While reading Emma Straub’s The Vacationers, I couldn’t help but rewind to the summer vacations of my teenage years. Not quite old enough to appreciate hanging out with my parents, and not quite young enough to want to run around with my younger brothers, at 15, my family trips were more about reading books and people watching from my perch on a raggedy old pool chair. Which is why I had so much fun Straub’s book, in which her character Sylvie Post (18 years-old, recent high school grad) bares witness to her family’s subtle breakdown while on vacation in Mallorca. Though all its drama and pettiness, the Post family reveals itself to be much like many families I know—prone to meltdowns, but too strong to completely dissolve. Taking a break from her move back to back to NYC after a semester as a visiting writer at Vanderbilt, Straub talked to us about the process of writing her latest novel, the vacations of her youth, and, of course, her most-loved summer jams.
Your first book, Other People We Married, featured stories about the Post family. What was it like to revisit them in the form of a novel in The Vacationers?
It was wonderfully easy. I’d written about these characters for so long that I felt I knew them really well, and so it was very comfortable. I doubt I’ll ever write a novel so quickly ever again—that is, if you don’t count the first five years of me kicking the idea around.
How did you go about doing research in Mallorca? What details did you pick up while you were there?
My husband and I spent two weeks in Mallorca last winter. It was fabulous—such good food, such nice people. It was the off-season there, which meant that it felt sort of like early spring in New York City, jacket weather, with empty beaches. My favorite! I picked up a zillion details there—truly, everything. The way the sun looks, what the landscape looks like, what Palma feels like at dusk. I tried to soak up as much as I could in those two weeks and then regurgitate it like an owl pellet, only less gross.
Which character did you relate to most in The Vacationers?
I’d be lying if I said anyone other than Sylvia, but really there is a lot of me in all of the characters. I think that’s always true.
Do you feel like you’re still very connected to the teenage part of yourself? On that note, how has your involvement with Rookie influenced your novel writing?
I think all writers are deeply connected to all of their previous selves—it’s what makes writing fiction possible. And yes, writing for Rookie for the past three years has sort of doubled down on that connection—I’m in touch with teenage girls every single day. All the Rookies are much, much more advanced than I was, I must say.
Did you ever have a teenage summer love or crush?
We went on all kinds of family vacations, and I always wanted a teenage summer love, but goddamnit, it never happened. There were always crushes—whenever we’d go somewhere, my older brother would make a friend, who I would develop a crush on, and they would never hang out with me. The story of my life.
What’s something you learned from writing Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures that helped you with The Vacationers?
Ha! That it’s much easier to write a novel when you don’t have to do months and months of research!
You moved to Nashville to teach at Vanderbilt at the suggestion of your mentor, Lorrie Moore. How has she challenged you?
Lorrie is the greatest. I adore her. She challenges me to be a smarter, better writer (and person) every time I see her. I think that’s what mentors are for—to keep you on your game. She is wonderfully supportive. I wish everyone could have a Lorrie. Not my Lorrie, of course, some other Lorrie.
You’ve become a mom since the release of Laura Lamont. Has that affected the way you write, or the subjects you want to write about, now that you know your child will one day read your work?
Ha! Oh god, yes. Having a baby has changed everything. I used to be productive! And quick! I dream about having the kind of time I used to have. That’s really the only difference. My father writes books that are filled with torture and murder and blood, and it never bothered me in the slightest, so I don’t think I’ll consider my son when it comes to my subject matter, no. I hope he’ll be as proud of me as I am of my parents.
What kind of book do you plan to write next?
See above answer. One with words in it? I’m only half joking. There are a few projects that I have kicking around, but I haven’t had enough time to get waist deep. We’ll see. Maybe an essay collection. Maybe a new novel. Maybe YA! Oh, god. Do you have some hours in your day that I can borrow?
I wish that was possible! In the meantime, can you share with us your top three all-time favorite summer jams?
Oh, this is fun. Mariah Carey, “Dreamlover,” Superchunk’s “Digging for Something,” and then some Beyoncé. Any Beyoncé.
Photo credit: Jennifer Bastian