Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Emma Straub talks about Other People We Married

Emma Straub is frankly amazing. Her first novel Flyover State was named one of the best books of the year by the Courier Journal and just try to find someone who isn't raving about Other People We Married, her extraordinary collection of stories about love, loss, and the ties that bind and sometime strangle. She's also a bookseller at BookCourt and she runs a graphic company M. & E. with her husband. I'm thrilled she's here--thank you, Emma!

So, when did you know you wanted to be a writer? Were you encouraged?

I have always been horribly unsuited for most real jobs. After college, I worked as publicity assistant for six months, and that was the last time I had an office job. It's the pirate's life for me! My parents always encouraged me to do what made me happy, and because my father is a writer, they both understood this wacky endeavor. I think what's nice about having parents who really understand the publishing industry is that they're extremely well-informed about the entire process. They certainly understand it better than I do. That also means that they know the drawbacks and pitfalls and potential disasters better than most parents, which I suppose could have made them like those Hollywood parents I always read about, the ones who swear they won't let their children follow in their footsteps, but they remain my biggest supporters. 

What's your writing life like?
Oh, much like yours, I'm sure. I sit down, grunt at the computer screen, get up to find snacks, sit back down, grunt some more. 

Some of the images in Other People We Married stopped me in my tracks, so much so that I had to  underline them.  The hair that was crashing like waves on a rocky shore, the pool that's like a giant eggplant. The stories are so funny and weird and filled with a uniquely quirky vision, and your characters very slowly unpeel like onions to reveal their deeper selves. So where do you think that vision came from? Why do you see the world the way you do?

You are so nice, Caroline. Thank you. I don't know why I see the world the way I do-- I'm sure it has to do with having parents who always told me stories, and found joy in making things up, and being a younger sister, and going to all the wonderful schools I went to, and having smart, funny friends, and finding the right husband, and all that. My voice on the page-- at least in these stories-- is very much me. I think if I wrote a book of essays, the voice would be much the same. 

What's the new novel that's coming out about? Is it a departure from Other People We Married?

Indeed it is! The novel I'm working on-- Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures, which Riverhead is publishing in 2012--is a novel about a movie star in the Hollywood studio system. It starts in the 1930s and follows an actress for several decades of her life. It could not be more different than my stories. I think I needed a break from things that were so close to myself-- even the stories that are the farthest from my personal life could have happened to me, in some way, shape or form. I wanted some distance, and boy, did I get it. Hollywood! Historical fiction! Who knew? It's been a lot of fun to work on the book. 

How has working at a bookstore impacted your writing life?

I read more than I did before, and I'm more aware of the marketplace. Honestly, I think every writer should work in a bookstore, at least for a little while. Even though I grew up knowing writers and editors and publishers, I never understood the role of the bookstore in the scope of the publishing world. I will be grateful to BookCourt for the rest of my life for letting me be a spy. (I mean, I do actually work, and sell books, and open boxes, and all that good stuff.)

What's obsessing you now?

The idea of free time. I've been working non-stop for the past couple of years, on writing and at the store, and at a host of other jobs, and though I am extremely, monumentally grateful for all the work I have at the moment, I am very much obsessed with the idea of a proper vacation. I don't know when such a thing will happen. I'm not very good at taking breaks. Unless of course I need a snack, in which case, I don't mind if I do.

What question didn't I ask that I should have?

You might have asked about the wonderful teachers I've had (Dan Chaon, Lorrie Moore, Jesse Lee Kercheval, Judy Mitchell), or if I've always liked to bake (yes), or which yoga poses I find physically impossible (crow, handstand), or how many hours I day I spend on Twitter (a thousand). Other than that, I think you covered it all! Cheers!


Robby said...

I am very obsessed with Emma Straub. She is having a signing in Boston next month. This interview reminded me why I need to go, at all costs, come hell or high water.

Erika Robuck said...

I'm following Emma on Twitter and enjoy her very much. I'm officially and completely charmed with this post. Thanks for helping me get to know her better. I can't wait to read the books!

Charley Warady said...

"I have always been horribly unsuited for most real jobs."
Being an author and stand-up comedian...well...let's just say I can relate.