Author Interview: Mary Pauline Lowry

Hello readers!

One of our first events to get cancelled was our book talk with Mary Pauline Lowry. Her new book, The Roxy Letters came out in early April, and we were meant to meet her in mid-April, right in the thick of it. Alas.

But we did connect with Mary Pauline via email and asked her some questions about the book and her writing process to tide you over until we are able to reschedule! Enjoy her answers here!


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The Roxy Letters is written, not surprisingly, as letters to Roxy’s ex-boyfriend, Everett. Why did you decide to write the book in this format?

In October of 2017, I gave my undergrad students an in-class writing assignment—I asked them to write a letter from a quirky character to someone they were angry with. I did the assignment with them and that’s how I wrote the first “Roxy Letter.” I quickly realized many of my favorite comic novels are written in the epistolary form—like Bridget Jones’s Diary, Where’d You Go, Bernadette, and Dear Committee Members. So the idea of a novel-in-letters made sense to me.

Roxy has moments of being a little…spirited, but eventually, turns into a character
that we love. Did you set out to write an unlikeable character who becomes loveable or was it more organic?

Many of my all-time favorite characters are not just cuddly balls of likeability. Ignatius J. Reilly—the protagonist of the comic masterpiece A Confederacy of Dunces—bloviates, farts, lives with his mother without paying rent, and rarely leaves his bedroom without prodding. When he is forced to find employment as a purveyor of hot dogs from a “wienie wagon” in the French Quarter, he eats all the hot dogs and tells his boss he has been robbed. And yet I can say that I love Ignatius. In fact I love him, in part, because of his “unlikeable” qualities. I wanted to write a character who was funny, smart, and interesting. I didn’t think a lot about likeability.

Were any of the events that take place based on things you actually saw in Austin? Or was it more of a fantasy that you played out each time you walked by a Whole Foods or Lululemon?

Roxy is upset about the ways her hometown of Austin is growing and changing and becoming corporatized. When her favorite indie video store, Waterloo Video, closes and is replaced by a Lululemon, she decides to take action and plan a protest. When my favorite indie video store, Waterloo Video, closed and was replaced by a Lululemon, I complained about it for years, and then eventually wrote The Roxy Letters.

There is a very clear support local message throughout the book. Roxy is trying to
defend her city from being overrun by corporate chain stores and wants the small,
quirky, local shops back. Can you talk about what you find important about local
businesses? What are some cool local businesses you’ve visited both at home and
across the country?

Roxy is especially obsessed with keeping the intersection of 6th Street and Lamar Boulevard in Austin, Texas full of indie businesses. That includes BookPeople, an amazing indie bookstore where I worked in the late 90s. It also includes Amy’s Ice Creams, where employees wear crazy hats, crush toppings into ice cream, and casually lob scoops of ice cream into the air, all while chatting with customers. Indie businesses are a huge part of the unique culture of cities. Austin is an interesting and vibrant city because of indie videos and the people who support them!

When I travel I love to go to local indie bookstores. On my last trip with my husband before the pandemic, we went to San Francisco. After a trip to Dog Eared Books, we ate delicious Mission burritos.

This book sort of falls into that amorphous, hard-to-define genre of “new adult.” Roxy is basically an adult but certainly doesn’t feel like it very much. Was there an audience in mind when you wrote this book? Is it a sort of letter to a younger you? A message of hope to those just trying to figure out life?

Once I was in a club in Austin watching a bad, hipster DJ in his early 20s. My boyfriend at the time said, “By the time my grandpa was his age he had three kids and had been to war.” I am interested in the state of prolonged semi-adulthood many people experience now, which I think is exacerbated by the fact that many young people experience financial barriers to reaching markers of “real adulthood” put forward by our society. When I wrote the book, I wanted it to be a love letter to the kind of indie slackers I grew up with. But now I feel like it’s a perfect book for anyone who just wants to laugh.

You are a regular contributor to O, The Oprah Magazine in addition to your novels. Do you find switching between journalistic writing and novel prose difficult, or no? What’s your favorite thing about each style of writing?

For many years I was a full-time social justice worker. I did all I could to support survivors of domestic violence. Now that I write full-time, I appreciate the chance to write “Health Heroes” profiles for O Magazine about people doing amazing work to
improve and protect public health. It’s a small way I can give back. Writing for O Magazine is so fun and satisfying because I can write, edit, and publish a piece that reaches readers in a relatively short period of time. Writing a novel is much harder because it just takes more stamina and the way forward is often unclear. But it’s also so satisfying to finish such a long-term creative endeavor.

Any tidbits on what we can expect from you in the near future?

Right now I’m promoting The Roxy Letters full-time but I hope to settle back into writing fiction soon!

What author, dead or alive, would you most want to have dinner with?

I would want to have dinner with John Kennedy Toole, the author of A Confederacy of Dunces. He committed suicide, at least partially, because his comedic opus did not find a publisher in his lifetime. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1980. I think his ghost would have a lot of interesting (and terrifying) things to share about the creative process, resilience, and letting funny uncensored writing hit the page.


Thank you so much, Mary Pauline! We are excited to meet you in person once we’re open and allowed to have events again!

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You can find out more about Mary Pauline on her website.

You can order The Roxy Letter on our website, or call the store between 10 and 2 to have us ship it to you!

Happy reading!

 

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