Stacey D’Erasmo’s fourth novel, Wonderland, chronicles a 40-something musician’s attempt to restart her career while touring Europe.
Anna is a musician on a comeback tour. How did you go about capturing the nomadic rock star life on paper?
The first thing that I did was read various musicians’ memoirs: Dean Wareham’s Black Postcards, Juliana Hatfield’s When I Grow Up—which had a lot of stuff about touring. I also read Bowie in Berlin, a book about the Pixies, and others. And in the summer of 2010, I toured with Scissor Sisters. They happened to be doing a loop in Europe that was not unlike what I knew I needed for Wonderland. I wanted to go on tour for however long I could afford because I really didn’t know what that was like. We know the clichés, but what that experience really is—city after city, day after day, set after set—I needed to see.
Do you find similarities between musicians and writers when it comes to the idea of creative sacrifice?
Writers and musicians are very similar in that the chances of making a life in either field are so infinitesimal. And once you’re “in,” the chances of staying viable are difficult.
But there is something incredibly different about performing in front of a live audience, as opposed to sitting at your desk typing. A performer needs and craves a live audience. Audiences come for a very direct cathartic experience. Seeing that night after night on tour really brought that home to me. Rock music is meant to go straight to the jugular. I write things in my house, and hopefully there’s a reader out there who enjoys it and has an experience with it, but that’s very different than a performer on stage, where there’s an immediate dance with the audience. It’s incredibly powerful.
The novel’s structure is nonlinear, immersing the reader in Anna’s psyche. Why did you decide on this approach?
What I wanted was a sense of events happening to Anna simultaneously. The past and the present, everything she’s thinking about, are all layers occurring at the same time. I was also very excited by the idea of juxtaposition: you write something, then it breaks, and then you write something else. There’s so much energy in that. There are albums—Abbey Road, The Wall—that are meant to be taken as a whole. What’s so exciting about Abbey Road is when the entire thing shifts, going from one kind of sound to a completely different form. But these pieces still make a whole, and that was definitely what I wanted.
Do the songs in Wonderland exist in some shape or form to you?
Not in a melodic way, but it’s kind of like the feeling that you have from listening to a song you’ve heard since you were 12. There’s a particular reaction that the song gives you. The songs in Wonderland don’t have a melodic life for me—I’m not a musical person—but they have an emotional life, an emotional echo perhaps. —