My first encounter with Emma Straub was when she did a reading at the Rookie Yearbook launch event at McNally Jackson (an incredible independent bookstore in Soho) last September. I have to say, and this is coming from the heart of a then-27-year old, that it was such an intimate and moving experience sitting in the crowd with all the Rookies—teens, adults, and even boys—who gathered from all walks of life to celebrate their special community. In the midst of all the fantastic readers and performers, I became particularly inspired by the blonde, bobbed, and flower-crowned Emma Straub, who is a regular Rookie contributor. [Ed note: A personal favorite is this piece about River Phoenix, a mutual unrequited love.] Emma was also in celebratory mode that night because her debut novel Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures was released only five days prior to the Rookie event. Immediately after the therapeutic Tavi-fest, I grabbed a copy of Laura Lamont for myself and devoured it, playing out the scenes from the novel cinematically in my head (the book is about a movie star, after all). We caught up with Emma on the heels of her paperback release and what it’s like to be a writer in New York City. —JL
It’s insane that your first two books (Other People We Married and Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures, respectively) were published within the same year! For the aspiring writers, tell us how your first big book deals came about.
That does sound insane. It’s not technically true—my story collection was originally published the year before, by a very very small press. Riverhead bought the rights and then re-released it, with much larger distribution. But yes, it does look like I’m a book-writing robot, which sadly is not the case.
Other People We Married was sold for a song and dance, basically, because the press was so small, and just starting out. Still, I sent myself out on a book tour and worked my butt off, and I think it was the momentum from that that led to Riverhead being interested in my novel. I will never forget the day that my agent called to say that Riverhead had made an offer. They were my dream publisher. I cried. And drank champagne.
We follow Laura Lamont’s entire life’s journey. Did you know from the very beginning that we were going to grow old with Lamont? Was it difficult writing about old age when you haven’t yourself experienced those years yet?
I did know that I wanted to follow Laura for most of her life—that was the whole idea, to see how this one woman evolves over the course of her life. I’d been writing very tight and compressed short stories, and I wanted to do the opposite. A novel that spanned five or six decades seemed like just the ticket. As for writing about things I hadn’t experienced yet, well, that’s the fun of writing fiction! It would be so boring if I could only write about things that had happened to me. I will say that every time I hit some sort of life milestone (for example, I’m almost 8 months pregnant right now), it does add a layer of dimension to my work. Definitely writing in some more thoughts about babies at the moment.
If Laura Lamont were to be adapted into a movie, what three actresses do you imagine could play the roles of pre-fame, famous, and post-fame Laura?
I love the Gummers. Give me all the Gummers, plus Meryl, and I would die happy.
I hear you are/were in Europe working on your next novel. Wondering if there’s anything you could spill about your next project?
I was indeed! My new book, which I’m revising right now, is a novel that takes place entirely on the island of Mallorca, off the coast of Spain. The book is about Franny and Jim Post and their family—people who read Other People We Married will remember the Posts, as they appear in three of the stories.
Would love to know more about your job at BookCourt (one of my fave bookstores!). I think this is a question a lot of aspiring writers are probably curious about: Did you make the conscious decision to take a job like bookselling so it’s possible to write more creatively during your personal time?
I’ve temporarily hung up my bookselling boots, just because I’m under deadline to finish this book, and with the pregnancy, time suddenly is flying by. I miss it terribly. There is nothing like putting a book you love into someone’s hands, and having them take it home. It’s so intimate! And yes, it was a conscious decision to have a part-time job that I could leave at work, as opposed to a full-time job that needed my whole brain. I also teach, and having a full-time job wouldn’t allow me the kind of freedom I have now.
Having grown up in NYC with a novelist father, do you think the literary and publishing scene has changed much? What does it feel like now that you’re a part of your own Brooklyn literary community?
That’s an interesting question. My literary community in Brooklyn does feel really different from the one I grew up in, but I think it’s really just my perspective that has changed. My parents weren’t always having dinner parties with writers and poets and editors, and I do that, too. The publishing parties are less lavish than they were in the 1980s, and there is significantly less cocaine, but maybe I’m just not getting invited to the best parties. Ha! I don’t know. I love the literary universe as it exists here in Brooklyn. I think it’s an amazing time and place, and I’m happy to be a part of it.
What’s your day-to-day writing schedule like?
I try to treat writing like a real job, because it is a real job. I work regular business hours, 9-5, more or less. There are always pieces that need editing, and a novel that needs attention, and other small bits I’m working on. Monday through Friday, I work work work all day. The weekends are for going to the movies and forcing my husband into thrift stores.
How did you get involved with Rookie? Based on the activity you see from Rookie fans, what are some interesting things you’ve learned about the stuff they like to read?
Writing for Rookie is one of the best gigs in the world. It is such an incredible community—the Rookies (both writers and readers) are smart, passionate people, and I adore them. They like to read anything that helps illuminate the heaven/hell of being in the world, especially of being a teenager. I got involved with a cold email submission to Tavi Gevinson, our fearless leader. I still feel like I won the lottery.
What’s a good piece of advice you once received?
Don’t read the comments. And if you do, never, ever respond.
Photo credit: Sarah Shatz