Interview by Danielle Susi
Lindsay Hunter is taking over. Three books in four years is a big deal. She creates searing, weird, hilarious, authentic characters so fresh and ugly you swear they are your neighbors. Not to mention her grizzly sense of humor, which translates beautifully onto Twitter.
Her work has appeared in journals like Wigleaf, McSweeney’s, PANK, Midwestern Gothic, and so many others. Her short story collections Daddy’s (featherproof, 2010) and DON’T KISS ME (FSG Originals, 2013) are explosive, gritty, and honest. Hunter’s characters want to be loved and she isn’t afraid to show off their habits, impulses, and imperfections. Originally from Florida, she now lives in Chicago with her husband, son, and two pit bulls. We discussed feminism, writing, pop culture, and her debut novel Ugly Girls, out now from Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.
Did you know you (almost) share a name with former NBA player Lindsey Benson Hunter Jr.? How do you feel about that?
I did know that! I feel like we’re both missing an opportunity to join forces and save the world. It’s also fun to search my name on Twitter because it’s 99% his mentions–like, “saw Lindsay Hunter at the Outback, so cool!” and I’m like “When was I at the Outback?” I always wanted to write his biography and call it The Heart is a Lindsey Hunter.
I know that you’re interested in pop culture and feminism, so how do you feel about writers like Lena Dunham and Roxane Gay? And of course, I would be remiss to not ask your opinion about Beyonce and Taylor Swift.
I actually wasn’t a fan of the first season of Girls. I didn’t get it! I felt totally removed from its mindset. It was unique but also felt like it wasn’t saying anything. But then I had a baby and my whole life changed, and I heard the second season was much better, so I gave it another shot, and I am so glad I did. It’s such a brave, weird, soulful show. It’s not afraid to be difficult or ugly and it’s not afraid to allow for nostalgia and romance. It feels very much like the mindset of a mid-20s girl. It’s trying to find its voice, its voice is all over the place, the characters are likable in one scene and unlikable in the next. It feels real.
What I really appreciate about Lena Dunham is how wise she is, and how she is herself no matter what. So much outcry about her body and appearance! My favorite moments are when Hannah is naked or near naked. It’s like she is presenting herself in a way that is not inviting comment or judgment; she is beyond that, and it doesn’t matter.
Roxane Gay is fighting the good fight. She said something recently about how writing for HTML Giant helped her learn how to argue, and it really does feel that way when reading her work and her tweets. She is not going to allow you to get away with misinterpreting her words, using them against her, NO. She has a viewpoint and sometimes it is controversial, and she invites discussion but she does not allow chicanery. It’s something I really look up to and am overwhelmed by, at times. I can’t keep up and I think, I SHOULD BE KEEPING UP! but I can’t. I’m glad she is in the world and that she is writing and being heard.
Beyonce and Taylor Swift are interesting. Both make pop music and both are smart businesswomen who’ve identified as feminists, which feels pretty important. Pop music is so easily written off, ignored, trivialized, but it reaches a huge portion of the population and, let’s be honest, most of us love it. So for these smart and strong women to come forward and take a stance like that come on. I love it.
That said, should women even need to identify as such? I know this is a tricky subject but PLEASE. You are a feminist if you’re a woman who doesn’t hate herself. You are a feminist if you’re a man who believes in equal rights across the human spectrum. So everybody stop it.
Tell me a little about Ugly Girls. Who did you write it for?
I wrote it for myself. To prove I could do it. I didn’t know if I could write a novel! Even now it stuns me from time to time that it’s “finished.” Like, oh, I wrote one! A complete novel! It is surreal.
How different for you was it to make the switch from short stories into working on this novel? I’m assuming you didn’t ever stop writing shorter stuff in the process.
It was difficult. I had to approach it like I was writing a series of flash fiction vignettes, each telling a piece of the story. It’s so hard to keep track of what was said here, brought back in there, what time of day it was, and on and on. The continuity mistakes I saw in the ARCs made my blood turn cold. I definitely kept writing stories as I wrote the novel, but the novel was largely my focus. I had a deadline, and I had a baby, and I felt like I had to be dead serious about it, totally focused on it.
You’re known for your imperfect characters and portrayals of “bad” people in your short story collections. Does this style of writing continue in Ugly Girls? Where do these characters come from?
Yes, it’s definitely there in Ugly Girls. These characters come from my heart–I don’t know how else to put it. They are “bad” or gross or dark or doomed, or all of that all at once. But that is not all they are. Or at least, that is my view on them. I’ve heard my writing at times it feels melodramatic or overwrought or pointlessly dark, and those feel like huge failures on my part. That is not what I want people to feel. Quite the opposite, actually. I want people to laugh in darkness, cry in light. I want to show the full spectrum of human emotion even when that human is in a ditch. I will keep working on it.
Recently on Twitter you said, “People assume things about my writing, and me as a writer but I write out of love, out of a full and racing heart.” What are some things people assume about your writing and what do you wish they assumed instead?
In addition to what I said above, I think people assume I’m writing to titillate, shock, horrify. Really I’m writing out of a love for writing and a love for the characters. I want to tell those stories wherever they take me and I don’t want to censor myself. And I want people to stop being shocked or surprised that a woman/mom writes stuff like this.
Final thoughts on Olive Garden.
God bless the USA.
Danielle Susi is the author of the forthcoming chapbook The Month in Which We Are Born (Dancing Girl Press, 2015). Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Storyacious, Split Rock Review, Knee-Jerk Magazine, Lines+Stars, DIALOGIST, and many others. She is the recipient of a writer’s grant and residency from the Vermont Studio Center. You can read more of her work at daniellesusi.com.