Brooklyn writer Emma Straub writes short stories — so short, at times, that you’ll miss them when they’re gone. Other People We Married, her first collection, is full of sharply limned observations about love, selfhood, parenthood, and loss. Straub often captures the essence of her characters, many of whom are New Yorkers at home or on the move, in less than a sentence. So it may come as no surprise that she loves Twitter, where she has found a significant following and another avenue to explore her less-is-more approach. But it’s unusual to find an author — much less anyone — who will profess her love of social media without some reservations.
Along with being an avid social media explorer, Straub is also an exemplary independent artist: she works at BookCourt in Cobble Hill, is one half of the design team M+E (the other half is her husband Michael Fusco), and is published by a small press that began as a website. We talked to Straub about her digital life, her craft, and living and writing in New York.
Other People We Married is published by FiveChapters Press, which began as an online magazine that publishes short stories — one story each week, serialized over the course of the week. Now FiveChapters has expanded by publishing your book, along with Jess Row’s Nobody Ever Gets Lost. How did you get involved with FiveChapters, and what does it mean to you to be involved with a publisher that was born on the Internet?
Dave Daley, the publisher of FiveChapters, first contacted me out of the blue about two years ago. He asked me if I would submit a story for the website, which I was delighted to do. It was about a year later than Dave approached me about doing a whole collection, and moving into print. As for working with a brand-new publisher, I think it’s probably much the same as any new venture. We’re still figuring out how it all works. The lovely part is that FiveChapters is only publishing two books at the moment, mine and Jess Row’s, so there are only two hopelessly needy people whining for their attention.
Bookslut recently called you one of the nicest people on Twitter, and rightly so. You seem to have wholeheartedly embraced the site. Lots of authors are on Twitter, but plenty aren’t. As an author and bookseller, what do you like about Twitter, and how do you use it without letting it invade your creative space?
Oh, god, I really do love it. Everyone else thinks I have a massive problem, but I just can’t get enough of it. I have met such phenomenal people through Twitter — many of them writers and booksellers — and truly could spend all day on it totally happily. I think what I enjoy about it is there is always a conversation happening, and there is usually something entertaining to eavesdrop on. As for keeping it out of my creative space, that’s much harder. When I’m writing, I try to turn off the Internet. It doesn’t always work. My willpower is abysmal.
You recently joined Tumblr. What inspired you to join the world of reblogs and endless scrolling?
You know the old saying–if all your friends jumped off into another social media platform, would you jump, too? I guess I would. I still don’t quite know how it works, though. I just posted my diary entry from a year ago today. Is that too weird? I thought I’d use it mostly to post pictures, but I don’t know how to do that yet.
Describe a typical workday (tweets and all!)
Breakfast, tea, Internet, office. Internet Internet Internet. Email email email. Open document. Work email work email work Twitter work Facebook work work work. Lunch. Repeat. Dinner. The Bachelor. Glamorous, no?
Image via Vol. 1 Brooklyn
In a recent essay on the Paris Review website you talked about each of your New York apartments — the mice, the cockroaches, the cigar-scented hallways. How does New York inspire you as a writer? How much does where you live matter to your writing?
The house I live in now is the first where I’ve had my own office, and I love it more than I can say. It feels very important to be able to close a door, to have your own space. Before that, I always wrote in bed. Okay, fine, sometimes I still write in bed, like right this very moment. You caught me. And New York! I love New York. It’s home. I feel very lucky to have grown up here, and grateful to my parents for understanding that New York wasn’t too big or too scary, but just right. In recent years, I haven’t written very much about New York, but it’s all simmering there, toward the back of my brain.
Literary life in New York could be considered an alternative to an MFA, as Chad Harbach wrote in n + 1 recently. You’ve done both. What inspired you to go for an MFA? What are your plans now that you’re back in New York?
I went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison for my MFA, and it did a world of good for my writing. I think the key is this: you need total discipline and dedication to be a writer, which I already had, but you also need to know what the hell you’re doing, which I didn’t. Spending two years devoting myself entirely to reading and writing (in that order) made me much, much better at what I do. I would do it again in a heartbeat. In fact, Madison, will you take me back? I love everyone there. It’s like heaven, with snow, and not very many restaurants. Lots of good hamburgers, though, which is very important.
My plans, now that I’m back in New York, include: figuring out how to make money, writing a dozen novels, spending most of my time with my husband and my cats. That’s all, really.
The stories in OPWM accomplish so much in so little space. In “Rosemary,” about a woman who hires a pet psychic behind her husband’s back when her cat goes missing, you describe the woman’s husband as “a lawyer” who “scoffed easily.” To me this was enough to feel like I knew exactly who this guy was and was married to him myself (no offense to lawyers). I’m wondering how you arrived at your style — how you knew you were going to be the kind of writer you are, and what part your MFA played in that.
Thank you! I think it’s the job of the short story to be concise, and to put as much as possible into a few words, so I take that as a compliment. As for arriving at my style, I think it developed over time. Imagine a musician — at first, you’re just copying John Coltrane, or Whitney Houston, or whoever, but eventually, all that wears away, and you’re just left with yourself.
What are you working on now?
Right now I’m working on a novel about a movie star. It starts in the 1920s, and spans a number of decades. It’s wildly different than anything I’ve done before, which is great fun. That’s the kind of writer I want to be, someone like Jennifer Egan, or Steven Millhauser, where every book is truly a different animal than the last. I guess we’ll see!
Any advice to other young writers emerging in the age of the Internet?
Be friendly. Be kind. Say yes.