She orders one grilled cheese for both of us. Leaned in to one another, we eat, our hands bumping into each other as we pick up fries -- as though we were old high school chums. This is the woman Newsweek calls "Brilliant!" Time calls "Genius!!" and Vogue calls "Fashionably Exhilarating!!!" while the Wall Street Journal pronounces, "Kelly Williams ought to go public and sell shares!!!"
Kelly Williams had humbler beginnings, though. She grew up in the hills of Los Gatos, California, in a three-bedroom house. Her mother (now clinically insane) struggled to keep her daughter in private school when an early teacher proclaimed Williams to be "extremely special" and told her mother, "She ought to have a special education."
After high school, Williams moved far north to Alaska to live out of her van. "It was a difficult time. I was writing poetry on the dashboard." One day she collected her "dashboard poetry," and sent it to prestigious schools all across the nation: NYU, Columbia, Stanford, and the Art Institute of Seattle. Batting a thousand with acceptance letters, she decided on AIS because it was the shortest drive. With a complete package of student loans, she was able to write profusely. It was during this free-writing period at AIS that she created the novel Melysses.
Explain to me the arc of discovery between the first idea for Melysses and its publication.
We win by capitalizing on our debts, by turning our liabilities into assets, by using our burdens as the base of insight. I couldn't write. There is this long hallway that develops in my soul between me wanting to be a famous writer and actually writing a book. To continue the story, at AIS we had to take one English class for our degree, and because I registered late, I ended up in a Joyce seminar. The teacher, as an exercise to make us feel like James Joyce himself, had us retype the first chapter of Ulysses. I have always been a bit of an overachiever, so when I got home and finished the first chapter quickly and the assignment wasn't due for a week, I just kept going. My prof told me that I should publish the assignment as my own novel. We were both so excited that he kissed me. I declared, "I will publish it and I will call it Melysses!" It was one of those moments in life you simply can't restore with words.
If you didn't write the book, and the book is another well-read book already on the shelves with a slightly different title, how then did it become wildly popular?
Let me remind you that Hemingway said, "Writing is rewriting." You know, a journalist early on, I think at Publisher's Weekly, decided that I was a scam artist, and as a response, the New Yorker, a magazine that my publishing house advertises in, wrote a scathing defense of my book. They triumphed me as a "working-class writer." I was the Robin Hood of Literature. By retyping Ulysses, I appeared to the general public as someone who had done something. Then the book was picked up by Oprah, and the continuous #1 on the best-seller list for 52 weeks is history.
Only to drop from #1 because of the release of your second novel, Bite Club. Tell us that story.
I didn't have a whole lot of time for this contract, so I did a quick SEARCH & REPLACE [on Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club] and exchanged the word "fight" for "bite" and then I added an "s" to every "he." The book is then about a group of women who start a club where they bite each other in the basement. Eventually, they end up biting strangers and posing a real threat to the way the world works. Its true message lies much deeper. Do you get it? Like you have to bite into Bite Club to understand its real meaning. Really, it's about how material wealth isn't the answer.
How do you feel about the fact that bite clubs are popping up all over the nation?
Hey, it's not like I invented violence. Plus, I think my book contains an honest violence. Not like going in and shooting up your high school.
On the front cover of your most recent book, the book we are supposed to be discussing, you have a man sucking his thumb and the book is entitled Shooting Blanks....
...You get it, right? I mean, I'm not talking to someone who doesn't get it?
Well, it's a shrink-wrapped book, and can only be opened after one purchases it, and then one gets home and it's....
Blank! Totally blank! Look, whatever it may have been in the past, the idea of content is, today, mainly a hindrance, a nuisance. Real art has the capacity to make us nervous. I just don't want that kind of responsibility.
Do you feel as though you are lying to your audience? An audience who by now is made up of millions of fans?
Nature always deceives. Nature is the arch-cheat. From the simple protective colors in butterflies or birds, there is in nature a marvelous system of spells and wiles. That is what I hope is understood with releasing a book without text.
At what point did you become permanently famous? So famous you could release a book without text?
When I saw sketches of me at Barnes & Noble. And when reviewers started describing new work by other authors as "Williams-esque." Oh, and when the Pope banned me from Italy after seeing Shooting Blanks. He finds my post-modern, anti-text work to be an attack on the school of authorship and therefore an attack on God, author of the Bible.
A waitress comes into the dining room and starts shoving two tables together. Williams begins to shift nervously and the booth makes funny noises. "Look," she says, "a large group is about to land. I'd just as soon we weren't here when it happened. I'll get recognized."
I beg her to stay and offer her sunglasses from my purse. She puts the sunglasses on and digs into her pocket for a sock-cap. She looks nothing like the person I had just been speaking to.
Tell me what your worst experience with fans has been.
Puerto Vallarta. My translator accidentally translated "I am an artist" into "I am a slut." The crowd rushed the stage.
After going to exotic places like Puerto Vallarta, why live in Ballard?
Ballard? [She pronounces the second syllable like lard, as in animal fat.] I'm a misoxene. I look for hide-outs. But, I still count myself as a king of infinite space.
What then, is your greatest ambition?
To be immortal, and then to die.
The interview is over. Without giving me my sunglasses back, she shakes my hand. She throws a bill down. She says, "Adios." And then I watch her as she goes through the wrong door, to the bathroom, while trying to exit. She comes back out and exits correctly.
Fame! I'm Going to Live Forever!