Author Janice Erlbaum on her homoromantic protagonist in “I, Liar”

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Writer Janice Erlbaum is most well known for her work as a memoirist and her deeply personal and fascinating books, Girlbomb: A Halfway Homeless Memoir and Have You Found Her. A former Nuyorican slam poet, Janice has a way of weaving a tale and making ordinary prose feel like poetry. Her newest book, I, Liar tells the story of a young woman who spins a web of lies so intricately, even she begins to believe them.  

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We spoke with Janice about I, Liar and its leading character, Elizabeth, who is drawn exclusively to women.

 

AfterEllen: We’ve known each other for a very long time. Do you remember how we met?

Janice Erlbaum: I remember that we met in the parking lot of a club in Michigan, where I’d been performing my poetry. I was part of the Lollapalooza tour and you came to a poetry reading I was doing. You and a friend came up to me in the parking lot and bought my little three dollar chapbook. Then we stayed in touch! Before the internet, you actually put a stamp on an envelope and stayed in touch.

 

AE: Well, that chapbook made its rounds through my high school, that’s for sure. I had never written much before I met you, but you were certainly someone who inspired me from the get-go to put my thoughts down. The way your poetry was, the way it spoke to people—it inspired me to do my own. I’ve always considered you one of the people that were responsible for that initial spark of creativity for me as a writer.

JE: I stumbled in at the right time!

 

AE: Congrats on the release of I, Liar, which just came out. You published this book through Thought Catalog this time around—why did you decide to go this route?

 JE: The first two books were published through Random House. That certainly was the realization of a young writer’s dream. I mean, Random House—how much more legitimate does it get than that? But after having gone through the book publishing process with them twice, I felt a little bit frustrated and their sort of “old economy” ways of doing things. Random House was a great publisher in many ways, but as the industry has changed, the old publishing industry hasn’t changed. They take a year and a half to get your manuscript to be a book on the shelves. That, to me, seems insane. I also found that I had to do all of my own marketing pretty much and that I didn’t get that much support from Random House. Plus the royalties that they gave me were seven percent of the cover price, whereas Thought Catalog got my book out in three months, and is giving me forty percent of royalties.

 

AE: Wow.

JE: Yeah. I’m trying to reach young women in their 20s and their teens even, and their 30s and their 40s. But I’m trying to reach younger women and these are not necessarily women who go into bookstores and browse spines. They’re generally online, they buy a lot of ebooks. So I wanted to be where they were, and Thought Catalog is run by young people, for young people. So that was my thought. I wanted to get it out quickly and directly to the audience that I’m seeking. And I wanted to keep more of the money. [laughs]

 

AE: [laughs] You’ve made a career as a memoirist and I, Liar is your first fiction novel. So why fiction now?

JE: Fiction now because I’ve been working on a third memoir about the death of my mentally ill mother and I just couldn’t do it anymore. I’d been mining the worst times of my like for ten years as material so I needed to take a break from the book that I was working on and I decided to do something fun. My agent had been suggesting I write a novel and I thought, yes, maybe I’ll write a novel. Memoir was just getting too fucking painful. It was surprising how painful this novel was to write too, but I started having a little bit of emotional distance from it. Also, I’ve been reading a lot of novels and I’m seeing a lot of plot, but what I’m not seeing is a representation of the way we actually live and deal with each other—specifically when it comes to female friendships. There are very very few books about female friendship, which I think is such an interesting and important topic that gets almost no coverage. I really wanted to address that without making it personal.

 

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