If you were a teenager in the ’80s like I was, This Will Go Down on Your Permanent Record will send you whirling back to all the complexities of trying to sort out who you were becoming. If you’re not a product of the ’80s, well, not to worry. It doesn’t matter the decade, we’ve all been through the same bumpy ride, and you can relive some of that here. The difference is, this time you’ll enjoy it.
Susannah Felts has created some great characters in Vaughn, the protagonist of the novel, and Sophie, her hard-to-figure friend. Sophie, a girl who has the ability to go beyond her years while still being a reckless youth, moves in with Vaughn’s family due to a boatload of unspoken problems at home. Vaughn, who’s just discovered photography, begins focusing on Sophie as her main subject matter. But what she sees through the lens is often confusing and sometimes disturbing.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and all its ’80s musical references and depth of character. It doesn’t read like a first-time novel, and I was surprised to learn from Susannah Felts herself just how much of this book came from her imagined world as opposed to her own life. I asked Susannah a few questions, and I’d like to share her answers with you. Whether you’re doing some writing yourself or you just love to read, I’m sure you’ll enjoy hearing what she has to say. Here’s the interview:
1. Susannah, I loved the character of Sophie. I couldn’t help but see a little Lolita in her, how she seems almost too mature one minute and so young the next. Tell us about Sophie and how you came up with the character.
I love the Lolita comparison! Sophie is based strictly on no single person I ever knew, but I suppose she contains aspects of girls who’ve fascinated me over the years — daring or damaged or simply bold girls, girls who couldn’t help but draw attention to themselves for better or worse. I’ve often watched these girls (and women) from what felt like the periphery, wondering what it would be like to be them. And I’ve had some complex relationships with some such women. Aside from that, Sophie is very much a force in the book — a catalyst to act on Vaughn. Creating her was essential to the book’s forward movement.
2. Your storyline is very real, very believable. How much of it was drawn from your own teen experience?
It’s surprising even to me how little of it is drawn from my teen experience! I would have thought I’d write a much more autobiographical first novel (as many writers do), but this is very much a work of fiction. And that’s probably a good thing: My teen experience would make a mostly dull story! OK, there was some transgression, some dipping into the forbidden, so to speak, but nothing like what happens in TWGDOYPR. Of course, I do adapt a lot of concrete details and a few character traits from my own life. I got very into photography in high school and continued with it through college, for example. (I like to think I’m still very into it…just in a dormant sense.) And Dragon Park is a real place in Nashville; it used to be run-down and crawling with punks and teens at night. (Now it’s quite a bit spiffed up, a great place for little kids again.) I knew about this, but I wasn’t one of the ones hanging out.
3. This book focuses a lot on that struggle we’ve all been through as teenagers - wanting to fit in, but wanting to find out you’re actually not like anyone else at all. How did you get yourself back in the mindset of being a teenager so you could write it believably?
Um, I still feel like a teenager a lot of the time! Of course those feelings are tempered by the enormous wisdom and perspective that comes with age (ha). But you know, I don’t think it’s all that hard for any of us to channel the feelings of our teen years. We’re never all that far from who we were. And what can I say; I know from awkwardness! And I suppose awkwardness is not so age-specific.
4. This is your first novel. Anything in the works we should be watching for, and will you let us know when there’s something new?
I’m working on short stories at the moment, and a new short story will be out (up?) soon on the online lit mag “Please Don’t” (www.please-dont.com). I’m also on the verge of taking the first blind stabs at another novel. I have an idea brewing, but I’m not sure if it will sustain my interest the way an idea must to become a novel. I can only figure that out by writing into it a bit. The loose idea involves a single mom and her teenage daughter, whom the mom had in her early 20s when she was still wanting to be a free-wheeling girl on the music scene in her college town. And what do you know; that sounds like yet another story based on things with which I have scanty real experience! I’m not sure how I feel about that — I almost want to write something that draws more explicitly from my life. However, I’m about to become a mother for the first time, so maybe that would help me bring some lived experience to the narrative. I certainly hope my daughter’s not teenaged by the time I finish my next book, though!
Thanks very much to Susannah for agreeing to a few questions! I should have asked you if the book’s title is a reference to a Violent Femmes tune - but I’m sure I already know the answer. I’ll just hum along instead.
By the way, you may want to check out her publisher featherproof Books who has one of the most entertaining and clever publisher sites I’ve seen.
You can buy This Will Go Down on Your Permanent Record below: