Natasha Drew grew up in upstate New York—“Think lake-effect snow,” she says—where Santa Claus arrived on a snowmobile, and where one of her first short stories, written in fifth grade and bound in duct tape and wrapping paper (upside down “so while you’re reading it, the wrapping paper Christmas trees are dancing on their heads,” she says), was about a little girl wishing for –and being granted—a warm summer and a shorts-wearing Santa Claus.
NATASHA: Then, because Santa-in-shorts seemed too weird for words, I wished it would be cold again. And it was. The end. Now I live where Santa Dude does show up in shorts, either on his surfboard or a shrimp boat.
She lives in coastal North Carolina between the Atlantic Ocean and the Cape Fear River, where she has not found a body as it washed up on the beach, she says, nor “spied on mysterious unknown persons swimming in the harbor under cloak of darkness, or faced down a murderer as a category four hurricane bore down on my oceanfront town.”
NATASHA: But the main character in my current NaNo novel has.
Natasha (whose name is not Natasha) is writing a murder mystery that takes place in a Southern coastal town that looks suspiciously like her current home.
RATS: Do you participate in NaNo every year?
NATASHA: This is my second year as a NaNo slave. Can’t you see the calluses on my fingertips?
NATASHA: I work best for treats, so last year I promised myself a NaNo hoodie if I hit the 50,000 word mark. This picture shows the first – and only – time I was able to wear it in public. Our dog and cat LOVE this hoodie, and now it’s completely covered with short tan and white pet hairs. I need to pick either my pets or my clothing more carefully in the future.
Even if Salon’s Laura Miller believes “NaNoWriMo is an event geared entirely toward writers, which means it’s largely unnecessary,” Natasha finds it quite useful, thank you very much.
NATASHA: I like the urgency of writing so much so quickly. What generally bogs my writing down is my incessant need to edit and nitpick words as I go along. With NaNo that’s just not possible. By plowing forward recklessly to meet some ridiculous word count goal, I’m writing stuff I’d never write in a more rational state. Some of it is execrable, some good, and all of it surprising.
Plus, she says, she loves the camaraderie of the NaNo frenzy. “There’s something about being part of a large cast of lunatics that gives me the warm fuzzies.”
Speaking of lunatics, you’ll find many subtle lunatics in the stories of Joyce Carol Oates, whose recent reading at a local university gave Natasha the willies.
RATS: What did you think of her?
NATASHA: Oy. Where to start? This tiny bird-like figure walked out to the middle of the stage lugging a giant satchel, which struck me right off the bat as odd. As she read—and her story got darker and darker—I began wondering just what she was carrying in that satchel. I had images of baby coral snakes, maybe a jar of Ebola virus, writhing around inside that bag and I kept waiting for her to fling it open. I felt—weird.
I know – I should have been looking for thematic elements, structural characteristics, or something more highbrow, but I was simply waiting for those snakes to escape.
Which means, I think, that Joyce Carol Oates was doing a damn good job of whatever it is she does. I was seriously creeped out.
RATS: What do you think of her writing?
NATASHA: I’d read several JCO novels once when I was going through an angst-filled period of my life and hated them. I read a couple of her shorts right before the reading, and was impressed at the ease with which her characters got under my skin and made me feel like I needed a hot, cleansing shower.
RATS: How would you say your writing differs from Oates’?
NATASHA: My ‘dark’ is much, much paler than JCO’s. And probably less powerful.
But I think I’m funnier.
After I finish NaNoWriMo, I’ll probably pick up Sourland. (She read ‘Pumpkin Head’, the first story in Sourland, at her talk here.) Her characters got to me – and that’s one indicator of powerful writing, isn’t it?
Another character who got to Natasha is Nancy Drew. She’s always wanted to be Nancy Drew and even uses her name as inspiration for her pseudonym, Natasha Drew—a combination of her “Russian angst” and “Nancy Drew wannabe spirit.” It’s also the name of her blog site—Nancy Drew Too.
NATASHA: Nancy Drew is young, pretty, rich and clever. She has a lot of freedom, a handsome boyfriend, her own sporty car and dangerous adventures where she solves mysteries that no one else can. Oh, yeah, and she doesn’t have a job or go to school so she has plenty of time to tool around in that roadster with her glamorous friends. What’s not to love there?
RATS: In what way do you identify with Nancy Drew?
NATASHA: I’m just trying to connect the dots between the seemingly random bits and pieces that wash in with the tide and figure out that big mystery we call life. And if I can channel Nancy Drew to help me – why not?
As for her other name, her real one, she won’t tell you what it is. Not here, anyway.
NATASHA: Most people who know I write fiction know my real name and my other life, but some of the people who think I’m this wonky academic researchy person (and who pay me to do wonky stuff) don’t, and I’d just as soon keep these two lives sort of separate right now. Until, of course, I come out with my blockbuster novel. Then all bets are off.
Natasha has published a couple of short stories and has just had one, “Make it about the Money,” accepted by Dead Mule School of Southern Literature for its next issue.
NATASHA: We’ll see about my NaNo work. I’m still working on last year’s opus. I should be able to pull a couple of short stories out of it, if nothing else. I hope.
RATS: You wrote on your October 25th blog entry, “I’m still trying to figure out what, or who, or where my muse is.” Have you figured any of that out?
NATASHA: I’m lucky enough to live near the ocean and I walk the beach every day. It’s always different: some days there will be an amazing cloud formation in the sky, or an unusual shell on the beach, or a crazy fisherman dying to tell me his life story.
And it’s always the same, too: the tide rises, the tide falls. There’s a dependable rhythm playing counterpoint to whatever happens to wash up with any given wave.
A walk on the beach definitely helps keep my writing mojo working and my sanity more or less intact. So yes, I think I have found my muse.
RATS: One last question – we have to know: did JCO ever reveal what was in her satchel?
[Interview conducted by Kris]