Sunday, February 7, 2021

Event Preview Interview! Jenny Chou has Five Questions for Margarita Montimore

Margarita Montimore, author of Oona Out of Order, will join Daniel and me (Jenny) in conversation live on Zoom on March 10th at 7 pm cst! All our burning Oona questions will be asked, and I mean all, because unlike this interview, our Zoom with Margarita will be a spoiler-inclusive event. We will chat about choices, and we’ll chat about consequences. If you didn’t read this delightful, witty, and sometimes heartbreaking book in hardcover, you still have time to read the paperback

Oona Out of Order made not just one Top Five of 2020 List here at Boswell, but actually made two, because both Kay and I both loved Oona. (Both of our reviews are here on the item page.) What intrigued us? Well, the best books make readers think, "Wow! This is quite the impossible situation! How would I manage?" while at the same time keeping the pages turning furiously to find out what the main character does with her ever-expanding number of problems.

At her 19th birthday party on New Year’s Eve, 1983, Oona is preoccupied. Should she accept an offer to study in London or stay with the boy she loves and make a go of their band? At the stroke of midnight, before she can make her choice, time and fate intervene. Just as Oona’s boyfriend leans over to kiss her, she blinks awake decades later in a strange house and an unfamiliar body. This is the first of Oona’s jumps along the timeline of her life, and from then on, each New Year’s Day, she wakes up either younger or older than the moment before, but never in the right sequence. 

Oona, it seems, is living her life out of order. 

Jenny Chou: Welcome to the Boswellians Blog, Margarita! In Oona Out of Order, your twist on the time travel genre is wonderfully imagined. Can you tell us how you came up with the idea of writing about a woman living her life out of order?

Margarita Montimore: Thank you for having me! And thank you for all the wonderful support you and the other kind folks at Boswell have given Oona Out of Order.

I love time travel stories, but I never thought I’d have something to contribute to the genre, considering those stories tend to be complex and meticulously plotted (whereas my writing style is more intuitive and a bit chaotic). But over the years, in the back of my mind, I thought about the elements that I’d like to see more in time travel - the eras I’d want to revisit, the types of characters and plots I’d find compelling, etc. Then I found myself in my late thirties and having moments of disconnect about my age. For example,  I’d read about an album that came out when I was in high school celebrating its 20-year anniversary, and it would baffle me. How could I be on the verge of turning 40 when I still woke up some days feeling like a teenager? On the other hand, there were other days I woke up feeling like an old lady. Which got me thinking about what it means to feel like your age and to act your age… before long, the idea for Oona was born.

JC: The 1980’s were my high school and college years, and the setting for some of my favorite scenes in your book. What makes that decade so much fun to write about? Because I could tell you were having fun!

MM: I did have a blast revisiting the past. Though I’m jealous that you got to experience the 1980s during your formative years. I was a little kid back then, and I knew there were a lot of cool things going on around me that I wasn’t able to fully grasp or participate in - clearly I was born a decade too late. I came of age in the ‘90s, which had its moments, but I was always more passionate about the movies, music, and style of the 80’s (especially anything relating to new wave and post-punk). From a pop culture standpoint, there was so much creative experimentation and expression, so much color and fun. You could make a music video wearing a garbage bag and it would be played on MTV!

Initially, I began writing this book as an excuse to revisit my favorite decade, and I intended to have much of it set in the 1980s. However, as the story unfolded, I ended up spending  more time writing about subsequent decades, and even had to take out some of the ‘80s chapters. I did enjoy reliving the ‘90s more than I expected, but if I ever write a second Oona novel, there will definitely be more leaps set in the ‘80s!

JC: You really had to keep track of a complex puzzle of details while writing about Oona’s life. How did you manage?  (I’m picturing a wall covered in different colored Post-it’s reminding you what she knows and doesn’t know about her past, present, and future during each leap.) And along with that, did you write Oona Out of Order in order?

It’s so funny you mention the wall of Post-its, because that is exactly what I’ve done to help me keep track of the different pieces of the new book I’m working on. And one of my big writer dreams is to one day have a giant “murder board” with a web of red string connecting notes and photos. But for Oona, I was able to keep track of key dates and plot points using two documents, one with a chronological timeline and the other with Oona’s disordered chronology. At a glance, I could compare the two timelines and have a good overview of general reality versus Oona’s reality. Believe it or not, I did not outline the story beforehand and discovered it as I went along (which made drafting exciting but revising a lot more challenging!).

JC: Oona never knows if her next jump into her future will actually be into her past. Or she might blink awake on New Year’s Day far into the future, while internally she’s still a twenty-something. Do you think Oona learns anything on the disorienting journey that makes up her life that the rest of us may never quite grasp?

MM: I think Oona has no choice but to embrace living in the moment. While the rest of us may try to do so, I think it’s tempting to look back on the past and indulge our nostalgia or to dream about a brighter future. Since the past and future are so tangled in Oona’s existence, the easiest way for her to make peace with her “time sickness” is to accept her internal and external age as it changes year to year and live fully in the present. It’s something I’m still working on myself.

JC: Here’s a question present Margarita can answer for both your past and future selves. What books were among your favorites in 2020, and what are you excited about reading in 2021?

MM: My favorite 2020 reads:

The Darkest Flower
- Kristin Wright (pub date: 6/1/21 - read the ARC and loved it)
Followers - Megan Angelo
Underland: A Deep Time Journey - Robert Macfarlane
Fooling Houdini - Alex Stone
The Midnight Library - Matt Haig (Note from Jenny - I loved The Midnight Library! and ed. note: check out the video of Haig's virtual visit to Milwaukee right here, too!)
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo - Taylor Jenkins Reid (ed. note: Boswellian Jen is a big fan, too!)
My Brilliant Life - Ae-ran Kim (another 2021 release I had the pleasure of reading early)

Books I’m excited about reading in 2021 - so many! But here’s a sample of my TBR:

Catherine House
- Elisabeth Thomas (currently reading - I’m utterly captivated!)
The Echo Wife - Sarah Gailey
Maxwell’s Demon - Steven Hall
The Kindest Lie - Nancy Johnson (ed. note: click here to register for our event featuring Nancy Johnson in conversation with Shannon Sims on Feb 18, 7 pm.)
Fake Accounts - Lauren Oyler