"I've always had a thing for disco balls."
Ten Questions for the author of our Exclusive January Selection
Book of the Month, Erika Carter
Lucky You is your first novel and a Book of the Month BOTM exclusive for January. How do you feel starting the year off with your hard work now reaching an audience of readers?
In a word, GRATEFUL. Incredibly grateful.
Lucky You centers on three young women, waitresses at the same bar in a small Arkansas college town, who are sort of adrift and looking for meaning and direction in their lives. Did you live through a phase like this in your own life?
Well, looking for meaning and direction are some hallmarks of my existence. I did live in Fayetteville, Arkansas from the time I was 22 to 26. All my waitressing, however, was done in Richmond, Virginia, at some dive bars and dungeon-y restaurants. Viceroy'”the bar in my novel'” is a mix of these places.
The main characters move 'œoff the grid' to rural Ozarks and live a commune-like existence. Why did you decide to take these characters to this remote location? Any irony here about preppers, survivalists, environmentalists?
Oh, god yes. I always meant this book to be, at its core, a comedy'” albeit a dark one. These characters and their reasons for moving to the Ozarks are extremely misguided.
You currently live in Virginia but chose to set the novel in Arkansas. Is there a particular significance to Fayetteville and the Ozarks?
Only that I, like my characters, lived there in my early twenties, and went to (graduate) school there, at the University of Arkansas. So I knew the town's sensibilities well enough to set a novel there, which I began just as I was leaving. The Ozarks are beautiful, and Fayetteville is'”or was, at least when I was there'” a funky little pocket. People said it was like Portland, but a few years behind. I loved it.
Two of the main characters majored in English. Is this aspect important to character development or the themes of the novel?
Ellie & Rachel majored in English, and Chloe majored in Biology, but didn't graduate. It started as kind of a joke that Ellie and Rachel were English majors and generally helpless. I was an English major. I'm sort of helpless.
While the three girls are close friends in some ways, they also gossip about and undermine each other. What, if anything, does this say about female friendships?
They are insecure, though they apply different faces of toughness. What do people do when they're insecure? Gossip, put people down, become senselessly defensive. I think Ellie and Rachel are quite loyal to each other; Chloe is the odd woman out here, and she knows it.
Your book features young women who are trying to 'œfigure things it out,' which is a theme in past Book of the Month selections such as The Girls, Rich and Pretty, Swing Time. Why do you think this is a topic that makes for great storytelling?
The brain and heart of a young woman is endlessly fascinating: the topic isn't going anywhere. Some of my favorite books: Two Serious Ladies, The Group, Bad Behavior, Madame Bovary. Lady Brett Ashley is my favorite character of all time. Then Ellen Olenska.
The cover of Lucky You is very distinctive'“'“has a black and white photo of a disco ball hanging from a tree in a woodsy setting. Can you tell us a bit about the cover design?
Sure, it's a photo by Alec Soth. I think it's very metaphorical in terms of searching for beauty and direction, and finding it in unexpected places, where it doesn't belong. This can be in the form of humor, or the beauty in the absurdity of life. A disco ball hanging from a tree in the woods is absurd, but hard not to appreciate. I've always had a thing for disco balls'”they're so pretty, but they never really belong anywhere. Like, where can you put one?
Your Instagram feed features many photos of a beautiful cat named Johnny. What does Johnny like to read?
I love that Johnny made this interview. I'm probably one of the last millennials to join Instagram'”I'm just glad Johnny is getting his face out there. Johnny is on a huge Philip Roth kick'” it's such a great coincidence that we love to read the same things. We recently read The Rachel Papers by Martin Amis. Very funny. I really love this book called Love Me Back by Merritt Tierce. Lust by Susan Minot is practically always on my desk. Amy Hempel. I met Jennifer Egan recently and was starstruck.
What are your hopes and dreams for 2017? Any new year's resolutions you'd like to share?
I'd like to read more books and be less broke. 2017 will be an interesting year. I hope we make it out alive.