Books

Evelyn McDonnell on Writing the Story of the Runaways

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New Times: Is this your first time reading at the Miami Book Fair?

Evelyn McDonnell: When I lived there, I frequently participated in it, either reading or introducing panelists. You know how they have local journalists, ask local writers to introduce panels. I participated almost every year in one of those two forms. I always went. I really love the book fair. That and Basel are my two favorites.

Did you come for your two other books?

I definitely presented for Mamarama [A Memoir of Sex, Kids and Rock 'n' Roll] there. I put together a panel with Neal Pollack and Erika Schickel, who also had sort of alt-parenting memoirs out at that time.

How do you decide what your focus is? Why Björk [Army of She: Icelandic, Iconoclastic, Irrepressible Björk], why the Runaways?

The one piece of advice I've been given and that I'd pass on is to make sure that you're writing about something that you really care about and won't get bored with and are not going to hate spending years of your life thinking about and talking about. There was that. The Björk book, it really would have been like a Kindle single, but it was before they had Kindle singles. It was when they were first launching ebooks, and they really didn't know what they were doing. I think that was four months, as opposed to four years with the Queens of Noise.

Björk, I absolutely love her, I adore her music, I think she's a genius. I really like the Runaways. I grew to like their music the more I spent with it and the more I discovered about it. But I never would have put them in my top five, even top ten list. But I was really compelled by their story. And I interviewed Joan Jett a couple of times and liked her a lot, and felt that she was under-appreciated. Then I came to realize that was true of the whole band. It's such a great story. It's got so many crazy elements. It just also appeals to the storywriter in me as much as the music fan.

Which of the Runaways do you feel you relate the most to or have the most empathy for?

That changed during the process of the book. It would shift as the allegiances of the band members shifted. They're all really fascinating individuals, and they're also really frustrating individuals. All of them are very defensive and protective, and they sort of want to control the script about the band, often in different ways. That was frustrating. I guess I went into it knowing Joan the best.

The book started as a master's thesis at USC. And it was really about Sandy, though of course, when you're telling the story of Sandy West, you're telling the story of the Runaways. And I really grew fond of her while keeping in mind that she also had this extremely dark side. But I always have a thing for drummers, so... I found her story very moving. I never met her, but I think if I had, I'd really like her.

You had some emotional encounters with the band. Was there any one that made you the most uncomfortable?

Probably with Cherie [Currie]. Cherie was very sensitive about Sandy. She was very protective. I think I underestimated how much she was still grieving and in a stage of intense grief. It had actually been a few years when I interviewed her, but I think that she was not prepared to talk about Sandy as some of the others were.

My questions really upset her, even though I wasn't doing a hatchet job on Sandy. Certainly there were bad things that had to be discussed. I had interviewed her twice before for the thesis, and she wouldn't talk to me again for the book. Of course, she had her own book.

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Liz has her master’s degree in religion from Florida State University. She has since written for publications and outlets such as Miami New Times, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Ocean Drive, the Huffington Post, NBC Miami, Time Out Miami, Insomniac, the Daily Dot, and the Atlantic. Liz spent three years as New Times Broward-Palm Beach’s music editor, was the weekend news editor at Inverse, and is currently the managing editor at Tom Tom Magazine.
Contact: Liz Tracy