Tastes like (rubber) chicken
Monica Drake’s debut novel, Clown Girl, is a Chuck Palahniuk-approved, claustrophobic tale that catapults the reader into Nita’s, aka Sniffles, oversized bubble-tipped shoes in the phantasmal city of Baloneytown. Clown Girl paints Nita’s attempts to keep her dignity as a human being and her love life from turning into a freak show, all the while subjecting herself to the daily indignity of life as a freelance clown.
PT: What was the writing process like for Clown Girl?
MD: I wrote it over a 10-year span. I wrote it three times, and each round took about three years. It wasn’t until the third rewrite that I made the main character into a clown. Before that she was what I saw as more of a Charlie Chaplin figure. Chaplin, as a character in his movies, doesn’t play a clown exactly, but he’s very clown-like. I wanted to create a contemporary, female version.
Chaplin’s characters are always outsiders, often chased by the cops, usually unemployed or underemployed … so I created a young woman character along those lines.
PT: Did you ever work as a clown?
MD: Years ago. I took a college class in something I think was called “Physical Comedy,” or “Physical Theater.” A local business association contacted the instructor and said they needed a few clowns. I raised my hand …
PT: Lots of people have clown phobias. Do you ever get freaked-out by clowns?
MD: No, I’m not afraid of clowns. I’m not afraid of dolls, either. Not even the kind with chipped smiles or freaky big teeth. I have a Raggedy Ann doll whose face was torn off by a dog when I was a kid. I fixed her face as a child and gave her one button eye that’s too big. She has a big scar where I made crazy stitches all the way down. Her hair is in patches. Lately, I’ve been wanting to take her picture. But back to clowns—I like clowns. I particularly like the clown-identified people who walk that fine line. There used to be a girl in my town who wore a pale-green silk collar with points on it. She wore mismatched shoes. I could tell she thought of herself as a clown, even as she went about normal life. I found her really compelling.
PT: If this book had a picture of a clown on the cover instead of a rubber chicken, I wouldn’t have been able to read it.
MD: Good to know! At least from a marketing point of view!
PT: What kind of people get involved in clowning?
MD: Most people, it turns out, have a clown in the family. A cousin, an in-law, a step-somebody. There are so many kinds of clowns, from the far-right Evangelical clowns who run Clown Ministries, to the more radical anarchist clowns who build their own chopped-up bicycles and wear face paint. There are clown porn stars and clowns who work birthday parties. The clown population in the U.S. is really multi-dimensional. I’m not sure what it’s about—I don’t have a definitive answer—but it’s cool, and I’m intrigued.
PT: What is this book really about? Clowns, or is it an allegory to something in the Bible?
MD: To me it is, in many ways, a book about trying to live life as a creative person in a world that can be hostile to the creative process. The main character, Nita (Sniffles) is a clown, and clowning is her art, but the struggle she puts up with could apply to anything—writing, playing music, painting. It’s about a drive toward self-expression and what it means to hold on to one’s integrity. “Every clown is Christ.” That’s a quote from a Christian handbook, or guide, to clowning. That interested me a lot, when I came across it. A clown is the voice of honesty, hidden behind a mask.