The Sweetest Debut: Abbi Waxman on Music, Pictures, and the Abiding Horror of ‘Goodnight Moon’

Welcome to The Sweetest Debut, a new and regular installment in which we reach out to debut (or near-debut, we’re flexible!) fiction, poetry and nonfiction authors working with presses of all sizes and find out about their pop culture diets, their writing habits, and how they explain their books to different people in their lives. This time: Abbi Waxman on her debut novel The Garden of Small Beginnings, which is out now via Berkley.

What is your elevator pitch to folks in the industry describing your book?

The Garden of Small Beginnings is a book about a young widow getting her shit back together. Plus, it has pictures.

What you tell your relatives it’s about?

I tell them it’s got pictures. My relatives are simple folk.

How long was this project marinating in a draft or in your head before it became a book deal?

For over seven years. No shit. It took a really long time because my kids kept insisting I raise them instead, which is utterly typical.

Name a canonical book you think is totally overrated.

No. Firstly because I never bad-mouth other writers, even if they’re dead, and secondly because I haven’t read enough of the Good Books to have an opinion. If I don’t like a book very much I’ll stop reading it.

Name a book you’ve read more than two times.

Fucking Goodnight Moon. Wait, actually, THERE’S a canonical book that’s over rated. It doesn’t even rhyme properly! It’s creepy! There’s an old woman watching over a terrified bunny while a bowl of mush cools on the bedside table. There are mice in the room and tiny socks! It’s like a movie by Guillermo Del Toro. Except, you know, less well art-directed. I hated reading that book, and yet I probably read it… [does math on her fingers, three kids, let’s say three times a week for five years each] 2,340 times. Shiver.

Name a book or other piece of art that influenced your writing for this particular project.

It’s always music. I waste hours of time farting about on iTunes putting together play lists before I start, and then remaking them whenever I get stuck.

What’s the last movie you saw in theaters?

Get Out. I thought it was great.

Do you listen to music while you’re writing? If so, what kind?

Like I said, the music is totally key. I like pretty much all kinds except thrash metal or gospel music.

Who is your fashion icon?

The buyer at Target.

If you could buy a house anywhere in the world just to write in, where would it be?

I like the house I have. But if we could just move it to a cliff top on the Amalfi coast, that would be cool. Or a valley in Wales. Or Manhattan. Shit, can we just put in on legs?

What did you initially want to be when you grew up?

Older.

Did you have a New Year’s resolution for 2017? If so, what?

No. I’ve resolved to give up resolving. It’s efficient, effective, and the only resolution I’ve never broken.

Do you prefer a buzzing coffee shop or silent library?

Usually the former, but sometimes the latter. As long as there’s coffee.

Is morning writing or late-night writing your go-to-time?

First thing in the morning.

Do you tend towards writing it all out in one big messy draft and then editing, or perfecting as you go (or something in between)?

In between. It’s a giant clusterfuck of stop-and-go, long stretches of panic followed by days of solid productivity, and then back to the panic.

If you could write fanfiction about any pop culture character, real or imagined, who would it be?

I’ll be honest, I don’t like messing around with other people’s characters. It’s like screwing someone else’s husband. Bad karma.

Care to give us a few sentences of micro-fiction about that character?

Nope, see above. Not to be a bitch or anything, it just doesn’t appeal to me. I like making up my own people. And dogs. I love writing about dogs.