Mo Daviau has performed at storytelling shows such as Bedpost Confessions and The Soundtrack Series. She is a graduate of Smith College and the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan, where she won a Hopwood Award. Daviau lives in Portland, Oregon. Every Anxious Wave is her first novel.
To read an exercise about explaining away implausibility, inspired by Every Anxious Wave, click here.
In this interview, Daviau discusses making implausible stories believable, the litmus test for whether personal tastes are shared by readers, and where plot twists come from.
The novel presents you with a pretty significant problem. The characters need to travel through time. How do you they do it? And how do you explain it? You tackle those exact questions in a couple of paragraphs after the time travel device is discovered. What was your approach to those paragraphs? I love how fast they move, basically telling the reader, “Some stuff with computers happens and–boom. Time travel.” But a quick look at some online reviews reveals that sci-fi purists don’t agree. Of course, this isn’t a sci-fi novel. Was this an issue you faced writing it?
This is something I worried about, that I would be displeasing hardcore sci-fi fans by not going hard and deep into the science of the wormhole. There is actual science behind the mechanics of time travel as I’ve written it in the book—it’s based on the theory of the Einstein-Rosen Bridge, which was explained to me by a post-doc in physics at the University of Michigan who I met while I was there doing my MFA. But since the novel is told from the first person perspective of Karl, who has no knowledge or interest in physics, the burden of understanding the wormhole’s mechanics fully is on Wayne and Lena, whose voices we are not privy to. Was this a cheat-out? Maybe, but I never intended the novel to be sci-fi. To me, it’s magical realism. I did not build a new world—I only added one fantastical element to the existing one.
The premise of the novel (time travel to great concerts) allows you to namedrop a lot of bands and a lot of particular concerts. In terms of reader appeal, this would seem to be on the level of Ready Player One, which was adored by pretty much anyone with a particular pop culture sensibility. Did you think about this (how readers might respond to the bands) as you wrote it? Or did you simply write what you liked?
I worried that since I chose to write towards my own musical tastes, and to pay tribute to, and in some cases, satirize, the indie scene of which I was a fan in the late ‘90s, that since the vast majority of readers wouldn’t have heard of those bands, they wouldn’t really connect with the work. No one up my chain of command—agent, editorial staff at St. Martin’s Press—is a fan of the bands I name in the book, or had much knowledge of that particular scene, yet they still connected with the themes in the novel. So that was my litmus test for being able to write a novel around obscure music that bore or alienate the non-indie-fan reader.
You currently live in Portland, and, before that, you lived in Austin–so, two cities with strong live music sensibilities. Did these cities have any impact on the novel?
The short answer is no. And I feel like a jerk saying that, but it’s true. Portland more than Austin-the novel was mostly finished when I moved to Portland in 2014, and although Portland gets a few mentions, and Austin gets no mentions (there were references to clubs in Austin but they ended up getting cut in the end) I’d say that there is no true sense of place. Every Anxious Wave takes place largely in Chicago, but only in Karl’s bar and in his head. It also takes place in Seattle, though not the Seattle we currently know and love. I was writing more about time than place.
My favorite thing about this book is the fact that a character accidentally travels to 10th-century Manhattan. This is just so weird and wonderful, a bit like the section in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay when a character spends an entire section in Antarctica. In both cases, the story is doing something totally outside the bounds of what the reader probably expects given the frame of the novel. Did you always know this would happen? Or was this the result of a moment of inspiration?
I don’t remember how or why I came up with the idea of Karl leaving the number 1 off his transmission entry sending him back to 980, but that was a pretty early idea that I had in my head, the first problem Karl would face. I’d just read the book Sex at Dawn when I started writing what would become Every Anxious Wave, and the idea that among early hunter/gatherers, there was no concept of personal property and that everything was shared communally was one that I found fascinating. I’ve always enjoyed communal living, something that our society frowns upon once college is over. When I was trying to figure out under what circumstances Wayne would return to modern times, my personal inner impulse was “I wouldn’t. I would want to stay in hunter/gatherer society.” It’s a mild social commentary, I guess, and maybe one I didn’t punch very hard, looking back on it. But that’s where that idea came from.