Bad Artist Statement #7: Marlowe Granados
Marlowe and I talk about party girls, microcelebrity, publishing, and fashion.
Marlowe Granados is a writer and filmmaker. Her writing has appeared in The Baffler, Harper's Bazaar and Real Life. She co-hosts The Mean Reds podcast and her debut novel, Happy Hour, came out in 2021. Happy Hour follows two young women over a New York summer as they go to parties and art openings, alternating between dining on instant noodles or sea urchin and wagyu if someone else is paying. Granados' sentences are thrilling, wry and written with the seemingly effortless elan of a true stylist.
We spoke over the phone, Marlowe in Toronto and me in Melbourne. We talked about party girls, microcelebrity, publishing, and fashion.
Paul Dalla Rosa: So it's morning for you?
Marlowe Granados: Early morning.
PDR: Were you out last night? I saw a tweet that you were at a bar that maybe did or didn't have a purse hook.
MG: Was I out? I go to my three local bars about a block away from me, so I don't know if that's considered going out. I was at the bar talking about how I went to a restaurant last week, and it was a pretty upscale place, but they didn't have a place for my bag. It was so annoying. Like, it's bad luck to put your purse on the floor.
PDR: Yeah. Would they cloak it or was there just nothing?
MG: No, there was nothing, so I just put it on the table, which is like, I feel a little rude. So anyway, I was complaining to my local bartender about that.
PDR: I think that's fair to complain about. That's irritating.
MG: Well, when I was younger and I was going out a lot, I would always say that if there weren't purse hooks under the bar, the bar was misogynist. That was my line.
PDR: I remember I would always go out like a loser when I was younger. I'd go out with a backpack, like a huge backpack, because I never knew where I'd end up. Then I reached a certain age, and I was like, actually it's kind of a little crazy to go out with a backpack everywhere, like on the dance floor of a gay club. It's awful. Just awful.
MG: Why did you need so much stuff?
PDR: I absolutely didn't need any of it. It was like so I could have my journal and a book. That was it.
MG: Oh my god, stop, don't do that. The things that I used to carry in my purse if I didn't know where I was going would be my contact lens case, a small toothbrush, and that was it. That's all I need. I mean, I'm also known for carrying a really small bag, so there's not much else I can fit.
PDR: This is very Happy Hour. I'm interested with your book and the lineage of—I want to say party girl books but not in a diminutive way—books that are full of intelligence and parties and women. I'm thinking of Iris Owens, Eve Babitz, Elaine Dundy, and maybe Jean Rhys but I guess she's maybe more sad.
MG: Yes, she is a sad party girl.
PDR: I'm interested in what you were reading or what led you to do Happy Hour in the style that you did?
MG: For me, I was obviously living a pretty similar lifestyle. I was primarily interested in the idea of flappers from the 1920s and that kind of social mobility that was more common with them. It was like you went out and then found someone who would scoop you up. That was interesting to me, that kind of old-style lightly gold-digging, fifty dollars for the powder room style of living. That was something I was interested in, but also the idea that these women from all across the 20th century were all using their feminine wiles and charm to do all these things without the social power they would have in other ways, like career-wise, etc. So that was kind of where I was. I wanted to transpose that kind of lifestyle in a contemporary way and see if that can work and, you know, also for Happy Hour, living that kind of lifestyle is so funny because the stakes are so much lower in contemporary culture. No one's going to buy you a fur coat anymore. Like, I wish. With my characters, it was less about being like, I want fifty dollars for the powder room and more like, I hope this person buys my dinner. And you know, if you look at Holly Golightly, she's getting three hundred dollars for the cab fare and the powder room, which to me is very impressive. I've only ever done that maybe once or twice.
PDR: Yeah, that's definitely in the book. A kind of throwback. Holly is impressive. I've read it so many times but I can never tell with Breakfast at Tiffany's, the film too, if there's the insinuation she's doing more, or it's like no, she's just very charming.
MG: I think in the film, that's kind of the joke, right? That's like the joke that I wanted to have in the book as well. You never really know what's happening sexually with the characters, and the joke is that the book's all very faux prim. The challenge with that was always like how would someone recount their nights out being drunk in a way that wouldn't actually reveal how drunk they were. So it's still saying, all these things happened, but then kind of being like, but I was on my best behavior.
It was funny when the book first came out. A lot of people were like, "oh, there's no drugs, there's no sex". And it's like, well, that's the whole thing. Sometimes you have to read between the lines. And I think that even when you're with your friends, sometimes you don't tell them the whole truth.
MG: You kind of buff it a little.
PDR: And these sorts of older books never revealed everything. They have a certain glamour, and that extends to the telling of the story.
MG: There's something to be said about the idea of fading to black, and that can put the focus on something else besides, you know, seedy nightlife. I think that people are really fixated on the vice part of going out, and for me, to be honest, I've always found the mention of drugs in writing and stuff like that to be kind of corny. It makes me cringe so hard, like, I can't. So for me, it's better to be like, Gala liked to stay out until six am, than being like, Gala did lines of coke. You know what I mean? It's just a way of posing it that's a little more elevated.
PDR: I will confess I write many seedy nightlife scenes. My last story was about a man trying and failing to score drugs on a gay trip to Mallorca. It's sort of farcical. Like he can't get past it. He can't have the idea of enjoying himself without them. But I do understand that tension—the cringe.
MG: It's hard because it's a little bit like when you think of a story, someone searching for something, there's something that's kind of funny in it. It can be a bit like Waiting for Godot. But I think that people focus too much on drugs when sometimes when you're talking about a story, it's less about the actual atmosphere of drugs than the actual story.
PDR: Yeah, and I think it's also that drugs in of themselves can be quite boring. Exciting things might occur around them, but the actual act can be very mundane. Again, it's in the telling. Like when someone tells you how drunk they were the night before and then lists every drink they consumed. That isn't particularly interesting.
MG: Yeah, it can be a little bit adolescent, I guess. I personally wouldn't be able to do that kind of writing in a way that would be good. So, for me, I think it's less about accurately representing a particular scene and more about creating a particular kind of fiction. That's what I wanted to do. It's funny when people are like, "well, that wasn't what my experience was like," and I'm like, "okay, write your own book."
PDR: I think that's the best response. I remember a friend's book coming out and this really intense review of it that was sort of just saying, my life wasn't like this and isn't like this, so the book is terrible. And it's like, okay, no one's saying a book is meant to be your life and like, if it isn't, that's fine.
MG: I guess that's also like a problem with the way people read now too, like they really want a mirror.
PDR: I don't think you can ever really have a mirror, or at least not a perfect one. I don't know, this seems very normal to me, like central to fiction, but I'm not a young woman living in New York, yet I can see parts of my life in Happy Hour. You know, especially being young and having that feeling of being out and not having any money and being like, is this person going to pay for the drinks? Are they going to pay for the dinner?
MG: Yeah, exactly.
PDR: A fictional character's life is not going to be your life. And that's fine. You have to accept you're reading something else.
MG: Totally. I also think that just in terms of my own experience of living, writing the book I definitely wasn't looking to create a universal experience from my own. I wasn't thinking everyone's so going to relate to my life. I think the funniest thing someone said to me, well, one of my friends sent me the screenshot of someone texting them about the book, and it was like, "Is Marlowe pretty? I just feel like people reading the book won't have a good time if they're not pretty."
PDR: That's a pretty good text to get. It's funny.
MG: I mean, I guess.
PDR: But like it's all relative. Like, Isa in the book doesn't have what other people have, and she seems very aware that she doesn't. I mean, it's clear Isa is pretty but that's fine. I don't know. It's a funny way of reading a book.
MG: Oh, completely. I guess it's also interesting to me. My thing about this book was that I didn't write it in a way that someone who was literary would really feel seen by it. And I think that at the beginning when I was trying to get it published in 2017, that was definitely not a good thing. People really weren't interested in it. And, you know, I think now the times turned in a certain way, and I think those people were kind of surprised that a book like mine reached a certain audience. But I always knew. I was like, I need these girls that buy like two books a year. These are the girls for me. These are the ones that I need.
PDR: There's been a shift. Then there's something so conservative with big publishers that they don't realise that there are audiences for books that a hundred percent exist, they're just not the same audience for a book they've already sold. I read an interview of yours that mentioned there was difficulty selling it, and rereading the book I thought Happy Hour really reminds me of the first third of The Bell Jar, which to me is the best part of The Bell Jar, when Esther is at Ladies' Day magazine with Doreen going to lunches or skipping a party to go to a dark bar and dance with cowboys. And it's like people fucking love that book, so that kind of thing set now seems exciting. I mean, I can easily see a market. But that seems to happen with a lot of great books. I mean, it happened with The Bell Jar.
MG: Yeah, no, totally. I think it's so crazy to me how little foresight they have, especially when they work on such long timelines. They get really frenzied and buy up things that they think are trending once they see it, but like they don't understand that book will come out three years later.
PDR: Yeah. So now, years later, the book's out. How did you find the book's publication changed or didn't change your life?
MG: It's very weird to me when people are like, "Oh, aren't you so lucky? This is so amazing." I'm like, I guess, but in terms of finances, I don't even know if it was really worth it for me, like in terms of how my life has opened up into the public sphere. That, to me, was the biggest thing that I actually had to adjust to. I felt really uncomfortable for a long period of time. I still kind of do. I'm not really into it. I like to be, not anonymous exactly, but now when I'm out, it's always like that's that girl who's the writer.
PDR: What was that like when it was coming out? The adjustment.
MG: I was getting really bad anxiety when I was in New York for all the original press coming out. I was literally hiding in my hotel the whole time. I couldn't go out. My friends would ask, "Where are you?" And I'd say, "I'm just in the hotel, come and get me but meet me in the lobby because I'm not going anywhere else." It felt very... kind of like being overexposed. I was just overwhelmed. And everyone kept saying "It's so amazing," you know, "I hope you're enjoying it," but I didn't really feel that way. Like, it's super weird because I also think my joy in the process of writing isn't really in that part. It's in the writing. The joy and obsession, everything, was so much in the years previous. It felt so disjointed.
PDR: I get that. My book's out in a month, and it's not out in the States, so I'm not going to be profiled in Interview or New York Magazine, but I feel a little bit of what you're describing. It's like all the joy I had was in writing the book, and now it's about to come out and it's just strange. I'll go to a party or whatever and everyone who talks to me will bring up the book, or I'll be introduced to people with someone mentioning it. I was at a bar and met someone and they were like, "I can't talk to you because I'm reviewing your book," and then the next week, I ran into someone at a party who's doing a profile of me. You feel maybe you need to compose yourself or interact with people in a certain way. I don't know. Do you feel pressure to be nice to everyone?
MG: That's a thing, right? You have to be not even nice, but once you know that someone knows the book or knows who you are, you have to be gracious and patient. You have to give them time, which I have the capacity to do but like not always at the most random moments of my day. One time I was thrifting and this girl at the store was like, "Marlowe!" and I was like, "Oh, hello, hello, how are you?" And it isn't bad. I think it just makes you more aware of yourself and like your image in a way that's really unnatural when you're just going about your life.
MG: It's funny because my family came to see me in New York on the second half of that trip, and my cousins were like, "Oh my God, play me the smallest violin in the world." It's like, okay, I know that I'm being annoying, but l think it's also that when you're a writer you're constantly thinking about all these things in an intense way. For me, someone who writes very much about performance and image and all these different facets of social life, to then have this happen was a lot. It also kind of ruins that original perspective you have because suddenly you're not a neutral person in a room. You start to affect the room in a way that I have never done before. I always say I'm so glad that in my twenties no one wanted anything from me. Thank God. Because it let me be as wild as I wanted to be, observe as much as I wanted, but now there's been a weird shift.
Also, all the press and publicity isn't good for your work. It's not good for your actual process when you're thinking about all these things and stop thinking about writing because it's kind of the opposite of writing. It's actually dangerous, and I think some people get really swept up by it. They just get so obsessed with being talked about or whatever. I don't want that.
PDR: Yeah, and certain writers get enamoured by it but also tortured. It becomes a feedback loop and it shows up in their work. I'm very happy just doing my thing and working on the next book.
MG: Yeah, and it can be like I wrote a book and it got published and now it can open the door for me to write a second one. It's like a little bit more freeing, right?
For me now, everyone's like, "Well, what are you working on next?" and I reply, "I'm waiting for my first cheque. I'm not working until I get my cheque. I'm not going to just work for nothing". That's where I'm at.
When the book got rejected a bunch in 2017, I really thought, I'm just not going to be a writer. That's it. Like, I don't want to do it. It makes no sense to me. And I was going to give it up, and then all the stuff happened by chance, but I'd already resigned myself to it. So, at this point, I'm super impatient about being compensated for my time. I don't wake up and feel like, "Oh, I feel so lucky to write."
I get so mad when people are in my inbox still asking me to write something for like two hundred and fifty dollars. I would rather babysit if I have to. I'm not that kind of writer. I can't write things in a timely way that, like, whatever happens, I have to have a take. So for me, a lot of things just aren't worth it and I will say no a lot of the time. And you know, the process isn't fun. The process of writing isn't a good time.
PDR: Oh it's awful. I have a thing where I do a lot of side jobs that have nothing to do with writing just because it's a lot easier for me to go somewhere and do a shift and earn x amount of money, which in one or two days equals whatever a commission fee would be. I'm not that kind of writer either. If you are that's fine, but I'm going to write what I want to write and I'll do it in my own time.
This even happened with my book. A lot of publishers don't want to buy a short story collection unless there's a novel attached, and I remember having a lot of meetings and just thinking, I'm not going to do a two-book deal because I don't know what the novel is yet. I know what that novel is now, but I didn't then, and I just knew that the worst thing in the world for me would be to be stuck in a contract and have to write something that I didn't want to do or didn't fully believe in.
MG: At the beginning, when everyone rejected the book, my agent was like, "Oh, well, why don't you write a second book and then when you sell the second book, we can sell the first." And I was like, "That's an insane amount of time to invest in something that I don't know is going to happen." It's like the luck of the draw. I don't want to do that again. Like, that's so crazy. It's just bizarre.
PDR: Yeah, and it can be really shit for the process of writing. I remember having almost the same conversation with my agent. It was something like, "Okay Paul, let's work on some novel pages," and I'm like, "But I actually can't work on a novel if all I'm thinking about is whether it's going to sell." That isn't exciting or interesting to me.
MG: I guess my question is like when you think of an idea what's your process of forming it?
PDR: I think a lot of my ideas tend to come from some kind of personal problem that I'm having that I want to figure out even if I can't figure it out fully. So I have to first articulate the problem and to do that takes a lot of time, definitely longer than the current pace of the "take" economy or whatever you want to call it. My debut really was me, over the course of years, obsessively trying to figure out the problem of being young and having all of these dreams and aspirations and then realising that a lot of the time those didn't serve me and almost always led to me being exploited in some way or another. That's not necessarily what the stories mean or are about, but it's where they come from. Now I guess I'm working on a different problem—the problem of being alive today—and maybe that's a bigger problem, but I'm really hoping it won't take as long.
What about you?
MG: Yeah, my process of starting something is that I really need to have the space and time to be weird and have obsessions. I have to have a framework around what I'm working on and to find the lineage of that and its ideas and themes in a way that makes sense to me. That part is really the fun part, but having the freedom to do that requires so much time and I have to feel free of other projects. Right now, I can't do a long-term project because I have all these little things dotted in that are taking some of that energy away. So it's a weird balance to do that and also just to live your normal life and make real choices in the world.
PDR: Completely. It's about time and space in a world that doesn't give you any. Okay, we've been talking a while, but I had one more thing I wanted to ask. How did you approach writing the clothes in Happy Hour? You capture that sense of fashion being tied to the idea of becoming someone. That it's something central, not ancillary, to who a person is. Was this something natural that reflected your life or was it more of a conscious choice?
MG: I think it was a combination. I've always admired writers who write about clothes, especially when it's to do with this great need for the clothing as if it's an answer. Jean Rhys did that a lot in her novels, but also one of my favourite older books is Sister Carrie. I just remember a scene of Carrie almost dying for this pair of lambskin gloves, and she's just so hungry for them. You have this realisation reading that she would do whatever it took so that at one point in her life she'd be able to have them. It feels like such an important aspect, especially when you live this precarious life.
And you know, I do think that there's a certain type of young woman that has a kind of education that no one really values. And that's in regards to being able to do your makeup and dress in a stylish way. This kind of thing that people really expect young women to have. It's a knowledge that you have to build in a very particular way for yourself and your own identity.
MG: In terms of actually writing about clothes, I used to work writing descriptions of clothes for a luxury fashion website. It was a funny way to utilise this knowledge because I would have to write like, "This poets blouse with pleating…" You know, like constantly doing that every day. It just became second nature. I also feel like I'm so lucky because over the course of my twenties, I was surrounded by young women who really all had a developed sense of style. And it was always so fun every day to be like, "What's she going to wear this time? "I really like that part about femininity in general. It's fun to read about. With the clothes in the book, those specific details aren't that fleshed out, really, but for me I need to know what a person is wearing. It's important to me.
PDR: That job makes a lot of sense reading the book. Almost a kind of training. Like, I imagine when you had to write those descriptions for the job you'd have to write a paragraph on each item.
PDR: That's not the case in the book, but you have just enough detail to build it. You do it seamlessly. It's like everything in Happy Hour; it's a sort of seduction. I find whenever my stories approach fashion I often get readers who think I'm trying to say how vapid it is, or they sort of delight in it being vapid, but that's never really my intention at all.
MG: That's a thing. People always think other people's interest in clothes is frivolous or materialistic. You know, I've had men be like, "Well, I only have two pairs of shoes." Like, okay, does that make you more authentic as a person? I don't really know what that means. It seems like a lack of options for me.
PDR: And men can get away with a lot more. But also, like, well, what are the two pairs?
MG: Exactly. And with my own relationship with clothing, it's very much like I will have an event in my mind, and I want to search for this very particular thing that I want to dress like for that day. I'll search and search and search, and this is part of the fun of it, and then when I find it, it's such a release of serotonin. I'm so happy. But also a lot of my life has been spent, especially when I was younger, with a lot of social anxiety. The only way for me to really get over that was to picture myself in the situation and prepare myself for it by finding the proper clothes that would help me. I think it's natural in a way and is how my friends and I have always approached our daily lives, like dressing and knowing what's right for the occasion.
PDR: What did you wear for your book launch?
MG: I mean, I don't even really know what my book launch was exactly. I guess it was my reading at POWERHOUSE. I wore a pink Christian Lacroix dress and Prada shoes and a Prada clutch. Yes, that was the look. Oh, and I got my hair blown out.