New World Monkeys:
Primates, Boars, and a Conversation with Author, Nancy Mauro
A handful of lucky travelers found a landscape in which their descendants could flourish. In their new tropical wilderness, in the rainforests before the Amazon, they developed into a completely separate lineage: the species-rich platyrrhines, or New World monkeys.
Imagine a young, unhappily married couple on the verge of separation. They leave New York City to spend their summer in a small town somewhere upstate.
Set-up sound familiar? But that’s precisely where Nancy Mauro’s darkly humorous debut novel, New World Monkeys, takes a bumpy, nightmarish road less traveled.
On a highway outside their new home in a town called Osterhagen, the couple, Duncan and Lily, hit a wild boar, and badly wound it. Seeing her husband’s inability to kill the suffering animal, Lily does the job herself with a tire iron. Soon after, the couple learns that the boar was the town’s famous mascot; and that supecting foul play, its owner is determined at all costs to find out “who done it.”
However, Duncan and Lily are not about to confess. And to make matters worse, Duncan leaves Lily behind to “write” her dissertation while he commutes to his advertising job in New York City where he is working on a devastatingly tasteless ad campaign involving the Vietnam War and hot young women in blue jeans.
The author of this literary mayhem, Nancy Mauro, was born and grew up miles away psychologically and physically from the world she has created in New World Monkeys, in a mill town called Thunder Bay, located in Canada, 3 hours north of Duluth, Minnesota.
Petite and elegant with lush dark hair and a generous nature, it’s hard to imagine Mauro writing characters who veer so recklessly toward the dark side of human nature, but Mauro’s own journey proves as interesting as that of her characters.
WRR:What drew you to advertising?
In the late eighties, I was mesmerized by the show, Thirtysomething, where two of the main characters ran an agency. As portrayed in the show, I saw immediate rewards:.You get to create something, conceptualize it from an idea to the final product, which could be print, radio, television. And within a month or two, you see the fruit of your work on billboards, or as a jingle on the radio, or an ad during your favorite program.
WRR:Where did you start your career?
I started my career in Toronto, Canada and I learned quickly that at best, an ad campaign is a mini version of a movie. Art directors and writers work in pairs from concept to creation of ads.
I came to New York City to work for McCann Erickson as an associate creative director. As with many writers, my dream was to work for an ad agency here because there are bigger budgets and access to media that we don’t have in Canada. This also means there is access to more talent, performers, and musicians.
The flip side, of course, is that the work environment is more intense. And because you are part of a larger team, you quickly realize that being smart and creative is not enough. You have that many more people to play nice to, plus more ideas, more egos, more hopes, and the paranoia that goes with it.
WRR:What about print advertising?
With any print ad, the key is crafting the perfect headline. I compare it to crafting the perfect short story on the head of pin.
WRR:What drew you ultimately toward writing fiction?
In advertising there are so many people involved. You’re never wholly responsible for the creation. Often a campaign doesn’t turn out the way you imagined it would. I found that fiction was a truer expression for myself.
Still, there’s something dynamic when you’re surrounded by people who are pushing one particular product. We would have to work closely together to peel back all the layers of a product, how it was created and what it does, and then ask the question: What’s the one thing we want to say in order to sell our product?
It’s a very difficult to ask and then convince a lot of people to get behind an idea you might have.
WRR:You’ve captured that push and pull very well in New World Monkeys both in the ad world and with your main characters, Duncan and Lily. They’re continually questioning their places in the world.
Yes, the same questions I would ask myself when designing ad campaigns became true in writing the book. I kept asking myself what is the thing Duncan and Lily want? Does it change over the course of the narrative? Do they get it?
WRR:New World Monkeys focuses on one of the most tasteless ad campaigns one could imagine, selling high fashion jeans by staging models in the middle of combat; in this case, the Vietnam War.
Well, of course the campaign is dead wrong. What I wanted to do in developing this campaign for Duncan and his team (They’re pretty close to real.) is to set up a situation where they think they don’t have a connection to war.
Since they don’t see themselves in any way related to it, they can parody it or cherry-pick what they want from it. In that way, it links back to the title – a class of privileged people sitting in the trees looking down – disconnected from middle class reality. It gives them the freedom to engage in the horrible ad campaign while they think they’re making an important statement about society.
WRR:Why choose Vietnam as opposed to Iraq?
I had visited Vietnam and so could write from a personal perspective. I saw a remnant of Americana there. Vietnam was so verdant and lush. The jungle had grown over everything and covered all vestiges of war. Plus, there were troubling reminders. For instance, when our tour bus would stop, the driver would say, “Don’t go off the trail. There are still live mines in the fields.”
I wanted it to be war because the campaign is in essence Duncan’s workbook for sorting out the emasculation he feels by his wife, Lily, a domestic war theme. I liked that the Vietnam War was over because it gave me license to play with the theme of war without getting into the messy politics of an ongoing conflict.
Also, most ad agencies have “War Rooms,” or concept rooms. You go into battle and employ the War Room when pitching a new client.
WRR:And yet, no one reins Duncan’s team in.
In advertising you’re left alone until you fail. “The King is dead. Long live the King,” so to speak. Duncan’s writing partner, Hawke, gets deposed and Duncan is unofficially shuttled up the ladder. It leads you to question the concept of corporate loyalty. The system brings you up and then must get rid of you so that new blood gets fed into the circular machine. Everything must be in the corporation’s best interest.
I’m looking at these fin de siecle ideas in context of the 21st Century, the end of corporate ideology. Hawke is fit to work. Duncan is fit to work. It’s an old model of might as right. And at least, one, and maybe both won’t survive.
In Duncan’s case, I was dealing with three men who create a campaign – two of whom are trying to prove something. Duncan is the initiator and his account manager, Ann, goes along with it. She’s unflinching. She’s not going to be the hot babe in the high heels, but she needs to be a ball buster.
WRR:In some ways, New World Monkeys, set in the present, echoes television series, Madmen,which is set in the 60s, showing that at least in the ad world, women still fit into a stereotype of either babe or ball-buster.
Well, you look at successful creative teams, and women, especially, have to be tough and have a funky side to their personalities. It’s about knowing music, art, movies, books, which is why advertising draws a lot of young people. So, the world of advertising for men and women creates its own set of rules. You can pick a generic stereotype, Brooklyn hipsters who age throughout the business.
Ultimately, it’s not about the way you look or how good you are, or even if you’re a man or a woman. Awards are your main goal. It’s how you increase your salary and create new job opportunities. Hopes and dreams are pinned on the one great campaign. Jealousy is real and unspoken in an agency. In this framework, I created the jeans campaign for Duncan and his team.
WRR:When did you start writing New World Monkeys?
I began the book as my thesis in the MFA program in Vancouver, Canada. I had been working for seven years in Toronto, writing fiction on weekends and decided I wanted to try writing fulltime. At that time there was only one MFA program in Canada, so I moved across the country.
WRR:What was your process like?
New World Monkeys started off as a 50-page short story from Duncan’s point of view. Lily didn’t yet have a voice. I decided to focus on their relationship from the perspective of two people trying to repair their marriage; and within that framework, themselves.
From a novelist’s perspective, it was more interesting to see how Duncan and Lily might come to the brink of destruction. I decided to take an untraditional route where instead of becoming better people Duncan and Lily go wild. This fit into the idea of the jungle, dirt, trees, monkeys – an exploration of a traditional repair job not working out.
WRR:You tell the story from Duncan and Lily’s perspectives, which is painfully funny as we watch them miss each other’s cues.
At first I didn’t want to do a “he said, she said” dual-handed narrative. But it was the best way to show how Duncan and Lily continue to misread each other, and then miscommunicate. Duncan knows where his power is and that’s with his career in New York City. While, Lily, mired in a writing her dissertation, is living by herself in a small town upstate where the only person she can trust is the town pervert. Duncan has the car. He gets to come and go as he pleases. And yet, that kind of power is not enough for him. He still seeks to demonstrate that he is the man in their relationship.
WRR:The plot centers on the fact that while driving upstate Duncan hits the town mascot, a boar. When he and Lily get out of the car, he is frozen in panic. It’s up to Lily to hit the boar over the head and put it out of its misery.
Duncan can’t see that by killing the boar, he could have performed the one “manly” action that would have saved his and Lily’s relationship. Yet, the truth is Duncan and Lily are both a part of me.
Lily’s resentment of Duncan – in fact, their mutual resentment – I think of that experience in my own relationships. They carry the questions and resentments that I carry for men and I imagine a man might carry for woman.
WRR:And yet, you are sympathetic to your male characters. You portray a peeping Tom named Lloyd as creepily lovable.
I’m the youngest of three kids two boys, one girl – almost a generation younger than my brothers – I grew up in a family of Firebirds and trucks, and so I’m comfortable in the world of men.
WRR:You do a masterful job of creating two women who work in the library, providing a lovely comic sidebar of sorts comparing them perfectly to cats.
I spend too much time in libraries. One of my favorite libraries is the Thunder Bay Resource Library. I spent a couple months doing revisions there – I love those women behind the desk.
However, I created the Osterhagen Lending Library from whole cloth, and the ladies represent the best of those who dedicate their lives to tending books
WRR:Lily befriends Lloyd when she catches him peeping at young girls in the library. You made him just this edge of likable and truly compelling for Lily.
The seed for Lloyd began when I lived in Vancouver. One day I was jogging along the beach when I stopped on the path to catch my breath. I had earphones on and a guy came along and made a lewd comment. Since I couldn’t really hear what he was saying, I didn’t react. The interesting thing was that he waited for a moment and almost seemed disappointed. I felt bad for him and it gave me an idea to create a failed pervert. Lloyd wants to be good at something, and thinks this is where he’ll make his mark.
He’s absolutely essential for Lily’s character development in that he pushes her to see beyond good and bad, right and wrong. In a way she wants to win his approval, and to get it she has to step out of her comfort level.
WRR:Another theme of your book is the unearthing of a skeleton. In fact, the skeleton binds Duncan and Lily.
That’s based on a real life incident. My aunt, a widow, remarried in her sixties. Her fiancé’ moved into her house where she had raised her children. While he was expanding a garden plot in her yard, which bordered a field, he discovered a flat stone that said, Tinker 19.
I thought about how she and my cousins had lived in that house for so many years never giving a thought at what came before. My aunt and her new husband just assumed that the grave was for someone’s pet. But, it became an inspiration for me. I began asking who would have lived there before? And then, I thought, why not give Lily an inheritance of her family home, and then a mystery that binds her to the land.
WRR:There are many opportunities for Duncan and Lily to call the police, which would have greatly simplified their struggle with the town and their consciences.
Well, they are so angry. It’s easier to implicate each other than dig deeper, so to speak, and explore what is hurting them. Instead they taunt each other. “Why didn’t you call?” “No, why didn’t you call?” Lili’s craving follow-through from Duncan. Subconsciously, each wants something dramatic to jolt them back into passion, but they want the other to make it happen.
WRR:The story ends with Lily and Duncan jumping into what I imagine to be the Hudson River as it flows toward New York City. Why choose a river?
I see the river as a re-wilding of the mind a conduit to clinch the idea that when you go to a place beyond your comfort zone, you risk becoming feral.
WRR:It’s no longer enough to write a good book. After authors disappear into a world they inhabit for years, they must emerge to sell and promote their books. With your advertising background, you’ve created a clever website, NancyMauro.com, and a publicity campaign.
I want to do as much as I can, personally. From what I’ve read, you are your own first publicist, so if you’re not willing to commit a huge amount of time to publicizing your book, then you shouldn’t expect it to get a huge audience. If you’re not willing to do it, you have to decide who should do it.
My publisher, Crown Books, is wonderful. The staff is young, eager. And since, I’ve spent twelve years working on other people’s campaigns, I’m now devoting a part of my day to publicizing New World Monkeys,and it’s been a lot of fun.
I’m also working with a filmmaker, Matthew Griffin. We partnered up and created teasers bringing two specific scenes to life. Since the book lends itself to a bit of cinema we’re pushing it into the unexplored world of video and virally onto the web, taking a few lessons from the ad world.
While I’ve created a blog, a Twitter Account, the YouTube videos, and my website, I don’t want social networking to take over the book, so it’s a balancing act.
WRR:Plus, a novelist needs time to write novels. What is your next project?
I’m writing about a family who invents a donut called a Persian – a cinnamon bun covered in frosting – which is partially autobiographical. My family owned a bakery and inherited a famous donut called the Pershing, which is known as the Persian in northern Ontario. So, my new book will be about family, language, ambition, and, of course, donuts.
WRR:Like many ambitious writers, you’ve chosen to settle in New York City.
Half the fulfillment of living here is actually getting here. We all have our adolescent dreams, and either we fulfill them or we have to revise them. New York City satisfies a lot of longings within me. I’ve only been here two years and who knows, maybe I’ll hit the decade mark and want to leave. Then again, maybe this is home.
In 2006, Joy E. Stocke founded Wild River Review with Kimberly Nagy, an outgrowth of the literary magazine, The Bucks County Writer, of which Stocke was Editor in Chief. In 2009, as their editorial practice grew, Stocke and Nagy founded Wild River Consulting & Publishing, LLC.
With more than twenty-five years experience as a writer and journalist, Stocke works with many of the writers who appear in the pages of Wild River Review, as well as clients from around the world.
In addition, Stocke has shepherded numerous writers into print. She has interviewed Nobel Prize winners Orhan Pamuk and Muhammud Yunus, Pulitzer Prizewinner Paul Muldoon, Paul Holdengraber, host of LIVE from the NYPL; Roshi Joan Halifax, founder of Upaya Zen Center; anthropologist and expert on end of life care, Mary Catherine Bateson; Ivonne Baki, President of the Andean Parliament; and Templeton Prizewinner Freeman Dyson among others.
In 2006, along with Nagy, Stocke interviewed scientists and artists including former Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman and Dean of Faculty, David P. Dobkin for the documentary Quark Park, chronicling the creation of an award-winning park built on a vacant lot in the heart of Princeton, New Jersey; a park that united art, science and community.
She is president of the Board of Directors at the Cabo Pulmo Learning Center, Cabo Pulmo, Baja Sur, Mexico; and is a member of the Turkish Women’s International Network.
In addition, Stocke has written extensively about her travels in Greece and Turkey. Her memoir, Anatolian Days and Nights: A Love Affair with Turkey, Land of Dervishes, Goddesses & Saints, based on more than ten years of travel through Turkey, co-written with Angie Brenner was published in March 2012. Her cookbook, Tree of Life: Turkish Home Cooking will be published in March, 2017 by Quarto Books under the Burgess Lea Press imprint . Stocke and Brenner are currently testing recipes for a companion book, which will feature Anatolian-inspired mezes from around the world.
Stocke’s essay “Turkish American Food” appears in the 2nd edition of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America (OUP, 2013). The volume won both International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) for Beverage/Reference/Technical category, 2014; and the Gourmand Award for the Best Food Book of the Year, 2014.
She is the author of a bi-lingual book of poems, Cave of the Bear, translated into Greek by Lili Bita based on her travels in Western Crete, and is currently researching a book about the only hard-finger coral reef in Mexico on the Baja Sur Peninsula. She has been writing about environmental issues there since 2011.
A graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, with a Bachelor of Science in Broadcast Journalism from the Agriculture Journalism School where she also received a minor of Food Science, she participated in the Lindisfarne Symposium on The Evolution of Consciousness with cultural philosopher, poet and historian, William Irwin Thompson. In 2009, she became a Lindisfarne Fellow.
Works by Joy E. Stocke in this Edition
AIRMAIL – LETTERS FROM AROUND THE WORLD
AIRMAIL – VOICE FROM SYRIA
ARTS – ART
COLUMNS – THE MYSTIC PEN
FOOD & DRINK – ANATOLIAN KITCHEN
FREYMAN & PETERSON- Your Life is a Book: How to Craft and Publish Your Memoir
LITERATURE – BOOK REVIEWS
LITERATURE – ESSAYS
LITERATURE – MEMOIR
LITERATURE – POETRY
LIVE FROM THE NYPL
The Euphoria of Ignorance: Being Jewish, Becoming Jewish, The Paradox of Being Carlo Ginzburg
Fountain of Curiosity: Paul Holdengraber on Attention, Tension and Stretching the Limits of Conversation at the New York Public Library
Paul Holdengraber – The Afterlife of Conversation
2013 – Three Questions: Festival Director Jakab Orsos talks about Art, Bravery, and Sonia Sotomayor
Critical Minds, Social Revolution: Egyptian Activist Nawal El Saadawi
INTERVIEW – Laszlo Jakab Orsos: Written on Water
Tonight We Rest Here: An Interview with Poet Saadi Youssef
Georgian Writer David Dephy’s Second Skin
On the High Line: Diamonds on the Soles of Our Shoes
Car Bombs on the West Side, Journalists Uptown
New York City – Parade of Illuminations: Behind the Scenes with Festival Director Jakab Orsos
The Pen Cabaret 2008: Bowery Ballroom — Featuring..
Anatolian Days and Nights: A Love Affair with Turkey, Land of Dervishes, Goddesses and Saints
Daring Collaborations: Rolex and LIVE from the NYPL at the New York Public Library Composing a Further Life: with Mary Catherine Bateson
WRR@LARGE: From the Editors – UP THE CREEK
Up the Creek: Volume 1, Number 1
Up the Creek: Volume 1, Number 2.5
Up the Creek: Volume 1, Number 3.3
Up the Creek: Number 4.4
Up the Creek: Beautiful Solutions
Up the Creek: Blind Faith, July 2009
Up the Creek: Create Dangerously
Up the Creek: What Price Choice?
Up the Creek: Before and After: September 11, 2001
Up the Creek: Candle in a Long Street
Up the Creek: Crossing Cultures: Transcending History
Up the Creek: Man in the Mirror; A Map of the World
Up the Creek: Stories and the Shape of Time
Up the Creek: The Divine Road To Istanbul
Up the Creek: What It Means to Yearn
WRR@LARGE – WILD COVERAGE
UNESCO World Heritage Site Under Threat of Mega-Devlopment Sparks International Protests
The Other Side Of Abu Ghraib — Part One: The Detainees’ Quest For Justice
The Other Side of Abu Ghraib – Part Two: The Yoga Teacher Goes to Istanbul