Rufi Thorpe

Rufi Thorpe

The Girls from Corona del Mar is a book about struggling to love your best friend even when you can’t understand her, even when she walks off the edge of the world, even when she doesn’t or won’t or can’t love you back. Mia and Lorrie Ann grow up best friends in the sleepy ocean town of Corona del Mar in Southern California, and Mia, the teller of the tale, thinks that she is the “bad” one, and Lorrie Ann is the “good” one. But as they grow up and Mia lives a relatively stable life compared to her chaotic childhood, the earnest and sweet Lorrie Ann faces tragedy after tragedy in what Mia calls “some bizarre post-modern rendition of Job.” When life takes Lorrie Ann to her limits, Mia is right there with her, trying desperately to understand.

This is your first novel, so was the process anything like you imagined it to be?

The writing process was familiar. Writing is the safe part, the old familiar. But I have been shocked by the publishing industry, which appears to be made up entirely of people who genuinely love books. It makes perfect sense, and yet I hadn’t expected it at all. Every person I meet is someone I would want to be friends with. They are all really nice, and smart, and funny. It is absolutely amazing.

Please tell us about the characters of Mia and Lorrie Ann.

Mia grows up with an alcoholic mom and a disinterested step-dad, and she feels very much like she is riding the edge and trying to keep her two younger brothers safe at the same time. What she sees in her parents is that they aren’t in control, and as a consequence, she’s desperate for control. It’s her very fear that she’ll become a bad person that actually leads her to live a very stable and “good” life. Lorrie Ann, on the other hand, comes from what seems like a very stable, church going family. She’s beautiful and smart and at ease with herself, but life really deals her a whacky hand and she’s got to figure out how to play it. What made you want to explore friendship with this book?

My friendship with my best friend is one of the major through lines of my life. The ways in which we know each other, love each other, judge and forgive each other form much of the “plot” for me, and so I tried to write a book about a relationship like that, that was so important and yet so complicated, so intimate and yet so distant. What has amazed me is how many women have responded, sending me stories of their own friendships. It’s been electric to read these stories, and I feel so grateful that people are connecting the book to their own experience.

One reader said she ached as she read it, feeling like it was her own burden so how have you achieved this honesty to your writing?

Once you figure out that honesty is what you’re after (and not cleverness, or being the best in a workshop, or writing the most beautiful sentence), then it is actually pretty easy. You just sort of set down all the things you have been carrying. All the fear and all the rules and all the stupid stuff you have been carrying about how you want to seem or who you hope you are, and then you can just explain as best you can what you think is going on. Probably other, more accomplished writers have better systems, but that’s all I have so far.

Why do readers still think about your characters long after they have finished the last page?

If they do go on thinking about them, which is such a flattering idea, I would hope they think about my characters because they seemed real, because they felt like actual people the reader got a chance to know. That is what I love best in fiction, the dazzling illusion of vitality and authenticity that some authors manage to create. I think I read for characters more than for style or theme or philosophy or plot or any of it. Reading a good character is a lot like falling in love, and I go to books again and again for that thrill.

How much has your MFA in Fiction helped you to write this book?

It is my official position that a writer in no way needs an MFA. There are very few programs that are well funded, and so for most people attending an MFA, they are getting into debt or else they are coming from a background of privilege. The last thing you want when you are struggling to write and then publish a novel is a mountain of debt chained to your ankle. And making an MFA feasible only for young writers coming from privilege is problematic and undesirable. On the other hand, I learned a lot at my MFA, which was excellently funded, leaving me debt free and much better off. This is not to say I enjoyed my MFA. I actually found it a very painful experience! I was too young for it, for one thing, and for another I just didn’t fit in very well. But I did learn maybe four or five invaluable things while I was there, and I remain profoundly grateful for the experience.

What is next for you?

Writing the next book, of course! There is nothing better than starting to write a new book.


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