BLOG TOUR: Why Stuff Matters

WHY STUFF MATTERS
by
JEN WALDO
Sub-genre: Literary Fiction / Humor
Publisher: Arcadia Books
Date of Publication: June 4, 2019 (US)
Number of Pages: 212

 
When Jessica, a grieving widow, inherits an antique mall from her mother she also inherits the stallholders, an elderly, amoral, acquisitive, and paranoid collection. 
 
When one of the vendors, a wily ex-con named Roxy, shoots her ex-husband, she calls on Jessica to help bury the body and soon Jessica is embroiled in cover-ups, lies, and misdirection. Into this mix comes Lizzie, Jessica’s late husband’s twelve-year-old daughter by his first marriage, who’s been dumped on Jessica’s doorstep by the child’s self-absorbed mother and it soon becomes apparent that Lizzie is as obsessed with material possessions as Jessica’s elderly tenants. 
 
Why Stuff Matters is a compelling ode to possession, why people like things and the curious lengths they will go to keep them. Returning to her fictional Caprock, Waldo turns her wry wit on the lives of those afraid to let go.
 
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Inspiration behind Why Stuff Matters

Guest Post by Jen Waldo

My second novel, Why Stuff Matters, is about a young widow who, after inheriting an antique mall, must deal with the petty antics and rebellions of the shifty elderly vendors who rent booths in her building.

This novel had two inspirations—one is the setting, based on an antique mall just north of I-10 in Houston; and the other inspiration is the dealers, who charge ten times what their old stuff is worth.

The antique mall in Houston is one of my favorite browsing places, full of tarnished spittoons, bedpans, lacy shawls that have gone yellow, and a whole lot of other stuff that absolutely nobody needs. It smells of mildew and there’s a layer of dust over everything. The lighting is poor and the prevailing color is gray. Caprock Antiques, the mall in the book, so closely reflects this location in Houston that I’ve received emails from readers telling me that they recognized it from their own excursions into the cavernous building.

And the overpricing by the vendors was inspired by a time when I went with a group of church ladies to help at a resale charity shop. Our job was to hang the clothes and place the items attractively on the shelves. The task given to the pair of ancient wheelchair-bound women in the back was to put price tags on the items; and they were pricing them way too high. Eight dollars for a ten-year-old stretched-out pair of sweatpants. Ten dollars for cracked mirror in a wooden frame. One of them put a five-dollar tag on a molded plastic bowl that I’d seen for a dollar at the dollar store. So it occurred to me that these ancient women were identifying with the items. The stuff was old, worn out, and useless, and this is the way the women felt. People over-identifying with material items is the inescapable theme of the book.

While certain writers, most obviously Anne Tyler and Richard Russo, have influenced my method of juxtaposing comedy and tragedy, the peripheral characters in Why Stuff Matters are loosely inspired by the quirky citizens of Stars Hollow in “Gilmore Girls.” Their eccentricities and compassion; the foolishness of schemers and self-servers, and the surly impatience—all are found in Why Stuff Matters. In “GG,” the busybody shopkeeper, the humorless mechanic, the irritable owner of the diner, and the salacious dance teacher are the lighthearted chorus behind Lorelei and Rory’s operatic drama; and it’s to serve this purpose that I created the vendors.

In Why Stuff Matters the issue of stubbornly never letting go and over-pricing items might be exaggerated, but it perfectly reflects how some people value inanimate objects more than they value other humans. The characters filch items from the booths of the recently deceased. One of the vendors bought an entire exhibition of embalmed freakish peculiarities (hairy tumors, seven rats sharing the same tail, a pig with a leg growing out of its back) and paid a monthly fee to store them indefinitely. At one point, the vendors participate in a vicious war over a collection of antique typewriters.

This ode to materialism prods readers to give thought to why we want the things we want and what lengths we’re willing to go to in order to keep what we have.

Why Stuff Matters is a partner book to my first published novel, Old Buildings in North Texas. The reason for this designation is that they are clearly located in the same town, Caprock, and they share a similar writing style—first person, present tense. Both depict a young woman working her way through a painful emotional period, one dealing with addiction, the other with grief. If you like one, you’ll like the other.


Jen Waldo lived in seven countries over a thirty-year period and has now settled, along with her husband, in Marble Falls, Texas. She first started writing over twenty years ago when, while living in Cairo, she had difficulty locating reading material and realized she’d have to make her own fun. She has since earned an MFA and written a number of novels. Her work has been published in The European and was shortlisted in a competition by Traveler magazine. Old Buildings in North Texas and Why Stuff Matters have been published in the UK by Arcadia Books. Jen’s fiction is set in Northwest Texas and she’s grateful to her hometown of Amarillo for providing colorful characters and a background of relentless whistling wind. 

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One thought on “BLOG TOUR: Why Stuff Matters

  1. Ohmygoodness – yes! This DOES have the feel and humor of a Richard Russo novel.

    And I love her inspiration: “So it occurred to me that these ancient women were identifying with the items. The stuff was old, worn out, and useless, and this is the way the women felt.”

    Like

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