Trying to Express Something but Can’t: An Interview with Chelsea Martin


Mickey, the new novella from Chelsea Martin, starts as the story of a breakup gone wrong. The unnamed narrator dumps Mickey almost as soon as the story starts before asking him back, asking him for favors, pushing him away and pulling him in every confusing direction. It’s a tale of an accidental dominatrix, until, that is, the third major character of the novel, the unnamed girl’s mother, is introduced. The novel opens up, explains the narrator as a human rather than some dumb, flawed millennial as we see every one of the girl’s actions reflected back onto her from her own mother.

It’s a fascinatingly quick, yet intense tale of flawed relationships and the cycles they create. I couldn’t help but ask Martin to tell me more:

Kati Heng: Is the narrator of Mickey in any way based on, or like you?

Chelsea Martin: She’s a character. She’s not me. Her experiences are different than mine and her relationships are different and her personality is different. But I do see the book as a self-portrait in some ways. I was working through some personal stuff while writing it. That stuff just didn’t get expressed literally in the book.

KH: So much of this girl’s life is masked and hid by layers and layers of irony, sarcasm and saying exactly the opposite of what she is feeling. Can you talk a little bit about how irony & disaffectedness are becoming the go-to emotion, kind of like a sterilization of every other feeling? Do you think this is a problem of just our generation?

CM: I don’t think of those things as problems at all. I think sarcasm is closer to honesty than it gets credit for. I think sarcasm often comes from feeling shame about your true feelings, or not knowing how to express your true feelings but wanting to. Yeah, it’s a way of hiding your feelings from other people, but it can also be a way to let people know that you’re trying to express something but can’t. 

KH: Obviously, the girl in this story does not have good examples to look up to for how to have adult relationships. Her relationship with her mother, who keeps her at a cold distance, is severely flawed. To what extent do you think her relationship with her mom has affected, and maybe will affect, the way she connects to other people? 

CM: I think the complications in her relationship with her mom are projected onto all of her other relationships to such a degree that she can’t even comprehend who or what is affecting her. She obsesses over and consciously maneuvers herself in and out of Mickey’s life (and others’ lives) as a way of dealing with the fact that she has no control over her mother’s absence from her life. She has to feel control over something and unfortunately manipulating men is the easiest way for her to feel that control.

KH: This chick is suuuppper bad at handling breakups. Do you have any stories about breakups you handled really poorly in the past?

CM: I’ve been in the same relationship for almost eight years, but prior to that, I generally did a pretty good job (at least outwardly) being broken up with, and a terrible job doing the breaking up. Breaking up with people makes me mean and selfish. One time I made my boyfriend babysit my psychotic abusive cat for two weeks while I went on vacation, broke up with him the day I came home, convinced him to take me out for sushi immediately afterwards, then asked him to take home my blanket and wash it at his apartment (my apartment didn’t have washer/dryer). He did, but then he didn’t want to see me again, so I was blanket-less for several weeks.

KH: Finally, tell me how you keep your books. How do you sort them? What books are on your nightstand? What’s next on your to-read list?

CM: I’ve been in a weird living situation for the last couple years, so most of my books are in boxes in storage, and I’ve been getting rid of or packing away books after I read them, and only keep a couple around at a time. Recent good things I’ve read are Witch Hunt by Juliet Escoria, The Mind’s I by Douglas Hofstadter and Daniel Dennett, and Navel Gazing by Michael Ian Black. I’m about to read Waves by Lucy Shaw.


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