What was the last book that you read that you’d now recommend?
Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder really took me by surprise when it debuted a few months ago. I love when authors take risks like Rachel does in this book. That jolt to the senses is what this is all about. I tell everyone to read it. It’s a wild ride.
Have you read any classics lately that you were reading for the first time?
A few years ago I purchased The Iliad & The Odyssey by Homer to reread and I didn’t recognize most of it so it’s like reading it for the first time! I keep it by my desk and whenever I feel stuck, I read a few pages of it to absorb the language and get my head back into the clouds. It’s a gorgeous text.
What are your go-to genres?
Literary fiction and poetry. They are my lifeblood.
What is your favorite childhood book?
Anything by Judy Bloom. My body would tingle all over when I picked up one of her books from the library. It was so exciting to have a new, unread book that I was guaranteed to love.
What books are on your bedside table right now?
Black Girls Must Die Exhausted by Jayne Allen, Fight Night by Miriam Toews, Dear Senturan by Akwaeke Emezi, and No Cure For Being Human by Kate Bowler. Highly recommend them all.
Do you bookmark or dogear your page in a book?
If I can find a scrap of something nearby, I’ll choose that first. Otherwise I dogear. Life is too short to worry about keeping books perfect. Books are to be read!
What is your ideal reading setting?
Anywhere without children. I don’t need any other special circumstances.
Tell us about your favorite indie bookstore?
The Midtown Scholar in Harrisburg is an incredible bookstore. Not only is it a unique and beautiful space, it has also become such a landmark in the city and an important part of the community. Friends of mine have traveled from all over to visit.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
Margaret Atwood was hugely formative in my young writing life. As a 16-year-old girl in a small, Mennonite school– all I knew was that these books were nothing like the Amish romance novels I’d read before. Lauren Groff has this brilliant line in Fates and Furies that says, “She was so tired of the old way of telling stories, all those too-worn … something messier, something sharper, something like a bomb going off.” That is how Atwood was and still is for me. Like a bomb going off.
What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
After the discovery of Margaret Atood, my world really opened up. Just recently Bernadine Evaristo rocked my world. In other years it’s been Lauren Groff, Maya Angelou, Aimee Bender, Min Jin Lee, Naomi Alderman, Roxane Gay, Carmen Maria Machado. These writers have been life changing.
Where do you get most of your writing and editing done?
In the last six months, my office. However in the last decade I’ve done most of my writing in coffee shops or Panera due to the free wifi and temporary office space. I am so thankful we were able to move this year to a home that has an office, but sometimes I do miss living in our 1,200 square foot home with six people. There is something salutary about leaving the house to write that helps disassociate from the mental load of home life.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
It depends on the day. On good writing days, I am exhausted but in a way that feels like forward motion. On bad days, I walk out feeling defeated and stuck in a fog that feels like it might never lift.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
For four years I worked on a novel that is complete but has never been published. Non-writers are often horrified to hear that because it sounds like a waste of time. Writers understand it is part of a necessary process. Personally I consider that four years to be my less expensive MFA program.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
It depends what you mean by “book review.” Anyone can write a book review on Goodreads or Amazon or Twitter. Either way, the answer is no. Even when I had a wonderful write up in the New York Times, I had friends take screenshots of the fun parts but I never did read the entire thing.
I think it boils down to self preservation, but there is also an element of it sounding like nails on a chalkboard. I know there are actors who can never watch themselves on screen and I really relate to that. I never relisten to podcasts or interviews or fully read articles written about me, even when I’ve contributed to them. It makes me cringe.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Nothing! She would never, ever listen to me.
When you’re not reading or writing, what are you doing?
The rest of my time is made up of relationships and all that they entail. Those relationships include my four young children, spouse, friends, and family. Most of it is unglamourous, but it’s all important in the end.
What are your three favorite things right now?
1) I’ve played Adele’s newest song approximately 7,000 times since it was released.
2) I have also been compulsively buying high rise jeans before our fashion industry totally wipes them out in favor of bringing back buttcrack jeans (low rise).
3). I’m about to start Maid on Netflix, which I hear is stunning.
Your favorite travel destination and why?
It’s been so long since I’ve thought of real, in the airplane, traveling that this question really took me by surprise. At this point in my life, with the way the world is and with many young children, I prefer less crowds and lots of water. So East Coast beaches in September have become a very favorite.
What’s your favorite meal and go-to drink order?
An endless array of all sorts of tacos and a tall glass of unsweetened iced tea.
What six people, living or dead, would you invite to dinner a party?
Amy Pohler, Chris Rock, Steve Carrell, Barack Obama, Sharon Horgan, and my friend Fran because I think she’d just really enjoy it.
If a movie was made of your life, what genre would it be, who would play you?
I am a comedy enthusiast so definitely a zippy comedy and definitely Kathryn Hahn.
What’s the last TV show or movie you watched that was really good?
I loved High On The Hog & Mare Of Easttown.
You have to sing karaoke; what song do you pick?
Oh you don’t have to ask me twice. Sadly I will pick very ridiculous songs like Fergie’s 2006 hit Glamorous and get all the words wrong. (I’m kidding, I will get them all right).
If you were being taken to a deserted island and could only bring one book, what would it be?
The longest, heaviest anthology of short stories I can find. Hopefully there are a few Alice Munro pieces in there. Either way, I’m sure I’d appreciate the variety in voice!