Your novel Self-Portrait with Boy is coming out next year and it looks amazing. You got a blurb from Joyce Carol Oates! What was it like you found out JCO was blurbing your work?
Joyce Carol Oates's was the second blurb I got. When you write bunch of letters to a bunch of writers you barely know asking them to read a book they have very little context for, it doesn't seem likely that most—or any!—of them will reply. Still, you try to write a letter that puts your relationship with them in context, and so on. In the case of JCO, I actually took a class with her in college. I was 19, very insecure, and very shy. I wrote a pretty silly, clichéd, plotless story about a teenaged girl who gets rescued from a burning building by a sexy fireman. JCO didn't hold back. She was direct with her critique and honest about its flaws. Being nineteen, I didn't understand that one wasn't simply born an excellent writer. After that workshop I was convinced that I was talentless and stupid, and would never write another short story again. Of course, a few years later I'd start writing in earnest, and the harder I worked the better I'd understand that good writers aren't born so much as self-made. Still, to have this beautiful feedback from JCO, more than a decade later, is incredibly affirming. TBH it's like… man… I feel like I've finally gotten an A in the class of life.
How is your summer going?
My summer is going well! I've been teaching for Sackett Street Writers Workshop, working with a few private writing coaching clients, and planning upcoming classes for the Slice Literary Conference, Catapult, and Ditmas Writers Workshops. Meantime I've been proofreading the novel, and working on a couple of new projects that I'm excited about. I haven't gotten away very much yet, but I do try to get to the beach whenever I can.
I am not one of those people who has a favorite NYC beach. Riis, Rockaways, Sandy Hook, Fort Tilden, doesn't matter; as long as there's ocean nearby, I'm a happy girl. Lying in the hot sun and swimming in the cold water just feels so good. It's like the closest thing we've got to a Scandinavian sauna + ice bath. And hanging out among lots of strangers who've all come there for the same reason you have—to heat up and chill out and let their eyes rest on the horizon—almost feels like a religious experience to me. Plus you overhear the best dialogue. The other day a friend and I heard a couple of middle-aged women in folding chairs behind us talking about false teeth. One said to the other, in this beautiful, deep Brooklyn accent: "She had very, very long teeth. So when she got the fake ones, it was just so obvious."
What's a great novel you've read recently?
I just finished Muriel Spark's Loitering with Intent, which is so funny and witty and strange. I can't recommend it enough. It's a real writer's book, too; in her protagonist, the wry, ambitious, self-absorbed aspiring novelist Fleur Talbot, she evokes a peculiar mix of bemused remove and manic creative obsession that characterizes a certain kind of writerly personality. I reread Philip Roth's upsetting novella Goodbye, Columbus, which is an excellent beach read if you don't mind getting bummed out about classism and existential loneliness. A few other excellent recent debut novels that I've been reading, and must recommend: Robin Wasserman's Girls on Fire, Jessie Chaffee's Florence in Ecastasy, Julie Buntin's Marlena. All of these deal in some way with the darkness and complication of the female experience—a prerequisite for me, as a reader.