“It was about showcasing a range of stories — from heartbreaking to absolutely hilarious. One of my favorite stories in Pen is of the woman who had ‘Pizza Party’ inked on her toes. I was like, ‘Hey, what’s your story?’ and she was like, ‘I just fucking love pizza.’ So, you’re trying to let the hilarity of something like that come through, too. We wanted there to be a bit of a narrative if you read it from front to end, but something you could also just pick up and flip around.”
“You’d find certain archetypes that would appear no matter what. For instance, the haunted merchant’s house in New York plays off the mythology of the unmarried woman, the spinster, as does the Winchester House. Things like this would crop up unexpectedly across the country, despite their radically different places and stories and cultures.”
“Some people take issue with calling infertility a disease, but I think that’s the only way we can advocate for better awareness and insurance coverage, so that people have choices. And my point was not to say that one path is better than another, but to portray the experience of exclusion and isolation, and the obstacles faced by so many people, with empathy.”
In college I had a writing teacher who said, “If you’re ever writing about a childhood memory and you think your mother was wearing a blue dress, but you’re not sure if your mother was wearing a blue dress, then don’t write that.” And it’s great advice, but it sent me into this whole tailspin about what it means about myself if I imagined her wearing that. What else would be inaccurate? Did it mean the whole memory was fake? So, I became very interested in family stories as a place where narrative, and the facts, are constantly in contention. It’s a sphere where there is no proof, no objective truth of any matter, and I think that among all people who share large parts of their lives — families, couples who’ve been together for a while — this argument is very common.
“Initially, I was going to tell the story of Amy and her murder, the subsequent criminal trial, the [Truth and Reconciliation] Commission, and her parents’ amazing feat of forgiveness. It’s a story that’s pretty well known in South Africa, and one that was at one point quite well known in America. I was on the way to telling that story when I got in touch with Mzi Noji, who had been very involved in the same political group as the convicted murderers, the Pan Africanist Congress [PAC]. Mzi had never been asked anything, but was still part of the PAC — which is fairly defunct and now has maybe even less than half of one percent of the vote — so when I called up their offices, asking if anyone had been there when Amy was murdered, Mzi called me back the next day. So I set up a meeting with him, expecting him to just recite the same story, but then as we were talking, he said, ‘You know what, that’s not exactly true.'”