I have the great pleasure of interviewing my friend, Larissa Theule, author of the newly released Fat & Bones: And Other Stories, illustrated by Adam S. Doyle, (Carolrhoda Books, October 2014). I asked her about this delicious collection of interconnected stories set on a farm that is rife with tension, feuding and sacrifice, and the perfect dose of humor in the most surprising places.
Linden McNeilly: This is a collection of interconnected stories about those living on a farm that is falling apart. Why did you choose that structure, rather than a novel form, to tell this particular story?
Larissa Theule: The first story in the book was written a year before the others. It’s the story of Bones the farmer and Fat the fairy who hate each other. One of the lines early on says, “Their hatred had grown dense and deep, too thick and round not to roll over everything in its path.” The idea that their venomous dislike for each other wreaks havoc on the world around them seemed like a great opening for other stories. Hatred is never without collateral damage and I wanted to explore how their personal war directly or indirectly affects other creatures on the farm. The short story format allowed me to move the spotlight around the farm and train it on other characters, giving them undivided attention so that they live for a moment with a fullness that would otherwise be denied them in a novel.
LMc: Did you work with the illustrator, back and forth? Or did he do his work after you’d done the final?
LT: Adam S. Doyle is the illustrator and I’m so glad he worked on this book. We didn’t work together but I think we might have had fun if we had. Adam’s illustrations would be beautiful as stand alone works of art but they also serve the book by visually communicating the stories’ strange balance of gravitas and whimsy. Here is his Leonard Grey III who is a terrible excuse for a spider and while going on an adventure loses a great deal of blood to knife-wielding Fat.
Isn’t he perfectly, charmingly ridiculous? Aren’t you appalled by the thought of anyone hurting him? I don’t like spiders but I like this one.
LMc: Can you explain the part self-sacrifice serves in this book?
LT: I’m really glad you asked this question because I think of self-sacrifice as the heart of these stories. Fat and Bones is said to be bleak and cruel. This is true, because war is bleak and cruel and the farm is at war. What interests me more than the war, however, are the choices characters make to either add to the chaos or fight against it. Plenty of characters add to the chaos in sometimes funny and naïve ways, but there are three characters that risk everything for a feeling of rightness they don’t even really understand or have words for.
One of my favorite characters is the vengeful pig Esmeralda. This one horrible pig with a heart full of bitterness makes a spontaneous sacrifice for someone she despises. When writing “The Dance,” I remember feeling amazed and proud of Esmeralda for the choice she makes. If a creature as awful as she is capable of such tender sacrifice then even when all the world seems bleak, still there is room for hope.
I can’t resist the urge to share another of Adam’s illustrations. Here is Esmeralda, horrible, wonderful pig.
LMc: What surprised you as you worked on this story?
LT: I was surprised by the humor that popped up. This is a little bit of a trivial example but I’ll go ahead with it anyway: Many years ago I was living with my best friend in an old brick apartment building in Chicago and the man I thought I was going to marry had just broken up with me. My friend and I sat at the front window talking it out and at some point I said, “Well, I guess it’s back to square one,” as if finding love is a game of Candy Land and I had been kicked back to Start. This struck us both so funny that we laughed until we cried, and the laughter softened the hurt a little. I adore irony and silly physical humor and unpretentious make-believe and when my kids are hurt, after the band-aid has been applied, we try to make them laugh. Humor brightens the darkness, and so every time a moment of funny popped up while writing Fat and Bones, I was delighted and grateful.
LMc: Readers will expect this type of flavor in your next book. What do you think of that?
LT: You will be either disappointed or relieved to know that in the next one not a single drop of blood is shed. It is a picture book titled How Do You Do? (Bloomsbury), about friendship and exploring the world. There is sunshine, and a goat.
LMc: Thank you spending time here, and good luck on the release of Fat & Bones, available at booksellers and through Lerner at https://www.lernerbooks.com/Search/Pages/results.aspx?k=yqzpdka