Q/A with Linda Jaivin
It takes a clever man to match wits with an author of erotica. Either a
clever man, or a fumblingly stupid one. PCC editor Matt Springer sat down
at his computer to swap E-mails (and a few choice exclamations) with
best-selling author Linda Jaivin, whose Rock 'N' Roll Babes from Outer
Space is an erotic sci-fi romp of the highest order (which in real life
sounds painful, but in print is a ton of fun). Jaivin began her
writing career as a freelance journalist in Taiwan and China. In 1986, she
emigrated to Australia, where she has lived ever since. She burst onto the
literature scene in 1997 with the publication of her witty take on erotica,
Eat Me. Its worldwide success prompted Entertainment Weekly to name
her one of the 100 most creative people in entertainment, an honor we think
deserves not only a sash and announcement, but at least a bit role in an
upcoming episode of Beverly Hills, 90210. Rock 'N' Roll Babes is
Jaivin's second novel.
How did you get started as a writer?
When I was little I wanted to be the person who read all the new books that
came out so the library knew which ones to buy. Then I found out that this
wasn't actually a job. But that was okay because when I was thirteen, I
wrote a book report on Cyrano de Bergerac and my teacher scribbled, 'you
should think about being a writer when you grow up'. This struck me as
just about the next best thing to being a reader. When I eventually got to
meet a real editor, like, of a real magazine, and he asked me if I'd ever
written book reviews for publication, I lied and said oh yes, of course,
many times. Luckily he didn't ask for details. I realised book reviewing
was like the library job and the writing thing all rolled into one. I was
in heaven. And that eventually led to a fulltime job at the same magazine.
What inspired your move from doing freelance work in China to writing
erotic fiction in Australia? It seems like a huge leap to make...
I was doing heaps of journalism, but getting a little bored with reporting
on China, mainly because by the nineties, the big stories were all economic
ones. I am not interested in business, and that's all anyone ever wanted
to talk about. So I started to branch out, doing stories on S&M clubs and
Australian politics and stuff for Australian Rolling Stone and other
publications with no connection to China. I'd always been interested in
writing fiction, however, and over the years have started three or four
novels and written a lot of poetry and short stories. One day a few years
ago, an editor from the independent, Melbourne-based publishing company
Text approached me and said, we love your journalism, do you have a
book-length essay in you? I said well, maybe, but I also have a
pornographic novel in me. He tried not to look too taken aback. Uh, right.
And have you ever published any, uh, erotic fiction? I had published two
dirty stories in a magazine called Australian Women's Forum, which is the
sort of magazine that tells you how to give a better blow job and has
photos of men with all the dangly bits hangin' out. He hadn't even heard
of the magazine. I showed him the stories. And that's how Eat Me, my
first novel, came about. I've been with Text ever since.
Which authors have been the greatest inspiration to you as a writer?
The great English satirists, like Evelyn Waugh and P.G. Wodehouse, and the
minor English satirists, like E.F. Benson, and the new English satirists,
like Martin Amis, Hanif Kareshi and A.A. Gill (whose Sap Rising is an
alltime favourite) and even ancient Roman satirists like Petronius and
let's see, mad old Hunter S., and the Chinese novelist Wang Shuo and, well,
I could go on all day. Salman Rushdie, Patrick Susskind, Yukio Mishima,
Charles Dickens, Kathy Lette, Tom Wolfe, Anne Rice, John Birmingham, Kurt
Vonnegut, Douglas Adams, Ovid...
What attracted you (no pun intended) toward writing erotica? What kind of
decisions led you to that specific creative path?
Well, I wasn't having enough sex, for one thing. So I was reading a lot.
Erotica as well as other books. And most of the erotica on my bookshelf
struck me as, well, a bit wet (pun intended). I like Fanny Hill, and I
like Pat Califia, but I yearned, I dreamed, I panted for something that was
sexy AND funny, erotica that was kinda cool and urban and yet not scary and
cruel and downbeat. I wanted erotica I could relate to in the way I relate
to my favourite novels. So I decided to go the DIY route. And then, one
thang led to another...
Eat Me was a pretty big success for you, and led to Entertainment Weekly
naming you one of the 100 "Most Creative People in Entertainment." Was
that exposure exciting for you? And whatever will you do with your new
title bestowed by EW?
It was bizarre. When I wrote Eat Me I expected it would just sort of
disappear in a haze of public embarrassment, with my friends patting me on
the back and saying, that was a nice little experiment Linda, now get back
to your real work. Instead, it went into reprint immediately, was on the
Australian bestseller lists for seven months, and went on to do
spectacularly well in the States, get the EW mention, and now it's come out
in seven languages (Rock n Roll Babes is in four), and...as for the
"title", I'm not sure what you can do with something like that. What would
you advise? A crown? A sash? A public service announcement? My first
reaction was, wow, kyool, I'm between the same covers as Brad Pitt. My
second reaction was, hmm, I bet this is the closest I'll ever come to Brad
Pitt. My third reaction was, I bet Brad Pitt never even noticed I was
there with him.
Let's talk a little bit about the new book. Why sci-fi? Have you always
been a fan, or was this a new area for you?
I'm not a sci-fi fanatic by any means, though one of my favourite novels
when I was younger was Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine, and I remember really
enjoying Arthur C. Clarke and Asimov and some of the other great sci-fi
writers. I loved Kurt Vonnegut too. I think it was more Vonnegut and
Douglas Adams than the more traditional sci-fi writers who gave me the
confidence to go into the genre, because their approach to it is quite
lateral, and so is mine. I'm probably equally influenced by pop cultural
references to space travel and aliens and the like. In Rock n Roll Babes
from Outer Space, my aliens get to see shows like My Favourite Martian and
Red Dwarf, listen to the Foo Fighters, hold X-Files parties and stop off
for a meal at the Restaurant at the End of the Yooniverz (Universe).
I have to ask this, because it's really confounding me...what in the world
inspired the dog-creature-thing Revor?! He's so unique, and throughout the
book I really had a hard time picturing him in my mind. A great character,
just hard to imagine, for me at least.
I'm not sure. He just sort of popped out of my head, which tells you
something about the state of my head. I was partly inspired by a wildlife
documentary featuring Madagascan aye-ayes in which there was this amazing
shot of an aye-aye, with these odd little feet and strange ears and pop
eyes and--this is what really got me--off centre, puckered little mouth
with buck teeth sticking out of it. I was in love.
How similar to Earth slacker twentysomethings do you REALLY think alien
slacker twentysomethings are?
I think there are probably more alien slackers out there than we imagine.
We keep thinking that aliens just want to come to earth and blow us away,
ID4-like, or plant little chips in Gillian Anderson's neck, but most of
them are probably just hanging round the home planet, pulling
cone-equivalents, being annoyed at their parent-equivalents, trying to
avoid job-equivalents and thinking about how to get more sex-equivalents.
How much of an inspiration were other rock satire works, like Spinal Tap
or even something like Nick Hornby's High Fidelity, which also uses pop
music as a backdrop for its storytelling (though in a far, FAR different
way; no creatures from outer space popping up in that book!)?
I adored High Fidelity, though I read it well after finishing Rock n Roll
Babes from Outer Space. I'm actually in the middle of Nick Hornby's About
a Boy now, and loving it. Spinal Tap was definitely a big inspiration, but
so was the actual world of pub rock, with which I've come into close
contact as the result of hanging out with bands like Prik Harness (who make
a guest appearance in the novel). I've actually done the door at the Sando
for Prik Harness and other bands (including Three, who have that fuzzy
armpits line in the book -- they're on the CD when the babes first make
their appearance at Jake's Newtown share house). Remember the scene where
someone offers the person at the door a pair of very large underpants for
the band? That really did happen, and yes, I let them in.
What kind of music do you listen to when you write?
Depends. While I was working on the Babes, I listened to a huge range of
music from Ed Kuepper (source of the 'singing la ti da di doh doh' line) to
Nick Cave to Dirty Three to Nirvana to Indigo Girls to Soundgarden to Patti
Smith to Hole to Tricky to Silverchair...hmmm, well, definitely nothing
Okay, now your "desert island discs." If you could take only five albums
with you to a desert island, what would they be?
Oh dear. This is so hard. I think I answer this question differently every
time I'm asked it. But today, it would be: Silverchair's Freak Show,
Nirvana Unplugged, Radiohead's The Bends, something by Miles Davis and
something by Ella Fitzgerald.
What kind of movies do you enjoy?
Many different kinds. From Hollywood shlock to art house independent.
Favourites (listed at random) include Romeo and Juliet (Baz Luhrman's
version), Clerks, Waiting for Guffman, Mars Attacks, Secrets and Lies,
What's Eating Gilbert Grape, Knife on the Water, Blue Velvet, Prospero's
Books, L.A. Confidential, (the original) Sunset Boulevard, To Die For, She
Devil, Bad Boy Bubby, Woman of the Dunes, Psycho, Amistad, Thelma and
Louise, Hairspray, and a heap of others, including the weird Danish Kingdom
and a Japanese-Icelandic road movie whose name escapes me. I haven't seen Titanic, and don't plan to either.
So you've done some rock performances with an Australian band called Hum.
Let's say they asked you to drop everything and join their band tomorrow
for a big world tour. Would you do it?
Sure. Partly because I know that, being rather classic slackers, their
urgent "tomorrow" would still give me a few months to finish the novel I'm
working on and tie up other loose ends first. I love pretending to be a
rock star, particularly given the fact that I can neither play an
instrument or carry a tune.