Q&A with author Elizabeth Mayfield, Mule Favorite

You’re exactly right—it has been a while since The Mule blogged, but the truth is, it’s hard to find a moment when you’re out there toiling, toiling, and toiling. But you make time when the time is right.

And today, the time is right.

We have awoken the blog to share an interview with author Elizabeth Mayfield, whose brilliant debut novel, The Love Life: A Novel in Two Parts, hit cyber-shelves last week.

The Mule gave its entirety to The Love Life. We were there from conceptualization through multiple rounds of edits to proofing to page layout and cover design. We provided the Full Mule in the truest sense.

But let us be clear—Elizabeth would have done it without us. We’re just thrilled she didn’t.

Last spring, you contacted The Mule for help shaping a book of short stories into a thematically cohesive collection. Here we are, a year-plus later, and those short stories transmogrified (I can use whatever words I want; this is my website) into your first novel. How'd we get here? And what's your state upon arrival? It's been a grind, but look what you've done—you've written a great, empowering novel. Thank you, Joseph! Well, we got here very slowly, didn't we? My fault. I've written academic papers, short stories, and screenplays, but I remember how I felt when you and Jaime suggested (very sweetly and in a sort of just "oh by the way" way) that I link three stories together and make a novel. I was hungover as hell and wasn't sure I heard you correctly. Then I figured you guys thought "poor woman can't write to save her life" and were trying to scare me off without hurting my feelings...but that's because writers are crazy. We know this.

This is your first book. So many writers set out to write a book but get stopped along the way, often by something internal that insists they are insipid dummies who have no business writing a book. How'd you push through, and what advice do you have for waylaid first-timers? As much as I hate a cliche, they're all true. A real writer will have no peace until the work is finished. You will suffer and there will be days that you feel deeply insane. That's a given. Even the best writers have piles of really bad stuff hidden away somewhere. One of William Styron's college professors told him he had no talent, but if he'd stopped, we wouldn't have "Sophie's Choice." Know exactly what story you're telling and flow in that vein. I already knew I wasn't writing the great American novel and if I kept telling myself I'd never be as good as Styron, I would have driven myself totally around the bend (instead of just to the edge of the bend). It's good to have standards but you can talk yourself out of anything if you blame your standards. Don't stop. Get help. Hit the "send" button. Private joke.

In your novel, we meet a stalled woman hovering around 40 who rekindles her zest, professionally and romantically. I anticipate readers finding a great deal of inspiration in the book. I know you are hoping to uplift women, especially those in their 30s and 40s who may be scuffling through fallow stretches, who may feel like the opportunity for wonderful new adventure is well in the rearview. (I should note I happen to be a man, and the story inspires me.) What kind of impact are you hoping to achieve with the book? I'm glad the story inspired you, but you're just cool like that. I'd like to stretch that age bracket out a bit though. I hear fifty is the new thirty so sixty must be pretty cool too, if a woman insists upon it. In terms of impact, I want women to have something in their hands that says it's okay to stumble...a lot! It's okay to not have children, to be dissatisfied professionally and then fix it if you can, to understand and please yourself sexually if that's a problem for you, etc. Sex is important! I hate the word "slut" and I'm looking into having it formally and permanently removed from the English language. I want women to read the main character's most selfish and immature thoughts and actions and think "hell yes, I've felt like that too." Romance novels have their place but I'm not twenty three and I'm not dating a dashing young man with a private jet, so I don't want to read about any of that stuff. Never did.   

This is a novel told in two parts, and that second part is in the works. How do you anticipate the creation process differing this time around? Less hair pulling. Less pacing the floor. The work matters very much to me, but good God, there's a big world out there and I'm just not that important. I'm going to have more fun this time around. 

You mentioned you needed to force yourself to hit "send." Can you tell us a little more about that? Are you an endless tinkerer? Was fear holding you back? I know the fear of exposing oneself (excellent phrasing) on the page prevents a lot of writers from ever sharing a word they care about. It's admittedly something I've dealt with in the past and will surely confront in the future. But anyhow, why the trepidation? All of that. No one wants to be thought of as stupid and writers are no different, except that deep down, they know they're not stupid. It's more that they don't want to write something hideous and then have people point and laugh at them. Also, the words really matter to us, don't they? More than anything. In some ways, I am an endless tinkerer, editing as I go and it probably hurt me more than it helped. I also let some huge mistakes slip by, repetitions of phrases, etc., so I'm glad I finally found the courage to reach out to The Mules and actually listen to them!