Questions by Annabel
Annabel: I was hoping to read a quirky novel – and Old Buildings in North Texas was certainly that, (if you don’t mind that word). I loved it, and was delighted to find it light-hearted and funny too. In a way, it reminded me of one of my favourite TV series, Six Feet Under and Tom Drury’s Grouse County novels, all of which deal with serious issues with humanity and humour, often dead-pan. Was it difficult to write a funny novel about addiction and families?
Jen: Humor comes naturally to me. Everybody makes mistakes, and people need to be able to laugh at themselves when that happens. If not for her sense of humor, Olivia would be a real downer, no fun to write and no fun to read. So no, I think I’d find it more difficult to write her story without the humor. If I’m not chuckling as I write, I’m not writing well.
Annabel: How did you get into the addict’s mind? Olivia’s experience seemed very real…
Jen: As soon as I wrote the first paragraph of Old Buildings, I understood Olivia. I’m sympathetic with people who’ve become addicted to drugs or alcohol, not because I’ve experienced this, but because I tend to form obsessive habits, which are difficult to overcome. How much more difficult it must be to change one’s behavior when a person is not only mentally, but physically, dependent. Also, none of us get through life without fighting battles—this was Olivia’s.
Annabel: Novels of small town America are big favourites of mine. Given extra acreage, they lack the total claustrophobia of their UK equivalents. With Olivia as a returnee to where she grew up, I’m guessing you had fun with her old friends and everyone knowing everyone else, particularly making her old school-friend Jane her therapist for example?
Jen: I did apply my own experience in this area to Olivia. During our first years of marriage my husband and I lived in Cairo, and then in The Hague. In the beginning, we felt obligated to go home and visit our parents every year or so; and while our families and friends were happy to see us, it soon became apparent that they had no interest in our experiences—their eyes would glaze over when we spoke of diving in the Red Sea or watching the sun sink into the ocean in Penang. As with Jane, other than weight gain, there was no change in the people of my hometown, no growth, no desire to know more about the world. In Old Buildings in North Texas, this reality made Olivia feel both superior and helplessly left out.
Annabel: I’m intrigued by the novel’s location in the ‘Texas Panhandle’. It’s not a part of Texas that we hear much about, so what was special about this place to make it your setting?
Jen: I’m originally from Amarillo, smack dab in the middle of the panhandle. I’ve made my fictional town, Caprock, smaller than Amarillo so that it’s more manageable, but the topography and the mind set of the people is as I described. My next novel, Why Stuff Matters, is also located there.
Annabel: Told she needs a hobby, Olivia chooses Urban exploration, ‘urbexing’. It sounds fascinating – and one that Olivia can channel some of her addict’s ingenuity into. It obviously informs the whole novel and gives Olivia lots of adventure – how did it come to you?
Jen: I met a woman a few years ago who told me that she and her boyfriend almost got caught sneaking around in an abandoned warehouse. As she spoke of racing out of there, being pursued by the security guard, she became flushed and breathless, and I knew this rush of adrenaline was exactly what Olivia needed to distract her from her woes. I didn’t realize urbexing was a thing, but when I looked it up, apparently there are clubs and rules—in the UK, as well as here in the US.
Annabel: Olivia, her Mom and younger sister Chloe make a formidable trio of women. The only man to get inside their triangle is old family friend Zachary – who is just lovely. He’s so different to stereotypical Texan men, you must have enjoyed writing about him…
Jen: Yeah, this is definitely a woman’s book. I was dismayed to realize that, having completed the novel, the only men I’d included had issues: A gay guy, a crazy dermatologist, a bully policeman, and a scary thug. What does this say about my attitude toward the male of our species? I need to give this some thought and expand in this area. It’s true that Zachary is wonderful. He was a good father to the girls and supportive of the mother; and I loved his dry sense of humor. Most likely, I’ll be seeing him again soon.
Annabel: What have you particularly enjoyed reading recently? Which books have been on your nightstand?
Jen: Daisy in Chains by Sharon Bolton: This was the first by her that I’ve read. I enjoyed it immensely, and I’ll definitely be looking into her other novels.
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman: I loved the story, which was warm and compelling, and yes, amusing. But the repetitive phrasing was annoying. Too many unnecessary words. I wanted to go through it with my finger on the delete button.
Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen: Anything by this author is substantive. She’s smart and sensitive and writes beautifully about relationships and their inherent dramas. No humor, though.
LaRose by Louise Erdrich: Erdrich is the literary voice of the Ojibwa Indians. An American institution, she’s been writing about American Indian tribal issues and customs for years and has won many awards.
Annabel: And finally… Tell me there’ll be a sequel (or a prequel about Olivia’s Mom) … please!
Jen: Nope, though OBiNT’s characters might make cameos in upcoming novels. At this point, Olivia is ‘a broken-down truck in a country driveway.’ I have no doubt that she’ll repair herself and get to where she’s going, but she needs to do it by herself.
Thank you Jen.
Read Annabel’s review of Old Buildings in North Texas in our fiction section here.
Jen Waldo, Old Buildings in North Texas (Arcadia, 2016). 978-1910050781, 215 pp., hardback.
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