Sloane Crosley - interviewI read I Was Told There’d Be Cake two years ago, after my friend told me, “it’s the best name I’ve ever heard of for a book. I haven’t read it, but it really is the best title.” On that advice, I went out and purchased it and what ensued was an unexpected girl crush on the amazing author, Sloane Crosley. Book publisher slash writer slash dioramist slash girl crush subject, Sloane has a wickedly delightful world view, and is the kind of laugh out loud funny that many young essayists aspire too. If you’re not familiar with her work, you really haven’t lived. I, on the other hand, have read both her books, and was lucky enough to be able to ask her a few questions about her career, Jennifer Aniston and the zombie apocalypse…
So… Sup? Have you ever been to Australia?
Alas, I have not. Considering the fact that I've been obsessing about your lovely country for almost twenty years and detail said obsession in my first book.... you'd think I'd have done something about it by now!
I guess there’s not going to be much natural flow because I’m pre writing all the questions, but I reckon we’re both devilishly funny enough to make this read like a conversation. Anyway, you’re a massive slashie – book publicist slash book writer slash diorama maker. Have I forgotten anything?
Well, I slashed off one of my slashes when I quit my job at Random House. Such a tough decision but the right one. I'm still a fake book publicist, though, meaning I tend to force-feed books I love down the gullets of people I love. I would say "slash crap-TV-watcher" or "slash editor" if you count this. Or, most dubious of distinctions: "slash blogger." My friend and I started this and I'm always impressed by the melancholy photo submissions, many which come from Australia and New Zealand.
How did you go from publishing to writing?
I didn't exactly make a leap, just tried to balance both at once. Here's an analogy: I have a friend who went to West Point and they have some strict code of conduct rules, one of which was apparently that if a male cadet and a female cadet are in the same room with the door shut, they must be on separate pieces of furniture. I'm sure I'm butchering the letter of the law because I wasn't there.... but it was something like that.
Obviously people got around it (my friend and her college sweetheart are married with two kids now). I always had this vision of her with a foot on the bed and him with a foot on the sofa, trying to kiss each other. That is exactly how I view my career.
As a writer, I dream of writing a book… What’s your advice about how I can do that? (Saying “put words into tangible sentences until you have 200 pages” does not count as a good answer)
Oh man, because that is the answer. Although you can get rid of the assigned number of pages. That's what trips people up, me included. Don't think about it like that. Think about it as expanding your ideas, about picking what interests you most in the world, a subject only you can get to the heart of and go.
You seem to have had a pretty normal, functional life from the essays in your books but you're still hilarious – is it a lie that you have to be tortured to be funny?
Of course I'm tortured. Everyone is. And thus I'm also normal.
How do you turn regular, “life” occurrences into such funny stories?
I'm not sure. I think events have to be big and meaningful or many small and meaningless ones in order to qualify for an essay. That's oversimplifying it, though.
So you’re like Jennifer Aniston, you make other women want to be friends with you, which I think is a really rare quality. Do you get a lot of people feeling like they “know” you from reading your writing? Aside from me.
I would love to be like Jennifer Aniston. Are there other people I'd rather be like? Sure. But I'd take her life. And from what very little I know, she is apparently a fairly incredible person. Sometimes people think they know me. That's only a problem if I'm becoming friends with them or work with them or date them. It's a genuinely lovely experience at readings or if I'm approached by strangers. So long as I don't have to hug them because that gets weird and I hate germs. Beyond that, people are smart and gracious and generally wonderful. And so apologetic! Mostly it's women, yes. And mostly in New York, though once it was a flight attendant at the Madison, Wisconsin airport. They say nice things and then apologize for "bothering" me and here I am, five seconds away from asking them if my mother asked them to befriend me.
I Was Told There’d Be Cake seems to come from a much more raw place, at least I indentified with it more than How Did You Get This Number (disclaimer: I thought both were fantastic). But it seemed like there was some transition in the space between the two. Was there, or am I just so much of a fan girl I’m reading into it too much?
It's great that you're reading this carefully. This is an interesting take, at least for me from a grossly indulgent and navel-gazing perspective. So I'll babble about it.... You say "raw" and I think of the last essay in the second book. Or the first essay in the second book. Or the ones in between. I feel like the second book, How Did You Get This Number, is just more emotional in general. I'm proud of what an unstable mess it is.
However, the first, I Was Told There'd Be Cake has the bonus that every debut art form has: I didn't think anyone would be looking. And I didn't know quite what I was doing, thus could do whatever I wanted. Plus everyone kept telling me that essays don't sell because at the time because, frankly, they didn't. I broke no great molds but the last book of essays written by a woman that made any mark on my consciousness was Meghan Daum's My Misspent Youth and that was seven years prior to Cake. Many of the books that came out after mine were a) already in the works and b) better. But it's nice to think there's been more and more room made for female narrative nonfiction writers in the past five years or so. Certainly there is for the essay in general -- The New Yorker's James Wood just wrote a fantastic analysis of John Jeremiah Sullivan's new book of essays, talking about the resurgence of the essay in this retro rental form in which it borrows novelistic techniques. It's a fascinating read and as a former book publicist I appreciated how relevant it was. He mentions the fall of print newspapers and how glossy magazines will often pick up the slack as venues for longer format material. Though he fails to mention a single woman essayist in the piece, which brings us to your next question....
Women really have taken the spotlight in comedy this year, and I know we're not supposed to talk about it because it's not supposed to be a "thing" blah blah – but is this something you’ve perceived happening? And why do you think it is?
Am I drunk right now or has everyone forgotten about Gilda Radner and Lucille Ball and Dorothy Parker? Wait, don't answer that.
Who is your boy crush? (Let’s make this a bit juicy)
I am so attracted to Jake Gyllenhaal. So much so that I didn’t have to spell-check his name just now. Though I feel like he is the “boy crush” equivalent of ordering a gin and tonic because it’s good and your mind blanks when you get to the bar.
Now, tell us absolutely everything you can about your amazing dioramas. You can dot point if it’s easier.
Oh, thank you. I would just wind up repeating the overly detailed descriptions on the website. Two of them have since been taken apart and given away as little presents and one of them I auctioned off for charity. So I’m afraid I don’t have much left of the dioramas anymore.
You’ve also just written Up And Down The Volcano for Amazon (which I haven’t read because I don’t have a Kindle – is there a hard copy version?), tell us a little bit about that.
It will be available on all e-readers in May and will, hopefully and eventually, go into a book. I took an ill-advised (rather, non-advised…. I just went) trip up a semi-active volcano in Ecuador. Chaos ensued. It's my first real outdoorsy adventure tale. I had visions and met a man named Edgardo.
If it really were the zombie apocalypse, do you think your slashie skills could save you? If not, who would you want fighting on your team?
What is this “if” business? When the zombie apocalypse comes, I think it would be good to befriend an attractive male doctor who lives in a tall building with a backup generator and has access to antibiotics and water-purifying tablets. Not that I've given this any thought or anything. And what could I do to help? Umm…. organize his bookshelves by color as we listened to the swan howls of our fellow man perishing on the streets below.
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