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I have spent years going over our past, untangling memories from dreams, trying to pinpoint the exact moment when fate sealed. The easiest place to start is with the most blatant mistake: our mother, Jenny, kept the matchbooks in the junk drawer. Amongst paperclips and rubber bands, bent spoons and thumbtacks, the glossy sheen attracted the kitchen light, creating an irresistible enticement. The logos on the covers hinted at Jenny’s fairy-tale existence—the outline of a slender woman dancing, knee lifted high; two champagne flutes clinked together, surrounded by bubbles; a cartoon trout wearing a top hat and blowing a tuba. I loved to sound out the names: Blue Moon, Miranda’s, Larry’s Lagoon. But that’s where my interest stopped, with these little girl fantasies of my mother as a glamorous star.

There is no class Priscilla enjoys less than English Comp. She has never understood why anyone should be required to take a lesson in the language they already speak totally fine. She doesn’t want to be a writer, can’t imagine any job she’d want to have where she’d have to either write or do math, the two least fun things she can think of. So, as the professor is going on about something, thesis statements or effective organization, or some other boring-ass shit, she’s zeroing in on only enough of the example on the board to start scribbling notes for a paper about her relationship with Brody Jenner.

You’ve just returned from Bolivia. What were you doing there?

Besides drinking coca tea, eating llama meat, and dancing fitted out with a cap that had a penis sticking out of my head? I was collaborating with a wonderful nonprofit in Cochabamba, Educar es fiesta, that believes training in the arts prepares young people for life. They work with kids in difficult circumstances and families in crisis.  For a lot of these kids, like many of the young people I’ve worked with in Los Angeles, school is a site of frustration, failure, and disrespect, so we did our writing workshops with kids sprawled out on the floor of a circus tent.

By the end of the first month, Wayne was smoking dope bought by his friends’ yobosayos from the Korean pharmacy, which the GIs weren’t allowed to enter. The stuff was weak, low grade compared to what people grew back home, but it was all there was. He’d roll and smoke joints at night in one of his buddies’ hooches while they were out in the Ville. Back in his bunk he’d listen to the Armed Forces radio play all the good music he grew up with, fixing his eyes on the Bible, trying to get past Genesis. That lasted a few more weeks until his buddies got tired of his using their hooches and yobosayos to get his stuff. “Get your own shit, you cheap lazy motherfucker,” one of them said. And so one Friday he went out with them to Duffy’s, intent on doing just that.

Is The Rules of Inheritance about how you inherited a bunch of money and acted like a Kardashian?

Sadly, no. It’s more depressing, gritty and uplifting than that. Both of my parents got cancer when I was fourteen. My mother died when I was eighteen and my father when I was twenty-five. I’m an only child and these losses left me very much alone in the world, and going through something that none of my peers had really experienced. The book is kind of a coming-of-age story. It follows me through cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, through various relationships I cultivated with men and with alcohol. It’s definitely a grief memoir, but it’s also a lot more than that. You don’t have to have lost someone to relate to someone who is trying to figure themselves out and fucking up a lot along the way.

 

Aren’t you kind of embarrassed to publish a memoir?

For a long time the word memoir really made me cringe. When people asked what I was working on, I would go to great lengths to avoid that word. I’m actually a big fan of memoirs, but there can be something really trite and embarrassing about them, especially given our culture’s obsession with the intimate details of other people’s lives.

 

So, why did you write a memoir?

Well, when I was grieving and trying to figure out how to move through my life as a young woman without parents, I turned to other people’s stories for answers and solace. These stories often came in the form of memoirs, and I found some of them enormously helpful. That’s all I really want from my book — to help people.

 

For some reason no one has really asked you about the writing style you used in Rules, although it’s kind of unusual. You don’t indent your paragraphs and you don’t use quotation marks. What’s up with that?

It’s true. People like to use the same three words to describe by book: gritty, poetic and heart-wrenching, and they talk a lot about how well the book flows, but no one comments on the liberties I took with the writing style. I don’t indent any of the paragraphs, I let a lot of lines stand alone and I don’t use quotations. A lot of this has to do with the poetic nature of the writing and the way I wanted the language emphasized, but I also just wanted the writing to have a kind of immediacy that I think gets lost with a more formal approach. And I also just felt weird using quotes around sentences that were based on memories.

 

Got it. Makes sense. I heard you’re working on some weird afterlife book now, doing seances and stuff. Is that true?

No seances. Yet. But yes, I’m working on a nonfiction book in which I explore different beliefs about the afterlife in an attempt to work out what I believe for myself. If you call it a spiritual memoir I’ll shoot you. I’ve been doing all kinds of fun stuff for it though — seeing mediums, getting hypnotized to find out about my past lives and taking Kabbalah classes. Stay tuned!

There was a time in the 1970s when getting The New Yorker magazine delivered to my house was something of an event. (I don’t feel that way now and it sometimes makes me sad.) In those days the magazine was posted with a brown paper covering. I tore off the brown paper, checked out the cover art, then turned to the Table of Contents looking for Ann Beattie’s name. When she was listed there (48 times now, and counting), I was happy. When she wasn’t, I made do.