The multihyphenate Miranda July — a filmmaker (The Future), writer (It Chooses You) and artist (Eleven Heavy Things) — read from her new novel The First Bad Man at Mack Sennett Studios on Jan. 15, remarking that it was a hometown show and she wrote the book only a few blocks away. The reading was presented by local bookstore Skylight Books, a place July said she often frequented with her husband, director Mike Mills (Beginners), who was in attendance.
July credited the look of The First Bad Man to Mills, who designed the book cover and end pages. The black book jacket with simple white lettering was deliberate in presenting a very “masculine” look, whereas the end pages are bright and multicolor, which July explained as paralleling the idea of the book: People are not who they appear to be.
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The novel centers on a middle-aged woman named Cheryl, who develops an unexpected relationship with her bosses’ daughter, Clee. “On a long drive, I thought of the whole trajectory of Cheryl and Clee,” said July when asked about the origin of the story. On whether any parts of the book were based on herself or reality, July explained that it was purely fictional, adding, “It’s the fictional aspect that makes me feel agile.”
Most of the reading drew laughs, including a part in the book in which July compared a bowel movement to an old dog: “This could get out of hand, I could flush and flush and Phillip would wonder what was going on and I’d have to say The dog won’t die gracefully.” When reading a description of Cheryl’s hair — “a little Julie Andrews, a little Geraldine Ferraro” — July remarked, “Shit, that’s what my hair looks like.”
Several audience members asked July about her creative process, including one young writer who asked if she ever gets stuck on an idea and is no longer enthusiastic about it, but has already committed to it. July said this happened to her with this novel, which was originally another idea. But she ended the night with this simple piece of advice: “Just be very, very kind to yourself, as if you’re your own child.”