Back in May of 2012 I reviewed on this blog “Monsters,” a collection of monster stories and highlighted my favorite: Alissa Nutting's Daniel. I adored this riff on the ambivalence of motherhood which featured a mother who blames herself when her boy grows up and morphs into a monster with fangs. She remembers that as she breastfed him she was exhausted and overwhelmed. As he drained milk from her breasts she imagined he was draining blood from her slit wrists.
Speaking of overwhelmed mothers, I was one today. I tend to hyperventilate when driving on snow, but I managed to stay calm enough to motor over black ice and through white slush this morning to get to the Lions in Winter conference at Eastern Illinois University. I'll repeat: In Illinois.
Nutting was the first speaker.
Ms Nutting began her talk by confessing that she had suffered a serious bout of postpartum depression and attended a therapy group. The lab coated counselor in charge of her group pulled out a dry erase marker and wrote the word “Disease” on the white board. “I was bored, so I stared ahead and started to do Kegels.” She looked at the audience, a smile in her eyes and added, “You might be doing the same thing now.” Her counselor took the marker and drew a line through the word “Disease,” splitting it into “Dis” and “ease.” Nutting decided that this concept could inform her writing—a character's levels of ease and dis-ease defines his/her motivation.
Alissa Nutting spent a good amount of time sharing her thoughts about evil. She projected onto the wall a chart that divided evil into ten ascending levels, at its base is a killing done in self defense, and at the apex is a killing in which the murderer tortures his victims. “My interest is in individuals who kill one person at a time,” she said, straight-faced. “Mass murders are simply too big in scope for me to understand.”
I can't figure out a segue from “evil” to discount marketers—you'll have to make that leap on your own—but when Nutting spoke about the craft of writing and building her characters, she said she likes to take characters and imagine they are in a Kmart in order to make note of what the character notices and feels.
The talented Ms. Nutting not only gave an informative and entertaining talk, but her new novel, “Tampa,” distracted me while I navigated the icy roads.