Full disclosure: when I read Elizabeth V. Aldrich’s … novel? Manic, drug-fueled confession? Ruthless Little Things (ExpatPress)... I was in a Sheraton four miles from my house hiding out from a man. Which is to say, I was perhaps emotionally raw. Which is to suggest I was probably in need of a strong female voice (in my head) on the page. Which is exactly what I got. Elizabeth V. Aldrich is equal parts/at various times Bret Easton Ellis, Elizabeth Wurtzel, Henry Miller, Bukowski, J. T. Leroy, and, of course, Courtney Love. (She opens the book with a Hole lyric, “Don’t blush when I rip you open.” How could I not love her/this book? I have two Hole stickers on my car!) But as well as being all of those things/people, Elizabeth, or, I should say, her protagonist is UNAPOLOGETICALLY, ULTIMATELY herself: fucking women, drugging, lying, stealing, fucking more women, drugging, living, dying, fucking, over and over again, in a way I never grew tired or bored of, but, instead, matched her manic fever in my page turning/reading/manic delight.
Hopefully Elizabeth will be free in the world and able to read with Elle Nash and myself in LA in July!
I think you said, if you don’t mind me divulging, this book would be better if you hadn’t been a crazed drug addict or on drugs or something to that effect, and I did write, early on, in the margin of page 13, “I would have edited the hell out of this” but immediately added, “but I think that would have been a mistake; I like it/’you’ messy.” Now that I’ve finished the book I 100% agree w myself/my thought early on, this book is perfect as is. and one of the reasons it is so compelling is due to the manic/crazed/drug-writing. It feels very 1970s American punk rock. It feels also, or reading it I felt how I felt reading profiles of Courtney Love in, like, 1992…I felt her mania, her manic phone conversations w other musicians/actresses…that’s how reading this book felt. And I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough! (but somehow, it also feels, EDITED. Bret Easton Ellis edited. After the first few pages. So you must have an inherent instinct for self-editing as you go, even in a drug phase!)
How long did you spend writing it? when did you write it? did you write under the influence (lol)? How did it end up being published, did no one edit it (thank god, if no!)?
I don’t know, there was a good seven years of my life where I didn’t write at all. Months. I wrote it in 2011 and 2016 and 2019. The first chapter was written during a Mercury retrograde in 2019.
I started writing it in on a plane back to Los Angeles from New York when I was 17. Back then the basic idea was to have two girls living in a suicidal way for a week. I wanted to capture that sort of freedom of not giving a fuck whether you live or die, but also put the effort into wearing fake eyelashes.
What/who turns you on in writing? What books have murdered you the way your book murdered me? your book really gave me hope. While reading it I thought to myself: “ok, not all young ppl are prudish, square, completely self-righteous, obsessed with morality hypocrites; fuck yeah!” I loved the nihilistic, apathetic, balls to the wall energy of this book, the numbness. Something BEE has talked about re his writing (“And my aesthetic was L.A. and numbness and punk and minimalism”). Ruthless Little Things often made me think of Less Than Zero. The female version. And a Simon & Schuster editor (Morgan Entrekin) at that time famously (?) said (of Less Than Zero): “If there’s a market for callow fragmentary fiction about rich self-indulgent coke-sniffing cock-sucking zombies, then let’s buy it.” feel like you could describe Ruthless Little Things similarly: “callow fragmentary fiction about middle class indulgent opioid-ingesting pussy-eating zombies.” And I mean that in the best way. but yeah, back to the question: what/who turns you on in literature? Have you read any BEE?
The dialogue in Not Yet by Manuel Marrero turns me on. (I’ve spent most of my life online, of course sexy DMs are going to appeal to me.) Haunted Girlfriend by James Nulick absolutely murdered my soul and brought it back to life. Oh my god, yeah, fuck this SJW bullshit, that’s stuff you’re supposed to learn in college when you can also be living out your slutty years. Yeah I’ve been in the Bay Area and I would love it if everyone asked what someone’s preferred pronouns were when first meeting but don’t be such a fucking downer on the internet, you know? Tumblr was fun once. I’ve read Less Than Zero, I’ve been to the Sherman Oaks Galleria quoting it with my friend Tom Thirst, I went to Du-par’s a bunch before it closed down, and I mean yes I’ve done a lot of cocaine. A lot. That apathetic energy is you picking up on that I originally wrote these characters as completely suicidal. Valery distracted them, though, so they lived longer than the week I originally thought would be a good length of excess to write about.
Speaking of self-righteous hypocrites, do you believe in “hate speech” or “violence” re writing/books? do you believe in censoring books/writing and if so, when? Is there a line? For yourself/your own writing or for the books/authors you’ll read? Do you feel a need to self-censor ever when writing? Do you feel nervous ever abt your writing being misinterpreted or misperceived by others? abt you being labeled a ‘bad person’? does anything offend you? anything, I should specify, contained within the pages of a book?
Violence against sex workers in writing offends me because it’s so overused and unnecessary.
Okay, I just have to say, this is some of the hottest sex writing I’ve ever read and this is probably a problematic comparison but I just kept thinking of Henry Miller’s writing while reading these scenes. meaning, writing about sex is so hard (lol), a lot of ppl avoid it altogether because of that tendency to come off cheesy or porno-seeming. But you write so effortlessly and naturally about sex… “She palms my knees ands slowly spreads my legs. She rubs her hand on top of my underwear. I can tell I’m wet by how close her fingers feel. Warm enough, she slides her hand underneath my panties and feeling how wet I am, dips into my cunt briefly before coming up and rubbing my clit.
The kiss on my hand is soft. A hand grips my wrist and I know now is the time to relax even more.
I smell alcohol and hear the rip of plastic.
Prryha is still rubbing my clit: circles, circles, circles. My muscles tensing until for a brief moment she moves away. a bite on my neck: a needle in my arm.
All warmth and love, deeper than love. a sea of honey bliss. Prryha dives her face between my legs. My underwear have been slowly bitten down to my ankles.”
I don’t really have a question, more just wanted to point out the sex (for anyone reading this interview) but also, I guess, what writer or book can you remember reading that had relatable, realistic, h-o-t sex scenes?
Mila Jaroniec's Plastic Vodka Bottle Sleepover. Elle Nash.
One of the sections of the book I like a lot is this chapter “JOYRIDE” in which the narrator and her friend Kimberly, both sixteen, go to Hollywood to hang out with Kimberly’s forty-five year old boyfriend John, and John takes them to a bar in Malibu (where he tells them Brad Pitt has been known to go) and then gets a hotel so they can do drugs in it and takes them shopping in Santa Monica. (felt very the movie 13 or the movie Bully or the movie Kids…)
“Kimberly lights up a cig. She brags about her matches from Vegas and how fast they light up. I read all the stickers in the garage, something about empowering girls and donating to Africa
“Do you have any kids?” I ask John. The seats are beige leather, soft, smooth. It feels like a spaceship, somewhere to hide from the dry heat of the San Fernando Valley.
“Yeah,” he says. “A daughter. Amanda, she’s sixteen.”
We leave and stop at a liquor store. Kimberly and I are in need of some eyeliner, but I can’t find any. I ask if we are going to get drunk at the beach. Kimberly says yes, which sounds pretty nice to me.
It’s a long drive to the beach from the Valley so John stops in the parking lot to make us some drinks in the car. I drink whatever John mixes. Vodka and red Gatorade, and it’s strong. The lack of food replaced with diet pills makes me dizzy. We’re drinking from red cups. We stay in the liquor store parking lot until the cups are empty because we don’t want to spill in his car.”
So, I don’t know. I love the lack of any sort of explanation in your writing. The lack of judgment. The lack of feelings. It’s all action. It just reminded me too of The Basketball Diaries (Jim Carroll) and, I guess, the wildness and numbness (to repeat myself) of youth. The nihilism of youth, maybe. And I couldn’t help thinking/wondering if this isn’t how teens are supposed to be: out in the world, experimenting, indulging, rather than INCELS in their bedrooms in their parents’ houses on their phones 24/7, ‘SAFE’. One of my favorite moments of the pandemic was the social media influencer kids in Malibu who refused to stop partying and got their water/electric shut off. I thought, yeah, that’s how young ppl should be: defiant, social, rebellious, drinking, fucking, drugging... FUCK YOU and your mandates. We’re gna party. this is how we make our living. FUCK YOU.
Do you/did you feel any judgment on behalf of the narrator in those scenes? do you feel like she had to sort of go through these stages in her life, of drug taking, ‘casual’ sex (with her peers and older ppl/anyone), lying, stealing, BEING A TEENAGER/Young adult?
You know how Patti Smith loved that picture of Edie Sedgwick that was in Vogue because she looked completely self-absorbed, like no one else in the world existed? A girl is too busy being entranced by her own reflection to give a fuck or even see a dirty look in her peripheral vision. Plus, it’s hard to catch a bad vibe when you can barely keep your eyes open. Nah, the narrator is a teenager and therefore too self-involved to give a fuck about the judgement of others when she’s already on an adventure. It’s part of why she wants it to go on forever. I either wrote it before it was true or wrote it after it happened, and the things I feel really bad about in life are not things I have written about in a straight-forward way. I feel like she had to go through those stages in her life because she so stubbornly sought them out, you know? I was never offered drugs when I first started doing them, I was asking everyone I knew where I could get them. Like, there could be no bad influence on Madzi because she just had something on her mind. Drugs are the closest thing to magic, I remember thinking as a teenager.
Written in margin of this part “what if she were a male writer?”: “I crave blood. I’ve tended to for what seems like ages, always behind the neck, starting at a girl, the way she takes up her space. I latch on, an invisible cuff. Get to know the girl.
And as soon as I ferret out the weakness, the truth that she cares about me, a confession or a protest of any of my rejections, when I leave, I cut her clean. I unleash all my cruelty. I do not feel.”
A couple paragraphs later, “As if I’m not a predator.”
Reading this I just thought: Damn. The honesty. But also, a male writer couldn’t be this honest. A male writer isn’t allowed to have a male character be cruel to a female character. But a female writer can write a female character who is (knowingly, unapologetically) cruel to another woman.
Also, what does it mean to you, also to the protagonist of Ruthless Little Things, could be two separate interpretations, to be a predator? What does it mean to be a misogynist? another question for both of you, you and your narrator. Do you/she feel like a predator? Like a misogynist? And how closely do you align yourself w her? with the narrator of your book? What does it mean to be cruel?
IT HAS BEEN A MONTH AND THIS QUESTION HAS STUMpED ME. I don’t know how to define misogyny but I know when I fucking hate someone because they’re engaging in it and it’s super gross. I also feel like stomping anything down is wrong. Be free to love, be free to hate. I love Valery, she’s my favorite!
Being cruel means thinking people are there to be used. It means being as harsh as you can be, knowing all the right spots to get someone to break, and not holding back. Because nothing else has worked. It’s whatever you do after you warn someone not to push you there.
The live version of “Cruel” by Tori Amos is the best. The Jools Holland one.
It says on your website, as way of bio: “First published at 16. First incarcerated at 28.” Where were you first published, what was your first published piece? And where/when were you first incarcerated, and why? If you can go into that. or want to.
I was first published when I was sixteen with the poem “Runaway” which I wrote while I was on ketamine in Canada with someone I was engaged to at the time. I went to the same jail as Paris Hilton, CRDF. My charge is assault with a deadly weapon. I was fucked up in the head because I had the shit beaten out of me earlier that month and was still very much in fight or flight mode.
Last week in the NYTBR there was a really annoying, stupid essay (“Heroines of Self-Hate”) written by a woman (Lucinda Rosenfeld) criticizing novels written by women (Melissa Broder, Ottessa Moshfegh, Sally Rooney, Raven Leilani) that she in some way seemed to believe promoted females being cruel to themselves or asking for cruelty to be done to them. To me it seemed like Lucinda (I googled her and didn’t recognize any of her book titles and skimming the descriptions of a couple they just seemed boring, tbh, whereas I knew the titles of all but one of the books she referenced and had read most and found them interesting, complex reads; also, full disclosure: Ottessa Moshfegh is one of my favorite living writers) was jealous of these writers and the attention their books have received and wanted some of that attention for herself so looked for a way to be critical of them, to lump them together for her benefit.
I kept rereading this sentence cuz I had no fucking clue what it meant (and still don’t despite looking up the definition for shibboleths): “I wonder whether, in some larger sense, these books reflect discomfort with current liberal-left shibboleths regarding ‘the patriarchy.’” Huh? What?
She talks about two of Sally Rooney’s female protagonists asking their male lovers to hit them and the lovers refusing. “It’s as if the protagonists of these novels, faced with the choice between being their own worst enemies or men’s victims, have all chosen the former.”
But as a friend of mine pointed out, “She’s missing the point that for some women this can be a kink.” Getting hit during sex. being struck. She also misses the point that this sort of “kink” is not limited to male/female sex/the straight world, nor to the sort of ‘victim/predator’ narrative.
In Ruthless Little Things, the narrator says, after her girlfriend is “brutally” fisted by another woman: “Why couldn’t Valery have picked me? I actually like pain.”
And a couple paragraphs later:
“I can take way more than she can, I say. Don’t you even know the joys of having a pain slut at your knees?
She slapped me in the face. Of course I do.”
What do you think about what that essay was trying to say? linking the desire for pain to self-hate or being one’s ‘own worst enemy’? I mean, it just seems so stupid because what, then, are we to make of all the rich dudes in dungeons getting the shit beat out of them by women they’re paying to BEAT THE SHIT OUT OF THEM? why do you think your protagonist likes pain?
Maybe women are still trying to get over the fact that they are more than muses now. I think this essay was trying to say, “Hey, look, women still hate themselves.” Duh? Those writers are promoting a sort of honesty, like how Manuel Marrero’s narrator in Thousands of Lies talks about how his medication was giving him a flaccid cock. You have to talk about the body, Kate Zambreno talks about wanting to write from the body.
Courtney Connection: Sleeping with my enemy, myself.
I hate people who write like that (regarding the liberal-left shibboleths). Those people don’t even write to be understood.
I think some people are just born with their wires crossed that way. Like me. I made my protagonist like pain because I like pain and wanted to write about it. The same reason Radclyffe Hall wrote The Well of Loneliness. Cuz I am one and felt qualified to write as one.
There’s almost no mention of ‘adults’ or parents in this book, though I was often wondering where the protagonist was sleeping at night, when not on the floor of some random party or when she wasn’t living in a place called The Mansion and getting paid for sex. I think twice a dad is mentioned. “I am in Santa Monica and everything is closed and this means my only way of getting back home is by calling my dad.” There is some reference to a mother being dead, of a new wife for a dad…
You said to ask you anything so do you want to talk about your own experience as a teenager? Did you have a relationship with your father? Had your mother died? I hate reading fiction this way, but admittedly, I was/am curious.
“ok: this monster of solitudes finally wilted and caught the bus downtown to procure a girl-boy, or a boy/girl, or whichever happened to be least convenient. the kid with the chemicals: K, x, E, crack or heroin, whatever. i’ll be the first to admit I was looking for a mother substitute.”
My own experience as a teenager was mostly online. A lot of my friends lived/live their life with no parental involvement and don’t know where they’re going to sleep, but they find somewhere. If I wanted to write about that I would probably write about how much thought it takes to live that way, how hard it is, but I wrote this first.
Me as a 13 year old… I got into riot grrrl and Manic Panic. I saw Marilyn Manson in concert when I was thirteen and he signed my copy of Lest We Forget at the Hollywood and Highland Hot Topic where he told me I would live 11,000 years but I think he was just fucking with me because I told him I was eleven. I got into coding by copying other people’s source codes and editing them, and I will never forget that one time I was Rick Rolled by reading someone’s source code.
I’d have awesome nights at The Roxy (where I saw Hole!), running around Sunset and getting smoothies at Hustler while freezing my ass off in a Skingraft jacket I got on Melrose. Luckily my best friend Victoria Innocenzi (look her up, she’s the dopest photographer and videographer).
As for my own personal stuff, well, everyone I grew up with has divorced parents. My mom died when I was nine of lung cancer. I feel lucky to have ever met her, though, and I know she loves me. What really helped me deal with her death was having to walk past her grave in this charter school I went to right before moving to San Francisco. I have an awesome relationship with my dad, he’s awesome and super supportive. He’s been through so much and it just makes him more badass. He’s my role model. He doesn’t understand where my creativity comes from but he has the best sense of humor and is a crafty genius. He remarried after about a year after my mom died, but he opens up to me more about her now which is super cool.
Yeah! I guess I didn’t want to write the boring parts? Or parts that I would find boring? Or I can say it captures how nothing seems to happen until something happens and then it’s like everything is happening.
There is also, toward the end, the Girl, Interrupted/Bell Jar aspect to this book:
“i want to talk about my only other fellow ward, 15yr. old Pauline, with her screwed-up face,
cold stare, squeaky voice and Fuck Off eyes. she managed to kill herself just two hours after
we were acquainted: a personal record.”
“the most difficult part of being here I guess is that i’ve been jumping-up-and-down-screaming manic since I was admitted…”
Were you at some point admitted to a hospital? did you write sections of this book while a patient? While manic?
The first poem I ever published I wrote while on ketamine, so… some stuff I write is stark and matter-of-fact like Meth in the Honey Jar because I don’t want the reader to feel forced to feel anything, just observe, and then on ketamine I just want to have really good imagery but with a good solid core underneath so I’m not just scamming you with purple prose.
I voluntarily went to detox twice. I went to the San Francisco State Hospital or whatever it’s called for one night where I saw this guy wearing a DOMO costume. All benzo-related.
I wrote this book manic, in psychosis, in withdrawal, while feeling like I was overdosing, I wrote this book in every altered state I could procure. I wrote this book while drinking sake and listening to Dvorak hyper focusing on page 39. I did write part of this book when I was the age of the characters, which is something I don’t even know exactly because it’s not so much a certain age as much as a certain time period.
I just want to end with a few more quotes from the book:
“Madzi is in her platform heels looking pissed as she sweats off layers of makeup.”
“Tomorrow’s the last day of school and we are celebrating accordingly. It would be much more fitting to do all of our drugs in the school bathroom, considering how many drugs we’ve done there before: how many girls we’ve dragged into stalls with us, giggling and kissing and fucking without a care in the world who could hear us, so many missed classes in favor of sweating in confined spaces that reek of hairspray and cigarettes.”
“I am free.”
“She is a continuous violet sunset. She looks so trashed, short bleached-white pixie hair so burnt it always looks like Robert Smith spent his whole life backcombing it… she’s trash like me, wakes up with smeared eyeliner, glitter on her face, and a nightgown from Goodwill/Wasteland and most likely a variety of pills in her stomach.”
“The boys are two submissives.”
“My hands on her throat to keep her standing more than anything.”
“When did the ambitions of the day turn into sucking dick and the cool end of a crack pipe?”
“Do I want to rape Valery?”
“Being nineteen meant drinking cherry coke and whiskey. Prozac & cigarettes & spending all your cash on Xanx and slips from Wasteland and Slow and feeling sad when you didn’t have any cash leftover for Johnny Rockets. It was innocence, a lack of regret, because why regret the past when you’re looking forward to those same mistakes again?”
“That’s the thing about life. Not everyone becomes a rock star.”
You’re twenty-eight, twenty-nine now? what does being twenty-eight or twenty-nine mean? what do you look forward to now? do you become a rock star?
Courtney Connection: How’d you like to be Madonna? How’d you like to be Nirvana?
I’m twenty-eight, born October 9th, 1992.
Being 28 means I’m in a fifth house profection year. I’m a Pisces rising, so my fifth house is Cancer. I have my Mars in that house and Cancer is ruled by the moon, so the moon is my time lord. My moon is in my first house. The fifth house is the house of publishing. Being 28 means I’m older than all the people I thought were super cool when I was a teenager on LiveJournal. It means I’m older than the girl I wrote about in 92nd Street Speedheart. I look forward to whatever the world comes out with. It’s always art that’s kept me here. I’m being interviewed right now, I am a rock star!
Writers are rock stars that want to stay at home.