Dive into the millennial dating pool in Robert E. Hoxie’s debut novel Girls I Know. Below, he shares more on the inspiration, characters, and realism of dating in the modern age featured in his new release.
“This book was interesting…in the best way possible… I related to parts of the book in a few aspects, especially with this being a ‘Hook up’ culture. Dating is hard, so I understood that completely. It’s scary how accurate this book is for so many situations!”— Sarah Cook, NetGalley Reviewer
About Girls I Know: Searching for love, Francis King is about to discover the mystery and magic of the female sex…
Twenty-three-year-old Francis King is dumped by the last girl he thinks he’ll ever love. Heartbroken and alone, he is thrust into the digital age of dating and a single life he’s never known: a world of hookup culture riddled with noncommittal relationships.
He wanders into the tight-knit bar scene of Memphis, Michigan. A city of thirty thousand people, a few bars, drugs and alcohol, and casual sex on any given night. With determination to find happiness, and a new sexual drive, Francis becomes entangled with many women at once where he discovers the mystery and magic of the female sex.
- Jasmine is the catalyst in GIRLS I KNOW. Why did you decide to start with a breakup?
I knew right away telling this story from a male perspective was going to be a hard sell for readers—especially when it’s about his sexual conquests. I figured not everyone was going to like Francis per se, but I needed them to understand his decisions and feelings. A broken heart makes us do silly, stupid, desperate things that we wouldn’t necessarily normally do, just to find happiness, even if it’s fleeting. I’ve explored this broken heart narrative in other works. Time and time again, readers related to this timeless universal theme. So ultimately it was a way to initially gain sympathy for his character who at times is very unsympathetic.
- A word many would use to describe GIRLS I KNOW is “relatable.” Is this something you were going for? Do you find there aren’t many books out there that specifically represent the millennial social experience?
There was never a moment where I said, “I should write something for the millennial!” That was never my intention. I think if a writer gets too caught up in writing for their readers or worried about what they will think, then the writing can come off as contrived instead of just being honest and real. Much of this work was me sitting down every day and writing for myself, not even considering the novel would see the light of day. I’m really happy readers are responding to the material the way they are.
- One of the reasons GIRLS I KNOW reads so true to modern-day millennial life is the use of cell phones. While they have been a part of everyday life for most readers for years, cell phones are only more recently showing up in fiction. Why did you decide to include them?
I was and still am reluctant to use cell phones in all of my stories. There isn’t anything very poetic about technology. There were moments in the rewriting process when I considered trimming back on some of the new age elements, but in the end, I just couldn’t avoid it. The cell phone plays this crucial role in propelling Francis’s narrative and all the characters revolving in and out of his story. It’s also this window into his past with photo evidence of his relationships. Cell phones play a vital role in how millennials date. This is how we are meeting and hooking up. This is how we are building relationships. And this is where a lot of the daily drama occurs too. It just felt like if I was going to tell a story about a single millennial, it was only natural to include cell phones because they play such a large role in our daily lives.
- What was the inspiration behind setting you book in Memphis, Michigan—large enough for a variety of people, with a bar scene small enough for familiar faces. What sets this crowd apart from that of a much bigger metropolis?
I have always defaulted to smaller settings whether that be with my screenplays, short fiction, or this book. Coming from a small community, I feel more comfortable writing about these sorts of places. Memphis was wholly inspired by the city where I lived in my twenties. It’s basically one really big high school where everyone kinda knows everyone’s business, their secrets, drama, and there’s so much gossip. Setting it in a fictionalized place like Memphis, this big little city, felt more realistic because Francis can run into someone he knows at the bar on any given night. I liked the idea of the revolving door of all these characters coming and going. People who he’s shared intimate experiences with and then a month later, they’re strangers. Setting it in a small city facilitates these kinds of interactions. Also, it was important for Francis to constantly struggle with his past. He’s trying to be someone new but that becomes difficult when everyone knows all your baggage. In a small setting like Memphis, there’s no escaping your past transgressions.
- Describe Francis in three words.
Narcissistic, hopeless, romantic.
- Deep down, Francis is a romantic, but much of GIRLS I KNOW depicts the less romantic side of nightlife and hookup culture. Tell us about crafting an honest depiction rather than a romantic one. How did you strike a balance between shallow, sometimes uncomfortable hookups and the deeper meaning behind it all?
I was inspired a lot by Bukowski who walks that fine line between romantic and outright dirty. I always loved material that made me squirm a little bit. That made me feel a little uncomfortable to read because it challenges all my predisposed and conditioned ways of thinking. I was also very aware I was walking a tightrope with sexuality. The book kept going back and forth with pushing the envelope and not pushing it enough. I aimed to strike a balance—whether I succeeded or not I still struggle to decide. It’s always going to be subjective as I grow as a writer and person. But in terms of Francis, he is looking for a romance that he’s been conditioned to expect. He’s grown up in a culture that has created a false narrative of dating, love, and romance. So the balance between romantic and shallow just naturally occurred. To me, it reflects so much of modern dating. It’s a jungle of desperation, sadness, and loneliness but also so enlightening and beautiful if you want it to be.
- Which of Francis’s female companions was your favorite to write?
Bree was definitely my most favorite character to write. She’s the crux in how all of this eventually plays out. Early on as I developed her I always felt like I knew who I wanted her to be. Sometimes that’s not always true with every character. Normally they develop as I write, but with Bree, she just came to life so quickly for me. I think the writing reflects that. She has so many moments of metaphorical goodness that I’m proud to say I wrote.
“…you could call [it] a strenuous search for real love. However, I’d call it a[n] homage to womanhood. And a rather good one, too. Written in the good old tradition of Henry Miller and Charles Bukowski.”— LibraryThing Early Reviewers
- What do you hope readers take away from Francis’s journey?
In the end it’s all about the people that come and go in and out of our lives. Whether they have affected you negatively or positively, they made you who you are today. Experience is the ultimate avenue to knowledge. It’s so important to constantly grow and learn, and change for the better. That’s what Francis’s journey is all about. But saying that, he still has so far to go.
- Your background also includes screenwriting and filmmaking. How have these influenced the fiction you write?
I used to journal and write poetry on the days I didn’t work on my screenplays. But I never took it all that seriously. It was just a way to cross off the day and tell myself I wrote. But then in undergrad, I took some creative writing classes and it was wholly cathartic. I felt freed!
Screenwriting relies on so much subtext. Show don’t tell is the golden rule. Prose offered me this chance to write in the first person. It was like the floodgates were opened and I didn’t have to abide by any rules. I could explore and say things that screenplays don’t necessarily allow. If Girls I Know was a movie it would be rated NC-17. So writing fiction has allowed me to tell stories I otherwise couldn’t write for Hollywood.
- How would you describe your writing style?
Straight to the point. Raw. Poetic at times, I hope. But humorous, ironic, and revealing too. I won’t ever take up three pages describing the curtains.
- A common piece of writing advice that everyone’s heard is: write what you know. You source your background for material. Do you find this creates a stronger connection between you and your work? Is there a sense of vulnerability that comes along with doing so?
A long time ago I learned that life is filled with so much great material to write about. It took me years to figure that out. And now I can’t help to always put a little of myself into everything I write. I’m always looking to mine material wherever I can. If at any moment something interesting, fateful, or ironic happens, big or small, I always ask myself: how can I use this in a story? How can I make it bigger and more dramatic? How can I shape it to say something meaningful for the story at large? Of course, you can get too personal or close to your story, and allowing yourself time away from material between drafts is so crucial.
There is so much vulnerability when writing a novel like Girls I Know. I take that as a signal that I care about the material. I’m constantly afraid of a reader taking the characters and experiences as truth or something I myself have experienced or felt. Because it’s told in the first person I think this only reinforces that assumption. In the end though, I realize I can’t control what a reader will assume or think. So all I can do is keep writing and exploring characters who I think are interesting and honest.
- As someone who creates many types of art, is there ever a time you don’t feel particularly creative? How do you fuel and maintain your creativity?
Just about every day I sit down to work, I don’t feel creative. The funny thing about inspiration for me is that it comes at the worst times when I’m far from my desk. But the great thing is I’m used to it by now. I don’t EVER wait for inspiration anymore. It’s easy to wait around to feel inspired to write and I think that’s a huge mistake. I always say that it’s never going to feel like the right time to write, so instead of waiting just do the work. I call it work because it is work. I told myself I wanted this to be my job so I had to start treating it like a job. Once you start treating it like work, the need to feel inspired becomes obsolete. I’ve accepted that this is part of the process and it’s really freed me and resulted in a lot of written words.
- What are you working on now?
Besides prepping material for my jump to Los Angeles, I’m working on a docu-series podcast about a catfish Facebook account. It’s called Finding Bailee.
About the Author:
Born to a Mexican-American family in a small town in Michigan, Robert E. Hoxie credits his dysfunctional upbringing for his dark sense of humor and ability to tell a family drama. At a young age, he found an appreciation for peculiar and inexplicable human stories from reading history books and watching reruns of Unsolved Mysteries. After learning basic video editing in a high school production class, Robert’s desire to tell stories turned into an unfaltering passion to direct and write his own films.
Sourcing his background as inspiration, his works often deal with sexuality, addiction, and relationships set in rural middle America often exploring a dark, ironic, humorous side of the human condition. His drive and collaborative efforts have resulted in short films, a web series, comic books, a collection of short fiction. His screenplays have been optioned and produced.
His debut novel, Girls I Know, explores the digital age hook up culture.
He studied creative writing at Oakland University and received his MFA in screenwriting at Boston University. He enjoys fishing, harness horse racing, and his two very fat cats.
Check out the author’s website for more information about him and his works in screenwriting, fiction, filmmaking, and podcasts!
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