Actress and writer Amber Tamblyn may be best-known for her roles in the “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” movie and TV’s “Joan of Arcadia,” but at 35 she’s become an outspoken social media presence and acclaimed poet and writer.
Her first novel, “Any Man” (released in July), is drawing controversy and praise for its portrayal of a female serial rapist, the seemingly random men she targets, and the personal and cultural aftermath of her crimes.
Tamblyn wrote much of the book while pregnant with her first daughter with her husband, comedian David Cross, who is performing standup at Knight Theater Monday while Tamblyn is entertaining fans and signing copies of her book at Park Road Books. She recently spoke to the Observer about what inspired her to address the taboo topic, how its publication serendipitously coincided with the #metoo movement, and how the novel reflects our current culture.
Q. What got you thinking about this subject and how to approach it?
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Originally, I was fascinated with the idea of writing something with a female antagonist who had no consequences and what that would look like if it was a woman who was awful and violent and got away with everything. It was something I hadn’t really seen in modern literature. Then it was looking at what kind of person she would be assaulting. What would expand on typical stories of sexual assaults? Who are the survivors and who aren’t?
Q. Was part of the idea to add to the cultural conversation?
I wanted to resensitize the conversation and our feelings and thoughts around what we’re talking about when we talk about rape culture.
Q. What kind of research did you do?
Looking at how many men report being sexually assaulted. It’s one in 10. There must be a much larger number than what’s reported. I tried to find any historical evidence of a female rapist. There are lots of female serial killers.
Q. Was part of your goal to make this subject more relatable to men, since it’s not usually something they can really identify with?
Men in the trans and LGBTQ community experience being sexualized. For the rest of men in their experiences, it’s hard for them to go beyond just empathizing with what we’ve gone through. They can see it and say it’s terrible, but they don’t know how to help change it unless they’ve experienced it. They can experience emotional pain by reading or trying to find a different way to connect to the reality of the experience. That’s often done best through works of art, film, television, books, whatever it is. If men would allow themselves to be exposed to those works, it might help them to have a larger understanding of the culture. It could be illuminating.
Q. How are readers responding to it?
I’ve had some difficult conversations with men who have read it. It’s stomach-churning for them. I do hear from men that it’s a transformative experience, or that women can point to this book and say, “You want to know what it’s like? Do you want to know why we stay silent? This will tell you why.”
Q. To come out during this sort of cultural awakening about sexual assault makes it very timely.
I certainly didn’t think, in my wildest dreams, that this book would come out around this (time in history). I’m happiest to be involved in the deepening of the cultural conversation. It’s taking the conversation we’re already having and forcing us into the more difficult parts of that situation. It’s important it not take away from women’s experiences. It can be an upsetting dialogue that I am wanting to have with people. I want them to see it less that way and more as a more inclusive experience. Women want men to understand and believe them and to care.
Q. Did the fact that you were becoming a mom serve as a driving force?
It wasn’t purposeful. I happened to be pregnant during the bulk of writing this book. I certainly was tapping into my deepest fears of what the future would look like for her and what kind of world I was bringing a girl up in — a society that doesn’t respect women, or all women, with no place for the values of womanhood across the board. I thought, how can I help people see it differently?
Amber Tamblyn book signing
When: 7 p.m. Monday.
Where: Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road.
Details: 704-525-9239; www.parkroadbooks.com.