Q & A with Julie Buxbaum, author of The Opposite of Love.
MANIC: From the very first sentence, I sensed a meat theme. Did you set out to do this?
JULIE BUXBAUM: I was interested in making tangible Emily's definition of love in the novel: the giving of self and soul. And so you are exactly right; I wanted to make Emily a rabid meat-eater to literalize the notion of love as the act of filling ourselves and our lives up with other people, and of course, the flip side--the vulnerability that results from loving and being loved. That's what her cannibalistic dream that opens the novel is all about, and that's why Andrew says she's like "the flesh-eating virus." I should say though, that my interest in making love into something tangible comes up throughout the novel, not just with Emily's meat eating.
I have to admit I also had a second motivation for force-feeding her all that steak. I think writers often use food/weight issues as a crutch to force readers into relating to their main character--to give their readers a "see, she has the same issues I do" moment. But in this one way, I wanted to make Emily an aspirational character--she is not concerned with the external. Instead, she's grappling with her internal landscape, and some larger existential questions. She is not asking whether she is thin enough, or pretty enough, but "when am I going to be who I am supposed to be?"
MM:I get that maybe you're conveying that Emily is hollow inside, desperately trying to find something to satiate her, to fill her up. It's genius!
MM: Are you a vegetarian?
MM: And in what part of the writing process did you say, "Theme! Meat!"??
JB: I don't really know. It sort of unfolded organically. I am not sure I would even consider meat to be a theme, though it came up quite a bit. I think I was more interested in looking for lots of different ways to express Emily's feelings of emptiness.
MM: Did you struggle with the idea of putting a prologue into the story? Not to give anything away, but the prologue gives the reader a sense that there's a happy ending. Fortunately for me, I have a limited memory, and I didn't think throughout the book, "This is OK, everything is going to end up OK." At what point did you say, "This needs a prologue?" Was it your idea or your editor's?
JB: The idea of writing the prologue arose pretty late in the process. My editor and I were discussing how we both felt that the first chapter, taken alone, was misleading. The novel opens on such a light note, the reader might be tricked into thinking the story lacked more depth. At the same time, I also felt guilty for torturing Emily throughout the book, so I wanted to give people comfort that she was going to ultimately land on her feet. She wasn't going to be completely free of her issues, but we know from the outset that she ends up in a good place.
MM: Of course, I'm dying to know how much is pulled from truth, but I feel that would be prying, and I don't want to pry. But OK, for the readers, I will. Did you pull details of a past break-up to create this story? Did you dump a guy and later regret it? Did you marry this guy you dumped?
JB: Pry away! The truth is it's all fiction. I've never broken up with anyone only to regret it later. Fortunately, I am much less self-destructive than Emily.
MM: For me, Chapters 10 and 35 were incredibly emotional. Last night when I read Chapter 35, I bawled my head off in my bed, missing my own mom who lives in Florida and feeling sadness you must have felt ten-fold in your lifetime. How did you deal with writing such emotional scenes?
JB: It was definitely difficult to write those scenes both on a technical level and on an emotional level. Since, like Emily, I lost my mother at fourteen, I had to find a way to bring to bear what I think are the commonalities of mother-loss, while at the same time individualizing them for my character. In other words, I only let myself take from my own experiences those details which I imagine anyone who has gone through an early devastating loss has felt at some point--but no more than that--and then I imagined how it would have been different (and specific to) Emily. But I absolutely felt great empathy for her in those scenes, and anytime I hurt her, it hurt me. I am not going to lie: some tears were shed in the making of this book.
MM: With some books I read, I must suspend reality, and tell myself, "OK, this is a book, I'll pretend this could happen for the sake of enjoying this book." I didn't feel this way at any point in The Opposite of Love. Even with slimy old Carl, Emily's boss, I believed it all. Nothing about your book seemed contrived or yanked from somewhere false, you know?
JB: Thanks so much! I am so glad you felt that way. I thought it was important to create a character whose life and trials and tribulations felt real, and never convenient for the sake of the story.
MM: You got a two-book deal--is your next book the continuation of Emily's story? I really hope so because you've created a world where the reader comes away feeling like they've made friends with the characters and are emotionally connected and genuinely want to know where their lives are headed.
JB: Sadly, no. My next book does feature the daughter of a tangential character in THE OPPOSITE OF LOVE, but it is in no way a sequel. I am happy to leave Emily in a good place for now. But maybe one day...
MM: Your husband, Indy? I'm guessing Filet Mignon all the way?
JB: Yup, Indy's the best thing since sliced bread.
MM: Does he happen to look like this guy? Hee hee, just kidding. Don't answer that! Now Julie does have a few words about the contest and who she chose to win the autographed copy of the book. We asked Manic readers to share what their definition of The Opposite of Love was, in FIVE WORDS OR LESS, and Julie did the choosing, so Julie, take it away----
First of all, I'd like to thank everyone for entering the contest! I received a ton of responses, and I enjoyed every last one of them. That being said, I had to pick a winner, so drum roll, please...
The winner is Lisa McKenzie with:
The opposite of love is...My Ex Husband.
Manic: Well Lisa, at least the guy was good for something! You've won an awesome book because of him! Ha!
And if you'll email me at firstname.lastname@example.org I can get that book to you in the mail so you can start reading and enjoying your prize!
Some honorable mentions Julie chose, just for fun:
THE OPPOSITE OF LOVE IS:
Pee on the toilet seat (Stephanie Wisdom)
Asking, "Have you gained weight?" (Kalynne Pudner)
The book I wanna win! (Jules W.)
For any of you readers who would like, Julie has offered to send you a signed bookplate for you to attach to your copy of The Opposite of Love, because I know you're all going to go and get yourself this book now, aren't ya!? Because it's an incredible book! Just email Julie at email@example.com with your mailing address.
And stop by her website to see where she'll be visiting! I'll be meeting her the end of March and I really can't wait. Maybe we'll go out and have some meat together!
Thanks to all for entering!