Miranda July has created art in most imaginable media, from films (the beloved “Me and You and Everyone We Know” and, most recently, “The Future”) to short stories, theater pieces and even a smartphone app, “Somebody.”
With all of the ways she’s put her ideas into the world over two decades, it’s a surprise to think that “The First Bad Man,” the story of a 40-something woman and her complex relationship with a 20-year-old house guest, is her first full-length novel.
amNewYork caught up with July in advance of the release of her “debut” to talk about the process of bringing the story of Cheryl Glickman to life.
It’s amazing, after the career you’ve already had, that this is your first novel. Why now, and why this story for your first?
I do think of myself as a writer, if you put away, for a second, the other things that I do. I wrote a book of short stories, and clearly a novel was the next challenge. And I took that very seriously. To be honest, my first idea for a novel was completely different. I sold a totally different idea that was much more based on a story from my own life. Then, because of the way my life is, I ended up making a whole movie before I finished that book. And “The Future” has parts of it that are very realistic and could be parts of my life, and parts that are more surreal. I realized that I felt most honest and free with the stuff that was kind of more out there, the wilder parts of the movie. And then I looked back at my novel and was like, “oh no. This is going to be a total nightmare.” I mentally dropped it at that point and was waiting for a new idea, one preferably less close to me. And the idea that came to me was this book, pretty fully formed.
Authors often seem to relate strongly to, or at least empathize with, their lead characters. Do you feel close to Cheryl?
Cheryl, I sometimes think of as the other daughter that my parents could have had. I work furiously to not be her, but I know exactly why she is who she is. … Setting her up right away as something different allowed me to feel free enough to come up with all of these things that aren’t me. But ultimately, it does come around to my unconscious releasing all of these things that I would never think of myself, but are the essence of who I am, or some shadow version of me that I’m not living.
That “shadow version” seems to have a major fear of creating a mess in her life, both figurative and, at home, literal. Do you relate to that at all?
I should say that a lot of her housekeeping stuff is just me. It was fun to become conscious of all of this stuff that I do and give names to it. That said, I have a whole part of my life where I give myself permission to be messy, and that’s my work. Things are always huge, confusing messes before they become done. For her, the mess becomes the interpersonalthings she can’t control and the feelings she’s having and are not in charge of. But for me, there’s always a fight between keeping everything under control and wanting to break free of that. The tyranny of my life is really self-imposed.
IF YOU GO: Miranda July will be appearing at Barnes and Noble Union Square, on Tuesday at 7 p.m., 33 E. 17th St., 212-253-0810.