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Talking Indie Rock, Time Travel, and Astrophysics with Author Mo Daviau

Her new book answers a question we’ve all asked ourselves: If you could go back in time and see any concert from the past, which would you choose?

by Giaco Furino
Apr 3 2016, 3:00pm

Every Anxious Wave author Mo Daviau. Photograph by Jon Bolden. Photo courtesy of St. Martin’s Press

If you could go back in time and see any concert from the past, what would you go see? That’s the question at the heart of Every Anxious Wave, a brand new novel about a guy named Karl who finds a wormhole in his closet leading to the past. After losing a friend in the year 980, he enlists indie rock aficionado and astrophysicist Lena to help. In a sort of mash-up between Dr. Who and High Fidelity, the story’s full of wit, fun science, and is loaded with indie nods to diehard music fans. The Creators Project got a sneak peak of the novel, and we spoke to author Mo Daviau about her inspirations, favorite bands, and go-to time travel destinations.

The Creators Project: Every Anxious Wave is your debut novel, can you tell us a bit about the genesis of the idea?

Mo Daviau: I started writing it one night when I was home alone, kind of feeling like a big loser. And I had this idea in my head that if I could just crank up the song “Sally Wants" by Henry’s Dress loud enough then I could rip the space/time continuum and propel myself back to 1995 and make different choices for myself. That didn’t actually work. [laughs]

Were there any other major inspirations to the work?

I’ve always been fascinated by time travel. The book is dedicated to my dad, who would be 105 if he were still alive. He was 65 when I was born and I always sort of felt like the only way that I could ever have a meaningful relationship with my dad was through time travel.

Every Anxious Wave is a love letter to music geeks. Were you ever afraid, while writing the book, of going over the audience’s head with a particularly deep cut?

Yeah, actually I was. I’ve been an indie rock geek my whole life, I DJ’ed college radio in the 1990s, that’s my jam, that’s my thing, that’s part of my identity. So I did have some concerns. This book was my thesis when I did the MFA program at the University of Michigan, and I asked everyone in the room “does this book still resonate even if you’ve never heard of Thinking Fellers Union Local 282?” And everybody said the emotional resonance was still intact, you could sort of read through it without that. I did make a point to include some bands that are not on my list of favorites, in the interest of inclusiveness.

Your main character Karl Bender doesn’t really have his act together, but at the same time he doesn’t come across as a sad sack. How do you balance a character like Karl?

I like to think of my characters having a life of their own, outside of me, even though I know it doesn’t work that way. People always ask me “what character are you most like?” And I always go with Karl. I couldn’t project my sense of loss and regret over my life onto a female character. I don’t know if we really let women have that. It ended up being easier for me to put that on this forty-year-old bartender, former indie rock guitarist guy. I also really like writing the kinds of men that I would like to be friends with, who are very sensitive and sweet and concerned and empathic.

On a serious note, the astrophysicist Lena goes back in time to undo her sexual assault. How do you tackle such a powerful moment?

I’ve had a lot of conversations with a lot of female friends and colleagues over the years, and they seem sort of beaten down by something, someone not being believed, not being supported, not being taken seriously. So I wanted to write a character who has that in her life, and suffers from it, and it’s a tiny, slight improvement on her life.

Lena’s contacted by Karl once he has a scientific emergency, so there’s a lot of “big idea” science thrown around in the novel. Were you familiar with these scientific concepts like the Einstein-Rosen bridge? Was it important to you to get the science right?

The ultimate cheat out is that Karl is not a science guy. But I had some friends help me with that. My good friend is a professor at the University of Washington so I went to them, asked them a bunch of technical questions like “If you were Lena and this guy came to you and said ‘I have a wormhole’ what would you say back?” But I tried to make Lena sound like she knew what she was talking about based on the advice my real physicist friends gave me.

Okay, time to turn the big question of the book back on you. If you could travel back in time and see one rock concert, what would it be?

I have two answers to that. One that I was too young to attend: the first ever R.E.M. show in the church at Athens, Georgia in 1980. And the other would be: I lived in Austin for a long time and there was this local musician there named Davíd Garza and he had a standing show, I’ve seen him a million times. But it would be the one show where he came off the stage, gave me a sweaty kiss on the cheek, and said ‘Hey girl, good to see you.’ And I had a swoony, fangirl moment there.   

Cover to Every Anxious Wave by Mo Daviau. Photo courtesy of St. Martin’s Press

                                          From  "Every Anxious Wave"

ABOUT A YEAR before the time traveling began, before I lost Wayne and found Lena, Wayne DeMint stumbled into my bar for the first time. He figured out I was the guitarist from the Axis and affixed his khaki-clad keister to my barstool. Night after night, beer after beer, he shared with me and whoever else showed up the content of his dreams: crying kittens, bukkake, broken-toothed pirates with bloody bayonets, his dead mother chopped into bits. When closing time came he always wanted to stay, like a kid who didn’t want to turn off the TV and go to bed. “I’ll mop!” he’d offer, so most nights I sat up with Wayne as he sloshed mop water across my wooden floor. We’d crank up the jukebox and talk about bands, true love, failure, and the past. Mostly the past.

A bar is not a mental health facility, but I never had a dog growing up, and so I listened to Wayne. Wholesome, Midwestern Wayne, computer scientist, he of the kindest smile and most generous bar tips.

Wayne and I shared that common affliction plaguing single men with limited prospects and self-destructive tendencies: we regarded our pasts with such love and loss that every day forward was a butter knife to the gut. Our twenties had been full of rock music and courage. The future made us older, but our wisdom was dubious. Wayne and I avoided the pain of tomorrow with alcohol and old rock bands. Pavement on the jukebox, the heavenly reddish glow of neon signs, and sentences that started with “Remember when...”

***

THE TIME TRAVEL business had started by accident.

One stupid afternoon a month ago, I couldn’t find one of the prized army boots that I had bought from an army– navy surplus store in Boston for sixteen dollars in 1991, when I was twenty-one. The red laces that I’d put in them, due to vague anarchist leanings, were still intact, and even though time had worn away all the tread, those boots were both comfortable and comforting. They represented the very best parts of my life, and having one go missing was more than I could bear on a Sunday afternoon fifteen minutes before I needed to open my bar. Crawling around on the floor of my closet, pushing aside piles of dirty clothes and old magazines, I found myself falling feetfirst through a hole in the floor. Falling and cold. I thought it was from mixing bourbon with cold medicine, but then I landed with a thud on a familiar wooden floor. I had landed at the Empty Bottle, a rock club near my bar. The stack of Chicago Readers by the door bore a cover from months earlier. A look out the window revealed barren trees and cars dusted in snow.

When the band took the stage, I realized that I’d been at this show three months ago, in February. A pack of talentless teenagers who played covers of Liz Phair songs like they meant nothing began to tune their guitars, looking for all the world like the smug bastards my friends and I were in the early 1990s.

The real kicker of this experience, the one that makes me clench my ass cheeks together and cry for my mother, happened when I saw myself leaning against the bar, tipping a can of PBR toward my mouth, glaring at the band with eyes of white-hot contempt. The blood rushed to my face. For the first time in my life, I could really see myself. All of myself. I saw what a bitter, pathetic sad-sack Karl Bender had become. Even at the ripe old age of forty, I still hadn’t mastered the art of shaving; I had whisker skid marks on my face like a teenager. Had Meredith, the woman I was attached to for most of my twenties, known what I would turn into when she dumped me like a bag of trash back in ’96? I took the hardest look I could: the stained teeth, the gut, the whole ugly package. I’m prone to self-loathing, but I had never hated myself with more fire and sorrow than I did standing there in the Empty Bottle. I longed to yell at Past Karl’s face and break my own jaw. We deserved it.

“Hey, Karl,” I said. “Karl? Yo, Bender, what’s up?”

Nothing.

I tapped myself on the shoulder. The man before me, myself, Past Karl, did not respond.

I tried to punch my other in the stomach but I felt nothing. Not on my hand or my belly. I tried again. No sensation, no reaction. When I was a child, I wanted to walk into the television. This is what the past looked and felt like. I could take in the colors, smell the faint sweetness of whiskey and cigarettes, and watch as music fans younger and better looking than me took up floor space with the confidence of kings. I could not, however, kick my own ass.

Nor could I take those boots, which I had so loved and now lost, from my old self’s feet.

You can’t hold onto the past, asshole, I thought as I pressed the heels of my hands to my eyes because I didn’t want to be the bastard crying during a shitty band.

Copyright © 2016 by Monique Daviau

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