Talking with Furniture: Emma Straub

Emma Straub is from New York City. Her debut story collection Other People We Married, is forthcoming from FiveChapters Books. Her fiction and non-fiction have been published by The Paris Review Daily, Barrelhouse, The Saint Ann’s Review, Cousin Corinne’s Reminder, and many other journals. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband. A more illustrated version of this appears at M + E.


UF Review: We’re really excited about your forthcoming story collection, Other People We Married. How would you describe the book? When did you start writing it?


Straub: Thank you for saying so! I would describe the collection as simultaneously melancholy and hilarious. It’s like a sandwich, with the sad parts hidden inside with the slightly wilty lettuce. I wrote the earliest story in this collection in 2006, and the most recent in late 2010.


UF Review: Does Other People We Married speak, in any way, to your novella, Fly-Over State? Does your work explore any sort of common theme or thread? As a writer, what questions are you interested in answering or perpetuating? What do you want to achieve?


Straub: Well, Fly-Over State is included in the collection, so yes, it absolutely is connected to the aforementioned sad sandwich theme. In truth, It’s hard for me to say which questions I’m answering as a writer, because I certainly don’t start a story with any intention, other that to explore a certain relationship or situation. There are themes that recur: love, alienation, transportation. I’m very inspired by travel, so a lot of these stories take place on the road. I find that my senses are more attuned when I’m out of my normal zone.


UF Review: When writing, do you usually map out your ideas or are you open to improvisation?


Straub: I usually start with an idea of where I want to go, or one particular moment that I know I need to get to, but I don’t outline extensively. I’m working on a novel right now, and I’m on the third version of my outline, because things keep changing. I’m getting better at letting things go where they will.


UF Review: What does your revision process look like? How would you describe the writing life?


Straub: My revision process looks like this: a cup of tea, a cat kneading my stomach, the doorbell ringing, Facebook, Twitter, five solid minutes of work, repeat. I am a very twitchy person, and so it’s hard for me to sit still, especially if I don’t quite know what I’m doing. As for “the writing life,” I really couldn’t say. It certainly involves reading a lot of books, and reading about books, and going places where you find other people who also love books, and lots of sitting alone in a quiet room for hours on end. Mostly it’s the last one, sitting alone in a quiet room for hours on end. Some people can write to music, but I can’t, so it’s just me and the sound of the heat coming through the vents and the cat noises and the click-clack of my fingers on the keys.


UF Review: Which writers do you look up to? Which writers have most influenced your own writing?


Straub: I admire far too many writers to list here, but I’ll make a very abbreviated list: Jennifer Egan, Donna Tartt, Kate Christensen, Maile Meloy, Ann Patchett, Meg Wolitzer, Stephen Millhauser. As for influences, I think I’m influenced by every book I read, to some extent. I love that feeling — oh, you can do that? I had that feeling a lot reading Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad. I wanted to crib something from every page. Lorrie Moore also looms very large for me, to be sure.


UF Review: Elsewhere, you’ve said, “I like my humor to be run through with sadness.” Can you talk about that a little more? For you, how does that paradox work?


Straub: Well, I think there is humor in everything. My husband makes me laugh, my parents make me laugh, my friends make me laugh. Humor has always been my coping mechanism, both on and off the page. All comedians are deeply miserable people. That’s what makes them funny. If someone was happy all the time, how funny could they be?


UF Review: Besides other books, what are your influences? In other words, does writing inform your life or does life inform your writing?


Straub: Well, I love going to the movies — all kinds of movies, even really terrible ones. And traveling, eavesdropping, people-watching, all great hobbies. I use real people in my fiction all the time, and just make up everything about them.


UF Review: You also work for M+E, a pretty successful design company. Does this work help your writing in any way? Is the process of design similar to the process of writing in any way?


Straub: Since M + E is made up of myself, my husband, and our two interns, I am delighted that you called us “pretty successful.” We make screen prints and wedding invitations together, and on his own, my husband designs books jackets and all sorts of other things. Designing has absolutely nothing to do with writing, except in the cases when I act as a copywriter, but even then, it’s a totally different ballgame. Our work is one hundred percent collaborative, which is the opposite of writing. It’s lovely.


UF Review: What are some books you’ve read recently? How were they?


Straub: I recently read Muriel Spark’s Memento Mori, which was sharp and hilarious and should really be read aloud. I also just finished my dear friend Rae Meadows’ third novel, Mothers and Daughters, which is going to knock everyone’s socks off this spring.


UF Review: As a writer, where do you want to go? What’s next?


Straub: Well, I write this from the Margaret Herrick Library in Los Angeles, which is where I would like to stay for about six months. All I need is a cot, my cats, my husband, and some snacks.


UF Review: New York is such a great city — any favorite spots?


Straub: Sure! Bookstores: BookCourt, WORD, McNally Jackson, Housing Works Used Book Cafe. Food: Saltie for sandwiches, Franny’s for pizza, The Farm on Adderly for french fries, Balthazar for baked goods, Frankie’s Spuntino for meatballs. That should get you started.

More interviews at Used Furniture.

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