miranda july on making films, writing books and listening to portishead

As her first novel hits shelves this week, i-D catches up with artist, filmmaker, writer, and explorer Miranda July.

by Emily Manning
Jan 16 2015, 10:32am

If I could hitch a ride on the Magic School Bus and voyage into the center of anyone's brain, I'd book a one-way ticket to Miranda July's. Always curious about the lives of others, her films, texts, performances, and artworks dive deeply into the human condition. July creates nuanced characters and challenging questions out of even the most mundane latte orders and half-read emails. Between designing a handbag (with Welcome Companions) and launching a messaging app (with Miu Miu), Miranda somehow found the time to not only write her debut novel, The First Bad Man, but also launch an e-shop selling objects which appear in the text.

The First Bad Man tells the story of Cheryl Glickman, a 43-year-old who works for Open Palm, a quasi-new age company which produces self-defense-turned-exercise videos. Cheryl's outward existence verges on the pathetic and boring, but she narrates her interior life with rich complexity, at once hilarious and challenging. When her bosses' brutal bombshell adult daughter Clee moves in, Cheryl's weird world is turned upside down. As the book hits shelves this week, i-D and Miranda talk fiction, fantasies, and why she'd like to live inside a Portishead album.

How did you get in the headspace to write a novel after finishing a film?
Truthfully, I had the idea to write a novel before I made The Future and I even pitched an idea that was drawn out of a true life story. While I was making The Future, I realised that the parts of the movie that were more fantastical and less something that someone like me would do were so much easier for me to do, and felt a little more honest. At that point, I glanced back in my mind to my novel and was like, "Uh-oh, this is gonna be a total nightmare since it's based on me." At that point, I mentally dropped it and thought "Please, dear God, give me an idea that's full of characters that I could never play myself," and then it came at once, in one burst, the idea of Cheryl and Clee and the permutations of their relationship. But it took years to get to that point, of knowing what the exact lightning strike would be.

As someone who works in so many different media, do your ideas pollinate one another?Would you adapt this book to a movie, for example?
While I was writing it, I loved the idea of it as a movie, it being so dramatic and do-able. There are no hard locations, it's just all this wild stuff between two great female actors. But now that it's done, I don't really feel the same way. I've realised a movie isn't going to make the book better, and in fact, it might make it worse. But there's a lot of influence between each other. In the same way The Future influenced this book, I can already tell this book is influencing my next movie.

You're selling some objects that appear in the novel online. How do you feel about blurring the line between fiction and reality in that way? 
When I come up with these "marketing" ideas, for lack of a better word, they're usually pretty closely related to an art idea I'm already working on in my mind and it's kind of a way to test it out. That's the case with this, I was thinking a lot about stores as art and then I liked the scavenger hunt challenge of finding these objects. With some of them it's like, "Does this even exist?" I'm sure there is a skiing elf out there somewhere, but I just made that up, because that's the kind of thing that exists in the world. It's funny because in some cases, as a writer, you fight back a little. That's not the exact skiing elf I saw; it's not entirely comfortable to the writer part of me. I was only a writer, I probably wouldn't do it. But there are other parts of me that find it kind of pleasurable.

What are some of your favourite items in the shop?
It's funny because thus far, most people bidding on items probably haven't been able to read the book. I think they're just bidding on what seems valuable, which is pretty funny to watch. I find myself responding like, "That is not the good thing, trust me!" For me, the best items have to do with the passages in the book that are most meaningful to me. The yellow curtains might not seem so fantastic but I feel like they mark a real turning point in the book. To me, they hold more value than they might to others.

Speaking of living between fiction and reality, if you could live inside any novel or song or work of art for a day, what would it be and why?
You know that Portishead album, Dummy? I've always felt it's a really languorous, sexy, calm, place. Maybe because I was vaguely addicted to Vicodin when I was listening to that album a lot, but when it comes on, I always have this kind of remembered relaxed feeling. So I'd live in that for a day, especially right now. 



Text Emily Manning

miranda july
The First Bad Man