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SunLit Interviews

Interview: Fan mail urged author Laura Pritchett to explore sex, vulnerability

She sought to continue the conversation about honest portrayals of sex in literary works

Laura Pritchett is the acclaimed author of Stars Go Blue; Red Lightning; Hell’s Bottom, Colorado; and Sky Bridge as well as several books of nonfiction. Her work has garnered several awards, including the PEN USA Award for Fiction, the WILLA, the High Plains Book Award and others. Her new novel won the 2018 Colorado Book Award for Literary Fiction.

What inspired you to write this book?

This particular novel’s journey started many years ago, when a short story of mine was published in The Sun (a literary magazine). I got more fan mail from that short story than I’ve ever received — and the vast majority wrote to say thanks. Thanks for writing about sex, about fantasy, about isolation (even in the middle of a relationship), about vulnerability in love.

Author Laura Pritchett wrote “The Blue Hour,” which won the 2018 Colorado Book Award for Literary Fiction.

I kept several of the letters, because they were so inspiring (never think writing a letter to an author doesn’t matter!). One fan wrote: “I was especially interested in the conversation between the women about sex/orgasms/fantasies and violence. I’ve never seen or heard it put together quite like that, but felt a big poof! of relief and surprise … I thought I was just very peculiar, twisted, living out some sort of painful karma in that arena!”

Another emailed: “I have never written a note like this, and I am surprised at how intimidating it is to write to a writer. But I have to because I have lived with your story, ‘Under the Apple Tree,’ for several months now. . .  I want to thank you for an honest, real, and intriguing look at the life of an adult woman. I wish more talented women writers would follow your lead.”

I was so honored by such responses. That correspondence got me to thinking about doing just that—trying to continue the conversation of honest portrayals of sex in literary works. In a society that is wildly prudish on one hand, and pornographic on the other, I think we sometimes lose sight of the honest portrayal of sex and love and romance.

Who are your favorite authors and/or characters?

I tend to like authors who have a strong sense of place, whether that be in the American West or in India or in Australia. I’m very interested in interior novels, but that self awareness often comes through a tie to landscape and a larger sense of being in the world.

Why did you choose this excerpt to feature in SunLit?

It sets several of the themes of the book and introduces two of the main characters, Joe and Gretchen.

What was the most fun or rewarding part of working on this book?

Messing around with Whitman and colors and poetry. For example, I love using nature as metaphor—and metaphor, of course, is a writer’s greatest tool. Personally, I frequently use the moon as my own temporal marker. I always have. “By the next full moon, I’ll have the windows washed,” I say. Or, “In two moons, I’ll be done with my novel.” A character in my new novel says, “By the next full moon, I’ll be dead.” I look forward to Spring Equinox the way some people look forward to Christmas. I love l’heure bleu, the French phrase for twilight, or the blue hour. I love the sky. In other words, living in a world of poetry and color was the best part of working on this book. I think that love shows up on every page.

What was the most difficult section to write in this book? Why?

Two things. One great challenge of this book was the multiple points of view. Lots of voices, lots of psychology. Even I needed the map (which is on the first page). But this was the sort of novel that needed to be told by many—it’s a bit of a (Akira Kurosawa film) “Rashomon” situation, where different viewpoints add to the overall understanding of the situation. Or like Sherwood Anderson’s wonderful novel “Winesburg, Ohio,” wherein the town is actually the main character. There will be some confusion, perhaps. I get that. It’s a risk I took. Any novel with a wide canvas will have big cast of characters—that’s simply what I had to do to tell the story I wanted to tell.

The Blue Hour, by Laura Pritchett.

The second thing was the sex scenes. For a decade, as I was working on this novel, I also paid serious attention to mainstream literary writers. Who was writing sex scenes well, and who was doing it poorly? What made one sex scene moving and another laughable? Who was writing about sex as it really is—not just wonderful orgasmic stuff, but the sometimes-mundane, irritating, boring, frustrating, hurtful, or, yes, lacking thing it can be? I must say I was surprised. Surprised by the number of times good authors let the characters wander off into the bedroom, took a chapter break, and started us off on the next day. They were avoiding the big elephant in the room. Other writers seemed to be taking the subject matter on, and doing it well. Shakespeare, for one – but in contemporary times we’ve got writers like Nicholson Baker, John Updike, Susan Minot, Jane Smiley taking on the topic with gusto. I’m grateful to them for continuing to up the ante, pushing the conversation along. But always I was thinking, “We need more of this. More writers trying to tell it real.” But it is hard. It’s hard to write real and moving sex scenes. There were lots of drafts of those scenes, believe me.

What was one interesting fact you learned while researching this book?

Well, I got to climb in a bear den with a hibernating bear (who had been tranquilized) for a nonfiction book I did about Colorado’s bears. And then I turned that experience into fiction. When I think of the best adventure I had – an adventure that got incorporated into the book — I’d say it was that moment. Maybe that’s not an interesting fact (although I learned a lot of facts about bears), but rather, one of my most interesting moments.

What project are you working on next?

A play! It’s called Dirt: A Terra Nova Expedition, and it’s about climate change, soil science, nematodes, bacteria, the awesome six inches of stuff that saves us from oblivion. Plus, there’s a love story and a gun and death and drama. It was produced in Fort Collins last Spring at Bas Bleu Theatre, and now I’d like to revise it and get it out to other theaters. That will be a good adventure!

Buy: “The Blue Hour” at Book Bar.
Excerpt: “The Blue Hour.”