Interview – The Wild Zone author Joy Fielding
– by Jennifer Laidlaw
It’s a book that begins with a joke and ends with one hell of a punch line. It is about wishing and being careful what you wish for. It is about lust and betrayal, survival and self preservation.
The Wild Zone, Joy Fielding’s 22nd novel, is full of suspense and twists and turns. It is a great summer vacation read; a great escape into the fast-paced world of sun-kissed South Beach, Miami.
The first few chapters introduce the main characters – Tom, Jeff and Will; each one dysfunctional in his own way. Tom is an agro meat-head discharged from the army after raping an Afghani woman and is out to blame everyone else for his problems. Jeff is Tom’s sexy best friend who is used to getting by on his charm and appearance, but keeps emotionally cut-off from everyone around him. Will is Jeff’s younger and smarter half-brother; the over-sensitive Princeton philosophy grad student. Despite the seemingly obvious stereotypes, their relationship is engaging, even if they themselves are a little too simple.
The wild, racy plot is full of sex, guns and alcohol. New York Times and the Globe and Mail bestselling author Fielding keeps you wondering who is going to get hurt and by whom.
I read the 448-paged book in two nights – initially because I wanted to have most of it read before interviewing Fielding, but in the end, because I couldn’t put it down, even though it seriously cut into my sleep both nights. While I genuinely enjoyed reading most of the book, I was admittedly more disappointed than surprised with the twist at the end. Still, I would recommend The Wild Zone for those days when all you want is a light, self-indulgent read.
I caught up with Joy Fielding while she was in Vancouver promoting her book. A Canadian author from back east, she now splits her time between Toronto and the much milder Palm Beach, Florida. We chatted about acting, kissing Elvis and the simplicity of men.
Jennifer Laidlaw: Your book starts with a joke. Are you much of a joke teller yourself?
JF: I can’t remember jokes. I am terrible at telling them and I always forget the part that makes them funny. They go in one ear and out the other. The joke from the beginning of the book, I thought was particularly clever and it really sets up a story about wishing, getting and not getting quite what you wished for.
JL: The three guys in the story quickly resort to trying to pick up the girl in the bar. Have you ever had any good pick-up lines tried on you?
JF: [laughs] I remember a long time ago, I was married at the time, playing tennis and this gorgeous guy asked me if I would like to play tennis sometime. I told him he probably wouldn’t be interested in playing tennis with me because I was not nearly at his level, and the whole time we were referring to the levels by their colour. I said I was an orange and he was a blue, and his response was “just like your eyes”.
JL: Yikes! Well, Elvis must have been a bit smoother than that. I hear you shared a smooch with him.
JF: Well, some friends and I went down to Las Vegas and found out which room Elvis was staying in, which was not difficult at the time. I remember going up there and standing in the hall in front his door with all the other women hoping he would come out, which he did. He went around talking to everyone and then someone called out “kiss me”, so he started going around kissing all the girls on their cheeks. I hung back a bit, but he beckoned me forward and as I walked over he grabbed me and gave me a huge passionate kiss. It was spectacular!
JL: You spent some time back then following a career path in acting. How did that influence your writing style?
JF: Acting taught me drama. The essence of drama is conflict and to keep readers engaged you always have some sort of conflict going on. For example, there is nothing interesting about someone doing drugs, but it is more interesting if they are trying to stop but there are drugs all around them. Acting taught me how to shape scenes and build tension.
JL: Did you have any favourite books growing up?
JF: I didn’t read a lot when I was younger and not at all in high school except for what I was forced to read. In primary school I had a teacher who read bits from Leiningen Versus the Ants each day. I loved it. I couldn’t wait to get to school. It wasn’t a children’s book, I think the teacher was just reading it for herself. And of course I read Catcher in the Rye and thought it was fabulous, but then I read it again a few years back and thought it was crap… so the stories hit you at different times.
JL: You’ve set a few stories in Toronto, but you tend to base most of them in American cities, why is this?
JF: It is really dependent on the story I am telling and where it works best. My stories deal a lot with the landscape of the soul. I like American cities because they echo alienation. I find it easier to get lost in an American city and they more often lend themselves to the story.
JL: Apart from The Wild Zone, your books tend to focus on the female perspective. Is there a particular reason for that?
JF: I make a conscious effort to bring real women to popular fiction. There aren’t that many out there. They are usually cardboard characters or superwomen. I try to create female characters that the reader would really identify with. I think women are very interesting and much more complicated than men. Their psyches are worth exploring. Male writers don’t do such a great a job on the women’s point of view.
JL: So for The Wild Zone, did you find it difficult to write from the male perspective?
JF: It wasn’t hard; we attack things in different ways. Women like to worry, dwell and discuss all angles, while men like to run away. Men are much more straightforward. They are easier. They don’t go through the convoluted thought-processes we do and they don’t beat themselves up over things, but they always think they are right and have much more self-confidence. Men’s simplicity is admirable.
JL<: So, what’s next? JF: I have another book finished for next year called Preferred Lies. It will be ready for next spring.