Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?
This book is, at its heart, about intimacy. With our work, with our most beloved friends, our families, our chosen families, our doctors, our colleagues, ourselves. It is about how I was loved so much that I was transformed from being a very lonely person into a less lonely person.
What boundaries did you break in the writing of this memoir? Where does that sort of courage come from?
I wasn’t aware of boundaries while I was writing, though now that it’s coming out I wonder what kind of covenants of secrecy I’ve broken with my family, my friends, etc. I did break one formal boundary, which was about time and foreshadowing: I kept foreshadowing the character Allison’s death, in increasingly present ways, which I did in order to mirror my experiential sense of her dying - which is that I kept knowing that she was going to die, and was still absolutely floored with grief when she did.
I love that your question indicates the presence of courage, but I’m not aware of being particularly courageous. I mostly feel scared a lot. But I wrote this book because I felt driven to, and I wanted to try to solve certain structural and creative issues that I had thought about a lot in terms of memoir as a genre, and I wanted people to get to meet, in some sense, my friend who had died, and so I didn’t really have a lot of analytical self-reflection about how brave or not the writing was while I was doing it.
Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.
Ahhhhh so many highs, which are never high enough. A starred Publisher’s Weekly review. Being on various lists - Entertainment Weekly and Nylon’s top 50 2019 books list. Tremendously beautiful blurbs. Knowing that I accomplished my lifelong dream. And then lows - the only lows that I’ve felt have been entirely self-inflicted, and all about envy and ego and self-confidence. For instance, yesterday I got the February issue of O Magazine, and wasn’t in it (I hadn’t expected to be, but hope lights the heart forever), and I felt an acute sense of rejection and loss. I had to reach out and ask a friend with experience to remind me that I don’t need to be in charge of my book. I did my job, which was writing it. The rest is out of my hands.
What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?
It really helps if you need to write to live - I became a working journalist fifteen years ago and knew that if I didn’t land a pitch or file a story, I couldn’t afford rent. It compressed any creative fear that I might have had, and gave me a really pragmatic approach to writing. So when I sold my book, I just very pragmatically did my job and met my deadlines. I like a very clear exchange of work and money, and I like to need to write in order to afford my life.
My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?
How linear I was able to make extremely non-linear experiences. I have pages and pages of attempted structural outlines, and notes of conversations with my editor, and it felt like it was totally impossible to get a clear narrative out of the events that had occurred and the way that I felt about them, but here we are, with a story that goes from A to B to C, that has a beginning and an ending.
How do you approach revision?
I wrote about 47 drafts - so I love revision. I approach it with a lot of enthusiasm - something I learned from working with editors for years. A good editor can feel like a miracle worker; my book editor is truly the best. With this, I went over and over and over the text until I felt like I had the basic map, and then I started doing chapter-level revisions, then got more and more granular. I would often email sections to myself and purposefully read them while I was distracted - on the BART or walking around - to see how it felt. For the last few months, I read it out loud to myself every night before I went to sleep to feel which sections dragged or felt boring/obvious. I wrote the book in many parts over a period of a few years, and I think that the last few months of reading it through / out loud smoothed out so many of the potentially rough edges.
Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes to share?)
The famous Milk Bar birthday cake cake makes two appearances!!!! When I was slipping into a coma, the last thing I thought to myself I wanted to do was - finally make that cake. Two years later, I did. It took three days but I did it! The recipe is here: https://milkbarstore.com/recipes/birthday-cake/
[EDITOR’S NOTE: You must click over and look at the picture of this cake!]
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