After receiving a BFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College, Margarita Montimore worked for over a decade in publishing and social media before deciding to focus on the writing dream full-time. Now her debut novel, Oona Out of Order, has just been released and she recently agreed to talk about it with Daryl Maxwell for the LAPL Blog.
What was your inspiration for Oona Out of Order?
A life-long diet of pop culture with big doses of time travel movies, shows, and books, paired with moments of disconnect in my late 30s when I didn’t feel like my internal age, matched my external age. I’d find myself baffled that an album released when I was a teenager was celebrating its twentieth anniversary—how could I be pushing 40 when there were some days I woke up feeling like I was still 19? That sparked an idea for a story where a woman feels the same way because she actually is different ages internally and externally, because she’s living her adult life non-chronologically, leaping to a new age every year.
Are Oona, Madeleine, Kenzie, or any of the other characters in the novel inspired by or based on specific individuals?
Most of the characters weren’t consciously based on real people. There are definitely shades of my mother in the Madeleine character and aspects of her relationship with Oona that mirror my own relationship with my mom. And while I was never a Club Kid, that was a bit before my time, some of the characters in that section of the book were inspired by drag queens and other vibrant club regulars I knew during my years going out in NYC and Boston circa the mid-to-late-90s.
How did the novel evolve and change as you wrote and revised it? Are there any characters or scenes that were lost in the process that you wish had made it to the published version?
The first draft I wrote was more disjointed than the final version—the revisions that followed largely focused on giving it a stronger cohesion and developing its through-lines. This required rewriting approximately a third of the book over the course of multiple revisions. Along the way, yes, there were characters and multiple scenes (even an entire time leap!) that I had to cut. I can’t say I wish they made it to the final version because I see them as a necessary sacrifice to strengthening the story. But if I continue Oona’s story, I may be able to revive some of those characters and scenes at some later point.
Do you play the guitar? If you could own a collection of guitars owned/used by famous musicians, can you name your top five guitars/ists in your collection?
I don’t play the guitar, but I wish I could! As for my dream guitar collection, I realize I’m overlooking many greats here, but I’m going solely on personal affinity: Tom Waits, The Edge, David Bowie, Johnny Marr, and Prince (I’d give the latter two to my husband, who’s a big fan of both musicians).
If you could choose to live/relive a single year in your life, as Oona does, what year would it be and why?
Probably the year I was 21. I was in my last year of college, sharing an apartment in Cambridge with two of my closest friends. I was reading a lot, writing all the time, and felt like every part of my life was infused with creativity. And I somehow balanced my academic and introverted side with being wildly social, going out to clubs/parties/concerts several nights a week while still making the Dean’s List.
What’s currently on your nightstand?
What was your favorite book when you were a child?
Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews. Like many girls, I was way too young when I read it.
Was there a book you felt you needed to hide from your parents?
Not really. My parents never set parameters on what I could read. They were happy enough that I could spend hours quietly lost in a book staying out of trouble.
Can you name your top five favorite or most influential authors?
What is a book you've faked reading?
Beowulf, which I found impenetrable, for a college English Lit class. Otherwise, I try to be pretty upfront with the gaps I have in my literary knowledge.
Can you name a book you've bought for the cover?
Docile by KM Szpara. While the cover is what initially caught my eye, the description drew me in even further.
Is there a book that changed your life?
The Handmaid’s Tale. I found it at a flea market when I was in the eighth grade. It blew my mind and made me seek out more of Margaret Atwood's work. In turn, her books opened up a whole world of complex and fascinating female characters for me.
Can you name a book for which you are an evangelist (and you think everyone should read)?
The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall. It’s one of the most imaginative and captivating novels I’ve ever read—it’s also really weird, but I’m still shocked more people haven’t read it.
Is there a book you would most want to read again for the first time?
House of Leaves. I devoured the book in a few days the first time I read it and would love to revisit it with fresh eyes and savor it a bit more.
What is your idea of THE perfect day (where you could go anywhere/meet with anyone)?
It depends on what kind of mood I’m in that day. It might involve exploring a new city on foot, jet skiing in some tropical location, or—if we’re veering into the fantastical—picking the brains of some of my favorite screenwriters (Charlie Kaufman, Richard Linklater, Aaron Sorkin, Nicole Holofcener) over a leisurely lunch. Evening activities would probably involve a tasting menu at a nice Asian restaurant followed by karaoke or a show at The Comedy Cellar.
What is the question that you’re always hoping you’ll be asked, but never have been? What is your answer?
Q: How has being an immigrant impacted you as a writer? A: I was only four years old when my parents and I immigrated from Soviet Ukraine, but I feel like my upbringing incorporated Russian and American culture. I spoke primarily Russian at home, and being bilingual made me examine words and sentences more closely than I might have otherwise. And while it was easy for me to learn English and assimilate, seeing the immigrant experience through the eyes of my parents, who faced more challenges adapting, and knowing we had uprooted ourselves from another culture sometimes made me feel like an outsider. Eventually, I learned to embrace that feeling and allowed it to shape my identity and point of view. It also sparked a general curiosity about people—their stories, their identities, what made them unique. All of those things—the examination of language, the outsider perspective, the curiosity—were contributing factors in my becoming a writer.
What are you working on now?
I have ideas for a handful of different projects I’ve been tinkering with, including a sequel to Oona Out of Order.
Is Oona Out of Order a “time travel” novel? It's certainly a question that could result in a spirited debate. However, there’s no question that the novel’s protagonist experiences time differently than as is typical! If you enjoyed Oona Out of Order, or find the book’s premise intriguing, here are some other books involving time travel that you may want to read.