Some people would do just about anything for a child. One of them is Dee-Dee, the narrator of Elle Nash’s third novel, Deliver Me, who has been trying for years with her insect-obsessed partner Daddy. She’s finally pregnant again, and thinks it’s the one, before losing the child alongside the introduction of Sloane, a past friend and lover, back into Dee-Dee’s life. Determined, Dee-Dee won’t let go that easily, and feels the presence of her baby despite the ultrasounds and the doctors telling her otherwise. Combining body horror, toxic relationships, and a swell of past trauma, Deliver Me is a whirlwind of emotions perfect for any horror lover.
Our Culture talked with Elle Nash about how motherhood shapes fiction, delusion, untraditional literature, and more.
Congratulations on your third novel! How does it feel now that it’s out?
Thank you! It feels good, it feels weird. It doesn’t feel real yet, even though I’ve done a couple of events. I think it takes me a while to believe in things. Even if I’m walking around in a bookstore and I see my book, I’m like, ‘Oh, it’s there,’ but it’ll take me years. We’ll see! But it feels really good.
Does the process get easier each time, or does each book come with its own set of challenges?
I think each book feels different. Every time I sit down to start a new book, I feel like a beginner each time. It feels daunting. You sit down for a new project you haven’t started yet, like, ‘Oh my god, I have to write a new book.’ When I already have the book, and I’m editing, then that’s fun, but when you’re looking at a new project… Oh, man. But I feel like I learn about myself every time, and at this point, recognizing that I feel like a beginner every time, that’s a good sign.
Who are some of your literary icons that have helped shape your work so far?
I would say the biggest are Chuck Palahniuk, Francesca Lia Block, Tom Spanbauer, and Marya Hornbacher, when I was still in high school and in my early twenties. As I’ve grown, I feel like my influences have changed and transformed. I started reading Dennis Cooper during COVID, and he became really influential for me. My contemporaries feel very influential, like, Charlene Elsby is a writer I’m insanely inspired by every time I read her work. I feel like everything that I read influences me in some way. Whether it’s something I enjoy deeply or end up not enjoying, and I feel like when I’m reading I’m constantly thinking about the experience, the language, the people. I was reading Tove Ditlevsen, The Copenhagen Trilogy, and it’s hard to read it and not think of her as an artist or an author in real life. There are these words and the way she’s constructing them and there’s an art to it, and she’s also a person with her own experiences in the 1930s.
In Deliver Me, we meet Dee-Dee, a meatpacking worker that goes home to an apathetic boyfriend named Daddy with an insect obsession. Dee-Dee wants to be a mother so badly, and after a series of miscarriages, she is finally pregnant and feels like this is the one. What was the first jolt of inspiration for this book, and did it change throughout writing it?
The first jolt of inspiration was that I had read about this crime that occurred in my town in 2015, and I thought of it for a really long time. In 2018 when I sat down to write the novel, I did a little research on the crime as well, because I was very fascinated about it. The crime itself delved deeper into some people who had been involved in larger cases of it. Maybe the inspiration didn’t change, but I learned more about these peoples’ experiences, and my understanding of it deepend. I always knew at the outset what the ending would be, and how I wanted it to look like.
Something that gave me a whole new outlook on the book was that you wrote it while taking care of your first child. The book is so full of body horror and these meditations on pregnancy — was it this outlet to funnel all your feelings toward?
I don’t know, that’s a good question. In my personal experience, I loved being pregnant. I did feel super emotional all the time, but it was funny. I saw a trailer for A Dog’s Life and I’d cry. At a dog! It was so funny, because it was so cheesy. I would say when you have a baby, as a mom, as soon as you have it, the first couple of months, you think about death all the time. You have this new life that you’re suddenly responsible for. It’s different from babysitting, it’s a different kind of bond. There’s this 24/7 constant thought of, ‘What if the baby dies?’ It’s the kind of thing you worry about. It’s a survival mechanism. A new mom will be thinking of these survival tendencies. The consistent thought of death definitely surprised me. As [my child] has gotten older, it’s not as intense, or it’s in the background and I’ve gotten used to it. The learning curve, now, it’s like, ‘She’s six, so I know I’m doing a good job.’
I wanted to speak to you because I love delusion and this book is so full of it. After Dee-Dee loses her child, she shrugs off what the doctors tell her, says there’s a mistake, and she’s still pregnant. She doesn’t tell anyone, and goes as far as buying a fake baby bump and eating more so that she’ll look better. Was it fun to inhabit the mind of someone who is not quite living in reality?
I wondered how I was going to successfully represent how this person experiences things in that way. In some ways, it was fun to puzzle out how I’d be successful with it. My favorite thing about fiction, whether it’s my own or writing it with people, is that there’s a logic puzzle to things. You have all these elements and ideas, and you’re like, ‘How am I going to jam all this together?’ Being successfully able to get all the pieces to click into place is a satisfying thing, for sure.
One thing I did like is that Dee-Dee isn’t wholly confused — she does keep remembering she’s not pregnant, then snapping herself out of it, saying that it can’t be true if she doesn’t believe it. I loved this darker and more unhinged side of manifestation and visualization.
Yeah, one of the things I was thinking about was there’s a sense of depersonalization or dissociation that can happen with some mental illnesses. I was hoping that I could successfully demonstrate this sense of feeling grounded, sometimes you have those moments. Suddenly and without warning, you could slip up, and turn 90 degrees, and your entire perspective is different and you become swallowed up in it. That’s kind of the same with a lot of mental illness or with anyone who has struggled with instability, which everyone does. I try to think of it in that sense — everyone has a moment where they’re completely turned by whatever’s going on in that moment. With Dee-Dee, it happens to be this incessant desire because she feels like this is her pathway to her highest self.
The ‘Daddy’ character is also really interesting, with his love of insects and how it can imbue itself in the sex he and Dee-Dee have. How was it like writing this macho, arrogant figure?
A little cathartic and a little scary at times. Just thinking about how to present this character as a person. I try really hard to present characters in my novels without a sense of judgment on the page, because I want people to make decisions for themselves about how they feel. I’m never sure how something will be perceived. It’s always this thing where I’m hoping that I got the character right. I think, with him, I wanted to create this ballast for Dee-Dee, since he is her sense of stability, and he tries to be this supposed guiding light for her, towards logic, away from religion. At the same time, he is also proselytizing to her and preaching to her about these other concerns that live in the world of rigid masculinity, that some people feel that women have to live by in order to survive in the world. It’s like leaving one very thin hallway, entering into a wide foyer where she can choose where she wants to go, then choosing another thin hallway. That’s kind of how I felt about that.
We also get a glimpse of Dee-Dee’s background with the church, and her mother, who remains in her life and advises her pregnancy. How do you think this sustained contact influences Dee-Dee?
For a lot of churchgoers who leave, the weird thing is that you’ll know the ideology is not for you. And maybe you’ll know you’re not a believer. But there’s still something painful about leaving that world behind. I did not grow up extremely fundamentalist, as depicted in the novel, but I have been a part of tight-knit and rigorous communities. You still think about it, because there’s oddly beautiful things you experience in religion on top of all the toxic things. It can be hard for people to let go because when you cut the cord, you have to let go of the beautiful and negative things so you can grow healthy as a person. So it affects her in those ways.
Especially people who do grow up in it, your early language and early mental structures do become formed by these ways of thinking. The most difficult thing is rebuilding your structures with total confidence and belief in yourself. Instead of getting your self-worth from your reverence from God, you have to get your self-worth from your reverence for yourself. And that’s really hard! That’s one of the things that Dee-Dee is really struggling with — where is that self-worth gonna come from? And unfortunately for her, it’s still getting that approval and validation from Daddy, her mother, and Sloan still.
Even as an adult human who has studied Christianity, I still find myself saying, ‘Where are these patterns of Christian thinking that are still there? What work do I have to do in order to pull them out?’ Even as someone who doesn’t necessarily have the deep, religious trauma of leaving. It can exist so deeply in people.
Sloane is Dee-Dee’s high school crush that comes to live in the same apartment building, which brings up all this jealousy in Dee-Dee, as Sloane is actually pregnant. Dee-Dee kidnaps Sloane’s first daughter, Steg, for a while, and constantly thinks about her. Why do you think she has such an effect on Dee-Dee?
I think that the biggest thing is that Dee-Dee is obviously in love with Sloan. But she didn’t grow up with the language to express what that means. So it just becomes repressed. Through that repression comes a higher level of obsession and broken thinking. Not that I’m a psychologist, but in life, when it comes to analyzing the psychology of someone who is criminally insane, people who gets driven to anti-social, anti-human behaviors because of their psychological makeup, Dee-Dee is an obsessive person, and it occurs because of a lot of reasons. Because she’s repressing this, the obsession becomes stronger for her, and it becomes this way of having these feelings and not knowing how to express it. This expression comes out through intense rivalry, bitterness, paranoia, that she thinks that Sloan’s going to be with Daddy, and eventually, she starts expressing other things: the boundary-breaking behaviors like kidnapping or going through Sloan’s things. She’s like, ‘How far can I push this before somebody stops me?’ The obsessiveness and the impulsiveness pushes her to keep breaking the boundaries because she’s not necessarily getting the societal repercussions for doing it. She kidnaps Steg, but it’s just a slap on the wrist.
I also read on your Instagram that some editors were turned off by the ending because they were ‘unsettled’, which I think is a lousy excuse for passing up on a book. Do you worry that the publishing industry is focusing too much on these feel-good romances to really appreciate a book that makes you feel, even if it might be distress?
I used to worry about it a lot. I think I used to be a person who was really concerned that mainstream publishing was boring, they’re creating this flat landscape where they’re not creating any risky books because they want and need stuff that sells. Colleen Hoover, for example, has like six out of the ten books on the best-seller list right now. The thing is there’s this danger of positioning myself against this cloudy monster of mainstream publishing rejecting me for whatever reason. Thinking, like, ‘I’m not built for that’ or whatever. Because it starts to take up space in my head, and then that risks clouding the space in my head that I dedicate to wanting to create. Because then what I’ll be doing is creating an identity that I’m thinking antithetical to something else. It creates a block. It’s a sense that it isn’t possible for me, because of xyz. I don’t like that kind of thinking — I like an open road, in my mind. I don’t like thinking of myself as, ‘Oh, they’re gonna reject me, so I’m not even gonna try.’ You can limit yourself.
The independent publishing industry is, I think, thriving. There’s a lot that’s up-and-coming, there are publishers that are taking on these risky books, and they are smaller, but they’re there. People do demonstrate everyday that they do love reading a ‘risky’ book: there are readers there and they do find them. It’s harder to make what I would consider a ‘traditional living’ in that world, especially because of how terrible the United States’ economy is, and that’s unfair and unfortunate, but just in the arts perspective, there are pathways to success that aren’t traditional. There is so much good work coming out. Publishers like Unnamed and Clash Books are publishing work that is so interesting and unique. And they’re selling! Eric LaRocca, Everything the Darkness Eats, sold 11,000 copies in six months. That’s fucking incredible! That’s more than many copies of FSG books ever sell. That means people are reading, and helps the independent publishing industry as a whole. So I don’t worry about it anymore. Any author with that mindset needs to focus on the writing and not where it’s going to end up.
Personally, I liked the ending. It was extreme in the best ways and horrifying and a perfect conclusion to Dee-Dee’s rampage against her own body. You say that even if editors passed, you wanted to hold onto it. Why was it so important to you and how was the writing process like?
It’s the whole reason I started the novel. It is just so sad. Some of the cases that I’ve read of this type of crime are just totally heartbreaking. It’s the whole purpose, the reason why we’re being taken through this novel. One of my intentions when I began writing at the outset… Most people, when they look at someone who commits a crime, they’re like, ‘They’re a monster,’ whatever. But I wanted to say, ‘Can I successfully bring a reader with me on this ride to the point of eliciting empathy?’ Empathy is, in my opinion, why we’re alive, to love people. With the novel, I’m like, ‘Can I have people care about this person?’ Because that’s what real life is like. Something really awful can happen around a person if no one cares for them. There was nothing in the ending that I could change. If I did, it wouldn’t be the novel that it is.
Finally, what’s next? Do you have an idea of your next novel, and is anything in particular influencing you?
I do have a couple of projects I’m working on, but I don’t talk about them because I’m superstitious. Then I won’t have the energy to complete it, maybe the energy will dissipate. But one thing I am doing is a lot of research on vampire lore and history. I’m a nerd, I play Vampire: The Masquerade. That’s one area, and then I’m thinking a lot about Mary Shelley and her life. I’m thinking about how that stuff will all coalesce.
Deliver Me is out now.