by Dennis Mahoney It’s 1990 and I’m a loser. Becoming a novelist hasn’t crossed my mind. I’m a high-school junior who’s shown some aptitude in art, and by aptitude I mean I’m better than classmates who don’t try at all. My art teacher is just happy I do the assignments instead of throwing Exact-o knives into the ceiling. I had a creative impulse throughout my early life, fueled by supportive parents, Legos, and the original Star Wars trilogy. Relatives raved about my drawings. I got a spaceship illustration printed in the local paper during grade school. And I didn’t really want to be Luke or Han. I wanted to be George Lucas and create something awesome. But I couldn’t be bothered to develop any skills. Mötley Crüe was big in my life, as were the Commodore 64 video games my friends and I swapped along our paper routes. I had bad hair, just shy of a bowl cut. Major cysts instead of zits. A soft, pale, jean-jacketed body. I’d never had a serious girlfriend because girls have standards, and because I kept thinking my luck might change, which is the best way to ensure it never, ever does.
Elissa Schappell, whose Blueprints for Building Better Girls is out in paperback this month, talks process, novels vs. stories, musical inspiration, etiquette, motherhood and more with Justin Taylor, author of The Gospel of Anarchy and Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever. To begin at the beginning, or to try anyway, can you tell me a bit about the process of writing Blueprints for Building Better Girls? Were the stories written in the order in which they appear? Did you yourself employ a "blueprint" of some kind? God no. I don’t care for outlines and blueprints. I don’t like to be told what to do, even if it’s me doing the telling. Which isn’t to say I didn’t have a direction in mind. I began with the idea of writing a series of “instructive” stories inspired by the rules governing proper female behavior in old etiquette and women’s self-help books from Emily Post to What to Expect... Not surprisingly, the stories felt over-determined and too clever by half. (See what I mean?) So I abandoned the idea. However, clearly my subconscious didn’t because that’s pretty much what I ended up doing.