Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

On Salinger, Rushdie, and Newton's First Law of Motion: A Conversation with K.R. Moorhead

Written by Josie Schoel
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Have you ever seen some dude on the bus or train and something about his coat, the book he was reading, or the way he parted his hair made you think he could be your soul mate? We’ve pretty much all had these moments, but in The First Law of Motion the narrator doesn’t passively fantasize about what could have been. Instead of being satisfied with the imaginary bird in the oven and a picket fence, she decides to follow him. For weeks.

Photos by Jason Rodgers
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Have you ever seen some dude on the bus or train and something about his coat, the book he was reading, or the way he {sidebar id=11} parted his hair made you think he could be your soul mate? We’ve pretty much all had these moments, but in The First Law of Motion the narrator doesn’t passively fantasize about what could have been. Instead of being satisfied with the imaginary bird in the oven and a picket fence, she decides to follow him. For weeks.
The First Law of Motion, written by first time novelist K.R. Moorhead, who recently received her MA in creative writing from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK, is one of the most painfully candid novels I have ever come across. What is so strikingly original about her tale of debauchery and vice is that it is utterly devoid of the kind of glorification we are accustomed to seeing in novels that explore the underworld of sex, drugs, and obsession. The First Law of Motion is smart, quick-witted, and quite frankly, really, painfully funny.
Josie: I loved the dedication in your book, “from one muse to another,” and the idea that a muse is a comrade, not an ethereal, goddess-like woman whose only purpose is to inspire others. Can you tell us about this a bit?

Kate: Well, that quote is from a book I read a few years ago, and it really stuck with me. I shared the book with my best friend Jason, who the book is dedicated to, and he loved it too. I had been posing for his photos for a long time, and we always joked that I was his muse...but he was definitely my muse for this book. I just liked the idea that a muse was more like, your other half.

Josie: So it’s not that your muse is like the ever-elusive, female "other?"

Kate: No. It’s a part of you, and you recognize it as soon as you see it, as being like you but apart from you, as well.

Josie: I really love that idea. So, your writing style in The First Law of Motion is fairly Spartan, with short, staccato sentences, yet it still manages to be chock-full of description. Is this how you have always written, or is [it] something you have developed over the years?

Kate: Actually, I wrote this book while doing an MA in creative writing, and the first few stories I turned in to workshop got panned by the class and the teacher because I overused adjectives, sometimes three in a row, you know, like, the pale, pink, flickering light...

Josie: Classic creative writing workshop mistake!

Kate: So when I started writing this book, I really tried to pare it down, and I found that descriptions became much more interesting when you had to be more sparse with the language. I purposefully ignored the backdrop most of the time and only described things that were relevant.

Josie: I agree, more Hemingway-like. I just finished Mrs Dalloway before reading your book, and it was like night and day!

Kate: Ha! I love Virginia Woolf in theory, but sometimes have problems reading her in practice.

Josie: Same. So, I wanted to ask you about teaching...
Kate: Sure.

Josie: Which kind of relates to what you were saying earlier about being panned in class...I know you are teaching creative writing at the University of East Anglia, but how much do you think you can actually “teach” someone how to write? How much do you think is talent and how much is hard work?

Kate: I don’t think you can teach someone to write without there being some talent there [to begin with]. [But] I do think that being around other writers, both professional and aspiring, in an educational, workshop environment can be incredibly helpful and eye-opening. It definitely was for me, but I do think that you only get as much out of a creative course as you put into it. If you walk in thinking, “Ha, I dare you to teach me,” you won’t learn anything, whereas if you’re willing to try everything and get involved and experiment and basically be humble... then you can learn a lot.

Josie: That makes sense. So, the protagonist in The First Law of Motion has some serious issues in the book, and she does some pretty horrible and stupid things, yet we are still rooting for her 100 percent, even while she is pissing us off. You created an honest, fucked-up character with issues of obsession and compulsion, yet she is still so loveable. It seems like generally we are given a character that is all villain or all saint, but your character is a bit of both. Any insight into how or why you did this?

Kate: Well, I think I just wanted to be as honest as possible. The character is definitely part of me... all the worst parts of me at one of the worst points in my life. I tried to be as candid with the kinds of things I thought about and felt while I was going through some tough growing pains. [Though] that’s not to say that the character is me by any means. She's parts of me that I turned into a whole other person, and [then] I had to let her go and see what she did [on her own]. I think there are a lot of things we all think, especially when we're unhappy, that we won’t admit to.

Josie: Yeah, I agree with that for sure, and it's refreshing to see it portrayed so honestly. Like the things she does are things most people probably think of doing but don't actually do!

Kate: Yeah...that’s exactly it. I wanted to have a forum in which I could see what would happen if someone couldn’t help but [to] act on some of those horrible thoughts.

Josie: Also, her relationship to sex and drugs felt purely compulsive and escapist, like the drugs kind of ended up in her lap without any effort, yet it felt like she really pursued sex. Were you trying to say anything about addiction to sex versus the use of drugs?

Kate: I don’t know that I consciously was, although those are things I am concerned with. I think what I was trying to do was show that things like sex and drugs seem like easy ways to feel some enjoyment for a short period, but actually, if you’re unhappy, you won’t actually enjoy those things.

Josie: Ah, right. I didn't even put that together...she never actually enjoys anything except for maybe eating ice cream with her mom. But that felt to be more about comfort than joy.

Kate: Yeah, that’s her major problem I think, that she has lost the ability to find enjoyment in any aspect of her life, so she's constantly looking for something that will make her feel something.
Josie: I’m glad she isn't a cutter!

Kate: You know, I thought about that.

Josie: It would fit but maybe be a little too cliché.

Kate: I consciously made the decision not to make her a self-harmer because I feel like there is a bias about people who do that, that they are overly dramatic, and I didn’t want her to be dramatic.

Josie: Good choice.

Kate: Thanks.

Josie: So, clearly, she wants to find peace/love/calm with this older guy she begins to stalk. Does this have anything to do with the lack of father figures in the book?

Kate: I think so. There are a few personal reasons why the man was an older man, and her father was absent, but think it works because she obviously craves some kind of male verification. I think she finds her father obsolete, and this affects how she views and relates to men.

Josie: What about the title? Newton’s first law of motion has to do with the velocity of an object remaining constant unless acted upon, which is something you mention in the book. How does this relate to your character?

Kate: I think that for a while, she feels she can have some affect on her own life, but when she really hits rock bottom, she decides that it is more trouble than it’s worth to put effort into changing her life because it only seems to [keep] get[ting] worse. She decides she will become inert and wait for life to push her, even if it's somewhere dark.

Josie: Using pop culture references in any work of art can be risky, but I loved how you used them in the book, like they were an integrated part of the narrative. The references to hipster culture, music, and other books were all really surprisingly strong, and it made me curious to know what other writers you love or hate.

Kate: My favorite writers definitely have to be J.D. Salinger and Kurt Vonnegut. Salman Rushdie is also really amazing. I don’t know about hate. I’m a really tough customer when it comes to fiction. I will definitely put a book down quite quickly if it doesn’t grab me in some way right from the beginning.

Josie: Same. But sometimes if you push it, it can be good!

Kate: I know. I’m sure I’ve missed out on some really good books because I was too harsh!

Josie: Well, your book isn’t one to miss out on. I read the whole thing in one night, and I just loved it. Thanks for speaking with us.

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