I sat (virtually) down to interview author Layne Fargo about her newest book They Never Learn (out today – Happy Publication Day!) and the very first thing out of my mouth was a chipper and excited “So, I’m not a thriller fan!”
But what followed was an amazing conversation about how it’s ok to go into something and think “Maybe this isn’t for me!” and explorations into the psyche of readers and writers, why – sometimes – you just gotta kill a bitch and how an offhand twitter comment can be the basis of a really good book.
But – before we get into any of this – let’s set some context. I want you all to know that I am trying really hard here to not give away the good parts so bear with me.
There are two main storylines throughout the book. In one, Scarlett Clark is a professor at a small university where she studies forgotten (female) literature writers, teaches undergrads, complains with her friend about her shitty boss, and adds some pizazz in her life by hunting – in the truest sense of the word – men who have harmed other women. Scarlett hunts a man that ends up bringing an investigation to campus and in an effort to not get caught, Scarlett volunteers to be part of the team.
The second storyline is of Carly Schiller. Brand spankin’ new to college life, she has left home, her emotionally abusive father and her traumatized mother and she has no idea what to do. She gets randomly paired with Allison Hadley who seems effortlessly cool and magnetic and her life is never the same after. Allison is a puzzle wrapped in an enigma and Carly can’t help but fall for her roommate.
Then [SPOILERS – REDACTED – MUST READ BOOK TO CONTINUE]!
do did not like thrillers prior to this (one day, I’ll write a blog post about how much I dislike the book Gone Girl and how much I want to set every copy on fire) and have a very uneasy time with crime novels as a whole – there are complicated issues for me about the stories that people are willing to listen to, the commodification of female pain, etc. that I grapple with. However! 2020 is a dumpster fire that has been getting regular injections of gasoline due to a bunch of shitty dudes, so this escape in a world where bad men get bad things done to them, was vengeful and a little cathartic because there are no real life consequences.
The writing style was snappy and fast-paced really pacing the reader along with the journey and the twist is so delightful. I literally put the book down, walked around, and then picked it back up again. But unlike some novels where they blow their load on the twist and the writing goes downhill – there are more explorations after the twist that I think is really what set it apart for me.
10/10 would recommend.
My Conversation with Layne
What you’re about to read are snippets from an hour long conversation I had with Layne so, obviously, it’s been edited for length, clarity and also because I took 100% advantage of my ability to talk to an author and asked her all the spoiler-full questions that a reader wants to ask when they’ve finished reading a book. Terri Gross, I am not, but you know, I’ve got a lot of charm and that’s gotta count for something right?
Where did this idea even come from?
Layne: A friend of mine tweeted something at me and another friend of ours, who’s a YA author, and said “I wish we could write a book together where there was one adult, and one YA protagonist.” and I replied “Yeah! It could be about a serial killer, and [spoilers]!” and she said “OMG YOU HAVE TO WRITE THIS BOOK!” and I was like “Oh shit… I DO!”
Natalia Note (NN): There are like, several good things that have happened to me, exclusively as a result of shooting my shot on Twitter. So while it may be a festering bog of a website, be brave, @ your crush, and just do you boo.
When you were writing Scarlett, did you take in the #MeToo movement or the different conversations that were happening about women’s equity, because she is an icon for 2020 where she sees bad shit happening and she just handles it. Did these cultural moments influence who Scarlett became?
Layne: Oh yeah, for sure. When I first came up with the idea it was also the first week of the Kavanaugh hearings so I was overflowing with rage. (NN: In the audio at this part, I audibly gasped SO LOUD it scared me. I just…can’t with myself.) But that’s just one example of so many things that you see over and over of these men – even if they’re not rapists – but they’re creeping on women inappropriately and nothing ever really happens to them. There’s no consequence to their actions! Sometimes I just sit there and look at these men and think what if we just killed them? (NN: If you haven’t read Mona Eltahawy’s book The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls, I recommend her chapter called “Violence” and no, I never get tired of making this recommendation.)
Is Scarlett autobiographical in anyway?
Layne: I put a lot of myself into Scarlett, probably more than I have than with any other character I’ve written. Like her Type A tendencies, and how she’s so orderly and organized. Then I just thought…what if a person like that was a serial killer? They’d be really great at it!
On the craft of writing – did anything come as a surprise?
Layne: I’ll say that I’m typically a big plotter. I plot everything out about my books ahead of time, but things still surprise me! I knew that certain events were going to happen, but things still occur in the moment that I didn’t anticipate.
With respect to our problematic friend Allison…
Layne: I always intended Allison to be a problematic character. I’ve known people like her my entire life, and I think I’ve been like Allison in some situations in my life. But Carly meets her and is struck by how Allison is so cool, and so confident and such a free spirit, she makes friends effortlessly. Because Carly is so shy and anxious she gravitates towards that. But as Carly gets to know Allison more, she sees the cracks in that – on top of everything Carly is navigating herself. So it causes a breakdown over the course of the friendship, which is where some of this frustration with Allison comes from.
What is the deal with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? What about that movie made you want to include it in the book?
Layne: Clementine (Kate Winslet’s character) appears in that movie very much as this Manic Pixie Dream Girl type and then she continuously fights against it. She says “No, I’m not your dream girl, I’m not going to save you, I’m a complex person with needs and not just some chick with blue hair.” That really resonated for me with Allison. She might appear to be someone’s dream girl or fantasy, but she’s really fucked up.
Interspaced in this was so much fangirling on my end and so many discussions of spoilers that I can’t transcribe it all, but I think that you should allow follow Layne on Instagram or Twitter – and listen to her podcast with her dope friends Unlikeable Female Characters.