The explosive novel by New York Times bestselling author Lisa Unger, which the Providence Journal called “A simmering tale of romantic obsession and angst in the tradition of Body Heat or Fatal Attraction, laced with the noirish spirit of James M. Cain. Wonderfully crafted and beautifully executed.”
Falling in love can feel like a dream…or a living nightmare.
Darkness has a way of creeping up when Ian is with Priss. Even when they were kids, playing in the woods of their small upstate New York town, he could feel it. Still, Priss was his best friend, his salvation from the bullies who called him “loser” and “fatboy”…and from his family’s deadly secrets.
Now that they’ve both escaped to New York City, Ian no longer inhabits the tortured shell of his childhood. He is a talented and successful graphic novelist, and Priss…Priss is still trouble. The booze, the drugs, the sex—Ian is growing tired of late nights together trying to keep the past at bay. Especially now that he’s met sweet, beautiful Megan, whose love makes him want to change for the better. But Priss doesn’t like change. Change makes her angry. And when Priss is angry, terrible things begin to happen…
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Read an Excerpt
Crazy Love You
It was the garbage truck that woke me. Rumbling, beeping down Lispenard Street. It crashed over the metal plate in the road, creating a mind-shatteringly loud concussive boom. And with my sudden, unwanted wakefulness came the waves of nausea, the blinding pain behind the eyes. I emerged jaggedly into the land of the living, rolled out of bed, and stumbled through my loft to the bathroom. Gripping the sink, I peered at myself in the mirror—three days since my last shave, my hair a wild dark tangle, blue shiners of fatigue, my skin pale as the porcelain bowl I’d soon be hugging. Not looking good.
“Oh God,” I said.
But the words barely escaped before the world tilted and I dove for the toilet, where the wretched contents of my belly exited with force, leaving only an acidic burn in my gullet.
I slid down to the ground. On the blessedly cool tile floor, I tried to piece together the events of last night. But there was nothing, just a gaping hole in my memory. I should have been alarmed that I had absolutely no recall of the previous evening. You probably would have been, right? But, sadly, that was the normal state of things. I know what you’re thinking: What a loser.
Loser. Weirdo. Queer. Douchebag. Freak. Shitbag. Fugly. Tool. And my personal favorite: Fatboy. Yes, I have been called all of these things in my life. I have been shunned, beaten, bullied. I have been ignored, tortured, teased, and taunted. My middle school and high school life were the typical misery of the misfit, though mine had an especially sharp edge because I was feared as well as hated. And so my punishments were brutal. I barely survived my adolescence. In fact, I barely survived my early childhood. I might not have survived either if it hadn’t been for Priss.
Of course, it wasn’t just Priss who helped me through. My mother did love me, though it seems odd to say that now. I think that’s truly what saved me, what kept me from turning into a raving lunatic—though some people think I’m just that. My mom was the kind of mother who spent time; she wasn’t just going through the motions of caregiving. All those hours with her reading to me, drawing with me, doing puzzles, looking up the answers to my endless questions in big books in the library—they have stayed with me. They have formed me. She loved stories, and she made up endless tales on the fly—the monster who was afraid of cake, the fairy who couldn’t find her magic, the butterflies that carried children off to dreamland. And she was a painter, a deep and compelling artist.
She gave those things to me, and that’s what I kept after she and my sister were gone. I took solace in those gifts in my bleakest moments. Everyone else forgot those things about her in the wake of her final deeds. But I never did. She only exists for me as she was in those times before my sister was born—when we were all happy and nothing ugly had leaked into our lives. And when I hadn’t yet met Priss, who would change everything for me. For good or bad, it’s impossible to say.
Of course, I wasn’t thinking about any of that as I lifted myself off the floor and stumbled back to bed. The sun was high in the sky, too high for anyone my age to still be buried under the covers. Unpleasantly bright and sunny, the room was spinning and pitching like a carnival ride. I couldn’t have gotten up if I wanted to.
Anyway I wasn’t Fatboy anymore. I shed all that extra weight before I came to New York City on an art scholarship. I started running, and later boxing at a crappy gym on Avenue D. I got a cool haircut and grew a goatee. When I look in the mirror today (okay, not today exactly), the angry, unhappy kid I used to be—he’s nowhere to be found. And the town where I grew up, that sad boy, that shitty life—I shed it like I did my old clothes that no longer fit, that hung off me like an old skin. I stuffed it all into a big plastic bag and shoved it down the trash chute. Good-bye. It was that easy. It really was. At least it was for me.
Now, in some circles, I’m the shiznay. My graphic novel series, Fatboy and Priss, is what they call a cult hit—not a mainstream success, necessarily, but something that every geek and weirdo, every comic book and graphic novel freak in the country knows about. I live in a loft in Tribeca, which is also my studio. (Read: I’m rich, suckas! Okay, well, I rent. I’ll own when the movie deal comes through and my agent says that should be any time now.) I publish a book a year, which I write and illustrate. I’m working on a novel. There’s an option for film. At Comic Con, I’m mobbed. Oh, the geek boys, they love me. They stand in long, snaking lines with their carefully maintained copies of my graphic novels, waiting for my signature.
Of course, it’s not me that they care about it, or even Fatboy. It’s Priss. She is every boy’s wet dream—with her wild hair and huge breasts, her impossibly narrow waist and her long, shapely legs. How my hands love drawing her, how I love putting the blue in her eyes, sketching the valentine curve of her ass. Priss loves Fatboy in spite of his many flaws. And she kicks ass, while Fatboy is a wuss, sensitive and artistic but weak. Priss is a powerhouse—she fears nothing and her wrath is a force to be reckoned with. No one messes with Fatboy, or they answer to her. It’s Fatboy and Priss against the world.
Is she real? Is there a real Priss? they want to know.
Of course, I tell them.
Where is she, dude?
It’s a secret, I say. And they don’t know if I’m messing with them or not, but they laugh, give me a knowing wink. Even though they know nothing. Priss is a mystery. Even I can’t quite figure her out.
On that day, the day I met Megan, I hadn’t seen Priss in a while. Priss and I had been slowly drifting apart—spending less time together, getting into less trouble. You know how it is with your childhood friends. You reach an awkward point in your relationship where you’ve gone in different directions or are starting to. You start to judge each other maybe, agree less, and bicker more. Priss still wanted to raise hell, get drunk or high, get wild. But I had responsibilities, deadlines, meetings.
Still, I looked at her face every day on my drawing table. It was an intimate relationship, my hands always on her, my mind always on her—but that was just on paper, the version of her that lived and breathed within the panels of my books. For Fatboy, she was lover, avenger, and friend. Once upon a time she was all those things for me as well. Somehow, somewhere along the line, for me the real Priss and the one on the page had kind of morphed into one.
The truth was that the more I had of her in ink, the less I wanted or needed her in life. I was okay with that, because my relationship with Priss has always been complicated— really complicated—and not always pretty. Like everything in life, she was easier to deal with on the page.
“You don’t own me,” she said during one of our last conversation-slash-arguments. “Just because you put me in these neat little boxes, have me saying and doing what you want, you think you do. But that’s not me.”
“I know that,” I told her.
• • •
I think what I liked about Megan, the first of many things I liked, was that she was nothing at all like Priss. And I mean nothing—not physically, not energetically. Megan was the good girl, the nice one, the one you took home to your parents. Well, not my parents. My father is dead, and my mother, Miriam, is, shall we say, indisposed. But one’s parents. She was the woman who would take care of your children, take care of you. There aren’t many of them, these types of girls. When you see one, you better be smart enough to recognize her. Lucky for me, I was.
By four o’clock, my blinding, take-me-to-the-emergency-room hangover was starting to abate. In the sundry bargains I’d made with God that day, I’d sworn off booze, pot, blowing deadlines, and being mean to people who didn’t deserve it. I’d done penance on the marble floor of my extraordinary bathroom, clinging to its cool, white surfaces, moaning. I’d made Technicolor offerings to my low-flow toilet. And a wobbly redemption was mine. The pain, the nausea, the misery had faded, and my body was looking for nourishment of the greasiest kind.
The late afternoon light was still impossibly bright, the traffic noise deafening, as I went uptown for the only thing that could save me: a burger, fries, and malt from the Shake Shack in Madison Square Park. I waited on the eternal line, bleary and tilting, and finally made my way to the park bench near the playground to eat.
I liked watching them, those children of privilege, those New York City angels who see their high-powered parents for approximately three hours a day. They are coiffed and impeccably dressed, already wearing the blank expression of entitlement and neglect. They are tended to by nannies of various shapes and colors who always seem mindful that the children are, at once, their charges and their employers. An odd line to walk, I always thought. How terrible for all of them. Children don’t want power; they can’t handle it. And while I watched this frightful dynamic play out on little stages throughout the park—a tantrum on the jungle gym, a struggle over swings, a child weeping on the slide while her nanny chatted with another nanny, back turned, oblivious—I saw Megan.
She was not the kind of girl I’d usually notice. Typical of the Fatboy turned fairly-decent-looking-moderately-successful guy, my tastes ran to the cheap and flashy. I liked a blonde, one who wasn’t afraid to show a little skin, wear leather and denim, sport heels high and spiky, painted nails, glossy lips. You know, strippers. Other than Priss, I’d never really had a woman in my life, not a relationship per se. And Priss didn’t really count, for all sorts of reasons.
Megan’s glossy brown hair was struggling free of its stubby ponytail as she wiped the nose of a towheaded boy. She had a scrubbed-clean look to her, not a drop of makeup. Her black ballet flats were scuffed and worn. Her jeans had dirt on the knees. And yet a kind of innocent, peaceful beauty lit up her features.
“Are you okay?” she said to the little boy, who was crying in a soft, not-too-bratty way. And her voice was so gentle, so full of caring that it lifted me out of myself. I don’t think anyone other than my mother had ever talked to me so sweetly. I longed to be that little boy in her care. No, I wanted to tell her. I’m not okay. Can you help me?
“Want to go home and get cozy?” she asked the little boy. “Are you tired?”
“Yeah,” he said, looking up at her with big eyes. Milking it. And I knew just how he felt. It’s so nice—and so very rare—when someone understands how you feel.
“Your mom will be home soon,” she said. “We need to get dinner ready anyway.”
I watched her gather up his little backpack and put him in his stroller. Her face, somehow pale and bright, somehow sweet and smart, somehow kind and strong, was the prettiest face I’d ever seen. But of course there was something else there, too. It wasn’t all light. Wasn’t there also a bit of shadow? A dark dancer moving beneath the surface? Yes, there was just a shade of something sad.
I started thinking about how to draw her, how I’d capture all the things I saw in just those few moments that our lives intersected. Faces are so hard because they are more than lines and shadows. They are about light, but a light that comes from inside and shines out.
So badly did I want to see her face again that—I am embarrassed to say—I followed her up Park Avenue South to a Murray Hill brownstone. I watched from the corner as she took the little boy out of his stroller, folded it up, and carried them both inside. The light was dim by then; it had turned to evening, the wintery afternoon gold fading to milky gray.
The artist wants to capture everything beautiful and make it his own. There is such a hunger for that. I went home and tried to draw her that night. But I couldn’t get her; she eluded me. And so I had to chase.
They went to the park every day. And every day I was there, unbeknownst to them, finding a perch outside the playground that was close enough to watch her and just far away not to arouse any suspicion. Because that’s what people love: a weird-looking single guy with no kids lingering around a park where children are playing.
But on the third day, she saw me. I saw her see me. She looked at the boy—his name was Toby. Then she said something to another young woman, a gorgeous supermodel of a nanny with café au lait skin and dark kinky hair beneath a red kerchief. That other one had a stare like a cattle prod and she turned it on me. Men had writhed in agony beneath that stare; I was certain of it. They’d liked it a little, too, I bet.
Then I was getting up and walking away, trying not to look like a caught stalker running for my life. I heard the clang of the playground gate, and her voice slicing over the traffic noise, the kids yelling, laughing, a siren fading down Broadway:
“Hey,” she called. “Hey! Excuse me!”
I thought about running; I really did. But imagine what a freak, a coward I would have been if I did that. I could never go back. I’d never see her again. And I was still trying to get her face right. All that light, and that subtle shadow, too—was it worry, anxiety, maybe even a tendency toward depression? I still didn’t have her on the page. So I stopped and turned around.
She was scared and mad, her eyebrows arched, her mouth pulled tight. All the other nannies were watching us from the playground fence, moving close together, staring like an angry line of lionesses against the hyena eyeing their adopted cubs.
“Hey,” she said. “Are you following us?”
“Uh,” I said. I looked up at the sky, then down at the silver-green-purple pigeon strutting near my foot. He cooed, mocking me. “No. No. Of course not.”
She did a funny thing with her body. She wasn’t quite squared off with me; she tilted herself away, ready to run if she needed to, back to the safety of the playground. “This is the third day I’ve seen you here.”
I held up the Shake Shack bag, offered a little shrug. I didn’t have to try to look sheepish and embarrassed. I was.
“I eat here on my break,” I said. “I’m sorry.”
“Oh,” she said. She deflated a little, drew in a deep breath. “Oh. Okay.”
Woop, Woop, said the police car on Madison, trying to push its way through traffic. Woop.
Was she going to apologize? I wondered. If I were writing her, what would I have her do? I’d like to get that little wiggle in her eyebrows, that tightness of uncertainty around her eyes, the just-barely-there embarrassed smile. It’s all those little muscles under the skin; they dance in response to limbic impulses we can’t control. It’s their subtle shifting and moving that make expression.
“It’s just something you have to look out for, you know?” she said. She looked back at the playground and gave a little wave. The tension dissipated, the line blurring, the nannies began talking among themselves. “When you watch kids at the playground. Especially here in the city.”
I nodded. “Yeah,” I said. “I get it. No worries.”
Nope. She wasn’t going to say she was sorry. Because she didn’t believe me. She knew I wasn’t there on my break. But she also knew I wasn’t stalking the kids. She started moving back toward the playground. I saw Toby looking at her through the fence.
“Meggie,” he called. “What’s wrong?”
“I’m okay, Toby,” she said. “Go play. I’m watching you.”
She started moving away, going back to him. I didn’t want her to.
“I saw you a couple of days ago,” I admitted. It just kind of came out.
She turned back, and I came a step closer. She didn’t back up. I looked up at the sky again, the bare branches, the little brown birds watching us. “I think you’re the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen. I’ve been looking for a chance to talk to you.”
I’ve never been much good at anything but total honesty. Sometimes it works for you. Then I saw it: a brief, reluctant smile. And I knew I wasn’t sunk—yet. I tried to remember that I wasn’t the loser kid on the school playground. I wasn’t Fatboy anymore. I was okay to look at; I had money. She could like me. Why not?
“Really,” she said flatly. She looked down at her outfit, another winner—faded jeans, a stained white button-down, a puffy parka with a fur-lined hood, scuffed Ugg boots. She gave me a half-amused, half-flattered look.
“Really,” I said.
I could see her scanning through a list of replies. Finally: “That’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me.”
I was sure that wasn’t true. She looked like the kind of girl to whom people said nice things all the time.
“There’s more where that came from,” I said. I went for a kind of faux-smarmy thing. And this time she smiled for real.
“Meeegaaaan,” called Toby, whiny, annoyed.
She backed away again toward the playground, blushing in a really sweet way.
“Want to get a coffee?” I asked.
“Uh,” she said. “I don’t know. This is weird.”
I waited, still thinking to myself: I’m okay. Chicks dig me. I get laid with some frequency. I don’t always pay for it. I’m not a stalker.
“When?” she asked, still moving backward.
“Tonight,” I said. “What time do you get off?”
I couldn’t let her go without making her agree to see me again. I knew what would happen if she had too much time to think about it. Because I could already tell what kind of girl she was.
She came from money; she had nice, concerned parents probably living somewhere close by. How did I know this? There’s a way a woman carries herself, a shine, an inner cleanliness, when she comes from love and privilege. It takes a certain amount of confidence to walk around Manhattan looking like a bit of a mess. She was pretty, probably smoking hot underneath those baggy clothes. She could have shown it off like every other beautiful girl in the city. But she didn’t need to; she didn’t care who was looking. And you don’t feel that way, not ever, unless your parents told you and showed you how special you are. That’s how I knew.
If she had too much time to think about me, about our encounter, if she told her best friend, her employer, or God forbid her mom, they’d talk her out of seeing me again. Maybe tomorrow she’d decide it was better to go to another park for a while.
“Seven,” she said. “I get off at seven.”
“Meet me here at seven, then. Seven fifteen.”
“Maybe,” she said. She moved an errant strand of hair away from her eyes. “I don’t know.”
“I don’t know,” she said again. And that time it sounded more like a no.
She was gone then, disappeared behind the playground gate. And I turned around, leaving quickly. I knew as I walked downtown that if she didn’t come back at seven that night, I might not see her again.
• • •
“Why did you come back?” I would ask her much later.
“Because I felt sorry for you,” she said. She gave me a kind of sympathetic smile, a light touch to the face. “You looked like a person who needed something.”
“I was needy? That’s why you came back—not because I was hot or charming or magnetic? Not because you wanted me?”
“No. Sorry.” Then that laugh, a little-girl giggle that always made me laugh, too.
“I did need something,” I said. I ran my hand along the swell of her naked hip. “I needed you. I needed this life.”
“Aw,” she said. “And I came back because you were sweet. I could see that you were really, really sweet.”
But I didn’t make it back to the park that night at seven. Guess why.
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Crazy Love You includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Lisa Unger. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Darkness has a way of creeping up when Ian is with Priss. Even when they were kids, playing in the old woods of their small town, he could feel it. Still, Priss was his best friend, his only friend. Ian’s time with Priss was his salvation from the bullies who called him “loser” and “fatboy” . . . and from his family’s deadly secrets. Now Ian has escaped his home, his family, and the tortured shell of his childhood. A talented and successful graphic novelist living in the most expensive neighborhood of Manhattan, Ian has put his past behind him . . . except for Priss. Priss is still trouble. The booze, the drugs, the sex—Ian is growing tired of late nights together trying to keep the past at bay. Especially now that he’s met sweet, beautiful Megan, whose love makes him want to change for the better. But Priss doesn’t like change. Change makes her angry. And when Priss is angry, terrible things begin to happen . . .
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. On page 4 of Crazy Love You, Ian says, “When the darkness calls, it’s a siren song.” This idea, the allure of the darker side of life, is one of the major themes of the novel. How does Ian’s perspective on this idea change throughout his life and throughout the course of the book? Is it an idea you can sympathize with? How?
2. Ian is a classic unreliable narrator. How does his unreliability influence the development of the plot in Crazy Love You? At what point did you realize Ian might not always be telling the whole truth?
3. The comics that Ian writes—Fatboy and Priss—form a substantial part of the plot of Crazy Love You. How does the author use Ian’s work as a tool to illustrate or hint at themes and plot points throughout the novel?
4. On page 10, Ian says of Priss, “The more I had of her in ink, the less I wanted or needed her in life.” How does this reflect Ian’s attitude toward life in general? Does the world of comics help Ian deal with real life? Or does it make it more difficult?
5. Why are comic books so appealing to Ian as a child, and why do you think he didn’t grow out of them, as so many kids do? Discuss your own relationship with comics (or lack thereof).
6. Priss has multiple incarnations as a character throughout the story. What are the boundaries between the different versions of her? Which is the “real” Priss? Is there one?
7. Throughout the story, the Whispers that Ian hears are an enormous influence on his life. What do you think the Whispers are? What do they symbolize in The Hollows? Have you ever experienced anything like the Whispers?
8. What was it in his life that made Ian so susceptible to Priss’s manipulation? Why did Priss, in turn, have such a great need for Ian? What are the things in our own lives that make us vulnerable to things that harm us?
9. Ian’s relationship with Megan and her family hinges on his difficulty with accepting the stability and normalcy of their life compared with his own. Do you share his doubts and misgivings about the closeness of Megan’s family, or do you think he’s just insecure? Why?
10. One of the most important themes of Crazy Love You revolves around fate. Is it possible to change our circumstances, or are we bound to our fate? Can the people in our lives be changed for better or for worse? How does Ian’s judgment of this question evolve throughout the novel?
11. A prominent theme in Crazy Love You is the power and influence of addiction. How is Ian both a typical and atypical addict? Does Ian’s relationship with Priss constitute an addiction? Why or why not? Do you think we can ever really be addicted to another human being?
12. The difference between fiction and reality emerges as a major theme in Crazy Love You. The more we learn about Ian’s life, the more the line between his art and his actual life starts to blur. What do you think of Ian’s negotiation between his own life and his art? Do you think all fiction has some reality in it?
13. In Eloise Montgomery’s words from page 282, the only two “primary motivators” are love and fear—everything else is merely secondary. Do you agree with her analysis in the context of Ian’s story? Why or why not?
14. The reader’s perspective on Ian and Priss’s relationship evolves dramatically over the course of the Crazy Love You. Do you agree with the peace that Ian arrives at in regards to Priss, or do you think he’s delusional? Do you think Ian made the right choices at the end? Or is he still in Priss’s thrall?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. In more ways than one, Priss plays the role of Ian’s muse. From the muses of classical Greek myth, to the real life muses of the Romantic poets, there are muses of some kind or another scattered across history: Research the history of muses in literature, and pick either a fictional or real muse to present to your group. How does Priss fit the role of a muse and how does she differ?
2. The world of comics is one that Ian holds close to his heart, and in modern culture he is not alone. Team up with one or more of your group members to make a comic of your own design—a superhero comic or something more personal. Your comic can be funny, serious, action-packed or meditative—whatever strikes your fancy. Draw an entire book, or simply one detailed panel. Share your work with your group.
3. The history of The Hollows plays a crucial role in Crazy Love You. Although your town may not have as haunting a history as Ian’s, you probably have a historical society or museum in your local area. Plan a visit, do some research about your town’s past, and present your findings to your group.
4. Join the conversation! www.LisaUnger.com and www.facebook.com/authorlisaunger are great resources for more information on Lisa Unger’s novels and a way to meet other fans of Crazy Love You. Check out the videos on LisaUnger.com with your group and share your favorite parts of Crazy Love You with Lisa on Facebook.
A Conversation with Lisa Unger
Ian is such a compelling and convincing narrative voice. How did you develop his character? Does he bear a resemblance to anyone in your own life?
Usually I can pinpoint an exact moment when I started hearing a character’s voice. There’s generally a germ or a seed that gives me a little buzz of excitement and leads me to do some research. And then I start hearing a voice, or seeing a scene over and over. That’s when I sit down to start writing.
But I don’t know why I started hearing Ian. He was just in my head one day. I knew that he was a graphic novelist and that he had some major problems that he was keeping at bay with his various addictions—pills, work, weed. He was in a dark spiral and in a toxic relationship that was enabling his various issues. But that was all I knew. When I first started hearing him, he had an apocalyptic hangover. So that’s where we started our journey together, on the cold floor of his bathroom.
Comic books and comic book culture are an obviously important thread in Crazy Love You. Is it a world you were already familiar with before starting the novel? How did you do your research, if not?
I was not familiar with this world—at all. In fact, I had to call my friend author Gregg Hurwitz (who writes comics as well as stellar thrillers) and say: “You know, my new character is a graphic novelist and I don’t know anything about this. Can you help me?”
He put me in touch with Jud Meyer from Blastoff Comics in North Hollywood. And Jud opened the door to this world for me. He shared his own experiences, sent me piles of books, and answered all my questions. I just dove into this very colorful and amazingly creative universe and loved every minute. Jud was a the perfect guide, as well as the sweetest, kindest person in the world. He was the best source a writer could have.
Ian as a kid finds incredible solace in comic books, so much so that he dedicates his life to that world. When did you discover mysteries? When did you realize that you wanted to write your own?
I think most creative people find a home in their art before they find one in the real world. Books were certainly my first love, and the darker, the more thrilling, the more complex, the better. So I was young (inappropriately so) when I started reading mysteries, thriller and horror novels.
My family moved around a lot, so even when I was the outsider at a new school or a new neighborhood, I was at home with books. Pretty early I had that moment when I went from being a reader to being a writer, from being someone who disappeared into other people’s stories to one who wanted to create her own. Once I discovered that I could do that, I never stopped. I really relate to that part of Ian who prefers a fictional world to the often cruel and unforgiving real one.
Like many of your other books, Crazy Love You takes place, at least partially, in the town of The Hollows, which has almost become a character in its own right. What are the unique challenges and satisfactions of developing a setting over the course of several books? Is there a real place that you feel is closest to The Hollows?
When I first visited The Hollows, I didn’t think very much of it. It seemed like it could just be Anytown, USA. I didn’t really know where it was, somewhere in the Tri-State area. I had this vision of a place that was part rural, part a kind of village, with a hint of dark energy. Subconsciously, I think the town of Sleepy Hollow was a bit of an inspiration. I like the name and the history, its connection to a literary ghost story. But I didn’t consciously think of any of that when I was writing. It was just a place with a strange name.
But once I visited The Hollows, I just kept going back there. And each time I went, The Hollows evolved, and I got to know it better. I learned something new about it every time, and yet kept revisiting the same spots. I started to see it as a place with a personality and an agenda. The Hollows wants something, and I’m not totally sure what it is.
The challenges of writing about a fictional place are the same as what’s satisfying about it. It’s totally my vision—streets, restaurants, homes, people, the woods, the river, the abandoned mine tunnels. There was nothing there until I put it there—which is both challenging and extremely cool. Making sure everything gels from book to book can be a little harrowing.
My brother swears that The Hollows is based on the town where we grew up called Long Valley, New Jersey. But, of course, it isn’t that, though I can see why he thinks so. And maybe there are some similarities. But it’s like all fictional places (and people). It is an amalgamation of my experiences and imaginings, part real but mostly real only in my fictional universe.
The history of The Hollows is an important facet of the novel. Is small-town history something you’re particularly interested in? Are you familiar with the history of the place you live now?
I am interested in history, certainly. But mainly I am interested in personal history, the stories we tell ourselves about our past and how it effects our actions in the present. Most people aren’t living in the present; our memories of the past impact our perceptions of the present, and our hopes for the future. And that is true of places, too. History is just a story that we tell ourselves. Some of it is true. Some of it so influenced by the teller that it is a biased version of the truth, and so not true at all.
A town has a collective history that shapes its identity, as well as the identities of the people who live there. What does it mean to be a New Yorker, a Parisian, a Floridian (in my case), or a resident of The Hollows? We come to identify with our location, and nowhere is that more true than a small town, especially when you’ve lived there all your life. Your identity becomes indivisible from that place. That’s really what fascinates me about the The Hollows, its living history and how it impacts the people who live there.
One of the most fun aspects of Crazy Love You is the unreliability of Ian’s narration. As an author, what is particularly intriguing about an unreliable narrator? Is it more or less difficult than a traditional narrator?
All narrators are unreliable to some extent. In fact, anyone telling you a story is unreliable. They can only tell events through the filter of their perception, which might be very different from another person’s perception. Of course, Ian is slightly more unreliable than most considering that he’s pill-addled, mentally unstable, and far prefers to live within the pages of his graphic novel than in the real world. But I follow character voice. And I was willing to go with Ian wherever he wanted to take me. And that’s true of even my more traditional narrators. They tell the story. I follow. So it wasn’t significantly different from other journeys, just a little crazier.
The supernatural elements in Crazy Love You are part of what makes it unique and more complex or ambiguous than your more traditional horror fare. Have you always been interested in ghosts, psychics, and the like? What was it like to write in that mode? What is your own relationship with the supernatural?
I have a dark and curious imagination, so the supernatural has been a big source of fascination for me—not just spirits and ghosts, but psychic phenomenon, fortune tellers, tarot cards, anything the flirts with the other side. I have met people who were clearly gifted. And I’ve had some unexplainable experiences—enough so that I’m open to the possibilities. Since my fictional worlds are pretty dark, it didn’t seem like such a big leap to follow Ian down the rabbit hole, especially since it took me a long time to figure out what was really happening to him. I had to follow him, just to figure out if he was crazy, addicted, or really experiencing something—beyond. The natural and supernatural exist side by side, a very thin veil between them. Crazy Love You is not the first time, I’ve pushed the veil back, but I did go deeper than I have before.
One of the most compelling parts about Ian’s character is his dedication to his work. What are the similarities (if any) between Ian’s perspective on his work and your own? What was it like to write from the perspective of someone so wrapped up in his own art, so different from your own?
I actually don’t think his art is very different from my own. He’s a storyteller, just like me. There’s a visual component to his art, but my fascination with my subjects is no less total. The major difference between Ian and me is that I am grounded in the real world in a way that he is not—and frankly doesn’t want to be. I have a family and a home and responsibilities that keep from disappearing completely onto the page. When the book begins, he doesn’t have any of that. He is young and single, wild, partying, troubled by a traumatic past. He is using drugs and his work to keep his demons at bay. He doesn’t have anything in the real world to keep him rooted until he meets Megan. And, of course, that’s when all the trouble begins—when he has to choose.
As a young and unhappy kid, Ian disappeared into the world of comic books—a brightly colored, exciting, easy-to-understand world where things were just better. I think that a lot of creative people find a home in their art at a very young age. It was definitely true for me. First I disappeared into books, then into my own writing. The world doesn’t always embrace the sensitive and more creative among us, but the page is wide open, waiting for us to fill it with our art—whether that’s poetry, or fiction, or paints and pastels. I don’t think there’s an artist alive who doesn’t disappear into the world he creates and who often prefers it to the real one. I relate to him more than I don’t.
Fate, or the perception of it, plays a big role in the lives of the characters in Crazy Love You. Ian in particular meditates frequently on the inevitable aspects of his life and wonders if it’s truly possible for people to change. Do you believe in fate? Do you think that people ever really change, or that it’s possible to change someone else?
I do believe it’s possible to change yourself and nearly impossible to change anyone else. Our lives are a complicated helix of fate and free will, nature and nurture, meaning that we don’t choose our genetics, or the things that happen to us, but that sometimes we can find the strength to take the wheel of our lives and start to navigate the terrain before us. When we marshal our resources, we have more power than we think we do over our circumstances. All through Crazy Love You I was rooting for Ian, hoping that something would motivate him to pull out of his downward spiral. But I also knew that the choice was his and his alone. We can’t save anyone from his own dark appetites and desires. The choice to change is a deeply personal one.
Can you give us any hints about what you’re working on next? Are you planning more books that take place in The Hollows?
I never talk about my next project, because it drains all the energy. But I will say I’m not done with The Hollows. Or, rather, it’s not done with me!