Steph Post: In The Moment of Everything the protagonist Maggie is given a book which is essentially a diary of two strangers falling in love. Within the battered pages of a used copy of Lady Chatterly's Lover, two secret lovers communicate by writing each other notes and their entries become central to Maggie's story. But I wouldn't call The Moment of Everything a romance exactly (though genre romance novels play a part in the story as well). So, is this a book about love? Do you consider your story to be a love story?
Shelly King: I do think it is a story about love of many different kinds. Maggie learns about the love of work, the love of family you're born into, the love of family of friends you build around yourself, the love of books, even the love of a very unlovable cat. While romance of the notes is at the core of this journey for her, her own discovery of romantic love is not her primary journey. Though I often tell people that the Lady Chatterley and Maggie share a common problem when it comes to romantic love in that for both of them sex is easy but love is much more complicated and difficult.
SP: Maggie, though a Silicon Valley techie, winds up working at the Dragonfly- her local used bookstore. As I'm sure most readers did- I felt that I could completely relate to Maggie's reaction to the bookstore. I could see, hear and smell my own favorite used book haven whenever Maggie stepped foot into the Dragonfly. Did you have a specific bookstore that you modeled this fictional one from?
SK: Absolutely. There's an amazing used bookstore in the real Mountain View, CA, called BookBuyers. I adore that store and the people who work there. For a long time, one of my neighbors worked there so I got all the scoop about what it was like to work in a used bookstore. As Maggie says in the novel, all great readers dream of owning a bookstore. But the reality is that bookstores are hard work. I tried hard to capture the romance of a used bookstore while also showing the reality.
SP: And in the same vein, why Are used bookstores so special to us? Do you think that only hardcore readers feel this way or is this a feeling that is evoked in everyone?
SK: I think people like a bargain and bookstores do sell books at a discount. So there's that. But they also sell books that are out of print and other hard-to-find items that people love discovering. And the discovery is really the romance of used bookstores to me. Used bookstores don't order inventory. They take in what comes to them. So if you think about it, there's something a little mystical about that. And each store is unique. Every Barnes & Noble is very similar to the others. But no used bookstore is ever like any other.
SP: Going back to the mystery of Lady Chatterly's Lover... The conversation between the two strangers beings with "Hello? I am Henry. Who is there?" followed by "Hello, Henry, it is Catherine." and "Catherine, thank you for writing. I grow curiouser and curiouser- Henry." (which is a wonderful Alice in Wonderland reference, of course). When I read this beginning I was immediately reminded of a similar experience I had in high school. I started a conversation in history class with a stranger in another class period by writing song lyrics on one of the desks. Whoever sat in the desk the next period commented on the lyrics and we began a dialogue that lasted for a few months (that teacher must have hated us). It was strange because it was our secret, but obviously other people were reading our conversation as it progressed. I was wondering then- did you have an experience of some kind like this that prompted you to invent the story of Henry and Catherine? Or did it come from somewhere else?
SK: I'm so jealous!!! I would have loved to have had something like that happen to me. Wow. Sadly, that wasn't the case. My idea for the notes came from two different experiences. One, since I was a teenager, I've always been fascinated by things people write in books. Because I was always told you're not supposed to write in a book, this act seems reckless and rebellious to me. The other thing is that when a book has been written in, it takes on a whole other story other than the one the author intended. It has a story of itself as an object and the person who owned it before. The other thing that happened to me was a while back when I was going through a difficult time in my life, I used to walk over to BookBuyers, my favorite used bookstore, and sit on a kik-step stool back in the dark stacks and read late at night. I always had plenty of books at home, but this became sort of a routine I developed to force myself out of the house when I was going through this difficult time. I was in the middle of Lady Chatterley's Lover when I went down to the store one night and it was gone. It was no big deal for me because there were other copies, but I got to thinking about what it would mean to me if there was something important about that book. What if I were leaving notes for someone in that book and it disappeared? What if that was my only connection to the other person? As you know, this is what it's like to be a writer. We're always taking something ordinary and turning up the volume to see what happens.
SP: You have such a snarky, witty voice and it plays out beautifully in one of my favorite scenes: Maggie's introduction to her friend's book club. I've never actually been to a book club meeting before. Are you part of one? Or have you ever attended a book club that was reading The Moment of Everything?
SK: I've been in several book clubs! I love them. I started one way back before they were a thing, before we even knew to even call ourselves a book club. Sadly I haven't been in one for a very long time due to time constraints. I love the idea of book clubs. This particular book club was based on one a friend of mine told me about. I thought it sounded horrible! But then here again my writer brain kicks in and sees all the delicious possibilities. And it was a perfect way to also show the reader a little bit of what it was like to live in Silicon Valley.
SP: One of the minor characters, Nimue, makes a comment that I had to underline in the book. She says at one point, "I mean, to find your love in a book? How amazing is that? Books are so sexy. Bookstores are sexy." I think that many people can relate to The Moment of Everything because they love books, but I'm going to ask you to back Nimue up here: what's so sexy about books?
SK: I think people associate reading with intelligence and intelligence with sex. As the saying goes, you can fix ugly but you can't fix stupid. But seriously, books touch our emotions and ignite our minds. They make us vulnerable to someone else's story. They make us laugh. They make us angry. We experience all these emotions when we love as well. And our choice of books is so personal. So when you find out what books someone likes, it feels a little intimate especially when it's surprising. My husband is a Sam Elliot type of guy who does applied physics for a living. On our first date, he told me he liked to read a lot of different things, but when he traveled for business, he liked reading things that made him laugh like Janet Evanovich and Sue Grafton novels. I loved that this tall man with a deep voice and a big nerd brain read fiction that was targeted to women and this wasn't a "guilty pleasure" for him that he hid on a Kindle. He bought these books in the airport and read them on the plane and shared them with his fellow passengers. That told me a lot about him and made him super sexy.
SP: The Moment of Everything is your debut novel, so what's in the works now? What and when can readers expect from you next?
SK: I can't share much because it's still too early, but I'm working on a novel about women and technology. I'm one of those writers who needs someone to read her work and tell her what it's about so I'm afraid that's the best I can do!
SP: And finally, give me three books you've read in the past year that you can't believe you hadn't read sooner.
SK: The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud was an amazing character study of an angry woman which we don't see often. I also loved Long Man by Amy Greene. And I just finished the 2014 Best American Short Stories collection that was edited by Jennifer Egan this year. I read this collection every year and this is by far one of my favorites. The stories in this collection blew me away. And it included stories from two of my favorite writers: Karen Russell and Lauren Groff.