The Story of the Book

 

Some Things (and People) That Got Me Going On

A Little More Human

by Fiona Maazel


We asked author Fiona Maazel to give us a peek into the creative process for her latest book, A Little More Human. Below, she discusses some of the unusual inspirations for her novel including an aging athlete, a guilty pleasure TV show, and a whole country!

 


 

Brett Favre photo by Mike Morbeck

Brett Favre


Believe it or not, I got very caught up in the drama of this man coming in and out of retirement multiple times between 2008 and 2010. There were three teams, at least three retirements (I think it was actually four or five), and much public scrutiny of his motives and indecision. Most people assumed he was caught between wanting the money and wanting to relax. Between wanting the money and going out on top. But I started to develop a different theory: that this man simply had no idea what he wanted. He wasn’t indecisive so much as incoherent to himself. What an isolating position to be in! Brett Favre is a ridiculous person to pity, but I pitied him—at least my version of him—and started to think through what emotional incoherence might look like in someone without his resources or fame. Just an average guy who finds out—the hard way—that he has no idea what he thinks or feels. 

 


 

  1. Random Book about the Brain

I read pretty widely and without forethought. Several years ago, I was at a book store and came across Mapping the Mind by Rita Carter. In general, I don’t like to dwell on how my body works for fear that thinking about myself thinking or breathing will short-circuit something fundamental in there. Biology has never been an interest of mine. And certainly not neuroscience. And yet I started reading this book and quickly came across a section about a split-brain patient and an experiment that managed to elicit from each half of his brain feelings in conflict with the other. In gist: One half of this guy’s brain wanted to be a draftsman. The other wanted to be a race car driver. Needless to say, I completely freaked out because what could this mean except that he was walking around with an enslaved half-head full of ideas and feelings at odds with the ones he thought defined who he was? And, by extension, didn’t this experiment suggest the same was true for the rest of us? What an appalling idea. Some people will say: well, duh, the Unconscious. But I’d say what’s exposed in that experiment is different—a biological rendering of the Unconscious without the stigma attached to thoughts or feelings generated therein. What’s wrong with being a race car driver? And so, a question: Is everyone really two people, one of whom has been gagged by evolution? Here was evidence that biology, nature, has actually institutionalized discord in the brain and challenged evolution to overcome it. Which means that the very notion of selfhood just covers for a biological imperative to misunderstand ourselves entirely. So, yeah, is there anyone who wouldn’t want to write a novel about that?

 


 

Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org A skeleton in a classical landscape. Drawing by A. Joron. 1810 By: Auguste JoronPublished:

  1. My Autoimmune Disease

Yep, I have one of those and because I’ve tried everything to cure it, I tried hypnosis. Well, no. I went to a hypnotist, but was not able to surmount my anxiety about letting a total stranger into my head. Who knows what she’d do to me? You will feel better… but also fear daylight. I don’t know. I just couldn’t relax, at which point the hypnotist, who was also a therapist, and whom I’d been seeing for a couple months just to get comfortable with the prospect of her hypnotizing me, said I was basically beyond her reach. I couldn’t be helped. Not by her, anyway, which is always a sobering thing to hear from someone who’s supposed to be able to help you. Anyway, I filed this experience away and, like many things that happen in my life, cannibalized it for the novel. 

 


 

  1. Hoarding: Buried Alive
  2. (TV series 2010-)

Before I ditched cable, I used to watch a lot of bad cable. In particular, Hoarding: Buried Alive. What was it about these people I found so compelling? Hoarding isn’t much different from any other addiction. It’s a coping mechanism that isn’t healthy—that’s isolating and self-destructive and very hard to abandon. But what makes it especially interesting for me is the psychic and physical attachment these people have to things. Objects. To the memories fossilized in each one and to the potential for life suggested by each one. I might need this glove one day, so I’ll keep it. Might need this box of crayons. That sponge. There’s a real optimism to hoarding, which is precisely why it’s so incredibly sad. So I got interested in someone who’s alone with his stuff, but who sees in it a way to hang on to his past and his future—and then for good measure, I gave him pending Alzheimer’s. Because I am cruel. And because I like to explore how people respond to their lives when their lives are under siege. 

 


 

Denmark

 

This one’s easy. I was on fellowship at this amazing writer’s retreat in northern Denmark. It was so beautiful. White nights. I visited Copenhagen, Christiana, but spent most of my time in this rather large brick dwelling that looked a whole lot like a creepy hospital. I was very ill at the time, so I got no writing done. But, per usual, I filed the place away and used it when I was ready. Not surprisingly, a creepy hospital in Denmark makes a showing in the novel. 

 


 

The Internet

 

What’s interesting out there in the world? The Internet will tell you. The Internet told me about the ship graveyard off the coast of Staten Island. I’ve lived in New York almost all my life, but I apparently needed the Internet to hear about this very eerie and beautiful coastal burial site for defunct ships and boats that are essentially all bone at this point. I went to check it out with some friends. After that, I started to think about Staten Island as a venue for a novel. It’s a strange place. It can be quite lovely. It’s got five ecosystems: grasslands, tidal and freshwater wetlands, and forests. I began to imagine it as a very good place for a center for bioengineering. And just went from there. My habit is to let the world show me what I want to write about next. And it usually does. 

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Fiona Maazel is the author of the novels Last Last Chance  (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008; Picador Paperback, 2009) and Woke Up Lonely (Graywolf, 2013). She is winner of the Bard Prize for Fiction and a National Book Foundation “5 Under 35″ honoree, which feels less potent now that she is 41. Her work has appeared in Anthem, Bomb, Book Forum, Boston Book Review, The Common, Conjunctions, Fence, Glamour, Harper’s, The Millions, Mississippi Review, N+1, The New York Times, The NY Times Sunday Book Review, Ploughshares, Salon, Selected Shorts, This American Life, Tin House, The Village Voice, The Yale Review, and elsewhere. She teaches at Princeton University and is the Director of Communications for Measures for Justice. She lives in Brooklyn, NY. A Little More Human (Graywolf) is her latest book.

 

 

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