Critical Questions: Emma Straub
Brooklyn-based writer opens up.
Emma Straub has breezed into young, literary Brooklyn with a laugh-a-minute short story collection Other People We Married and a charming Twitter blitz to boot. To coincide with Riverhead's re-release of OPWM, I had the pleasure to speak to Straub about being a funny girl, her new blog venture, and, well, hot tubs.
CM: Other People We Married is a very funny book. Who are some of your favorite funny writers?
ES: There's a big range of funny: there's David Sedaris, who is of course hilarious, but then there's Lorrie Moore, and Jane Austen, and the blog Slaughterhouse 90210, which pairs up quotes from literature and stills from television shows. That often makes me laugh.
"A Map of Modern Palm Springs," the story of two sisters on vacation, deals with how difficult it can be to love your family. Why was this a story you wanted to tell?
Because it occurred to me! I vacationed with my husband in Palm Springs, and the setting seemed so potent—it's too hot, too sunny. Sort of treacherous. And what's more treacherous than sisters?
I was touched and surprised by the ending of "Marjorie and the Birds." How did you develop Marjorie's character to arrive at that point?
I'm glad you liked it. That was one of the last stories written for the collection, and I was interested in telling stories from an older perspective, to balance out the youth factor. Also, my mother had recently taken a birding class just like the one described, and I guess I was just imagining life from a perspective more like hers, and less like mine. It was also nice to write a story that took place outdoors—I'm such a city girl, and a homebody, it was fun to get to think about trees and birds and exotic things like that.
Do you have a favorite story in Other People We Married?
I have a few—"Orient Point," "Puttanesca," "Map of Modern Palm Springs." Those are my babies.
How does working at the Brooklyn bookstore BookCourt, influence you, if at all, as a writer?
Well, it means that I'm extremely conscious of how many books come out every week, and how they all compete for space on the shelves. I think it's given me a realistic understanding of what happens to a book once it's published, which most writers don't have. I don't think the act of selling books has influenced my writing itself, but I certainly read more than I did before, which does.
One of your former professors is Lorrie Moore. How has she influenced you?
Oh, I love Lorrie to pieces. She's the greatest. She has influenced me in a thousand ways. Mostly, though, she is just a smart and hilarious person who I feel really lucky to have in my life.
You are a prolific Twitter user. How important do you think it is for writers today to get wired?
Extremely. This goes back to the idea of writers not knowing what to do when the book comes out. I think it used to be true that writers relied on the PR department at their publishing houses, but that's not true anymore. Publicists are fabulous and I am so, so, so grateful to have one on my side now, but no one will ever care as much as I do about my success. Writers have to bust their asses. There's really no getting around it. And I'm happy to do it, all day long, in whatever ways I can.
What are some of your favorite blogs?
I mentioned Slaughterhouse 90210 already, which is the best. I also love The Millions, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Full Stop, Vulture, Jezbel, The Paris Review Daily, and let's face it, Perez Hilton. One can't be literary all the time.
You've started teaching through the Sackett Street Writers Workshop, which was founded by University of Iowa alum Julia Fierro. How does it feel to be on the other end of the workshop table?
I taught undergrads during my MFA, so I've already spent a few years on the other end of the workshop table. I love to teach. The Sackett Streets students are all really wonderful—smart, motivated, and kind. It's a lovely place.
Tell us about Rookie, the website you write for. What is it that inspires you to write for a female teen audience?
I'm only 31 on the outside. It's really that simple.
You've been working on a novel Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures. How has writing this novel differed in approach from writing Other People We Married?
The novel, which Riverhead will publish in September, was a real departure for me. It starts in 1920, and ends in 1980, which is the year I was born. I had to do lots and lots of research about the Hollywood studio system, and movie stars, and all that glamorous stuff. I highly recommend writing books about things you want to know more about. Special libraries! Going to the movies all the time, as work! I think my next novel is going to be about getting massages and sitting in the hot tub. No, not really. But doesn't that sound divine?