantheon you're being placed in for your first effort. How is your ego dealing with this?

    Well, let's see...it is really hard to have an ego when two days ago I was forced to take a piggy bank of change to the Coinstar because I'm so broke...87 bucks! Seriously, it saved me.

    I've worked really hard for this...written for years and never quit despite some really harsh rejection...and I know you don't go into writing for fame or money. My life is pretty bohemian and day-to-day. I had a lot of trouble in grad school because I really hate egotistical writers...to me, they are often compensating for insecurity about their work. I guess what keeps me sane is teaching...I love having students who hate to read, and finding that one book that will get them excited...I really love literature (which truly sounds pretentious, I guess)...and as for blurbs or press or any of that, well, yeah, it feels good to have people who get my voice...but there will be just as many who have negative things to say about my work...and so I guess the key is to just do the work, just get better, and not make your life about what people think of you...and truth is, I'm interested in so many things, including trash shit like bad TV shows and celebrity gossip...and I like Hemingway too. And there's no reason to apologize for anything. That is who I am, take it or leave it...

    I have really amazing friends. In all the MFA writers I've met, I've kept a handful of close buddies...I believe in their work, and know they will publish and want their success...and they want mine...so I think ego is a tricky thing...yeah, you have to have one to a certain extent to be a writer and deal with all the rejection and criticism...but my ultimate goal in life is to be a writer who makes a living writing (and teaches, because I love it) and a mother. So there you go. I don't need any big awards or kudos to be happy. I don't need to be rich. Because at the end of the day, a book with lots of kudos and prizes and more money than you could spend in a lifetime still won't keep you warm at night...I've really seen it firsthand. Writers with a lot of success who are total assholes and hate their lives...and that is a fate worse than anything I think. It's just a book. It ain't rocket science or a cure to cancer. And it ain't a perfect book either. I write, I drink coffee, I smoke too much, I try to make rent and be a good person. Sometimes I fuck up. A lot, actually. But sometimes things are good...oblahdieh oblahdah.

    Yeah, I've given this a lot of thought.

    Now about you...you are really insightful and a great interviewer...you write fiction too? Freelance for magazines? How about Esquire? You should send them something. Not to get all teacher on your ass...but judging by your blog and email, I bet you could (do?) write really good fiction...

    Not to brag, but I did write "The Justice League of Oklahoma" which was, shall we say, a classic. Your words are too kind, though. If you had added that I have the potential of a young Douglas Adams, I think I would have KNOWN how those comparisons made you feel.

    Let's do one more questions and make it a two parter. I noticed your book has one of those new fangled "literary trailers" which made me wonder what kind of thought you've put into optioning High Before Homeroom to a movie. Would you think it would be more of an indy, or does it have major studio potential? Regardless, what actors have you thought about for your characters?

    Hahaha. But really, Douglas Adams rocks, dontcha think?

    Okay...the trailer thing was a fluke...an awesome Okie publicist at Simon & Schuster with 3,000 bucks in the budget...and my brother helping with publicity because he works for a listserve place...and so she gave him the extra for a trailer...the character of Trevor is based on him, by the way. And he's such a good bro he got a bunch of friends together, one is a documentary director...and they made it in a WEEK. And then this dude nominated it for the Moby awards (the silliest awards of all time), and it got to the finals for big budget trailer against these ones that had 30,000 budgets...and yeah, the whole idea of trailers is stupid, and no one gets it...but I was proud. So then there was some interest from FOX, and I have the big Hollywood agent (he picked me up when the book got picked up)...he's great, but honest...he thinks I might sell future book for movies, but this one will be a tough sell...and the thing is, even if it was optioned, I doubt they'd ever make it. Too weird. A comedy about Iraq and meth? And so all the guys involved in the trailer decided they want to make it into an indie...and the agent made the contracts...blah blah blah. And it all happened fast...they are really into it. And I thought it was a joke...but know I know it is dead serious. And the hollywood agent wants me to write the screenplay, because that is how he makes most of his money, screenwriters and not books-to-film (which is what he is known for)...and it seems like a challenge and fun...so what it comes down to is that I'm writing a rough draft-like version of the screenplay by the middle of next month...then they are raising the money (hoping for million) and (hopefully) shooting it indie style in North Carolina the fall...and this was never my dream (a movie), but it means a lot to me they want to do it and are so driven about it...and it's my brother, after all...so I'm officially a co-producer and screenwriter with no screenwriting experience and still broke as shit...but life is good! And who knows? The director thinks he has the connections to get it picked up by a big studio after it is made...

    So if you know any rich okies who wanna invest...?

    As for casting, I'm thinking Harrison Ford via the Star Wars era...but I guess that isn't logical, huh? Really...I think it will be unknowns, though they are going to try and get some A lister involved (the director knows a casting person from childhood).

    __________________________

    I hope everyone decides to visit the book release, and I hope Maya's book becomes a best seller.  Meanwhile, if any readers know of other Oklahomans doing cool things that should be showcased, send any tips to ClarkFNMatthews at gmail dot com.

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