Image via Vol. 1 Brooklyn
In a recent essay on the Paris Review website you talked about each of your New York apartments — the mice, the cockroaches, the cigar-scented hallways. How does New York inspire you as a writer? How much does where you live matter to your writing?
The house I live in now is the first where I’ve had my own office, and I love it more than I can say. It feels very important to be able to close a door, to have your own space. Before that, I always wrote in bed. Okay, fine, sometimes I still write in bed, like right this very moment. You caught me. And New York! I love New York. It’s home. I feel very lucky to have grown up here, and grateful to my parents for understanding that New York wasn’t too big or too scary, but just right. In recent years, I haven’t written very much about New York, but it’s all simmering there, toward the back of my brain.
Literary life in New York could be considered an alternative to an MFA, as Chad Harbach wrote in n + 1 recently. You’ve done both. What inspired you to go for an MFA? What are your plans now that you’re back in New York?
I went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison for my MFA, and it did a world of good for my writing. I think the key is this: you need total discipline and dedication to be a writer, which I already had, but you also need to know what the hell you’re doing, which I didn’t. Spending two years devoting myself entirely to reading and writing (in that order) made me much, much better at what I do. I would do it again in a heartbeat. In fact, Madison, will you take me back? I love everyone there. It’s like heaven, with snow, and not very many restaurants. Lots of good hamburgers, though, which is very important.
My plans, now that I’m back in New York, include: figuring out how to make money, writing a dozen novels, spending most of my time with my husband and my cats. That’s all, really.
The stories in OPWM accomplish so much in so little space. In “Rosemary,” about a woman who hires a pet psychic behind her husband’s back when her cat goes missing, you describe the woman’s husband as “a lawyer” who “scoffed easily.” To me this was enough to feel like I knew exactly who this guy was and was married to him myself (no offense to lawyers). I’m wondering how you arrived at your style — how you knew you were going to be the kind of writer you are, and what part your MFA played in that.
Thank you! I think it’s the job of the short story to be concise, and to put as much as possible into a few words, so I take that as a compliment. As for arriving at my style, I think it developed over time. Imagine a musician — at first, you’re just copying John Coltrane, or Whitney Houston, or whoever, but eventually, all that wears away, and you’re just left with yourself.
What are you working on now?
Right now I’m working on a novel about a movie star. It starts in the 1920s, and spans a number of decades. It’s wildly different than anything I’ve done before, which is great fun. That’s the kind of writer I want to be, someone like Jennifer Egan, or Steven Millhauser, where every book is truly a different animal than the last. I guess we’ll see!
Any advice to other young writers emerging in the age of the Internet?
Be friendly. Be kind. Say yes.
Other People We Married is available now from FiveChapters and many independentbooksellers.