When bookseller Rachel Kaplan of Avid Bookshop read an advance copy of Rabbit Cake many months ago, she loved it so much she invited author Annie Hartnett to come down to Athens, Georgia for an event. At long last, Rabbit Cake is on the shelves and Annie is Georgia-bound—but first she caught up with Rachel to talk about dark humor, her writing headspace, and reading like it’s a competitive sport.
Annie will be at Avid Bookshop (with rabbit cake, cocktails, and Rachel’s very real rabbit Thumper) in Athens, Georgia on April 6 at 6:30pm.
Rachel Kaplan: Part of why I love Rabbit Cake so much is because of its dark humor. Was it difficult to write a comical book about death and grieving?
Annie Hartnett: Well, dark humor is my go-to mode, I think. I come by it honestly – it’s always been like that in my family, finding the funny in the sad or terrible. There’s a story I’ve told in a few other interviews, that my uncle put my new boyfriend in a headlock at my grandfather’s wake, right next to the open casket. When my uncle heard me tell that story, he said: “I don’t remember that at all, and I bet your grandfather wouldn’t stand for that.” Badum-ching.
RK: Do you have any writing process idiosyncrasies?
AH: I don’t do it right now, but when I was writing Rabbit Cake, I would listen to the same five Dolly Parton songs before I started writing. Those songs always got me into the right headspace. But I think my next book needs its own artist. Maybe Prince…or Seal. I love Seal.
RK: Animals are clearly very important to you. Did you have any formative experiences that shaped your relationship to them? Or, what’s a favorite memory of a childhood pet?
AH: Growing up, we had a dog and a rabbit. I loved the dog, but the rabbit was mine, not a family pet. His name was Rockafella Quintin Bunnybun, and he hated my older brother. Rocky would run at my brother with his mouth open, ready to bite, but Rocky let me hold him like a baby. And my brother always used to joke that Rocky ran a drug cartel out of my bedroom. We were weird kids.
RK: If you weren’t already married, which literary figure would you trade vows with?
AH: Oh god, I’d never marry a writer. But I’m trying to think of a juicy answer… I think it would have to be a woman… Amy Hempel? We could collect dogs and she is very beautiful.
RK: If Rabbit Cake were made into a movie, who would play the starring roles?
AH: Lizzie and Elvis would have to be unknowns, I think, given their ages. I imagine that Frank Babbitt looks like Jason Bateman. I’ve love Kristen Bell to play the mom, Eva Babbitt, since I’m a Veronica Mars fanatic. Of course, Eva is dead for most of the book, but there would have to be flashbacks to when she was living.
RK: What is one of your favorite books that you feel is underrated and should be read more? What 3 books would you put in a time capsule?
AH: You and I talked about this at Winter Institute: Nice Big American Baby by Judy Budnitz. It is so goddamn weird and so so very good.
RK: What’s your go-to cocktail?
AH: Margarita. With salt.
RK: You’ve worked a stint at an independent bookstore; how did your experience shape your understanding of the literary world?
AH: Oh my gosh, in so many ways. But the most relevant at this moment in my life is that it really helped me understand the power of the bookseller, that people really buy books on staff picks and in-store recommendations. All bookstore browsers should take advantage of the vast knowledge of booksellers – when I was a bookseller, I treated reading like a competitive sport, because I always wanted to have something new and wonderful to give out.
RK: Which 3 books are your favorite to hand-sell?
AH: I’m guest bookselling at Books on the Square (my new store in my new hometown, Providence RI) and I think I’m planning on hand-selling: God of Animals by Ayrn Kyle, Girls of Corona Del Mar by Rufi Thorpe, The Mothers by Brit Bennett.
RK: I can’t whistle and am jealous of anyone who can. What skill do you wish you possessed?
AH: Oh there’s a whole long list: I wish I could sing, I wish I could act, I wish I was a great painter, a better cook, a better dog-trainer…my eight month old puppy is barking at the couch right now.
Annie will read at Avid Bookshop on Thursday, April 6 at 6:30pm.