It never occurred to me that Katherine Faw Morris might not be a real person until I went to her website post-interview to find a photo to use, clicked on the “Live” button and was told: “Katherine is a real person. Events to come.”
Now I’m suspect.
I can’t remember which magazine it was in which I first read about Katherine’s novel, Young God: A Novel. A glossy fashion magazine, most likely. I can’t remember what the mention said, other than the book’s title and that the author was married to someone who worked at The Source. I think it might have compared the novel to Winter’s Bone. There may also have been mention of Denis Johnson. I can’t remember.
I googled Katherine’s name, went to her website. I googled some more, found out her husband’s name, found his Twitter, looked at pictures of him at a party. I couldn’t find any pictures of the two of them together. I didn’t look that hard. I preordered the book.
Then I forgot about Katherine and Young God for a while. Until one day I opened my Kindle and Young God appeared. I read it in two sessions in two days. It’s only 20k words. Some pages only have a paragraph. You want to keep turning pages. You want to rush to the ending and then when you get there you wish there were more pages.
I expect some people to shit on this book. (Katherine Faw Morris probably expects some people to shit on this book.) It would be so easy, to complain about what it is lacking. (It’s not the type of book, say, to win awards.) (Somewhere Scott McClanahan is singing, “Hallelujah!”) But I haven’t been this steamrolled by a novel in a long time. I haven’t felt this rush reading in forever. (And I realize I’ve now used the word “rush” twice in this intro but it’s the word that keeps coming to mind.) (Also: fast, dirty, violent, unremorseful, sexy, druggy, foggy, spacey, trippy, young god.)
The beauty of this book is in the editing. Some writers are afraid to edit. Katherine Faw Morris makes editing her bitch.
She tries to hide what she’s doing.
“You seen that lighter?” Nikki says.
She hunts from one end of the trailer to the other. Eventually she comes to stand in front of the TV.
“She’ll probably come back,” Nikki says.
“Who?” Coy Hawkins says.
* * *
No signal. Nikki stares at it.
When she looks at Coy Hawkins he’s turned in his chair to face her. He has his arm propped up on his elbow. He has his chin in his hand.
“What?” Nikki says.
“You wanna rob a drug dealer?”
* * *
She watches him push a brush through the barrel. She watches him drop oil on a rag and shine the black metal. The parts fit back together in hard snaps and the magazine clicks in last. He wipes his hands on a rag.
“The first time’s the worst,” Coy Hawkins says.
“I done it before,” Nikki says.
He cuts his eyes to her.
“Wesley Harrell,” she says.
Coy Hawkins points his clean gun at one of the walls of the kitchen.
“Oh yeah,” he says.
I read that originally Young God was 100 k words and that in present published form it is around 20k. tell me about its editing history. You say also you have been writing/editing it for 5 yrs. Did you begin cutting it before or after you found an agent/got the book deal? Did you cut it with the help of an agent/editor or on your own prior to that?
I cut it myself. This was before I had a book deal or an agent or anything. I was pretty sure that with every word I cut, I was making it more and more unsellable, but also that I was making it better. I was finally getting the feeling I wanted, which to me is the most important thing. This numb, cold, almost dead feeling: that’s what I wanted. Like a pile of bones. I had to murder a lot sentences to get to that point. But then I was left with this mean little I-don’t-know-what. I was sure nobody would want it. Instead I got the best agent (Chris Parris-Lamb) and the best publisher (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) in pretty quick succession. It was weird and amazing.
aside from the novel, you don’t have much of a publishing history. Which is unusual, I think. But you live in new york. Are you part of a writing scene there? Were you already friends with writers/agents/et al? or did you get into all that more recently, with the book deal?
I’m not in any scene. I’m kind of a loner and I find most people irritating. I spent five years working on this book, not doing anything else. Just every single day, trying to figure it out. The only worn-off letter on my computer’s keyboard is the N (for Nikki). Basically, I rarely leave my apartment.
You reduced the book by 80k words. Is there anything, in retrospect, you regret taking out?
I’ve seen you mention Denis Johnson in an interview. Any other literary heroes/inspirations? Trainspotting? Fight Club? I think of your book in the same sentence as these…
I liked Trainspotting a lot when I was a teenager because I liked any book that was about heroin. Actually, I still do. I never got excited about Chuck Palahniuk though. His stuff just wasn’t real enough or something. I went to shitty public schools my whole life and was pretty poorly read as a teenager. I’m slightly better now. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark—I haven’t read a book that’s better constructed than that. It’s so perfect: a circle. I’m really fascinated by the architecture of books. I read every sentence three or four times to see how it’s put together. Obviously, it takes me forever to read anything. Also, Miami by Joan Didion—there are sentences in there that make me motherfucking angry, they are so good.
Do you follow Frances Bean Cobain’s Twitter? Are you on Twitter? Are you in any way obsessed with Frances?
I’m not on any social media. I do sometimes stalk other people’s Twitters, but not Frances Bean’s. I want her to have a happy life, but I’m not obsessed with her.
what ‘obsessions’ do you have that you can talk about publicly?
I have a lot of obsessions. I’m an obsessive person. The ones I can talk about publicly and are also current are: Romanian New Wave movies, cosmology, very expensive prostitutes, Dubai, the German terrorist Nada, frozen pizza, dirty martinis, Azzedine Alaïa anything, hot pants, sleeping, DJ Mustard, and this line from a Louise Glück poem: “Not that the city doesn’t make good its promises.”
the Internet says you grew up, like your character, Nikki, in the Appalachians. How violent was your childhood, comparatively? How commonly/casually were drugs around/part of your experience?
Yeah, I grew up in the mountains. My childhood was not violent. Once I started hanging out, when I was a teenager, there were drugs commonly and casually everywhere and on the periphery there was violence that would erratically flare up. Like if you adjusted your vision and looked at it, there it was. Sometimes I think about the situations I was in and worry about myself. But I was always lucky. I’m a lucky person. My husband is the only guy I’ve ever dated who has never been in jail.
the title Young God is brilliant, but not necessarily reflective of the novel. How did you choose it? Was it always the title or a more recent decision? Was there another working title?
I’m bad at titles. It’s always the thing I do last and then I just steal one from somebody else. “Young God” is a Swans song from the ‘80s, like about Ed Gein. It’s very brutal. I actually think it’s perfectly reflective of the novel, which is why I stole it. Though a lot of people have asked me who the “young god” is in the book. They think it must be one of the male characters. I find this crazy. It’s Nikki. So obviously!
in the magazine article I read that first alerted me to your book, it said you were married to someone high up at The Source. So, I have to ask, do you party with a lot of rappers? And if so, how are they/or aren’t they better than writers (to party with or just…in general)?
My husband is the Creative Director of The Source and he started XXL, so he is very entrenched in that world. I think our second date was 50 Cent’s birthday party. Rappers are entertaining, though kind of conservative. Like they just discovered ecstasy two years ago or something. Or “molly” or whatever. But almost everyone is better to party with than writers. Like cops. Cops have way better stories than writers do.
what impresses me most about this novel, aside from its supreme enjoyability/readability, is its style. Which is also supreme. How important is style to you? in your writing/dress/persona/daily life? Is it something you’re conscious of?
I am conscious of it. Though I don’t really think about it; I kind of just know what I like. And I’m not afraid of being outrageous. I never have been. I would wear the most ridiculous outfits to my nowhere-Appalachia middle school and people would say crazy shit to me and I didn’t care. Because I knew I looked good and fuck them. Which is basically how I feel about this book, too.
what’s your educational background? Are we talking MFA? Where did you go to school?
I went undergrad to NYU. First at Tisch in the film school, which I hated—I am not a collaborative person—and then at Gallatin, which is where you get to make your own major. I got my MFA from Columbia. It was a great experience for me. You know, suddenly there was this whole room of people reading your work and taking it seriously. And they make you read a lot, like three books a week. Maybe some people do this on their own, but left to my own devices, I will go get my nails done and then wander around until I end up at the 24-hour taco spot. So it was expensive but it was great.
I was immediately attracted both by your book description and pictures of you I found on your website. You look super cool/badass in the pics on your site. You look like someone who would have been engaged to Johnny Depp at some point in her life. Do you think in the future we can party/read/tour together?
Only if it was 1994 Johnny and therefore I was 1994 Kate Moss. But party/read/tour: yes, anytime.
are you going on tour? Do you like doing readings? Or are you, like most writers I know, hermetic?
I hate doing readings. I hate going to readings. I’m pretty hermetic but I also like parties. I would like to just have a series of parties where all I have to do is show up and look cute. It would be a great way to justify my online shopping.
are you working on another novel right now or waiting until things settle down with the publicizing of this one?
I am working on a new novel though I haven’t worked on it lately. I really like it though. I mean, right now I hate it. But I’m going to fix it and then I’m going to like it again. It’s about a prostitute who is also a terrorist. It’s in first person.
[interjected question from email:] damn. Just realized I wanted to ask you if you ever smoked Kools. The father in Young God smokes Kools. Nikki smokes some. I smoked Kools unfiltered for a year in college cuz my bf smoked 'em and I almost passed out every morning. #hardcore
I have never heard of unfiltered Kools! I feel like you’re lucky to be alive. Yes, I smoked Kool Kings. When I met my husband he made me switch to Marlboro Menthols because Kools are pretty whiskey tango, it’s true. Nobody smokes them in New York. Maybe 70-year-old black men. I would totally confuse the bodega guys. Now I try not to smoke at all, somewhat unsuccessfully.
Oh, maybe my memory made that up: unfiltered Kools. Dayum. Ima look that up right now. Thanks, Katherine!! I’ll be ready to hang anytime. Whatever rapper’s having a bday. Or doing molly or what have you.