Glue, the new book from Constance Ann Fitzgerald, is a hauntingly visceral read. It makes bold use of the second person, and juxtaposes a host of scenes from life even as it raises questions of family, mortality, and the ways in which we damage ourselves. It’s a short book, but it leaves a massive impact. I talked with Fitzgerald via email about how Glue came to be, her work running Ladybox Books, and the ways in which her work has evolved over time.
Glue makes especially memorable and effective use of the second person, which isn’t an easy thing to do. When in the course of working on this did you decide to tell it in the second person?
I didn’t really decide to write in second person so much as I did it reflexively. I’ve written in second person in my journal since high school. Which I’m think I did because I was sort of talking to myself. Telling myself about the day or events or lecturing myself for future reference.
Glue started as fragments and journal-type entries. When I sent it in I attached a preface of being open to the idea of changing it to first person (even though I really didn’t want to) because I had been told that using second person was using a device to distance myself from the material. Cameron said they were wrong, and I was glad. Keeping it in second person felt like a great way to put the reader in that space.
Structurally, the book moves back and forth in time, keeping the reader in motion through several parallel events. Was that structure something you had in mind as you began to write, or did it develop as you started writing it?
I didn’t really sit down with the goal to write this book about grief and death and being broken. I wrote so much of it without knowing what I was really going to do with it, or if it was ever going to be anything at all.
The things I wrote were memories and worries and thoughts I couldn’t quite get away from. Stuff I had to write or I was going to go crazy.
I realized how many of these notes to myself were scattered through my computer, phone and notebooks and decided to put them all in one place and see what it looked like. At that point I thought of it more like a set list or a mix tape than a timeline. I was more concerned with it having a flow than I was about there being a linear timeline. I tried to cobble it together/structure it in a way that at least made made sense.
Bouncing between the parallel events made sense to me because after the second accident all I could do was compare it to the first. I was convinced my father was going to die, and then he almost did. Again. I needed those events to be as similar on the page as they felt to me in order for the story to effectively lead the reader through the agonizing possibility of having to go through that nightmare twice.
One line that particularly struck me dealt with how the people we care about also have the power to damage us: “And even if you could get him to talk this time, what he might say could kill you where you stand.” How did you decide when to reveal certain connections and certain relationships when you did?
It was important to me to represent the people in this book as authentically as I could. They aren’t just characters, they are people that I love. So more than my revealing them through storytelling, they revealed themselves to me during a time of tragedy.
And if I’m going to try to show other people as authentically as I can, then it’s only fair that I do that with myself as well. The dynamics between myself and whoever I’m discussing have to be as close to the truth as I’m capable of seeing them as an inherently bias human being. That includes the deeply real fear of someone saying something I can’t handle. Or wanting to punch someone in the face because they can’t handle what I’m saying.
Caring about someone at all is opening yourself up to the possibility of damage. You care, you get close, you share things and get vulnerable/take off your shell and expose all your soft, easily stab-able parts.
When in the process of writing Glue did the title emerge?
Much, much later. Titling this book was extremely hard. Cameron Pierce is a title genius and even he wasn’t totally sure what we should call it.
He felt that because the material was so personal, it was important that the title come from me. Which was difficult because I really don’t feel that titles are my strong suit.
One day I was walking to work listening to Nirvana Unplugged. I realized that there is an entire section of Glue where I basically describe a single lyric: my heart is broke, but I have some glue.
Because of my older sister I’ve been listening to Nirvana since I was eight, and that image was so ingrained in my head that it didn’t even occur to me that there was an homage happening until then.
At first I thought I could title it with the whole lyric, but it felt too long. J. David Osborne suggested that I just call it Glue so we did.
You’ve now been running Ladybox Books for a couple of years. Have you found that it’s had any effect on your writing?
I’d really love to paint myself as some kind of superstar and say it hasn’t, or it’s affected my writing for the better. But the fact is that I can’t focus on too many projects at once and feel like I am doing my best. I don’t want to let down anyone who has entrusted me with their work, so I tend to sacrifice my own writing to focus on their projects.
Which took a lot of time to admit to myself.
I love Ladybox and what it’s doing, but ultimately I set out to be a writer. So it’s a matter of doing what I love on both levels and finding some kind of balance that doesn’t sacrifice what I want to do for myself.
You recently announced that you were co-editing a new anthology with Cameron Pierce. How did that come about?
Everyone was so angry and frustrated after the election (for good reason) and Cameron really wanted to do something to help in a positive way. From voicing my opinions publicly, I think he realized that I felt the same way. He asked if I would be interested in co-editing this project with him and there was no way I could say no. I think it’s a really great way to help people channel their thoughts and feelings about all that’s happening right now and to contribute to some really fantastic causes.
Signing myself up to curate two anthologies simultaneously (Not My President and the zine trio anthology I’m doing for Ladybox) was probably not the most organized idea I’ve ever had.
So, while I probably won’t get a lot of my own writing done while we work on this, I’m really excited to read everyone’s stories.
Your first novel was set in a surreal, garbage-strewn fantasy world; Glue‘s setting is much more realistic. As a writer, have you been focusing more on realism lately, or moving between the two?
I’ve definitely been focusing on realism.
I loved writing Trashland A Go-Go and at the time it was the first thing I had written that was more than twenty pages. It gave me a place to work through some shit at a time when I wasn’t ready to openly discuss what was going on. I could hide it in a fantasy/fairy tale. It was cathartic and I had fun doing that.
I found that afterward I didn’t have many high concept fiction ideas that followed and were worthy of publication. Which kind of fucked with me for a while. I thought that maybe I wasn’t actually a “writer” and that I should give up.
Around the time I was ready to resign myself to an eternity of isolated diary scribbling, I read Juliet Escoria’s Black Cloud and it knocked the air right out of me.
Halfway through the book there is a story called “The Sharpest Part of Her,” and as soon as I was done reading it I had to sit down and write.
I realized that sharing the ugly pieces of yourself and your experiences is a beautiful thing, and that a lot of me is grotesque and fucked up, and how many of us that applies to. Reading her words made me feel less alone. And if anything I ever put on a page could do that for anyone, it would mean the entire fucking world to me.