This week's interviewee just published a new book called Soulmates, described as "A novel of marriage, meditation, and all the spaces in between -- a page-turning mystery, a delicious satire of our feel-good spiritual culture, and a nuanced look at contemporary relationships." Her previous novel, excellently titled Sad Desk Salad, pulled from her experience as former editor at Slate and Jezebel. While she and I ran in the same e-circles for a long time it was her parenting writing at Slate that really made me a fan due to her curiosity and steeliness when tackling topics like the reality of quitting work to become a stay-at-home dad or the financial cost of a miscarriage. These days, she is the editor of Lenny, the email newsletter from Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner.
What's the process like of crafting a mystery? How do you know what will be genuinely surprising vs. convoluted or obvious?
I try to make things pretty organic. I don't outline before I write, I just let one plot event lead to another. The way to keep things fairly believable is to make sure they're supported earlier in the book, so I'll often go back and seed things so if the reader thinks about it, they'll see that there was a bit of foreshadowing and it's not totally ridiculous. I also alway keep in mind human emotional responses to things. I think that goes a long way, when there is thought and care put into the way characters react to unusual situations.
You just had your second kid. Aside from the fact that she looks like a photocopy of the first, what's the same this time around? What's different?
What's the same is that I have very miserable pregnancies and very easy babies. This one sleeps pretty well, eats pretty well, and doesn't fuss too much (hopefully this continues). What's different its that I now see that easy babies are pretty fucking easy to deal with compared to emotionally complex yet very rewarding almost 4-year-olds. The baby's needs are simple: eat, sleep, poop. Occasional tummy time. The older one's needs are ever-changing.
I've loved your parenting writing. Do you read books on parenting? If so, which are the most of interest to you?
I actually try not to read any parenting self-help because I find it too anxiety producing-slash-eye-rolly. I don't want to worry about every single thing I'm doing right or wrong and I don't want to read about the details of making placenta smoothies. I really do believe in just listening to my pediatrician and trying to do things that instinctively make sense. That said, I really enjoyed All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior, which is more about the state of parenting in America than a manual about how to raise kids, and I must confess I read Bringing Up Bebe because it was a lot of fun and I also am much more French than Brooklyn in my approach to little ones.
After you had your second kid, did you start seeing your first differently?
It's too soon to tell, honestly. The second one isn't even 3 months old yet so we need to wait for her personality to emerge. I suspect it will change our view of number 1 once number 2 is more than an adorable poop monster.
I know the second one is just a little baby but what's it like to be a woman with two daughters? (I ask because I still haven't adjusted to being a woman with two sons.)
HA! It's kind of great? Honestly I was very relieved that I never had to grow a tiny penis inside me because that always seemed weird. Also, this is cheesy, but I just adore them for themselves and can't imagine it being any other way. Get back to me when they're teenagers and I might have a more elaborate response.
How has the internet changed, for you, since you wrote Sad Desk Salad?
Well, I'm lucky enough to have a day job where I don't have to produce content multiple times a day. We're a twice-weekly publishing schedule so it's really lovely to ignore Twitter for half a day while I'm editing or writing things. Of course I can't disconnect from the news churn entirely, but I don't have to be as much of a slave to it either.
What do you have time to read these days, for pleasure?
When I am falling asleep I tend to read nonfiction about slutty British aristocrats of the early 20th century.
Speaking of reading, why should people sign up for Lenny Letter? What will they get from it that they won't get anyplace else?
They will get a diverse set of female voices writing about things they feel passionate about. I think the mix of people you will hear from in Lenny and the kinds of topics they are writing about is more varied and surprising than almost anywhere.
What are you looking at in your author photo?
I think my dad? It was a candid my mom took in 2011. I will probably have to change it soon on accounta being old.
How does it feel to be the 424th person interviewed for Zulkey.com?
It's a goddamn delight!