The Adrienne Miller Interview

Rabbit Rabbit.

What's something that you used to do all the time as a kid and suddenly stopped? You have still over a week to submit your little story of looking back, fondly or not.My Dad takes charge of my website and reminisces and you should do the same, so drop me an email with your paragraph.

I will be taking a long break from next week but never fear: I will have the proverbial guest editor. Was it I who made fun of blogs that have guest editors? No. Anyway, hopefully this person will provide fun and games for you. Otherwise, just expect a daily insult, either directly or backhandedly.

Todayís interviewee is the young fiction editor of Esquire who has recently published her acclaimed first novel, The Coast of Akron.

As the editor at Esquire, she has published works by Don DeLillo, Aleksandar Hemon, Arthur Miller, Tim O'Brien, George Saunders, and Elizabeth McCracken, among others. Bonus points if you can figure out which of those authors I have interviewed and which have taught me in grad school.

The Adrienne Miller Interview: A Little Less Than Twenty Questions

Not to be sycophantic, but Esquire is my favorite among the magazines I subscribe to, in large part to its fiction and nonfiction. It seems like menís magazines have loftier ideals when publishing fiction and nonfiction than womenís magazines. Do you agree?
I hear you. My God, how embarrassing and offensive are womenís magazine? There are a couple of notable exceptions, but generally, they suck suck suck. Why are womenís magazines so dumb? I guess first we need to ask our culture why it hates women. Then, once we understand that, we can try to get some answers from womenís books (in the magazine industry, magazines are called ìbooks,î which Iíve always found hilarious). But, anyway, yes, isnít Esquire good? Thank you for saying that. The magazine published ìThe Snows of Kilimanjaro,î you know.

Youíre just over 30: can you tell us how you came to get your gig at Esquire?
Iím not being phonily modest when I say that Iíve had incredible luck in my jobs. Up until about a week before I graduated from college, I was planning on going to grad school and getting an MFA in fiction. Long story short, I found out about a job opening as an assistant at GQ. I interviewed for the job, shockingly got it, and moved to New York (I had nowhere to live so I stayed in a gray-walled dorm room for my first grim couple of months). A few years after that, the job as literary editor at Esquire became available. I was, looking back on it, annoyingly aggressive about pursuing the job. But itís all been about luck and timing for me. Thank you, luck and timing, my twin gods.

You said in an interview with Web del Sol that in interviewing for the gig at Esquire, you ìwrote a few passionate letters that laid out all the reasons why I, naturally must be hired as literary editor.î Do you remember what any of these reasons were?
I donít remember what any of the reasons were, but those reasons probably didnít matter all that much, to tell you the truth. I probably got the job in large part because Iím a really good letter-writer (if I do say so myself). In fact, letters appear to be my natural writing form. Maybe someday Iíll write an entirely epistolary novel! Doesnít that sounds like just what the world needs? Do you think youíll still go back and get your MFA or not anytime in the near future?
Man, I donít think that would be a good idea, for anyone.

Did your work as fiction editor: what you saw, what you didnít seeóinspire The Coast of Akron?
Well, Iíve gotten to work on some pretty incredible stories in my time at Esquire, and those stories ñ and those writers ñ definitely inspired me to want to try to excel, both as an editor and as a writer. But I do read a lot of submissions, too, and, as any editor will tell you, most submissions arenít very good. So I was negatively influenced, too, if you catch my drift. For instance, I didnít want to write a greasily autobiographical story of the sort I often read. I didnít want to write about hookers (often called ìwhoresî in slush pile parlance). I didnít want any trailer parks, impotence or incest. I wanted heightened language, style, humor. I wanted a mansion and suits of armor and emus. I basically tried to write a book that I wanted to read.

How did you make time to work on the book?
This isnít a very pleasant or uplifting answer, but Iíve learned to become insanely protective of my time. I go to maybe one party a year. I wriggle out of every social/professional engagement I possibly can. (The good news is that if you develop a reputation as a no-show, the invitations will eventually stop coming.) Iíve become a hideously negligent friend. Iíve learned to fear the telephone and email. Iíve dropped every superfluous thing in my life. Iím no fun, basically. My boyfriend agrees with the no-fun assessment, by the way.

Have you been reading your reviews? Yes, I have been reading my reviews, and what a bad move on my part! I donít recommend it, and I really wish I could stop. Nothing good can come from reading a review, as any writer knows ñ you take away nothing from the stupid reviews because theyíre stupid, and you take away nothing from the good reviews because they confirm everything you already knew. I hope I wonít read the reviews of my next book, although I doubt that Iíll have the willpower to stop myself. Itís like reading a journal entry about yourself, or overhearing people talk about you. You know you should look away, or stop listening, but itís pretty impossible to do that, not when youíre the subject.

You say in the interview with Web del Sol, ìBut a couple of months ago, when I was reading over the last set of proofs, I came pretty close to having a nervous breakdown.î Why is this?
Mainly because I just felt as if I couldnít read it one more time. I really just could not bring myself to read the thing again. It was as simple as that. I felt as if Iíd eaten too much. All I wanted to do was lie down.

You also say that the book strikes you as sad now (whereas you thought it was humorous as you were working on it.) Do you feel youíre the kind of person who enjoys being sad once in awhile (like listening to some Elliott Smith or watching a thoroughly depressing move) or thatís not your style?
Believe me, I have absolutely no problem tapping in to my vast reservoirs of melancholy. But I guess I was trying to say that I didnít want to write an entirely melancholic novel. How long did the entire process of writing to publishing take?
About five years, maybe a little longer.

Have you seen any ërevengeí reviews by people who felt you did not do them justice in (or, not putting them in) Esquire?
I have seen some reviews by people whose stuff I havenít been able to use for the magazine, or, even worse, people whose books Iíve reviewed for the magazine. But if I were to paranoically suggest that, yes, there have been some sour-grapes reviews, then I would also have to paranoically suggest the converse: That reviewers who seem to like the book are only writing good reviews to suck up to Esquire! The former scenario is very soothing to my ego, but the latter is too horrible to contemplate. So I try not to think that way.

Do you plan to stick with fiction or do you think youíd ever work long-form in nonfiction?
I canít imagine doing long-form nonfiction, mainly because -- with all due respect to the many wonderful nonfiction writers out there -- it bores me. The nonfiction pieces Iíve written have pretty much consistently felt like school assignments to me. This is probably my own fault as a writer, but I havenít figured out how to have fun with nonfiction. I think I feel stifled by the truth. Or something like that.

Have there been any ëbigí books in the last few years that you felt were simply overrated?
Critics are pretty much consistently wrong about everything. You can always count on the current critical consensus to be incorrect, so you have to love that predictability. (One of my favorite examples is from a famous Le Fiagro review of Madame Bovary: ìMonsieur Flaubert is not a writer.î) Whenever a book ñ or a movie or a CD or a play or whatever -- is given an unambiguous critical lollipop, the contrarian in me suspects that it is so middlebrow and schmaltzy that it will send me either to bed, or to the toilet. The contrarian in me usually, but not always, proven right.

Youíre from Ohio and you write about Ohio but you work in New York. Do you consider yourself Midwestern or are you definitely a New Yorker?
When Iím in New York, Iím a Midwesterner, but when Iím back home in Ohio Iím definitely a New Yorker. I actually really loved living in Ohio, and was happy there, but when I was growing up, I just always had the feeling that life was happening elsewhere. Even at a very young age, I knew I had to get to that elsewhere, wherever it was. So I guess what Iím saying is that Iíll always probably feel like a displaced Midwesterner.

Did you have a method for organizing your book as you wrote it? A storyboard? Notes? An outline? Or was it all in your head?
Oh, would that I knew what I was doing! I had absolutely no clue about where the story was going, or what was going to happen. Iím like a blind person taking baby-steps in blackness. After Iíd been working on the novel for about a year or so, I knew that I wanted the last word of the book to be ìdreams.î So ìdreamsî was the word, the idea, the lighthouse through the fog, that I worked toward. Other than that, though, it was scary how little I knew about anything.

Can you give an example of a good story (or type of story) that youíve had to pass on because itís not right for Esquire, and what a story that is in Esquireís tone and sensibility is?
Hmm, well, I occasionally like some historical fiction ñ I recently read a really great historical piece ñ but Esquire canít publish anything like that.

You wrote the contributorís notes for McSweeneyís #1. How did you get that gig?
Dave was an editor at Esquire for about a year. We started there at exactly the same time, our offices were right next to each other ñ although there were far fewer empty Snapple bottles on my office floor than on his -- and we were about the same age, which meant we were a lot younger than anyone else. Anyway, we were friends, and I helped do some stuff for the first issue of McSweeneyís.

What are you working on now?
Iím working on something that Iím privately referring to as my ìthingy.î Thatís the file name on my hard-drive, actually: ìTHINGY.î It seems too grandiose to call it a novel yet.

How does it feel to be the 126th person interviewed for
Itís great! I love it! One-twenty-six, who wouldnít love that, to be right at the end? Seriously, though, youíve been very nice. Keep up the good work.

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