“My arms feel buoyant and empty”: Lindsay Hunter on Poetry and Noir’s Influence on “Ugly Girls”


There’s something really dirty about Lindsay Hunter‘s debut novel, Ugly Girls. It’s more the traditional dirt, however, the type that’s of the earth, and that leaves all kinds of stuff under your fingernails. The setting and the characters–a bunch of people who don’t seem to be going anywhere, who live in some Nowhereville, USA type of place–combined with Hunter’s perfect prose leading into a curse word or a misspelled chat or text here or there, help give Hunter’s first novel an edge that might be somewhat unexpected, but makes Ugly Girls the kind of book that you curse yourself if you don’t read all the way through.

I know you have a background in poetry. How do you think that background influences your fiction? 

I think it’s a huge part of why I write the way I do. I obsess over the right word or image more than I obsess over a plot point. It’s simply what interests me the most! It’s what I look for when I’m reading other people’s work, too. Like, is the language interesting? Are the sentences constructed well? Margaret Atwood is my queen in that way. Laura van den Berg too. Amelia Gray. I think language and metaphor at the sentence level are what gives a story or novel its bones. Not just the weird plasticky bones in a drugstore Halloween decoration. Real bones with marrow and blood and tissue. If you’re telling a story about the south, then the sentences better feel like they just peeled out of a 7-11 on a hot day after paying for the hot dog but not the gas. Or at least, if you’re telling the story I’m thinking of. All of it matters. The words matter so much.

What was the timeline for working on your short story collection and the novel? Did you start writing Ugly Girls before, after? 

I started writing Ugly Girls toward the end of when I felt like I had a collection. The collection ended up needing about 15k more words, so there was overlap, but Ugly Girls became my sole focus. It feels odd to not be working on it now. Like I was holding something heavy for two years and someone finally took it from me. My arms feel buoyant and empty.

You’re originally from Florida, but live in Chicago now. Did you envision either of those places while writing the book? 

Absolutely. Florida creeps into everything I write. The other day I started writing a story that had a train in it, and I was like, oh! Chicago is coming in now! There isn’t a specific town I was thinking of for the setting of Ugly Girls. More like a specific atmospheric psyche. An amalgamation of streets and places, some real and some made up. The interior of the trailer is based on the trailer my grandparents lived in, and that was in Minnesota. The exterior is based on a few different trailer parks in Florida. Growing up in Central Florida, the silence at night is something I listen for to this day. It’s not really silent; you can always hear the cars on the highway. A neverending hushhhhhhhhh. Life going on and on and on. If you don’t know how to join in, if you don’t realize you’re already in, it can feel like a crushing. Something you have to escape.

I was surprised to find that there are parts of Ugly Girls that almost remind me of a noir. Did you have any books of films that you think influenced you while writing it? 

YES. I love noir and I have always wanted to write a detective novel. I’ve started a couple and abandoned them. Maybe one day. (One of the stories in Don’t Kiss Me, “Our Man,” is a detective/noir story. It’s one of my favorites.) The movies Drive and Brick come to mind. Drive is also a fairy tale. Moments of beauty and romance blossoming out of this violent, bloody scape. An anti-hero that you like despite yourself. I wanted that for Ugly Girls.

What are you working on next? 

I’m working on finding the time to write my next novel, and maybe a screenplay! I’ve started two novels, one about witches (that might be morphing into a novel about fairies), and one that’s kind of about my dad but that I don’t feel allowed to write. The screenplay is about how my best friend and I followed this glam-goth band for a year in college. We’ll see.

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