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My First time...with Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich

Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich is a 2014 National Endowment for the Arts Fellow in creative writing, an award given for her work on The Fact of a Body. Other honours in support of this, her first book, include a Rona Jaffe Award, a scholarship to the Bread Loaf Writer's Conference, as well as fellowships to the MacDowell Colony, Millay Colony for the Arts, Blue Mountain Center and Yaddo.

Her essays and short fiction have appeared in the New York Times, Oxford American, Salon and the anthology True Crime. She has a JD from Harvard, an MFA from Emerson and a BA from Columbia University. Alexandria currently lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she teaches memoir writing at Grub Street and teaches graduate public policy students at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

Alexandria Marzano-Lesenevich | The Riff Raff

Here's the blurb for The Fact of a Body...

Law student Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich, working on a retrial for death-row convicted murderer and child molester, Ricky Langley, finds herself thrust into the tangled story of his childhood. As she examines the minute details of Ricky's case, she is forced to face her own history, to unearth long-buried family secrets, and to reckon with how her own past colours her view of his crime.

When Alexandria begins a summer job at a law firm in Louisiana, and sees Ricky's face flash on the screen as she reviews old tapes, and hears him speak of his crimes, she is overcome with the feeling of wanting him to die.

Shocked by her reaction, she digs deeper and deeper into the case, realizing that despite their vastly different circumstances, something in his story is unsettlingly, uncannily familiar.

Describe the exact moment you decided to write your book.

There was no exact moment, but an accretion of small ones: noticing that the colour blue kept popping up in my fiction drafts, and realising that I was thinking of the blue blanket Ricky Langley had wrapped Jeremy Guillory’s body in, for example.

Or drafting another short story and realizing that I was trying to work out something about how to understand Ricky Langley. I saw how haunted I was by the case I’d learned about so many years before. I obtained the initial set of court records not to write about them, but to lay this haunting to rest inside me. In many ways, I was writing this book before I even realized I was.

What’s the one thing you wish you’d known before starting to write it?

I can tell you the one thing I’m glad I didn’t know: how long it would take me! But what I wish I had known is that I could survive all the emotional places it would require me to go. The material was daunting, but it called to me, and the only thing to do was face it.

What’s your go-to procrastination method?

Usually, I work on something else other than the thing I’m supposed to be working on. When I first started this book, I wrote occasional humour columns for a local newspaper. In the years that followed, I got a lot of essays written.

But on a bad day? On a bad day, it’s the Internet – particularly with everything happening politically in the US.

What was the biggest tantrum you had while writing your book?

It was actually during revisions. Not because I didn’t think the book needed revising –but because my body was suddenly like, no way am I going back there. I had to wait it out until my subconscious was ready again.

Best thing about writing your book?

The chance to connect with readers, definitely.

And the worst?

Well, having to plunge in to face head-on the trauma at the heart of it.

Go-to writing snacks?

Good dark chocolate – ideally 85% – and, for an evening writing session, a glass of Cabernet. I can’t write while drinking wine, alas, but I like to have a glass hovering around the corners of my vision, as inspiration and reward for when I’m done.

Who or what inspires you to write?

A sense I’ve had since I was a child that I see the world in a strange way, making connections others might not.

The book that changed you?

Mikhal Gilmore’s Shot in the Heart upended what I thought was possible. Here was a book ostensibly about a murder, and ostensibly about his family, but it also reached back into the history of Utah, into mythology, and into ghost stories. It seemed to suggest that to understand a single act, you might need to go back very far. That resonated with me.

Your pump up song?

When I was struggling to figure out the structure of The Fact of a Body I started listening to MGMT’s “Time to Pretend” before writing sessions:

Yeah it's overwhelming, but what else can we do?/

Get jobs in offices and wake up for the morning commute?

It started as a joke—but now it’s become essential.

If you could share a bottle of wine with one writer dead or alive, who would it be?

Truman Capote seems like he’d be an incredibly fun drinking companion.

One piece of advice you’d give first time writers hoping to get a book published?

Be ambitious! The book will teach you to write it.


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