SWETHA AMIT: Open Throat entices the reader into the world of a queer mountain lion right from the first line. How and when did the idea to write this transpire?
HENRY HOKE: A real mountain lion, designated P-22, lived in my neighborhood in Los Angeles and roamed the Griffith Park area at the same time that I did. So, that wild animal experiencing urbanity, just out of sight, was the spark for this story. I had a lot to process about my decade in southern California, and once I’d left, the idea to commit to this particular animal voice came to me.
SA: Open Throat is narrated from the perspective of a queer mountain lion. Did you always intend to write it from that lens?
HH: Without the lens, there would be no book. I started writing the moment it crystallized, and it carried me.
SA: Take us through the process of characterization. Did you face challenges, such as defamiliarization, while writing from the POV of the mountain lion?
HH: It was very close to myself, an expression of deeper aspects of my own character, so I didn’t have any trouble there; I just had to meditate and tap into those inner fires. The challenge was research, getting certain aspects of a big cat’s perception right, but that led to the most poetic discoveries, some really illuminating moments (the stillness, the sensory, the near sight) that I wouldn’t have otherwise thought of.
SA: Your prose reads like vignettes or prose poetry. What was the idea behind this form or structure?
HH: It’s how I kept the flow going for myself as an author. It felt right for Heckit’s expression to be unpunctuated, line broken, scratched across the page. I kept it, and so did my editor and publisher. Thanks, y’all.
SA: What was the writing process and revision like? How long did it take you to develop the plot or the character arc for Open Throat?
HH: Once I had the voice, I could churn the draft out swiftly over a handful of months. A few pivotal plot points were pulled from the real journey of p-22, and with those anchoring the structure, the plot progressed organically, a first for me! Since the story is so tight, revision was chiefly focused on sharpening the character creating consistency of expression, thought, and action.
SA: Hunger is a recurring theme in your book, whether hunger for food or company. Did you intentionally plan it out this way?
HH: I write in the morning and stop when it’s time to eat lunch, so hunger reflects my daily writing practice. It made a lot of narrative sense for this one.
SA: Writing a book from the perspective of an animal can be life-altering in many ways. Has writing this book changed you in any manner?
HH: Absolutely. It shifted my thinking about the natural world in general. I didn’t want to go back to a human voice.
SA: Were you ever worried about the target audience while penning down Open Throat? Was there any intended message for readers?
HH: Never. I don’t think about the audience at all. I write for my past self and for the future.
SA: Any books or authors who influence or inspire you?
HH: Everything I read influences me in some way. I’m inspired mainly by theater and music, meaning set alight to create. I loved Annie Baker’s new play Infinite Life and the work of Sibyl Kempson. I’ve been listening to a lot of Donna Summer and Kitty Wells.
SW: Lastly, are there any books in the pipeline?
HH: Always. I’m cooking a novel this winter, in my witch house in the forest. It’s set almost 100 years ago, but it’ll be about now.
Bio: Henry Hoke is an editor at The Offing and the author of five books, most recently the novel Open Throat and the memoir Sticker