Malin James Chats with Lana Fox About Roadhouse Blues

I love chatting with Malin James. Love, love, love it. So imagine my excitement when she said she’d pop on over to the Go Deeper blog and answer all my nosy questions about her erotic collection Roadhouse Blues, which will be launching this summer. (I’m a massive fan, can you tell?) Here’s the interview. Enjoy.

Malin James: Hello, hello! Thank you for having me over!

Lana Fox: The pleasure is all ours. Now, to get started…

How did Roadhouse Blues begin? What sparked its inception?

Malin James: The idea for Roadhouse Blues grew out of a piece of flash fiction that I dashed off for fun. I wanted to try a different voice, something playful and not-quite-so polished, so I wrote Flash, Pop!, which you guys were kind enough to run last year. I set it in a small town in the Bible belt and let the characters, Debi and Deke, have at it. It was a ton of fun to write, but I figured that was it … until I wrote another story, and then another, set in the same small town.

Pretty soon, characters were popping up left and right—a new mother who feels like a stranger in her body; two women grieving the same man; a brash, super sexy newlywed convinced she’s married a cheating bastard; a waitress confronting a painful past; her cautious boss indulging himself with a hot, young trucker…. Suddenly, I had a rough and tumble strip club, a seedy motel, a 1950’s diner and a car garage run by a kick-ass woman who makes her own rules, all in this nameless town. So, I called the place Styx and started writing the stories down. It’s like a door opened up. Needless to say, I was happy to walk through.

Lana Fox: Can you tell us about a couple of your characters, just to give us an idea of this glorious cast?

Malin James: I’d love to. There are a few characters that I feel especially close to and Krystal, from “Krystal’s Revenge Fuck” is one of them. She’s the sexy newlywed I mentioned. Krystal is intensely and unapologetically herself, and she wields her sexuality with a defiant kind of confidence. But under her brash, firecracker personality, she’s actually pretty vulnerable, so when she thinks her husband’s cheating, she decides to get a very particular kind of revenge. I love the intensity of her anger and the softness it hides. This woman knows her mind and literally comes out swinging.

Liz, from “Down and Dirty”, came out of the box in a similar way. She owns a garage at a time women aren’t even supposed to know how to change a tire. She has no time or patience for gender norms—either in how she wears her body or in how she conducts her life. She’s a drawling, sarcastic, ass-kicker of a non-conformist who knows how to get what she wants, especially when it comes to sex.

On the other side of the spectrum, Maybelline from “Marlboro Man” is serious and quiet and self-contained, but when she dances for a man who reminds her of her father, a whole lot of history comes into play, and she’s brave enough to let it. I could go on, but I’ll stop myself there. The characters in these stories brought so much of themselves to the page that I sometimes forgot they weren’t real. That kind of alchemy doesn’t happen all the time, but I’m grateful it did.

Suddenly, I had a rough and tumble strip club, a seedy motel, a 1950’s diner and a car garage run by a kick-ass woman who makes her own rules, all in this nameless town.

Lana Fox: Is the setting that ties these stories together important? How does it affect your characters?

Malin James: The setting is really important, though I had no idea how pivotal it would be when I started. While the stories span several decades, the setting remains, for the most part, the same. Styx is, for all intents and purposes, a stand in for a particular kind of very American, blue collar town. It’s the kind of place that, for better or worse, defines the people who live there. People either tend to conform to expectations, or quietly defy them. What I wanted to do with these stories is get at the passions and private realities that the waitress, the widow, or the new mom probably wouldn’t advertise in church.

Lana: Were there any moments that were particularly glorious and/or particularly difficult to write? We’d love a sneak peek at any tidbits too…

Malin: There definitely were. I’ve already mentioned “Krystal’s Revenge Fuck” but it was gloriously fun and cathartic to write. One of Krystal’s defining qualities is her anger. She is angry about so many things, and all of it wells up when she thinks her husband’s cheating, so her revenge isn’t just on her cheating spouse, it’s on every single person who has ever dismissed or shamed her.

“Krystal shuddered under years of pent up shit. Jack. The waitress. Her goddamn mama. She was pissed, so pissed, but she couldn’t get it out. She couldn’t fucking get it out. So, Krystal hauled back and slapped him.”

Writing a woman who acts on her anger in such a definitive, unapologetic way was cathartic. There were times when I found myself crying or cursing or wanting to hit things because letting Krystal act on her anger allowed me, in some ways, to act on my own.

Writing a woman who acts on her anger in such a definitive, unapologetic way was cathartic. There were times when I found myself crying or cursing or wanting to hit things because letting Krystal act on her anger allowed me, in some ways, to act on my own.

Writing “The Waitress” was also intense, though much more difficult. The story is about a woman confronting her abusive ex—territory that I’m personally familiar with. I tried to span the entire emotional arc of that relationship, from new love to deeply ingrained fear, all while tying it to her attraction and, later, to her determination to survive.

“He dropped the ring back onto her chest and gave her a kiss—a Prince Charming kiss. She wouldn’t even notice the mark from the chain in the morning.”

People who’ve never been in an abusive relationship often wonder why you stay. You stay because the bad is often in small things that take time to add up. There were days when I was lucky to get a paragraph down, but I felt it was important to portray a survivor in all her complication and strength. It’s one of the stories I’m most proud of in the collection.

Lana: There is so much sexual variety and richness in these stories! In this beautiful guest post at LN Bey’s blog, you wrote, “Sex is rarely just sex—it’s need, desire, love, desperation, anger and a million other internal realities. That’s because, in the end, sex is about people, and people have motivations, and sometimes those motivations surprise them.” Wow, yes!

So. Did the complex motivations of your characters during sex ever surprise you during the writing of Roadhouse Blues?

Malin: YES!! These characters surprised me so many times. I had no idea that Deke in “Flash, Pop!” set up that whole, kinky scenario to try to get Debi to marry him, or that Krystal would fucking love pegging and get off on having a big, pink cock. I didn’t know that Maybelline would feel shy when she stripped for Tom, or want to call him daddy, and it totally took me by surprise when Mick and Jett found an intensely romantic connection by smacking each other around in the title story, “Roadhouse Blues”.

When I started each story, I had a vague idea of what might happen but no attachment to it. The only things I had were the characters and faith that they’d figure it out. Half the time I’d sit there thinking, are you fucking kidding?? But the answer was always yes. The way I see it, if I’m not surprised, the reader won’t be either, so whenever I get all up in my head and “writerly”, I try to bring it back to the the characers and the story. They’re the bottom line.

The way I see it, if I’m not surprised, the reader won’t be either, so whenever I get all up in my head and “writerly”, I try to bring it back to the the characers and the story. They’re the bottom line.

Lana: Did writing Roadhouse Blues affect or shift your own life? If so, would you be willing to share?

A lot changed in my personal life as I worked on this collection—I started therapy for PTSD and began uprooting the thorny, often painful mess of my own history. Each story in this collection explores a fundamental question I had to ask myself. I allowed the stories to guide me as I worked through the answers. Sometimes it was hard and I resisted more than once, but in the end I reached a place in my own healing that I may not have otherwise. While this collection is, in no way, autobiographical, every shift in my own understanding of myself is woven into it, which is probably why I feel so deeply tied to it.

Malin: Lana was kind enough to let me ask myself a question here, so I’ll do the one a friend asked me when I told her about the collection. Why linked short stories? Why not just write a novel?

It goes back to the effect of time and place. My sense of these characters is deep enough at this point that I could probably write a novel about most of them, but I didn’t want to do a deep dive on one, or even a handful, of lives. I wanted to put together a mosaic and explore life in this place through a variety of experiences. It’s sort of like photography—rather than take a traditional portrait, I wanted to create a collage from as many angles as I could. The tricky thing was choosing which to include. For each story that went into this collection, there’s another waiting in a file. It gives me the option of coming back to Styx one day, which is a nice thing to have. I’ve gotten pretty attached.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you so much, Malin. Reading, re-reading, and posting this interview has been such an honor, not only because I love your collection and the way you speak about it, but also because of your profound strength and heart. 

Folks, if you’d like to be among the first to hear about the release of Roadhouse Blues by Malin James, you can join our occasional email list here, or following Malin and cheeky old us on Twitter.