Alison Espach's Blog
July 18, 2012
Here's the most recent interview from Flavorwire. It's part of an interview series on the direction of American fiction, in which I predict nothing about the future of American fiction, and project on it all of my fears. Also, you'll notice there is a rose stuffed in my mouth and that my complexion is rather bloodless.
The Future of American Fiction: An Interview with Alison Espach
by Geoff Mak . Posted on 2:01 pm Tuesday Jul 17, 2012
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If you haven’t noticed, we spend a lot of time thinking about literature here in the Flavorpill offices, digging through its past, weighing its current state, and imagining its future. Take a look at our bookshelves and you’ll find us reading everything from Nobel Prize winners to age-old classics to paperbacks printed at the bookstore down the street. Call it Chick-Lit, Hysterical Realism, Ethnic-Lit, or Translit — if it’s good fiction, we’ll be talking about it. So this summer, we’re launching The Future of American Fiction: an interview series expanding on that endless conversation about books we love, and yes, the direction of American fiction, from the people who’d know. Every Tuesday from now through August, we’ll bring you a short interview with one of the writers we think is instrumental in defining that direction.
This week we spoke with Alison Espach, whose debut novel The Adults is the defining novel for recovering debutantes from Connecticut. The novel is narrated by Emily, a high school freshman, who grows up in the privileged world of investment bank commuters and desperate housewives. Her padded life suddenly unravels when she wakes early one morning after a sleepover, and looks out her kitchen window to witness her neighbor’s suicide. Meanwhile, her classmates provide anything but comfort (i.e. The fat girl in class gets nicknamed ABOB, which stands for “Annie The Bird or Bear” because nobody can decide if her nose makes her a bird, or if her fat makes her a bear). Satire, obviously. But amidst the byzantine cruelty only privileged high schoolers are capable of, grace is found in the secret, illicit relationship that develops between Emily and her English teacher. Espach never excuses the relationship, but she never indicts it either. Amidst a world of cheese platters and art auctions, their relationship simply surfaces as something real while everything else in Emily’s world just seems sterilized. Espach joined us to talk about her novel, love and morality, and the thing we know as “white girl fiction.”
How would you describe the state of American fiction today? Is there anything you love or hate about it?
I love how many different places you can find fiction. You can find a daily dose on Five Chapters every morning. You can still find it printed in periodicals like The New Yorker, Harper’s. You can find it in 140 characters on Twitter. You can find it on individual author blogs. You can find it through small university presses, in strange and eclectic literary magazines. And I’ll stop there, because this is starting to sound like Oh, The Places You’ll Go.
I hate the increasing need for an established platform before you sell your first book. I hate how it’s much easier to sell a book if you have 20,000 blog followers than if you don’t.
You’ve said before that you saw tension as “characters feeling emotions they shouldn’t” and plot as “characters struggling for power they don’t have.” How did that factor in when writing about the relationship between Emily and Mr. Basketball?
I say that because that’s the only way plot makes sense to me. Bombs and car chases and bank heists never really did it for me. Maybe that’s because I grew up with two older brothers and watched too many Arnold movies and became desensitized to that kind of drama at an early age. To me, the most excruciating conflict is the private conflict, the stuff inside us we try to hide from everybody, except perhaps the reader. I get lost in big plot sometimes, in obvious conflict. But when I think of the story as a series of small and subtle power shifts, it becomes a lot easier to write that middle chunk of the novel, the small scenes in between the big scenes.
In your novel The Adults, Mr. Basketball is 24 when he first sleeps his 15-year-old high school student Emily. I was also 24 when I read the book, and I couldn’t help but see myself in his position, which made me angrier, though more empathetic. You also must have been around the same age when writing his character — did you ever struggle with your own moral judgment when writing him? How much, if at all, do you think people should read with moral judgment?
It’s much easier when your characters make bad decisions — if everybody did what they were supposed to in The Adults, there would have been no plot. So in that sense, I didn’t really struggle much while writing Mr. Basketball. Because the story is told through Emily, a young teenage girl ripe for attention, it was easy to see what she would desire in Mr. Basketball, what she would ignore, and what she wouldn’t see at all. When you’re in love, you (or well, me) can do a lot of dumb things, things that don’t make sense out of context or to an outside audience. It’s weirdly difficult to see who it is you love, the person you are the closest to. For me, it’s taken years after a break-up (Why did he used to get embarrassed when I ordered fajitas? He kept a manikin in his living room window?). And so on. I wanted Emily’s arch to feel like that, like she was slowly opening her eyes. It’s not until the end of the book where she has her first real glimpse of Mr. Basketball. I think that’s a lot of what the coming-of-age tale is about, a young person who finally understands what it is she’s seeing.
Incidentally, two of the novels many consider as the “first modern novel” are about a bored suicidal housewife, and an older man who sleeps with a twelve year old girl. You worked with similar subjects in The Adults, except set during contemporary times. To what extent do you think writing about a young, rich girl in privileged Connecticut still matters to readers today?
Ha. Oh, I don’t know. I think any story matters as long as it’s interesting. And how do you know if it’s interesting? I don’t know. You really have to trust your gut on that one and believe whatever interests you may just interest someone else. I think for a story about a young, rich girl in privileged Connecticut is obviously not going to be one of survival. A lot of plots are built on these basic survival needs — Robinson Crusoe, Hunger Games, The Road, etc. But if a character — like Emily — has tap water to drink and Go-Gurt in the food closet, then the story becomes about the less obvious needs she might have. We always wants something, even if we seem to have everything, and if you can find what it is that’s missing, you may have found a story.
Where do you see American fiction going — or, perhaps, where do you hope and/or dread it will go?
I live in desperate fear that books will disappear. I don’t think stories will ever go away — in some form or another, we’ll always have stories. But the actual pages you can feel. I worry about books disappearing the way I worry about getting cancer, getting hit by a car. Which is, to say, quite a lot.
What was the last good book you read?
I’m going to break the rules and mention two books because one hasn’t been published yet. One great book that you should buy right this second: The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. One great debut novel that everyone should buy this summer when it’s published is Wild Girls by Mary Stewart Atwell.
Illustration by Geoff Mak
July 9, 2012
By The Lady Aye
Based on one woman’s opinion (mine), let’s say there was a scale of things that are concurrently punk rock and female. Further let’s say that the scale runs from a Wendy O. Williams being beat up by the cops for “indecency” (10-totally punk rock) to Avril Lavigne for Kohl’s (zero-complete absence of punk rockness); Gorgeous Ladies of Bloodwrestling rates around a 3.2 (or, Grace Jones hula hoops at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.) That is, it might once have been edgy and a statement, but now it seems more like harmless fun and good exercise.
Thank you all who submitted, it's always a blast reading the entries. Check back here for the summer contest judged by Karen Thompson Walker, author of The Age of Miracles. If you haven't read it yet, go read it -- it's a great story about the slowing of the earth's rotation and will make you feel bad and ungrateful for complaining about the heat wave. And not appreciating gravity. Until then.
June 28, 2012
Michael Showalter Humor Contest is re-opening for this weekend and new deadline to submit (if you haven't already) will be Monday, June 2. Generally speaking, the rules are: Be funny in any way and any form in 100 words or less. Subscribe to this blog. Email entry to email@example.com with subject NO PUNCHLINE PUNCHLINE. Michael Showalter will be the judge. Winner gets free copy of Mr. Funny Pants! For more detailed guidelines, click here: Guidelines.
The good news: if you thought about submitting and didn't, well, you still can! My apologies for the delay to those who have already submitted. My general excuse for everything these days is that I moved to Alabama. Every second takes two here. Though mathematically, that still doesn't explain it.
Regardless, get those entries in, and winner will be announced by July 4. Just in time to purchase your fireworks at Big Daddy's and celebrate. Right?
Check back here for winners and future Alabama-related posts that will answer questions such as a) who are your new friends?
Creature that lives outside apartment
and b) why do you have to go to the Davy Crockett State Park in Tennessee in order to close your Bank of America account?
March 26, 2012
Or a boyfriend who pretends he has to move; "I'm moving to California" was his great joke, and me -- so relieved to
hear what I think is news -- said,"Oh, okay."
In my experience, April Fool's humor can foster the worst kind of laughter, where one person comes out the victor and the other person is not laughing at all. It often results in re-established boundaries and permanent damage (oil stains and unexpected break-ups), and the punchline (April Fool's!) offers little relief.
So. I'm calling upon you writer folks to make it a much more amusing day.
THE CONTEST: NO-PUNCHLINE PUNCHLINE. In 100 words or less, write something that amuses. It's as simple as that.
THE JUDGE: Michael Showalter
He was a
founding member of the sketch comedy troupe, The State, which ran for three
seasons on MTV. Michael is
also a member of the comedy trio Stella, and, along with Michael Ian Black and
David Wain, starred in its eponymous Comedy Central series. Both Stella's full
series and national tour are available on DVD.
co-wrote, co-produced and starred in the cult comedy "Wet Hot American Summer."
He directed, wrote and starred in the IFC Films romantic comedy, "The Baxter"
co-starring Michelle Williams, Elizabeth Banks and Justin Theroux. He has
toured the country performing stand-up comedy and his stand-up comedy record,
"Sandwiches & Cats" was released in November of 2007 on the JDub Records
label. Michael and
longtime collaborator Michael Black co-wrote, co-directed, and co-starred in a
well-acclaimed series for Comedy Central, "Michael and Michael Have Issues,"
newly available on DVD. Showalter also created a popular web interview series
on Collegehumor.com called "The Michael Showalter Showalter."
teaches screenwriting at NYU Graduate Film School. His comedic memoir, "Mr.
Funny Pants," hits shelves February 24, 2011 and is published by Hachette Book
(Bio via Michaelshowalter.com)
One free copy of Showalter's memoir, Mr. Funny Pants.
Other prizes TBA.
No entry fee. To be eligible:
Subscribe to this blog Other Things (on the right margin) so you can be updated on future contests and literary events in NYC.
your entry (no attachments please) to firstname.lastname@example.org by Monday April 2, 7pm EST. Please put NO-PUNCHLINE PUNCHLINE in the subject
line, and include your name somewhere in the email, though all
submissions will be read blind by Michael Showalter.
Winners will be announced here on this blog shortly thereafter.
March 21, 2012
So, today, I got on this plane...
Emphasis on this propeller....
Ended up here...
Wyoming. I can't believe there are places that are this beautiful. If you live in the house pictured above, or in other houses of Wyoming not pictured, please come to the Riverton Public Library reading on Friday night at 7pm. Will be reading, signing books, and agreeing with you about how beautiful everything is.
March 15, 2012
Enrollment for my Monday night fiction workshop has begun!
(Click here for sound of Westminster Abbey chimes).
This 7-week workshop will be from April 23-June 11, 7:30-10pm. Two chances to workshop your own original short fiction. All classes will be held in Park Slope.
This will be my last workshop in NYC this year, so if you've ever wanted to join, now would be that time. Email me (address on my personal website) if you'd like to sign up, and prepare to send a short writing sample my way.
March 13, 2012
Gabe Wilson photographer extraordinaire came by my apartment last week to shoot photos for a project he is working on about authors and Brooklyn. Here is what would have been a very stoic and professional-seeming shot had I remembered to remove the dirty t-shirt I stuffed there earlier that day in effort to "clean up" for the photographer who was coming.
My hand, trying to write a novel. The Maxwell House, impressively steaming:
I wasn't going to post the last shot because it's of my cat, and that would be the second time this week I posted about her. But then I remembered how I warned about this kind of thing happening (ratio of cat photos to other photos) in blog post 1, way back when I was a wee little blogger.
A spot of sunlight suddenly appeared on the ceiling, in case you're wondering.
March 12, 2012
February 16, 2012
It was my father's year for spring break, and when I
returned with beach photos my mother lingered on a picture of us holding sand
dollars. Her heavy thumb fretted ocean, sand dollar, smile. The
next day I saw the same picture on the fridge but folded in half, minus a
father. It stuck out from the artwork and newspaper clippings like a
pop-up card. "Why didn't you just tear it?" I asked pointing to the space
where he should have been. She leaned toward the stove's open mouth.
"That would ruin it."
SECOND PLACE: Fraylie Nord
Jane's cat drowned on the morning
Hurricane Floyd made landfall. The school had shuttered its windows on Tuesday,
and Jane's mother woke early to mount the whole basement on risers. At
daybreak, the sky hummed with pungent odors of low tide. Jane would not begin
sixth grade for another week. Her mother warned, don't let that damn stray
into my house.
Within hours, the basement filled
with five feet of water. A neighbor entered bearing a canoe. When the flood
cleared, Jane held her waterlogged cat, softly closing the window where it had
entered in fear of the rising storm.
THIRD PLACE: Bailey McCann
"I miss you. I'd like to see you, if
you're free," his text said. "I'd like that," she replied.. He called the next
day. "I'd like to see you," he repeated. "Just so you know, she moved in with
me. I just want to be honest. Do you still want to see me?" "Sure." She had no
idea why she said this. "How's lunch Wednesday?" "Great." They hung up. Tuesday
passed without details on where to meet. She said nothing. Three weeks was the
longest he'd ever gone without contacting her. She braced. On the third
Thursday, it gave way.
Congratulations to the winners, and thanks to all who submitted. Check back in for a humor contest in April judged by Michael Showalter!
February 13, 2012
Besides my shifty eye-movement and the fact that I only talk out of one side of my mouth, here is the awesome video sort of explaining why, when given all the characters in all the fictional land, we want to date Canadians.
I tried pairing this with a video of Joey Potter from Dawson's Creek because all I remember about the show is that Katie Holmes talked out of one side of her mouth (and that I watched it after my Wednesday night Advanced Hip-Hop class, my first and only dance class ever...more on this sadness later). But I googled "Joey Potter talks out of one side of mouth" and got a video of a baby koala trying to eat. A win. Enjoy.
And you have a few hours to get in your entries for One Hundred Words of Heartbreak, closes today at 5pm!