1. What came first in the inception of this book – time travel or music?
Time travel. The majority of my daydreams involve time travel. For most of my life, I’ve been impatient about getting to something in the future, or wishing I’d lived far in the past so I could wear a pretty hat with a ribbon on it every day. “If you could go back in time to see a rock concert, what would you want to see?” was my go-to ice breaker question at bars and parties for a long time, and the book sprung from that.
3. How can we all construct our own wormholes? Just kidding – what was it like writing the science of the wormhole? Did you do a lot of research into astrophysics or just hit the page with pure fantasy?
While I was doing my MFA at the University of Michigan, I lived in a group house with a bunch of grad students, and one of them was a post-doc in physics named Cindy Keeler. I asked her, basically, if Karl had come to her with news of his wormhole and asked how it worked, what would her professional assessment be? She told me about the Einstein-Rosen Bridge. My friend Sarah’s dad is a professor of physics at the University of Washington, and he sent me a bunch of articles, most of which I had a tough time understanding, but there are a few lines of dialogue from Lena in which she repeats some of the things I learned from Drs. Keeler and Wilkes.
4. Which concert would you pick to go to if you had access to Karl’s services?
REM’s first show in Athens, Georgia, in 1980. It was held in an old church. The show I’d love to relive was the time Austin’s own Davíd Garza gave me a sweaty kiss on the cheek during a show at The Continental Club. This was in 2010. I’m still swooning.
5. Do you relate more to Karl or Lena? How? Was one character easier to write than the other?
I relate more to Karl, I think, mostly because he’s an accidental caretaker, always painfully aware of himself and trying his best to be good to the people around him. He fails, of course, but his aim is true. He also has trouble moving forward with his life–living joyfully in the present is a relatively new skill to me. I know a lot of women who are like Lena–brilliant, bold women who have been dealt a genuinely crappy lot in life who have to navigate a world that wants them just to shut the hell up about all the people who’ve hurt them and made things harder for them.
6. Music feeds Karl and Lena’s identities. How have the music and artists you’ve loved fed your identity as a writer?
I was an early indie/alternative music fan. I think I was eleven the first time I tuned into college radio–KFSR, the radio station at Fresno State. That there was music with lyrics that seemed smarter than Top 40 fare, and a secret clubhouse called a college radio station for cool kids to play their music was exactly what I wanted and needed when I was young.
I do most of my writing to music. Even the novel I’m working on now, which does not have a music motif to it at all, has a small soundtrack of songs that match the emotional feel I’m going for in each chapter. This music doesn’t necessarily fall under “indie” as a genre, but there is an emotional resonance I enjoy commingling between music and writing.
7. Music is also bound up tight with memory in this book (memory and identity being, arguably, two sides of the same coin). What do you think it is about music in particular that marks time for humans? Do you think books play a similar role in our lives or do the mediums interact with our memories in different ways?
It takes three minutes to listen to a song, and days to read a book, so I’m not sure that books bring the immediacy of memory and nostalgia the way a song does. Music is also more universal for this reason–tools for bonding with others over the passage of time. Books are fantastic measures of how you’ve grown and changed over the years, but for me that’s more of a cognitive experience, less an emotional one. I don’t read Catcher in the Rye with the same eyes that I did when I was a teenager. But there isn’t a book that I strongly correlate with my memories of being fifteen, twenty-two, thirty, etc. Put on Sebadoh III and I can imagine being twenty again, walking around Smith College in my K Records t-shirt.
8. If you could go back in time and visit a younger version of yourself, which age of Mo would you like to see? Would you offer any advice?
Twelve-year-old Monique. She’s Monique–I wasn’t called Mo until high school. Already six-feet-tall, tested absurdly high on the Stanford-Binet test, working on two novels, definitely one of the weird kids. Nobody knew what to do with me, so nobody did anything. When you’re a kid who’s threatening to the adults, you’re kind of screwed. Twelve-year-old me could use a mentor. Advice: “Don’t let anyone talk you out of that writing career you know you want. Those people don’t know what they’re talking about.”
9. Top five albums of all time. Go.
Neutral Milk Hotel–In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
The Aislers Set–Terrible Things Happen
Galaxie 500–On Fire
10. Top five books of all time. Go again.
11. This book has done very well in its pre-pub life. It’s being translated into multiple languages and published in countries around the world. What are the universal elements that make this book, which is largely rooted in American music culture, a global story?
Who doesn’t think about going back in time and changing their past? I can think of a few things I’d like to delete from my history. Of course, you can’t–you can only redirect, regroup, heal, change yourself. We all exist with icky historical data living inside of us. That’s why we have art–to excise our various demons, to set right that which we can’t otherwise, and to connect us to others through our stories. We all want second chances. We all want to find that other person who wants to go back in time to see Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 play a show. Liking obscure bands and finding that rare other person who does too is part of the whole purpose of liking those bands in the first place. “The music divides us into tribes,” goes an Arcade Fire lyric. That’s a universal story.
12. Fast forward twenty-five years. What do you hope you’ll be doing? What music will you be listening to while you do it?
In 2041, I would love to walk into a coffee shop that is playing Beat Happening on the stereo. Beat Happening is evergreen. If I stick around Portland, I bet that will happen. I’m sure I’ll still be listening to Sleater-Kinney and Unrest and whatever similar new music comes down the pike, still writing books and essays, teaching writing, being a good friend and mentor, loving my people, traveling, engaging in some kind of creative community. Basically all the things I’m doing now, but with more high-tech shoes.