Eirinie Carson, THE DEAD ARE GODS

Eirinie Carson, THE DEAD ARE GODS

Zibby interviews British debut author and model Eirinie Carson about The Dead Are Gods, a raw, striking, and beautifully intimate new memoir–a love letter and time capsule– that explores grief, Blackness, and recovery after the death of her dearest friend Larissa. Eirinie describes what Larissa was like and reveals how a never-ending eulogy, essays she wrote to process her grief, and emails unexpectedly turned into a book. She also describes the novel she is working on now (it involves postpartum and murder!), balancing writing and motherhood, her hopes to normalize grief, and her participation in Zibby’s Wine Country Retreat in September. (Did you get your ticket yet??? Go to www.zibbyretreats.com!)


Eirinie Carson: Hi.

Zibby Owens: Hi. How are you?

Eirinie: I’m good. How are you?

Zibby: I’m great. Thank you.

Eirinie: Nice. It’s so nice to meet you. Look at your beautiful, rainbow-organized books.

Zibby: Thank you.

Eirinie: That’s lovely.

Zibby: I appreciate it. I really loved your book. I read it a while ago. This is one where I was like, I know I don’t have this podcast for a while, but I’m going to cut the line and read what I want to read.

Eirinie: Yay! Oh, my gosh, thank you so much.

Zibby: That’s how I rebel in my own little world against myself.

Eirinie: We got to take it where we can get it. Thank you. That means so much. I am so honored. It’s funny to put your heart out there and be like, I don’t know, I hope people like it. Who can say?

Zibby: I loved it. The Dead are Gods was so amazing and so intimate about loss and grief in general, what it feels like. All of it was so raw and real. I have lost a friend. It took me back. Oh, my gosh, it was so good. I really loved it. Great job.

Eirinie: Thank you. I’m sorry about your friend. That is not easy.

Zibby: I’m sorry about your friend.

Eirinie: Will you tell me what your friend’s name was again? I know I know it.

Zibby: That’s okay. This was a long time ago. Her name was Stacey. It was on 9/11. It’s the same. One day, you wake up, and then how could they just not be there? I was twenty-five. I feel like friendship at that age is so critical. This is your podcast. I’m talking too much. Tell listeners more about your book.

Eirinie: I will absolutely tell you more about my book, but I do think it’s — there’s a collective conversation to be had about grief and who gets to talk about it and how much space we can take up with it. I want to hear about Stacey. That’s part of the whole thing. I’m sorry. I’m sorry that she’s not here. My book is also about a friend who passed away. Her name was Larissa. We met when I was fourteen, I think. I really have to go over my notes and make sure I’m getting that right. It’s one of those friendships where we were just so enmeshed that it felt like we were always together. We had one of those formative friendships that really shapes you. She died suddenly almost five years ago now. This book is about the loss of her. It’s about our collective memories. My friend and writer, Beth McColl, described it as a love letter and a time capsule. I really think that’s the best way to describe it. That’s how it feels to me, and about what we do with that love when the other person is dead.

Zibby: It’s true. There’s no manual for any of this, despite any attempts. You had a really beautiful passage. Many beautiful passages. Do you mind if I read a paragraph or something?

Eirinie: Yes, please.

Zibby: This is chapter twelve. “I feel like a mess some days. Most days. I feel as if I should be doing better. No one talks about her. No one asks how I’m doing. The flush of flowers and condolence texts made me think that perhaps grieving was permitted, that my mood was warranted. Suddenly, those dried up, and now I assume that I should be over it, that I should be laced up and fine in public. No one asks about her. Should I be fine? I don’t feel fine. Should I be over it? I don’t feel over it. I want to be. I want to not feel the sting of tears in my eyes. I want to not excuse myself to go to the bathroom and do some deep breathing exercises to keep from . I want to have something in common with these people at work, these friends I meet for drinks. I want to be able to be genuine and feel love and joy and smile and forget, but I can’t.” Gosh, it makes me want to cry. It’s beautiful.

Eirinie: It makes me want to cry.

Zibby: There’s this division all of a sudden, which I feel like you write about so well, this whole, this is what I’m going through, and this is, seemingly, what everyone else is going through. There seems to be such a gap.

Eirinie: It’s funny. I think there’s just this reluctance, and I’ve definitely done it too, to kind of step into someone else’s grief. You don’t really want to see them cry. You don’t know what you’d say if they did cry. They seem fine. Why ask about that thing and upset them? when, really, no one’s fine. We’re just masquerading. We know that we have to go to work today. We know that we have to take the kids to school today. Those things must be done irregardless of how our heart feels. I envision a world where these conversations are more candid and where you feel like you can talk about Stacey and have it take up space in the room with me, alongside me.

Zibby: First of all, I love how you included all of your conversations because it lets us get to know her and you and your friendship as a third party even though it’s a memoir. I thought that was really great how you ended all your chapters with those intimate, funny, sometimes totally banal, just everyday conversations so that we get a glimpse into those. Tell me more about Larissa. I know her from the book. What do I not know? What does somebody listening — talk about her. How could they feel like they know a little piece of her after a quick description?

Eirinie: She was incredibly cool. She looked cool. She was incredibly beautiful. She was this dark-skinned Black woman with very cat-like eyes. She dressed mostly in this punky, rock and roll way, but she also had the ability to throw on something custom and make it look amazing. She was a super cool person. You’d see her across the room and think, there’s no way that person is interested in what I have to say, but she could turn the light on you and make you feel just as special as she appeared to be. I think that was her greatest talent with me. There was an intimacy to loving her that was just — it was like holding her hand all the time. It was so safe and loving. Probably, one of my biggest loves. Definitely, my biggest non-romantic love.

Zibby: Wow. Take me through how and when you decided to write this book. It’s one thing to go through grief and mourning and all of it, but it’s quite another to put it on paper. Then it’s another thing even more to get it in great shape and publish it and then go through editing rounds. It’s a whole thing. Why go down the path? How did you decide? Then what did it end up being like for you?

Eirinie: It started, I knew I wanted to read something at Larissa’s funeral. I began to write a eulogy, and I just didn’t really stop. I just couldn’t. There was no end to it. I was like, I have this other thought that I want to write about. After the funeral, I kept writing. I would write these long, long essays and send them to my friend Steph. She eventually stopped me and was like, “You have enough for a book. Do you know that?” I was like, oh. Never thought about it as a public-facing thing. At the time, it was just catharsis and getting through my grief. Then that began to take shape. We talked about including these personal emails that would, I had hoped, show Larissa as a 3D person. It’s one thing to have me talk about her and describe her to you, the reader. It’s another thing for you to see proof of her. I had all of these voice notes. We would WhatsApp each other a lot because we lived in two different countries. She lived in Paris. I was here in California. We had all these voice notes. At her funeral, I played a voice note of her laugh, which was the most jarring sound, but fabulous. I remember thinking, I wonder how I could get something like that into the book. It’s paper, so I did emails instead. I’m keeping those voice notes just in case.

Zibby: You could get them transcribed.

Eirinie: Yeah, that’s true. I could.

Zibby: I’m like, let me help you download and send them to a transcriber. You should do that.

Eirinie: That would be amazing. I also have a fancy of reading the audiobook and including those. We’ll see. I’m sowing the seeds, harassing my publisher.

Zibby: You should definitely do that between all the chapters.

Eirinie: That’s what I envision.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. Definitely, get that done. I feel like that’s one of the first things in loss. I immediately take stock of, what do I have? Let me get it. Frantic. It’s usually in the middle of the night. I’m going through all these papers. Somehow, emails, to me, it’s not as rewarding as the handwritten note somebody put under my door or something.

Eirinie: That’s very true. Most of the emails I include in the book are from the early 2000s. There was a specific way we had of — even the abbreviations that we used are different to what we use now. There is this kind of time capsule moment in those emails. Like you said, I think you’re just searching for meaning and something tangible that you can look at. For me, the emails were the thing that I was like, let me read every single boring correspondence we ever had.

Zibby: I don’t mean to say I don’t read them. Yes, of course, those are amazing to have. I’m just like, where even are they? Then you go switch email servers. Did I even print them out? Now where are they? I would like to read them.

Eirinie: In the stratosphere somewhere hovering above your head.

Zibby: Oh, well. Did you find it difficult to write the book?

Eirinie: Yes. What was my saving grace was that I didn’t know it was going to be a book for a while. For a long time, it was just mine. That’s something that I’m kind of adjusting to now that it’s in bookstores. It was something that was precious and mine. It was my process. It was the thing that anchored me to this world when I felt like my grief threatened to just spiral me off. I felt like that was my gravity. It was hard, but it was mine and hard. I wasn’t like, will this grief translate to other people? I think that’s what sounds like it resonates with people, was that it’s raw. It’s raw because I wasn’t thinking about an audience at the time. It wasn’t until the editing process that I was like, oh, shit, my mom’s going to read this. It was hard. It’s hard now. I’ve had a couple of launch events. I’ve read passages. Every time at the readings, I’m like, hey guys, I just want you to know I probably will cry. We should all get more comfortable with tears. If that happens, let’s all just try and sit in that feeling for a minute.

Zibby: How could it not be emotional to delve back in all the time?

Eirinie: I have a great therapist.

Zibby: Oh, good. After reading your book, you’re like, she must.

Eirinie: I’m big into therapy. Got to have one of them.

Zibby: What are you doing in California now? Is that where you live now?

Eirinie: I live here, yeah. My husband’s American, Californian. I moved here when we got married, very traditional accidentally. I’m raising two British American children and writing this second book that is fiction to step away from the nonfiction world for a little bit.

Zibby: Interesting. Tell me about the novel.

Eirinie: I have to specify that it’s fiction because when I told my husband what it was about, he was like, “Are you sure we don’t have anything to talk about?”

Zibby: Oh, no.

Eirinie: It’s about a postpartum woman who decides to kill her husband.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, my husband would freak out too.

Eirinie: He was like, “You just wrote a memoir. Are you sure that this isn’t also part two?” He’s still very alive and well, as am I. It was just fun to not write about this personal stuff and take a creative license with my work. It was a fun thing. I have a two-year-old, so I started it when I was deeply postpartum and maybe some of those feelings were a little closer to the surface. That’s the plan for the future.

Zibby: That’s exciting. What is your process like when you’re writing? Where do you like to write? I know that it was not intended to be, this one. The Dead are Gods was not intended to be a published book at first. When you are pouring your heart out or when you’re writing knowing it’s going to be published, do you handle those differently? Where do you like to do all of it?

Eirinie: I am a big fan of my notes app. It’s the most convenient thing for me when I’ve just done a drop-off, but I have this thought. Let me jot it down. I just got the kid to sleep, but I’m sitting on the end of her bed waiting to make sure I can leave the room. I might jot something down. Then I move it to Microsoft Word and play with it. I’ve found that I write endings first, which is interesting. The last chapter of The Dead are Gods was written very early on. The last couple paragraphs was something I was mulling over. Then I came back to it, and I was like, oh, it’s the end. I did the same with this new book that I’m working on. I wrote the last scene. I think I’m someone who likes to have a destination. Now I know where the path is going. I just have to get there.

Zibby: Are you doing more — I know you’ve said a couple times, wanting to normalize talking about grief. Do you feel like that’s an embedded mission in what you’re doing? Are you taking that message elsewhere? What are we doing with that?

Eirinie: I hope so. I did a teaching course on writing about grief last summer. I taught it. It was really exciting and fun. I want to do more of that. I feel like that’s my missionary work. Then at my readings, I talk a lot about what I envision, living in a society where grief is kind of enmeshed in everyday life. Your dead people are still alongside you because it’s not scary to talk about them or think about them or feel sad about them. I get a lot of people coming up to me and saying, your book meant so much because I lost this person. My first question is always, what is their name? I feel like there is so much loneliness in grief. Most of that is because no one ever asks because it’s scary and might upset you, but that makes you feel isolated. Having someone say the name of your dead person can feel pretty powerful. It’s like, one more person knows about them. One more person will keep them alive.

Zibby: It’s true. It’s one of those things. It’s not going to upset you to talk about it. You’re already upset. It’s not like they’re telling you your friend has died. You know it.

Eirinie: I’m already there. Exactly.

Zibby: Same thing with — I think some people feel bad sharing a memory. Should I tell you this story? I’m like, yes, tell me the story. Even, some man on Facebook was like, “Do you know that I knew your grandmother when she was younger?” I was like, “No way. Tell me every little bit.” It’s not like that’s going to make me sad. It makes me happy to get to know — you think that getting to know someone ends when they’re gone, but then every little dribble of information that comes out of somebody else, you’re like, oh, my gosh. That allows me to know them more.

Eirinie: Absolutely. I always feel like there can be a deeper examination of someone after they’re dead because whatever barriers they put up to stop you from knowing some things, you kind of get to peek over the wall a little bit. I also feel like there’s a lot of overlap in grief and postpartum, which is probably why the manuscript I’m working on now came out. It’s a similar kind of thing. Everything’s fine. I’m fine. Except I’m not fine, and I would love to tell you I’m not fine.

Zibby: I’m Fine, but No, I’m Not. The sequel to The Dead are Gods.

Eirinie: Exactly. I love the title. I’m done.

Zibby: Are there books that you turned to or authors that you were comforted by or that you read during grief or before?

Eirinie: Books I read, The Year of Magical Thinking was the thing that everyone was like, read this thing. Read this book. I read it. I did love it. I feel like it’s kind of polarizing. Some people post-grief or during grief are like, hated it, whereas I loved that very candid description of just how mad you can be in grief, just how crazy, how unhinged your thought process becomes, and it feels completely normal and fine. I loved that. Also, the songwriter/singer Nick Cave has a really beautiful series of reader letters that he fields called The Red Hand Files. He lost two of his sons and talks about grief and death in such a beautiful, candid way and really validates a little of that madness. I really loved those. Those were definitely touchstones for me.

Zibby: Amazing. When you’re not soulfully helping people through the worst days of their life in some way, shape, or form and you’re not being a mom and dealing with all that that comes with, is there anything else that you get time to do or that you like to do? Do you go on walks? Do you like grocery shopping? I don’t know. Give me a sense of your life and what you do when you’re not…

Eirinie: I do love walking. I have a dog who’s getting quite old, but he still will keep pace with me. We do that. I work at a writers’ residency part time. It’s called the Mesa Refuge. It supports social justice and climate justice writers specifically. That takes up a little of my time. Then just baby shit, two-year-old shit. We go to swim class. We go to the library. Lots of stuff like that. I feel like outside of the writing, my life is pretty pedestrian. The coolest thing about me is that my husband’s in a rock band. Sometimes, if I’m lucky and can find childcare, I will go on tour with him for a stop or two.

Zibby: That is really cool.

Eirinie: That’s the sexiest part of my life.

Zibby: Can I even ask what rock band? Should I know this? I’m sorry. What band is your husband in?

Eirinie: They’re called AFI. He is a drummer, backbone of the band, some might say, he might say.

Zibby: He might say.

Eirinie: He’s pretty dreamy. He’s pretty cool.

Zibby: That’s awesome. We do have a set of electronic drums, which I thought was genius. First, my older son wanted to play the drums, so we got that and required headphones. You cannot hear them, which is so great.

Eirinie: That’s what you need, really. My father-in-law also used to play drums in the sixties in San Francisco. For my daughter’s second birthday, my oldest, he got her a drum kit. I was just like, thank you so much. No, it was lovely. She loves them, but they are right above the kitchen. When I’m making dinner, sometimes that’s the soundtrack.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, amazing. Thank you so much. This was so great. I told you it would be easy.

Eirinie: It was easy. This was a breeze. You made it really delightful. I need to somehow teleport into the room that you’re in because that looks like a lovely place to sit.

Zibby: If you’re in New York, come by. It’ll be here.

Eirinie: I’ll come there in six hours. Hold tight.

Zibby: Are you in the LA area, by the way?

Eirinie: I’m just north of San Francisco in Sonoma County.

Zibby: That’s so nice. Oh, wait, I have a great idea. No, never mind. Well, even still. We’re doing a retreat for Zibby Media with fifty to seventy-five women and a couple authors in September, 22nd to 24th, in the wine country of Santa Barbara. Do you want to be a featured speaker or something?

Eirinie: Yes, please. Oh, my gosh, Zibby, please don’t tease me. I would love that.

Zibby: I’m not teasing you. I think it would be really awesome. We’re going to do it at a resort in Solvang called The Landsby. We have another woman coming who wrote a book that we’re publishing called Wine People and another one called End Credits about a woman who — sort of all different topics here. This is great because we can do a whole thing on grief. We can do a whole fun wine tasting. One is about career. I love it. We could do wine and grief and careers. What else do you need?

Eirinie: What else? You’re set.

Zibby: You’re set. Maybe I’ll get one more author. You’re in for sure?

Eirinie: Yeah, I’m in. That sounds fantastic.

Zibby: Amazing. That’s awesome. Hopefully, I have your email, or I’ll get it from your publicist and put you in touch.

Eirinie: There’s nothing I need to do post this interview, correct?

Zibby: No, just go about your day. Thanks so much.

Eirinie: Great. Bye.

Zibby: Bye.

Eirinie Carson, THE DEAD ARE GODS

THE DEAD ARE GODS by Eirinie Carson

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