Lauren Beukes on Detroit Ruin Porn and Avoiding Reddit

Lauren Beukes on Detroit Ruin Porn and Avoiding Reddit

Earlier this morning, South African author Lauren Beukes took to Reddit to answer the burning questions readers have about her thrilling, horrific, and unputdownable books. The topics ranged from reading fanfiction of her novel Moxyland to My Little Pony’s Twilight Sparkle, though most fans were interested in the dark corners Beukes writes herself and her characters into. Here, we pulled some of the best answers from her AMA: the hardest part of writing The Shining Girls, the ruin porn that influenced Broken Monsters (one of our personal picks for the Fall’s Best Mysteries & Thrillers), and her stolen rainbow cake recipe.

The worst corner she’s ever written herself into: “Oh yes, it was early on inBroken Monsters when I realized I was just writing The Shining Girls again and I had to go back to start and rethink the killer’s perspective and what he wants. There was also something right at the very end of the book, which I was so damn stuck on and my brilliant editor, Helen Moffett, stepped in, at the eleventh hour, literally, forty minutes before we had to send the manuscript, and said, “Well, obviously it’s this.” And she was right. And it was so obvious. That’s the amazing thing about writing, and for me, particularly on this book, is the subconscious process. How the book is smarter than the writer, how things you didn’t even know you were doing emerge and reveal themselves from the murky depths.”

Uncomfortable writing: “I hated writing Harper in The Shining Girls. He’s such an awful, empty human being. But I had to be inside his head for long stretches to show how much the world has changed (and how little he appreciates the wonder of his time-travelling) I dealt with it by hurting him at every opportunity. I ripped his tendon, I broke his jaw, I had a dog bite him, I got him stung by a bee. It was cathartic.”

How living in South Africa influences genre and content: “Pssht. Books are always influenced by the social and political environment, even if it’s by omission. But yes, I think my work is probably more politicized because I am South African, because I grew up with this particular screwed-up history, because social issues are so apparent here, because we’ve cut down the poison tree of apartheid, but the roots will trip us up for generations to come. South African crime fiction by the likes of Mike Nicol, Margie Orford, Deon Meyer, is very political—and in fact one of the only ways literature is really able to get a handle on how weird the South Africa of now really is. Noir and hardboiled and crime have always been down and dirty, in the streets, about social issues.”

Great South African reads:Zukiswa Wanner‘s Men of the South, Thando Mgqolozana‘s A Man Who Is Not A Man, Diane Awerbuck’s short stories, Henrietta Rose-Innes’s Nineveh, Siphiwo Mahala’s book of short stories.”

On including Reddit in her latest novel: “Because: life now. I specifically endedThe Shining Girls in 1993 so I wouldn’t have to deal with Reddit and 4Chan or Anonymous (or heck, even The Something Awful forums way back in the mid 90s) getting any hint of evidence of a time-travelling serial killer and jumping in to help solve the case. Kirby had to go it alone. But I missed the Internet a lot. Because it’s so much a part of how I live my life – online. And i was thinking about what that means, about privacy and the life of memes and dreams, and virality, nyancat and doge, hacktivism and slacktivism, how Anonymous and Bullyville were instrumental in the Rehtaeh Parsons case and Steubenville for example and how Reddit jumped into the fray on the Boston Bombings (and screwed up too).”

Who would win in a fight Gabi (Broken Monsters) or Kirby (The Shining Girls): “Gabi would probably take Kirby.”

Ruin porn and Detroit: “Ruin porn is gorgeous, haunting, evocative photographs of abandoned buildings and urban decay. It’s a trope in Detroit that many Detroiters hate, because that’s ALL people know about Detroit. It becomes the defining characteristic. Make no mistake, it’s very strange and moving to stand in the ruins of OUR civilization, in a broken theatre, with the stage caved in, and rotting curtains, and a red chair yanked out if its row like a rotten tooth, black squirrels scampering in the weeds outside and bars of sunlight streaking through the dust (which is probably asbestos), and of course I used that in the book, but Detroit is A LOT MORE than that. And I tried to get under the skin of the easy cliches, to show the real city, and the life in the city.”

Her stolen rainbow cake recipe:Good Housekeeping South Africa asked me for my favourite baking recipe and I nicked my sister-in-law’s recipe for rainbow cake which she adapted. The recipe made it into the magazine, but alas, the credit to her did not. (Damn space constraints) Here it is, full credit to LGB…

The recipe book I used is called Everyday Easy Cakes & Cupcakes published by DK

INGREDIENTS:
450g unsalted butter, at room temperature
450g caster sugar
450g self-raising flour
8 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract

Buttercream icing
230g unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 tbsp milk
450g icing sugar

6 x AmeriColor food colouring in pink, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple. You can also use Rolkem powdered colours. I used a combination of both to get the colours I was after.

3 x 20cm round cake pans (or you could use less and bake in three batches)

METHOD
1. Preheat oven to 180C. Spray and cook cake pans.
2. Cream together butter and castor sugar until pale and fluffy
3. Lightly beat eggs. Add 1 tbsp sifted flour to prevent it from curdling
4. Once all eggs are added, use a metal spoon and fold in the rest of the flour. The mixture should drop off the spoon easily when it is ready. Add 1 tbsp water if too thick.
5. Divide mixture into 6 bowls. Add food colouring until you get desired shade.
6. Pour batter into pans and cook for 12min or until a skewer comes out clean. Repeat with remaining colours.
7. Remove cakes from oven and transfer to wire racks. Let cool.
8. Place purple layer on plate, spread with butter icing. repeat with remaining colours.
9. Ice outside of cake. Refrigerate for about 30min, until set.”

Kelly Gallucci
Far too busy rereading the Harry Potter series, Kelly finds that her greatest literary sin is that she neglected to read classics like The Shining and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. In between overseeing the editorial content for Bookish, holding interviews with authors like Isaac Marion and Lauren Beukes, and creating book recommendations for Kanye West—Kelly’s trying to catch up on the books she missed out on. She just finished The Great Gatsby and might be in love with Fitzg. Kelly received her B.A. in English Writing from Marist College and her M.A. in Screenwriting from National University of Ireland, Galway.

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