NOTE: This article is a republication- Source: CrimeReads (by Elissa Sloan and Jennifer Banash).
Elissa Sloan is the author of The Unraveling of Cassidy Holmes and most recently of Hayley Adridge is Still Here, both examinations of women and celebrity that look back on how unfairly treated the pop culture idols of the early aughts were. Jennifer Banash is the author of The Rise and Fall of Ava Arcana, split between 2005 and 2019, as a Rolling Stone journalist uncovers the secrets behind a Gaga-esque celebrity’s early career and the friend that almost made it instead. Elissa Sloan and Jennifer Banash agreed to interview each other about pop culture, celebrity, and misogyny, for a fascinating and essential conversation.
ES: Hi Jennifer! I have so many thoughts about AVA ARCANA! Let’s start with the time period. I loved the book and am curious why you chose 2005/6 and 2019 as your setting.JB: Hi Elissa! Thank you so much! I feel like Hayley Aldridge, Ava Arcana, and Lexi Mayhem are all probably hanging out by a fictional pool somewhere in Hollywood—in the shade, of course I started writing AVA in the summer of 2020, a few months after lockdown began. I knew right from the very beginning that I wanted the novel to take place in the present day, but not SO present that I would have to write about the pandemic . . . because I was living it, and I needed the book to be a refuge from the hellscape that was my life. So setting the book in 2019 was very much a conscious choice. It came about organically in the narrative that Lexi had met Ava thirteen years prior—so we ended up in 2005-06!
ES: That makes total sense! I tried to gloss over the pandemic in my book as well, but I also wanted the story to span to the present day so I had to mention it lightly.
You have dual narrators in Kayla and Ava. How did this narrative structure come about? Was it always going to be these two narrators or did your writing undergo a shift during the process to accommodate both voices?JB: The book was originally structured as a podcast, with a male journalist investigating the story—and, yes, I am glad I scrapped that idea early on! After that, I tried a dual POV between Ava and Lexi . . . until my agent made a very good point that it kind of killed the mystery to have so much of Lexi’s POV, that she needed to be more of an enigma in order for the story to really work. So I brought back the journalist character—this time recast as Kayla, a writer for Rolling Stone—and restructured the book so that chapters alternated between Kayla and Ava.
ES: So how many drafts did it end up taking you to finish AVA? I’m always curious about these sorts of things…
JB: I didn’t do drafts, really. I usually edit as I write, making small changes along the way, and sometimes throwing out whole chapters or ideas entirely and beginning again. Generally, I write a few sample chapters and then run it by my agent to get her feedback. But at the end of the day, there’s this unmistakable feeling when everything clicks into place—I intrinsically know when I’m on the right track. I nitpick the beginning relentlessly so that (hopefully) I don’t have to go back and revise too much after I’m done.
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