1. Tell us about your latest book.
Sexless in the City is a memoir of reluctant chastity that looks at the questions of identity raised for post-sexual revolution women — supposedly free to have sex however we please but at the same time, still often defined and valued by our sexuality. The book began as a tongue-in-cheek blog about my love life, but the longer format also gave me a chance to wrestle with the deeper theological issues. When obeying the God of the Bible in one’s sexuality means forestalling sex for a marriage that has no guarantee of happening, you pretty quickly start to either a) cheat a bit in your adherence or b) wrestle with questions like, “Is this God real? Is he good? What if marriage is not in the cards for me?” Etc.
2. How did you get started as a writer?
As a little girl, I used to whisper stories to myself in bed every night, usually about how I hoped to meet and be courted by my future husband. I never seemed to get very far with writing down that nightly saga, but around junior high, I did begin to produce a few-page monthly newsletter for my grandparents and a penpal, which I dubbed The Tardy Tribune. This led to journalism classes in high school and a two-year stint at a college daily. Under the advisement of a writing mentor, however, I chose to major in something other than writing, so drifted a bit until I moved to New York in 2002, fresh out of grad school. The city was such an overwhelming experience – and my loved ones were so concerned about my fate there, as I’d moved with no job and scant savings – so I started writing these little “update emails” with observations on my life. These little essays acquired more of structure as time went on, and set up the launch of my pseudonymous love-life blog in 2004. In 2005, I landed the book deal with Doubleday by an extraordinary stroke of providence.
3. What does a typical day look like for you?
Since I work full-time at an editing job in San Francisco (I live north of Berkeley), I usually wake up at 7:25, turn on the coffee maker, do a quick toilet, grab my coffee, a green smoothie, lunch containers, my purse and a bag for knitting and catch the 8:04 BART into the city to catch my bus up to the office. Typically I leave work between 5 and 5:30, walk to BART (sometimes stopping to grab a latte at the North Beach institution, Caffe Trieste) and get home between 6:30 and 7, later if I lingered on my walk.
On more successful days, I’ve managed to get some cooking/email/writing/editing in before going to bed around midnight, but my goal is to start going to bed closer to 10 and getting up sometime between 5 and 6 a.m. to do a little writing while I’m at my freshest. I’m the farthest thing from a morning person, but putting writing at the end of my day rather than the start just hasn’t worked well. A compromise has been to write during my commute, which has worked well, but for longer, more-intense sessions, I need to be able to concentrate longer than those little bursts allow.
4. Describe your desk/workspace.
Golly, which one? At work, I have a big U-shaped desk strewn with papers, plastic bags from snacks, old bus transfers and other such odds-n-ends. The walls of my cubes are dotted with postcards from friends, art my cousin’s kids and other children have sent me, all but two of the Starbucks “song of the day” series when they were doing that promotion, and a couple posters from shows at a local gallery. Oh, and a picture of Mr. Rogers from a sweater party on his birthday last year, a calendar, and a little wall hanging from India with painted birds on it.
At home, there’s little usable work space, but the piles are more organized than at work. I also have more upright organizers for stationery, pens, sewing supplies and the like. That desk also has various pieces of half-eaten chocolate sitting on wrappers, since my taste for chocolate seems to go in and out like a radio signal during a storm.
5. Favorite books (especially for writers)
I haven’t been as good as I ought to be about reading seriously, but I’ve been enjoying the short stories of John Cheever lately and very slowly reading through Flannery O’Connor’s Mystery and Manners. One of the most thought-provoking books I’ve read about the life of the writer is Cyril Connolly’s Enemies of Promise, which a friend sent me. A really fascinating read, even 80 years later.
6. Tell us 3 interesting/crazy things about you.
I was homeschooled through eighth grade, I once temped at a truck-driver training school (the only office I’ve been in that didn’t have a computer!) and I did most of the work to change my own brake pads on my first car, which was a red Geo Metro I called the Eunuch.
7. Favorite quote
The only one I can ever remember is Mark Twain: “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society.”
8. Best and worst part of being a writer
The worst part, I think, is how easily you can succumb to laziness if you’re not careful. Deadlines provide some accountability, of course, but I think the harder thing is when you’re between projects. If the writing isn’t your income, it becomes easy to keep on living out of your last project too long, rather than continuing to grow and try things. The best part of being a writer is when those rare and wonderful sentences come to you that make music each time you say them. That and when some other wonderfully serendipitous thing happens in the process, like a description that works on both a literal and figurative level. Those are moments of real joy.
9. Advice for other writers
Find other people who will give you painful feedback when you need it, help you get unstuck when you can’t seem to find your way out of a scene, and generally help you be the writer you want to be but aren’t yet and maybe even lack the courage to become. Community is huge. At the same time, though, pick your influences carefully. Try to find people who will help you become strong where you’re weak, rather than encouraging or enabling you to continue in mediocrity.
10. Tell us a story about your writing experience.
Recently I was going through some old papers and came across copies of the newsletter I’d created in junior high – The Tardy Tribune. I was writing it at the same time as a massive immersion in romance novels – Silhouette, Harlequin, that sort of thing. Because of that habit, the novels made occasional appearances in my newsletter – sometimes in book reviews and, in the particular issue I found, a sample vignette I’d penned myself. It was just one scene, but to read it now, I was surprised how well I’d captured the genre. Maybe I could pitch it to Stephen Colbert, for next time he wants to do a romance novel read-off …
Where can people buy your book?
Sexless in the City is available at all major bookstores, online and offline, but it’s probably more likely to be in stock online. If you buy it through my website, www.sexlessinthecity.net, you can also hear samples of all the songs I quote in the book, and buy part or all of the soundtrack through iTunes. The artists who let me quote them were really amazing about the terms of the use, so I really want to encourage people to explore their music. So much great stuff!