Author Q&A:
Vendela Vida

We Run The Tides
(Atlantic Books) 

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In pre-tech boom 1980s San Francisco, the city’s teenagers are also on the brink of transformation. Eulabee, her alluring best friend Maria Fabiola and the rest of their gang are at an elite all-girls school and spend hours of boundless freedom roaming the city that they own. Their group becomes fractured when an incident on the way to school provokes different recollections of events. When one of the girls then disappears, the quiet community they believed was safe is shaken. Part coming-of-age novel, part mystery, We Run The Tides is a gripping and nostalgic exploration of truth, lies and memory.

Novelists sometimes resist the notion that their books have elements of autobiography but is this the case with We Run The Tides?
Like the girls in We Run The Tides, I grew up in San Francisco in the 1980s, but I didn’t draw on autobiography for the plot or characters. I even resisted the temptation to look at any of my journals from when I was young because I didn’t want to accidentally write a memoir. I wanted to write about lying.

The day after the 2016 election, I started writing in a fury. I was obsessed with Trump’s lies – what would drive this man to tell 20,000 lies? – and for a while I planned to write a non-fiction book about lying. For a year, I was deep in research, reading Sissela Bok’s books about lying and interviewing psychologists, but ultimately I went a different direction. I chose teenage protagonists to help explore the pollution that one lie can create. Thank god I didn’t have to spend four years writing about Trump.

Childhood lies can seem benign but in We Run The Tides they have a lasting impact on their tellers. Do you distinguish between harmful and harmless ones?
Eulabee, the novel’s protagonist, and Maria Fabiola, her childhood best friend, have different relationships to the truth. Eulabee is the first of the two to tell a lie (to a neighbour) and this emboldens Maria Fabiola to tell a lie to all of San Francisco. I think that’s how I would distinguish the difference between harmful and harmless lies – harmless lies only affect the teller, but harmful lies can tear open the fabric of a community.

Were you also exploring the novelist’s relationship with the truth with these themes?
Sure – in some ways. Novels are essentially a harmless string of lies. And every child tells stories about themselves and their families and their world. We become adults when we stop lying about who we are. Unless you’re a novelist – then you get to lie for a living.

The book is set in San Francisco just prior to the tech boom. Was there something in the air that prefigured the boom, and how has it changed the city and its people?
In the 1980s we grew up in the shadows of legendary musicians and writers and activists, and in the wake of more interesting times. So we kids had to re-create our own intrigue, write our own myths. And that’s in keeping with San Francisco’s history. It’s always been a place to reinvent yourself, or seek a fortune. You have to remember that the city went up overnight, in 1849, when 10,000 people ran for the hills looking for gold. Then and now, the city was full of people looking to get rich, and the result was some people living in luxury, and a lot of people living in tents.

Like many teenage girls Maria Fabiola is both awful and beguiling. Why do teenage girls and their intense friendships provide such compelling material for novelists, and how do those friendships change into adulthood?
I think everyone had a childhood friend like Maria Fabiola; she’s an accelerant to mischief. She’s the type of teenager who sneaks alcohol into school dances in travel-size shampoo bottles, or packs scissors in her purse so she can shorten her skirt on the way to a concert. The Maria Fabiolas of the world drive this narrative and most narratives.

We Run The Tides is your sixth book, and you’ve also written screenplays, non-fiction and journalism. Are there unifying themes throughout your work besides you having written them?
Like most writers, I aspire to write something drastically new each time out, but someday someone will probably point out the embarrassing similarities between most of my work. Or maybe in 20 years, We Run The Tides will be called an allegory for the Cold War, or I’ll be told it’s really about eczema. For now, though, because I’m too close to the work to judge it properly, I’ll just say that this book is about the meaning of life, and that it has all the answers. How’s that for a harmless lie?

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