From her new forever home in Portland, Oregon, author Mo Daviau reflects on what makes a writing community, the importance of first books, and her favorite bookstore in the world (which curiously is not Powell’s!). Every Anxious Wave is her first novel.
What’s the earliest memory you have of writing a story?
I have vivid memories of Mrs. Okada’s sixth grade classroom at Manchester GATE Elementary School in Fresno, California. It was 1988. There was a brown IBM electric typewriter perched on a single desk in the corner of the classroom. That thing was mine. Any sort of classroom free time saw me bee lining to that typewriter. If another student went near it, and they wouldn’t have because I was the writer of the class and that thing was mine, I would have been very angry with them for interfering with my craft. It had a very loud, authoritative, chunky sound that went with every strike of the key. I had a typewriter at home, but it was a manual one and getting replacement ribbon was a pain and the energy it took to strike the key with enough force slowed my process. Mrs. Okada had the class write and illustrate a short story as a class project. My story was a fictionalized screed against the shallowness of popularity.
Who sees your first drafts?
My wonderful writing group, The Guttery, sees my first drafts. In fact, they are providing generous feedback on the new novel I’m cooking up right now, and believe me when I say that if this new novel were a cake in the oven, it would be a mess of liquid batter in the middle. Portland has a lot of writing groups and they tend to have names that would look good on a jersey. I would like to have a jersey that says THE GUTTERY across the front and DAVIAU on the back, number 5. There would be an image of sheets of paper in a gutter on the front of the jersey, maybe in the mouth of a possum. The Guttery includes such titans of the page as Tracy Manaster, A. Molotkov, Susan DeFreitas, and Jamie Duclos-Yourdon. They swing their swift swords all mighty-like, and nobody’s a jerk. I love them.
Do you have a favorite literary character?
Harriet M. Welsch of Harriet the Spy is my favorite literary character, hands down. For all the regular reasons: I kept a notebook as a kid, knew I wanted to be a writer from a very young age just like Harriet, I wasn’t particularly girly or popular as a kid, and I admired her spy belt and her cutting wit. A book about a girl who could cut down a person’s character to the quick with a few pithy sentences? That was a skill I wanted! How many children’s books confront issues of class, ostracism, and the whole “sometimes you have to lie” issue? Harriet is also the first introduction in a young writer’s life to the fact that, if you choose to write, and endeavor to do it well, you will inevitably hurt someone’s feelings and lose friends. Sometimes I wonder how Harriet is doing these days. She’d be about sixty-three now. Maybe she lives in the same neighborhood in New York as eighty-two-year-old Holden Caulfield.
What’s your favorite indie bookstore? What’s the most recent book you’ve purchased?
My favorite independent bookstore is BookPeople in Austin. They are just the right amount of big. I worked there for a time. One of my jobs was to take down a rather extensive display of books from the big wooden table upstairs so that it could be used for author signings, and then, after the signings, to reconfigure the display. We would also place upon the table for the author, once it was made barren, the following: two sharpies, a bottle of water, and a fern. I always enjoyed putting the display back together on the table. It always looked a little off when I was done. A little haggard, maybe slightly wobbly. In BookPeople employee secret code language, this wooden table/display is called The Manatee.
What’s the last book that made you cry?
The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch. Lidia makes me cry. I’ve been in her workshop here in Portland and her teaching and philosophies around writing and life reduce me to a sloppy mess. All the pain of life that our bodies absorb Lidia discharges into words with such fire and love. It’s chilling and it’s healing. Of all the stories we can turn to for healing, hers is the one I often go to when life is itchy and uncomfortable.
Can you tell us what you’re reading now?
I devoured The Narrow Door by Paul Lisicky in a long afternoon because I love my people and I wanted to read a book about someone else loving their people. Paul loves his people. Also, Paul recently followed me on Twitter, which felt like an honor. I just started reading Clown Girl by my friend and neighbor Monica Drake. I’m also in possession of an advance reader copy of Oneida: From Free Love Utopia to the Well-Set Table by Ellen Wayland-Smith. The Oneida Community, America’s mostly-forgotten 19th century polyamorous Christian commune that made silverware, has been an obsession of mine for a long time.
Mo Daviau was born in Fresno, California and proclaimed her life goal of publishing a novel at the age of eight. Mo is also a solo performer, having performed at storytelling shows such as Bedpost Confessions and The Soundtrack Series. She is a graduate of Smith College and the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan where Every Anxious Wave won a Hopwood Award. Mo lives in Portland, Oregon. Every Anxious Wave is her first novel.
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