Posted August 8 ’13

For some, publishing a novel is very much like chemotherapy.  You have to do it every now and then if you are to survive as a writer but it’s bitter medicine and the process can make you feel very ill.  Promotion and reviews, or lack there of, completely interrupt your ability to be productive.  And recovery from the exposure, or lack of exposure, is a long slow process.


It’s been awhile since I’ve published a novel and my cell count is getting dangerously low.   I decided it was time to buckle down, get the novel done.  I’ve got my concept, got my people, but I needed to commit.  So I picked a country where I knew not a single person—Canada—and headed up there for a two-week stint of isolation in the Canadian Rockies.


I flew to Calgary, rented a car and drove five hours to Jasper.  I was unprepared for the grandeur of the landscape.  If you take Capitol Reef NP, Zion NP and a dash of Bryce NP and dump them on top of the most majestic set of mountains this world has to offer, that’s what you’ll see in the Canadian Rockies.   It is ridiculous, almost too much to handle.  (Also impossible to capture on an iphone.)


I rented a tiny cabin just outside of Jasper and settled in.  The fire crackled, caribou grazed in the meadow, snow dusted the 11,000-foot mountain peaks, the river rushed by.  No phone, TV, or Internet.  Just me and the people in my head for two whole weeks.  Perfect.  Time to get to work. Knuckle down, Katie.  Stop wasting time.


But before I could knuckle down, dig deep, tap the source, pull out the truth that needed to be told, write the story I was born to tell, I had to finish the book I started reading on the plane, Alissa Nutting’s extraordinary new novel TAMPA.


TAMPA has been described as Lolita turned upside down.  The main character, Celeste is a beautiful twenty-six year old schoolteacher who seduces and ultimately destroys Jack, her fourteen year-old student.  It is an astonishing portrait of a true monster, brilliantly written, disturbing, and at times deeply funny.  The comparison to Lolita is convenient but really doesn’t do this novel justice.  Nutting has written a book that challenges the reader to reexamine his/her own ideas of sexual morality. She forced me to look at my own double standard and also made me recognize how safe I’ve been playing it all these years in terms of character development.  In TAMPA, Nutting taped into the darkest part of our communal perversion and bravely told the secrets.  It takes tremendous courage to write from that place; most writers don’t have the strength or the ability to voice such thoughts and impulses.


I’ve circled monsters in my work, dabbled in depravity and the collective deviance that most of us recognize yet don’t want to acknowledge.  But I’ve never fully committed, never push it as far as I could, never allowed myself to be fully immersed in true darkness. I finished TAMPA and felt more inspired than I have in years.  I got up off the tiny couch in my tiny cabin, walked over to my tiny workstation and started my book again, from page one.  I worked in a frenzy, nonstop, for two weeks.


Here comes my monster novel.  Thank you Alissa Nutting.