Coach House Books asks Jessica Westhead a few things about Pulpy and Midge
CH: What brought you to this story? It’s got an unlikely cast of characters in that most banal of settings—the office. What made you bring them all together for your first novel?
JW: I completely disagree that an office setting is banal. At first glance it might appear that way, but under the cubicle-farm veneer you have all sorts of dramatic stuff playing out on a daily basis. Lust, unrequited love, jealousy, compassion, egotism, selflessness, raw ambition, thwarted dreams, rivalry, vengeance, courage, deceit … Throw in a potluck, and you’ve really got something.
CH: Have you worked in an office? Were there real-life inspirations for Eduardo, Roy, the receptionist?
JW: I’ve worked in a whole lot of offices, in many different locations and performing various clerical duties—reception, answering phones, filing, photocopying, collating, transcription, data entry, etc. I’ve worked in offices for a car plant, a software marketer, a property manager, an investment firm, a newspaper, an editing company, a government office, a couple of educational publishers and a number of hospitals. As far as real-life inspirations go, though, the characters in Pulpy and Midge aren’t based on any of my former co-workers. But a few of the conversations and interactions between my characters are based (in part) on real conversations and interactions that I experienced. There are also little bits of me in Pulpy, Midge and the receptionist. I was working as a receptionist when I started writing Pulpy and Midge, years ago, and a lot of things about the job frustrated me (mostly how the ‘higher-ups’ ran things). So I started writing a story about an angry (but dedicated!) receptionist to cheer myself up.
CH: Pulpy is a fascinating character because we feel viscerally uncomfortable at his difficult situation but at the same time frustrated that he just keeps making it worse for himself. How do you find that balance in a way that keeps him likable?
JW: I did get comments from readers of earlier drafts—in which Pulpy was even more of a pushover—that they were annoyed at him for not standing up for himself. One reader was furious with him—so much so that she said she had trouble getting through the manuscript. It was good to hear feed-back like that early on, so I could revise the story in a way that allowed Pulpy to actually grow a spine. But I’m also really interested in, and have a lot of empathy for, those people who live life more hesitantly than most. I like to think that there’s a little Pulpy in all of us