Lindsay Hunter Gets Down and Dirty with Ugly Girls
Within our personal existence there’s so many experiences we will never truly know. A select few of us experience the vast, depthless wonder of stepping onto the moon, while others live in the lap of luxury, afforded the gifts of all creation at their whim. There are triumphant athletes and hero firemen, medical geniuses and musical prodigies. Then there are those that live a less thrilling life by those standards, those that live the lives of the ordinary people of the world. Those that read about the extraordinary and wonder what could be, or maybe just don’t give a shit about any of it at all. They live with little means to make happiness bloom, and never fully know how much better their lives can be.
Enter Ugly Girls, the new novel by the fiercely talented Lindsay Hunter. Known for her assaultive flash fiction, pieces that shout the tales of crude and forgotten denizens of planet earth with visceral poetry, she’s an author with little regard to boundaries. Not surprisingly, her novel doesn’t stray far from that broken glass covered path. Written from several points-of-view, all of them deeply insightful to the human condition, and sometimes upsetting in their own morbid ways, you’re taken on a no-fucks-given journey through the minds of people who have not quite given up hope, but are standing, shaky legged and tippy-toed, at the brink of the cliff, ready to fall into the quarry of no turning back.
I recently had the chance to get inside Mrs. Hunter’s head with some questions, and she granted me a candid and open look inside.
PLEASE NOTE: some spoilers are included in this interview
I&C: This is your first novel, and I can’t wait to see what else you have in store for us. This is a fucking assault in every complimentary way. You’re currently known for your wild flash fiction pieces, though. What’s the difference, in process, between a full narrative versus your signature type of shorts? And what crossed over in style?
Lindsay Hunter: There’s a huge difference because you can’t get closure after 1000-1500 words like you can in a flash piece! I really like sitting down and getting it all out. Even if it’s not “finished,” at least getting most of the story on the page. Beginning, middle, ending. With a novel you have to maintain that momentum over 65,000 words. I was really scared that I couldn’t do it. Like I’d be writing and then suddenly I would fall off a cliff. I wanted to maintain the language, emotion, imagery, and story, I wanted all of that to be super urgent and immediate. For sixty. Thousand. WORDS. It is frightening and I’m sure I failed in many ways. What crossed over is exactly that: wanting to maintain the urgency, and placing importance on language and emotion. Process-wise, I sat down and wrote toward a daily word count goal (2000-2500 words a day), which felt like writing small flash-ish vignettes all working together to tell this story.
Tell me why you chose the name Ugly Girls.
I really waffled on that! It was going to be called The Edge of Ugly, The Quarry, The Unloved. I wanted it to be suggestive, mysterious, and frankly not as assaultive as my previous titles (Daddy’s, DON’T KISS ME). But Ugly Girls kept surfacing. Because the book is so much about identity, and its two main characters are teenaged girls who kind of trade ugly back and forth, Ugly Girls just felt like the right way to go.
I told you how I was on the subway and a nosy woman asked me what I was reading. When I told her, she asked me if I was a misogynist. What are your thoughts on that?
I cheer for that lady. Good for you, lady! It’s a question I think anyone might have, hearing that title. If you search “ugly girls” on Twitter, it is just an endless scrolling meanness. And maybe like one mention of my book. So that lady, I believe, is fighting the good fight. It was not my intention to pile on to the already-anti-feminist mindset that seems to populate more than half of our world, but if it opens up a dialogue, then I’m all for it!
On the contrary, you capture the sense of jaded youth, and of a certain class of jaded youth, so beautifully in its “ugliness.” What experiences/observations did you draw from to create them?
Boredom. Being hot and bored and really uncomfortable in my body as a teen growing up in Florida. Loneliness, and small, important glimmers of “fuck you.”
I felt like I knew these girls intimately from scene one. How did you immerse yourself so deeply into their skin? And what was the most challenging aspect of that?
I think, always, I try to get right into the emotion of any scene. If you can get a foothold there, if you can write an authentic emotion, then you can make these characters real. That authenticity is hard sometimes! Your ego or brain takes over and tries to steer. I cut a scene with Baby Girl in a church because it wasn’t authentic. It was too overtly like I was moving chess pieces around. Thank God for editors.
You read from Myra’s section at your launch event in DUMBO, Brooklyn. You said she was your favorite character in some ways. Why is that?
Ha, I feel like I say that about her and Baby Girl a lot. I go back and forth. I think Myra is just really quick. She is razor sharp, she’s funny, she’s self-aware, she’s doomed. My favorite qualities in a character.
Of the girls, Perry had the most to lose, the most at stake. Baby Girl was hellbent on destruction no matter what. Would you say, if you had to, that was true? And why?
I think Baby Girl felt powerless because of how she looked and because of what happened to Charles, her brother. I think she was tired of feeling powerless and decided to turn that on its head, use it against the world somehow. So instead of thinking “that guy thinks I’m ugly,” Baby Girl would say “fuck you” and get it out of the way. Establish that she doesn’t care what you think. Sweep it right out from under them, suck the power from anyone, like a psychic vampire.
Can you comment on feminism in the context of this book and these characters.
I think feminism is permission to be a full, complete human, with all the complexities and variances of likability that comes with it. To be gross, sad, angry, beautiful, wrong. To be wrong yet still worthy of consideration. I really wanted to write female characters that ran the gamut of likability. It sometimes feels like a female character can be flawed IF she is also beautiful and IF at the end she has learned her lesson. Fuck that.
There’s a delicate personal balance with everyone except Jim, who seems almost content in his silent moments of contemplation and rage. He seems the most resolved from the beginning, resigned in his place on earth. Similarly, so is Travis (though we don’t get to live with him, we see it). Did you see Myra and Perry having the same trajectory from the get go? Meeting these dutiful partners to quell them?
Great question! I think Myra and Perry want to be reflected in their partners, but only the good parts of them. For the most part, that’s what Jim has done. When the novel begins, that is starting to fray. He isn’t capable of doing that for Myra really anymore, and she realizes that as well. What is left for the both of them? Perry wants to appear good in Travis’ eyes. If he can see her as a good student, as pretty, as a good person, maybe there’s hope for her, hope she didn’t even realize she gave a shit about. Only when he rejects her does she realize how much she hoped for it, and it ruins her.
What was the most challenging aspect of writing this particular kind of novel?
Time. Not enough time! I was pregnant and then I was a mom and I had to write like mad. Then again, if I had all the time in the world, I don’t think I’d ever have finished it. Grass is always greener.
Just a comment: you’ve kept your sense of vulgarity well in place. It brings the book to a whole new level of visceral effectiveness. Well done.
Hey, thanks!! I definitely worried about that. Didn’t want anything to start feeling cartoonish.
Everyone LOVES the cover. Did you have a hand in helping to choose it? What was the alternative(s)?
I love the cover, too. At first I think I was very worried about people seeing it and making certain assumptions: that that girl is Perry, that the book is YA, that it belongs on a table at Urban Outfitters next to a book called “My Peenie Weenie” or something. But the more I looked, the better I felt. Her eyes invite and repel all at once. She is pretty but not perfect. Her nails! It became a sort of at-a-glance summary of some of the most important emotions in the book.
I didn’t have a hand in choosing it, but originally the font of the title and name was the same font as the cover of DON’T KISS ME, and it felt off to me. I didn’t like the idea of words going across her face if they were in a font. It felt like they needed to be scrawled. So the handwritten font was my idea, and FSG went with it! There weren’t any alternatives; this was pretty much IT.
What’s the one thing you want people to know when they read this (if anything)?
To relax into where it’s taking you, and that I am so incredibly grateful.