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Kristen Arnett
Credit: Maria Jones

Last summer, EW described Kristen Arnett's debut novel as "the lesbian Florida taxidermy family novel you never knew you needed." In June 2021, her sophomore work With Teeth will hit stands and, while there's no taxidermy this time around, it's set to be another captivating family saga. And, EW has the exclusive first look, starting with the cover.

With Teeth

With Teeth will continue the author's legacy of Florida settings, following Sammie Lucas as she works from home and attempts to care for her ever-complicating family (sound prescient?). Her son Samson's emotional distance puts Sammie's maternal instincts into question and strains her marriage with her wife, Monika — and, to complicate things, Samson's sullen personality threatens to blossom into something darker.

But, let's hear it from Arnett herself. The author is answering EW's burning book questions about what we can expect from the upcoming novel and how exactly she gets it all done.

whats-in-a-page

What is the first thing — ever — that you remember writing?

I remember sitting in Sunday morning service and using the church bulletin “notes” section to write a long and meandering story about The Babysitter’s Club. It was basically fan fiction; I wrote myself in as one of the characters and made all the other babysitters my best friends. I was obsessed with those books as a kid! I realize now that I deeply identified with Kristy, who felt pretty gay with her dirty jeans and t-shirts and baseball hats. The story I wrote was objectively terrible, for sure, but it did involve me saving a young babysitting charge from drowning in a pool! Even from a very young age I thought way more books should be based in Florida.

What is the last book that made you cry?

It takes A LOT to make me tear up (I usually joke around that I’m a robot and that the moisture would rust my insides), but the last book that definitely got to me was Laura van den Berg’s I Hold A Wolf By The Ears. There’s a story in that collection called “Volcano House” that’s about two sisters and grief. The last paragraph of it, wow, it packed a wallop. Felt like a beautiful punch to the guts. After I got done reading it I just kind of sat there and willed the tears back into my eyes. Damn you, Laura, for making me cry!

Which book is at the top of your current To-Read list?

The book that was at the top of the pile was Rumaan Alam’s Leave the World Behind. I just started it today and I’m already almost halfway through! People were not joking about this one, it is absolutely a page-turner. I’ll probably stay up way too late tonight so I can finish it!

Where do you write?

I started out my writing career working in libraries, so let me tell you, now it feels like I can write absolutely anywhere. I love noise and bustling people and cramped little spaces and being hunched over my computer. My girlfriend and I recently moved to Miami from Orlando and we have a balcony, so I’ve started writing outside when the weather is nice (it is always pretty nice here). I love a lot of windows and light when I’m writing. I like to see and hear and feel Florida all around me as I work.

Which book made you a forever reader?

I think I’ve always, always been a reader, but without a doubt the book that has stuck with me the longest is Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina. It was the first time I read a book where I felt like I saw myself inside it. It’s queer without talking about its queerness. And it’s such a beautiful book about place. South Carolina is a living, breathing character that sits inside its pages. I read that book and thought: this is exactly me and it’s exactly how I want my work to feel. Whenever I am trying to write about place and want to reaffirm how best to go about it, I crack that book open and sit with Dorothy again and let her tell me all about it.

What is a snack you couldn’t write without?

I’m going to make a bold assertion here and claim that beer is a snack! I have to admit, I dearly love sitting down with a beer outside and working on anything. That is my ideal situation. I like reading with a beer and I definitely like writing with one. I’ll also be upfront and state that I like anything from 7-Eleven, but especially Steel Reserve and Cool Ranch Doritos (though I have to admit it’s hard to type with all that flavor dust on your fingers).

If you could change one thing about any of your books what would it be?

I honestly don’t think I’d change anything about any of them. The thing that’s so great (and simultaneously terrible) about publishing work is that once it leaves the nest, it’s no longer your own anymore. I like to think of the books I’ve published as little gangly birds that have gone out and grown up with their readers. It’s nice to think about them living their best lives out there with other people.

What is your favorite part of With Teeth?

My favorite part of this book is absolutely how weirdly funny I got to be with it. I think there can be so much humor in discomfort, especially when we get to have a little distance from it and not be directly in the action. It was a genuine pleasure writing a book that had so many “why did you do that, no, oh god” moments in it!

What was the hardest plot point or character to write?

It was definitely difficult to consider who tells the truth in this book. I think a big part of that comes from the fact that when it comes to families, everyone in a household is essentially an unreliable narrator. Even if we’re all telling the same story, it’s inevitably going to wind up as our own take on the situation. We’re not in each other’s heads. We have different thoughts, feelings, memories. Narratives diverge in families. Once I finally came to this realization, it became a little easier to see how to shape the narrative.

Write a movie poster tag line for With Teeth:

Oh God! Maybe “The Call Is Coming From Inside The House”

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