Behind the Scenes with Connie and Cherry
So, start at the beginning. Why a book? Why a book about a down and out televangelist?
(Connie) I was sick and broke and lonely and had no friends, except for my bunnies, and my mother had died so I decided to write a book. I saved my extra money and once a month I bought a book about how to write a book. And I did. It was a painfully hard thing to do, much harder than I ever imagined it would be, but I did it. I finished it, saw it through to the very end. And then, of course, no one would publish it. So then, I bought another book and read blogs and learned how to do that myself, and now I’m here.
Was it worth it?
(Connie) Financially? I don’t know. With all the time and effort it takes, you’d have to make a million bucks to make it worth it if that’s what you mean. But did it feel good to finish? To get out what‘s inside? Oh yes, that’s what Suzze is all about. Whatever you’re stuck with, get rid of it and move on. That’s what I’m trying to do. Plus, I got to meet Cherry. I would never have met her if it weren’t for Suzze.
Since you mentioned it, what is Suzze really about?
(Connie) Suzze is about the Christian ideology of original sin clothed in the Freudian scatological subconscious. That’s what somebody told me. I have no idea what it means. Suzze is about the power of belief and the horrible cost of ignorance, how, in an irrational society, it is ignorance that guides us and defines who we are, usually to a bad end.
Is there a lesson?
(Connie) A lesson? Like a moral to the story? Well, I guess. There’s always a moral. But I hope it’s just a fun story. But I understand. Critics need something to latch on to, something to criticize I suppose or they wouldn’t have a job, would they? They need to tell you how your fun story isn’t literature, and Suzze isn’t, literature, heaven forbid. So maybe the theme, or the lesson or the moral is that, as a country, America just needs to take a big, cleansing poop. There, I said it.
Where did it come from? Suzze and her Irritable Bowel Syndrome? Do you remember?
(Connie) Yes I do. Like it was yesterday. I was watching Oprah and Dr. Oz came on, maybe the first time he was on TV. And he was playing in poop. And he just reminded me of a witch doctor, such a fraud, such a showman. But it occurred to me that if Oprah was pooping, then soon everybody would be pooping, they call that a meme, I think, when an idea catches on, when something that used to be not okay in public now is okay because somebody famous does it, and I said to myself, the world needs a story about a woman who poops.
How about the material? And the characters? It’s all Near Future.
(Connie) I did not so much write Suzze as transcribe it. It was revealed to me. It was divinely inspired. I watched Jon Stewart. And Colbert. And the new guy, John Oliver, but most of all, Bill Maher. He wrote it. Spiritually. I was merely the vessel through which he flowed. I wanted to write Suzze as if it were played out on multiple segments of Stewart, or Maher, or Colbert. No doubt I have fallen far short, but, for better or worse, Suzze is my homage to them. As for the characters, what is really great about writing fiction is that I don’t make up these people, these characters. I am them. Like an actor in a role. I act out the role and then sit down and record it. Sometimes it’s just not there. But when it is, it’s the most fun job in the world.
Who’s your favorite? Which character?
(Connie) Well, Suzze of course. But after that it’s the HushPuppies. [The HushPuppies debut in Episode 3, cm] They’re so much fun, fun to talk to, fun to listen to. They have no agenda. They’re just along for the ride, to see where life takes them.
Is there any of Suzze in you? Did you draw from your life experiences to create her?
(Connie) That’s a hard question to answer. We’ve never had the same life experiences, not even close. She and I are completely different in that respect. But I think we’re both a little eccentric, a little ditsy. At least I’ve been told that. Now that I think about it, when I was a young woman and those things mattered, I was told by a man, an older man, he told me, he said, This is what you’re good at, obvious trivialities. Obvious trivialities well spoken, he called them. I think that was just his way of saying BS. Well, I never knew if he meant it as a compliment or not and I was too embarrassed to ask and I never took it well but it always hung in my mind. And then one day I realized that whether he meant it to be a compliment or not, it was definitely true. And so, they say to do what you’re good at. And I am good at that, obvious trivialities well spoken. Always have been. I was a smart-assed child. So I thought, be a smart ass. Do what you’re good at. And that’s Suzze. And I love her. And I love me for loving her.
You said you modeled Pastor Steve on Steven Colbert?
(Connie) The master and his spawn. I watch Steven Colbert and about one show out of five I realize I’ve seen genius. He’s like the biggest thing on TV and he’s still underrated. And it has come to the point that you can’t tell if he’s still acting the part, or if he’s living the part. I think that’s it. Colbert the person has become Colbert the role. I think he’s going to do something Michael Jackson-ish. Can’t help it. He’ll explode. So imagine what it would be like if a Christian psychopath modeled himself after Steven Colbert. The outcome would be just horrible.
(Cherry) That’s such bullshit. We went to see Steve Furtick. [Elevation Church, Charlotte, NC] He’s the best show ever. The guy delivers. He’s like the slickest little weasel you can imagine. And hot, hot, hot. He’s like the opposite of George Clooney. All the guys want to f*** him and all the gals want to be his friend.
(Connie) But Steven Colbert came first.
(Cherry) Okay, I’ll give you that. Now that I think about it, maybe Pastor Steve modeled himself after Pastor Colbert and from that came Pastor Steve in the book. They’re all a little creepy if you ask me.
Was there a time when you wanted to quit and couldn’t go on?
(Connie) Oh sure. And at that exact moment Dean Koontz spoke to me. I was reading one of his books, Odd Thomas, I think, and it’s a book about a writer of popular fiction and he’s giving advice. And this writer, this fictional writer in a Dean Koontz book is writing about a detective who has bulimia. Bulimia! Do you believe that? Dean Koontz stole my idea! And the problem I was having with Suzze was, I was trying to make her too high brow, to esoteric. I was trying to write satire or literature. I wanted to be Gore Vidal, the greatest writer of all time, I think, by the way, but I was just getting stuck, always trying to go higher and higher, to write better and better. And then I read what the author in the Koontz book, who, of course, is really Koontz himself playing Dean Koontz in the book, and who is more downmarket than Koontz?, and he said, and I remember this so I can quote it, Give the narrative a lighter tone than you think it deserves, dear boy, lighter than you think you can bear to give it, because you won’t find the truth of life in morbidity, only hope. So Dean Koontz got me over the hump. And Dean Koontz is a genius.
Cherry, you’ve criticized Richard Dawkins, saying he’s a bad preacher. What do you mean?
(Cherry) Richard Dawkins seems to think that science, rational science maybe he would call it, can transform or convert religious people, who are not rational, with a rational argument. That is rare to the extreme. Essentially, it can’t be done. As someone said, you can’t reason someone out of something that they didn’t reason themselves into in the first place. I agree with Dawkins that fundamentalist religion, if not all Yahweh-based religion, is a threat to mankind. But, unlike Dawkins, I think the best way to change, to convert a religious person, is to simply look them in the eye and say, You’re an idiot, and walk away. Shame is the only argument they understand. Sad but true. Take a look at Maury or Jerry Springer. You look at those shows and think that they’re reprehensible. But they’re real. They’re the real reality. At their core, they constantly shame and ridicule. And I think it works. Sad. Pitiful perhaps. But true.
Which church do you attend?
(Connie) Do you mean which building do I go to? I don’t. I spend Sundays reflecting, as I do every day.
(Cherry) I like Elevation, the best show on earth. Pastor Steve? He’s the man. I'd do him in the dirt.
Who would you most like to go to bed with?
(Connie) What an inappropriate question! I don’t have to go to bed. I rarely get out of bed. If you’re talking romantically, well, that ship has sailed. But who do I find spectacularly attractive? Dinner and conversation and see what happens? If that’s what you mean, I don’t even have to think about it. Judy Woodruff.
The PBS newscaster?
Yep. My kind of woman.
May I ask if you have any digestive problems?
(Connie) No. Never have. None whatsoever.
(Cherry) Religious types make me want to puke. Does that count?
Interviewed by Chloë Martindale