M. Beth Bloom is one of those ridiculously prolific artists who makes you wonder how she does it all. I mean that in a very concrete way: how are there enough hours in the day to perform and tour with several bands, co-run an independent record label and a raw food catering company, write screenplays and novels, and have the best fashion sense on the West Coast? I like to think if I didn’t have these children of mine I would be this prolific and cool but that’s obviously not the case. I would spend way too much time reading the newspaper while wearing sweatpants. Anyway, what I do know is that if you visit L.A. and are lucky enough to see it through this lady’s eyes, it will transform from the traffic jam-and-movie-stars place you’ve heard about into a magic land of dreamy creativity.
So her debut novel, Drain You, which comes out in just two little days, is a delight: dark, funny, smart. The heroine Quinn effortlessly embodies that 90’s “whatever” zeitgeist; the book channels Heathers, Weetzie Bat, and the delicious spookiness of Interview With a Vampire. Drain You is a page-turner for its heart-racing plot, but also for the writing itself: in the world of this book, for example, handsome inane jerk-boys are called Spaders; Quinn is prone to hilarious, dry statements like “My taste in guys had gone from lame to dystopian,” and “Whit was surprisingly chill on the subject of ampire-vays.” (I somehow imagined the whole book narrated in Jeanine Garafolo’s voice.)
Drain You is ostensibly a YA novel (though its dark themes of death and vampire-sex definitely tilt it toward the older end of that spectrum), but I think it appeals equally to ancient readers such as myself for whom the 90’s references are less a period piece and more nostalgia for those teen years of driving around, bored, underdressed, undersupervised, and drinking way too much Diet Coke.
Miss M. Beth was kind enough to answer my questions about her book over email recently…
You’re also a musician. How do you think your love of music informs your writing, and vice versa?
Honestly, writing should absolutely come first, because I love it first and best, but it most often can’t because music is my JOB and pays my BILLS. which is all so silly to say, that making music would be more lucrative and safe, but at this time, it actually is. so mainly when i’m making music i’m thinking quite literally, shit, i should be writing, i want to be writing, i’d rather be writing (is that a bumper sticker already?). band practice is usually preceded or succeeded by a long writing session. being a writer hasn’t made me a better lyricist, but i do fantasize about writing about being an underground musician and how bizarrely straightforward and hardworking and unglamorous it is.
What made you decide to write a YA novel? Any YA authors you’re especially into or influenced by?
I didn’t really set out to write one. I wanted to write about a teenager and then poof i had a YA book. In my mind it was always sort of for adults and then after page 100,110,120, someone had to tell me i’d written a young adult novel. i always think of that time of life as being really poignant and humorous (that is, conceptually, haha, in reality it’s DISTURBING and humiliating), a total wet lushland of writerly promise. I’m actually quite proud to write for teens now – my new book is YA, and i’m sure i’ll write a few more.
as for YA authors i’m inspired by, i really love Blake Nelson’s “Girl” and Daniel Handler’s “The Basic Eight.” both are genius – funny, sad, weird.
LA is an important character in this book, and is described in kind of rapturous terms. But my impression is that (and maybe it’s just that I live in New York) people love to be down on LA. Why do you think it gets a bad rap? How has your relationship with LA defined you as an artist? What about Southern California inspires you?
That’s interesting, i mean, i know of just the opposite. whenever i have friends or relatives visiting here they’re freaking out over how beautiful the weather is, and the sea and the mountains, and the sunsets. i think maybe people are down on “HOLLYWOOD” – but i have no idea why. people are just as plastic and lunatic and rich and unhappy for no reason in other cities and states in this country. hollywood has its charm, for sure. i LOVE beverly hills. and i love repping LA in my writing. i think i’ll set every book i write here, at least in part, because i feel like the landscape and the vibe sets up a very clear mood. other great female LA writers – Sandra Tsing Loh, Francesca Lia Block, Carolyn See – have seen it in its many facets and glories and i hope to continue that tradition. i think the canyons are mysterious and lovely and wild and poetic – but i especially like when my teenage characters take that for granted and just see them as tree-y and boring.
How do you balance all your creative projects? I know you to be someone who seems to always be working on about a million things at once — screenplays, music, a catering company…how do you do it?
you give up a lot of personal time. you lose a lot of what i think of as the “normal” early 30-something life-schedule – searching for houses, thinking about having and raising children, rewarding yourself with a little vacation, flying across the country to see family. but i like the diagonal, slanted view of life at my age – it suits me. it could all flip in a year, but right now i love to work, and suppose i love to be stressed (or else why wouldn’t i calm myself down!!?!?). i think ambition is a serious itch, one some people can never scratch, and i didn’t realize until recently that i was one of those people. every day is a strange goal-oriented set of hours where i’m crossing items off lists. and then shopping online for expensive lipstick to remind myself i’m more human than drone bee.
As someone who was a teenager in the 90s, I loved that this was a kind of period piece. I feel like there was a kind of everyday nihilism that was allowed in teenage culture back then — Heathers, Nirvana — that everyone’s afraid of now, and that famous pre-September 11th apathy that make that decade the perfect setting for this story. But maybe that’s putting words into your mouth…what made you decide to set this in the 90s?
setting it in the 90s was one of those non-decision decisions. i was a teenager in the 90s. that’s the real reason. that’s what i know. in a way, writing about teenage culture now – cell phone fads and current celebrities – was daunting and horrifying. i thought to myself, how can i write this with any authenticity and sincerity? how can i make it not seem like one of those bad disney shows where it feels like a boardroom of 50 year-old men and women are trying to appeal to kids with broad jokes about texting and justin bieber, and INSTEAD make it seem like one of those great disney shows where the writers are funny and timeless and remember that it’s all about being awkward and self-focused and ill-equipt to deal. also the 90s are so rich in this way that the current times aren’t – mainly because it’s an era past. we can study and obsess over and poke fun at it in a way we can’t really (not with much witticism anyway) of our present day. i was encouraged though to tone the decade down and delete the name christian slater.
that’s simply because vampire books are so funny and geeky, and 3 years ago when i wrote this, they were the most popular YA genre. why not try your hand at something so mainstream and omnipresent, when that’s not really what you’re personally drawn to? i always considered myself the outsider, the weirdo, in high school, so why not write a vampire book for a girl who’s cool in other ways? who likes music and movies and books more than she likes other people? who’s a mess socially, and selfish, and totally random about her affections. and vampires, when they aren’t being buff or murderous, are actually really fun and mostly gay (thanks to anne rice). it’s a great writing experiment – write about vampires who don’t care about being vampires, or ghosts who barely notice they’re dead, or werewolves who can’t really be bothered to be scary. not to mention there’s great late 80s/90s vampire iconography to play with – the lost boys, near dark, buffy the vampire slayer, interview with the vampire.
Quinlan Lacy is a unique, fascinating, strong character — did you set out to create a strong female character? Were there other characters or people who influenced the creation of her?
ladies, if you’re a writer and you’re not interested in writing strong female characters, do me a favor and write under a man’s pen name. it’s all about a personal, unique brand of feminism when you’re a woman writer – which is to say, you create that feminism and for each woman it’s different, but portraying women with originality and wit and spark is vital. i always look to lorrie moore when i’m creating a new female character because she makes every woman seem like a brilliant, honest, melancholic, hopeful, wistful snowflake! weetzie bat is always a great heroine to dissect – she loves sex and fashion and food and music – and the heroines of “the little friend” and “children’s hospital.” but also the original buffy (as written by joss whedon and played by kristy swanson), who’s at first mean-spirited and stuck-up and shallow, but ultimately sweet and ass-kicking and serious. i like all those things in a woman, ALL OF THEM!
also, quinn’s basically a version of me in high school. definitely my attitude toward my parents and friends and school and boys. my bedroom, my wardrobe, my messy eyeliner, my peeling off bjork poster. moi sans vampires.
Is there going to be a sequel? PLEASE?
don’t think so. not unless the book is wildly popular and there’s demand of some sort. i can’t imagine myself as a vampire trilogy kind of writer. though why not bust through that mainstream myth too!
If I were reading this with a book group I would need to engage everyone in a lengthy Team James/Team Whit/Team Morgan discussion..but not apprope here I guess.
For the record, I think that Whit seems really nice.
i love whit too. whit’s the one you want to be with quinn and he’s the one ultimately she will be with (at least for one semester, haha), because she’s not going to BECOME a vampire. she lives in the (sort of) real world!
Thanks so much! I really loved the book — could not put it down. Quinn’s the coolest. But she needs to drink less Diet Coke.
if someone wrote a realistic day to day account of what teenagers ate and drank, we’d all be horrified. but yes, much less diet coke. she’ll be the kind of 30 year-old who’ll only drink kefir and kombucha and judge anyone who even sips a soda water. i may or may not know from personal experience.