Binary Star Lights the Way for Sarah Gerard

"I've been writing forever," said Sarah Gerard, writer for Bomb magazine, former bookseller at McNally Jackson Books in New York City and author of the novel Binary Star, set to be published by Two Dollar Radio on January 13. "I got really serious about writing in college as an undergrad. But I began writing as a little kid, when we had our first home computer. I started writing little stories and stuff, just putting words together."

Binary Star is about a young woman in her last semester of college who is struggling with anorexia and a difficult long-distance relationship. Her boyfriend is himself struggling with alcoholism, and after school finishes the pair decides to go on a cross-country road trip. On their journey, they discover the notion of veg-anarchism--a blend of anarchist philosophy with the belief that all living things should be free of oppression--and begin planning a radical political action.

Originally from the Tampa Bay, Fla., area, Gerard has an MFA in Creative Writing from the New School, which she earned while working full-time at McNally Jackson. Binary Star grew out of Gerard's New School thesis. That version of the book, though, was very, very different from what will be published next week; virtually all that remains is the title and the use of a binary star as a central metaphor.

When she began rewriting Binary Star after finishing graduate school, Gerard, herself an anorexia survivor, thought about turning it into a memoir. It did not take her long to decide that the story had to be fiction. The finished novel is full of things that happened in Gerard's life, but they've been focused through the lens of a fictional character. She explained: "I wanted instead to give into the velocity of emotion, which felt exciting and gave me confidence."

For a long time, Gerard said, she'd been hesitant to write about the struggles she has had with anorexia and food. That began to change after publishing an essay in the New York Times in 2012 about an injury she sustained while recovering from anorexia.

"It brought a lot of attention to my writing and, in a way, granted me permission to write about the kinds of struggles I've had with food," she said. "I think women writers struggle with this often, the feeling that we need to be granted permission to tell our own stories. That our experiences, especially those considered feminine, like an obsession with thinness, are cliche and so not valuable.... When women tell our own stories, we empower ourselves by exposing the structures that perpetuate the systems of our oppression."

Asked about authors who have been important for her, Gerard laughed. "Yeah, all of them," she said. But among her favorite authors and biggest influences, Gerard did point to Clarice Lispector, Lydia Davis, Italo Calvino and Cormac McCarthy. "Any writer that breaks with convention is inspiring to me," Gerard said.

Last fall, Gerard started a Kickstarter campaign to raise $8,500 to fund an author tour for Binary Star, a campaign that exceeded its goal by nearly $700. Gerard will be hosting a mixer for her Kickstarter backers on January 12 at McNally Jackson, and will do her first official reading of the tour on January 15 at the Powerhouse Arena in Brooklyn, N.Y. The tour will continue through April and include stops at Skylight Books in Los Angeles, Calif., Powell's Books in Portland, Ore., Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Mich., and many other indies across the country.

Gerard is already thinking about what to do next. She's been polishing essays that she's been working on for some time, collecting her short stories and has begun "dreaming up a new novel." With a laugh, she added, "I've got too many plans for what to do next." --Alex Mutter

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