Like all good genre stories, The Liminal People sneakily explores some deep questions. In between cool fight sequences and imaginative depictions of the not-quite or perhaps more-than-human, it makes you wonder about what it means to belong and who gets past the gates of that exclusive country club called “normal.”
Rumpus: All this talk about your family makes for a good transition into the book. For all the fighting in it and the action and the supernatural stuff, what struck me was that it seemed, in the end, to be a story about family and finding your place in the world.
Jama-Everett: Yeah. I’ve never really felt family or the whole notion of home. I wish I did but it just never worked for me. I’ve always felt like the outsider. When I was younger, I had an idea that I could make family. I think that is what most people try to do. You go from your family of origin to your family of choice. I think that’s what Taggert is doing and I think that’s one thing I’ve been dealing with, too.
Rumpus: And yet, not to give anything away, the book does seem hopeful in that regard, with Taggert moving from his family of origin towards a family of choice—or at least beginning to see a way to make that happen.
Jama-Everett: I think everybody’s on a grind. Everybody’s working through something and trying to figure it out. And Taggert’s grind is trying to find support. It’s like joining a gang. A lot of times you have to get jumped in or you have to take somebody out. And that gang can be different things. It can be the military or it can be the Vatos Locos. But everything requires a sacrifice.
Rumpus: And now you’re writing about liminal people, people on the edges of society.
Jama-Everett: Yep. When I first started writing, that’s what I wrote about. People on the fringes of the fringe group. One of the things I got from growing up in New York was that you should never assume you know the full story about people, never assume that you know everything that’s going on.
I remember riding the A train one day when I was about nine years old. I had headphones on. And this dude and this girl were talking, so I took off the headphones because I wanted to hear his game. The guy is talking at her: “What’s up with you? You got a man? Blah, blah.” And the girl keeps telling him to leave her alone, but the guy won’t shut up. All of sudden, this other guy from across the aisle gets up and punches the guy three times in the head—knocks him out. Bam bam bam! Then the girl gets up and goes through his pockets and she says, “I told you to back the fuck off.” Then they both get off the train together! That taught me, hey, you need to pay attention. You need full awareness at all times. Everything is a risk.
All the spots that were landmarks for me were landmarks because of people. And the people I chilled with can’t afford to live in Manhattan anymore. So, you know, talking about family of origin, it’s not there. That city is gone. I remember watching Sex and the City and I’ll be honest, the first two seasons, I was hooked.
Rumpus: Sex and the City? Really?
Jama-Everett: Oh yeah. I’ve got weird streaks in me, man. I was all in it. I was like, “What is Samantha going to do next?” And then—and I hate when this question happens in my brain because it usually fucks up my experience—I thought, “Where are all the black people?” And it hurt, because I realized I had just watched two seasons of this show set in New York fucking City where I was born and raised, and it wasn’t even just, “Where are the black people?” It was, “Where is any person of color?” Even the cab drivers were white! If your cab drivers are white, where the hell are you?