Lit Hub Asks: 5 Authors, 7 Questions, No Wrong Answers
Kiley Reid, Paul Yoon, Jessica Andrews, and More
The Lit Hub Author Questionnaire is a monthly interview featuring seven questions for five authors with new books. This month we talk to:
Jessica Andrews (Saltwater)
Liz Moore (Long Bright River)
Kiley Reid (Such a Fun Age)
Scarlett Thomas (Oligarchy)
Paul Yoon (Run Me to Earth)
Without summarizing it in any way, what would you say your book is about?
Jessica Andrews: Mothers and daughters. Bodies. The unsaid. Pushing and pulling. Holding and letting go. Social class. Wanting to become a different person. Learning how to speak in your own voice.
Paul Yoon: America’s war against Communism, histories in shadows, destruction, people left behind, orphans, interrogations, conversations, hospitals, the environment, landscapes, escapes, minefields, motorbikes, families, borders, immigration, loneliness, anger, loss, love, hope.
Liz Moore: Sisterhood, addiction, class, police work and police corruption, parenthood, single parenthood, childcare issues.
Scarlett Thomas: Power. Peer pressure. Period stains. 1999 Bollinger.
Kiley Reid: A comedy of good intentions. Performative wokeness as a symptom of white supremacy. Living without health care. The difference between income and wealth.
Without explaining why and without naming other authors or books, can you discuss the various influences on your book?
Scarlett Thomas: Intense boarding school episode from my life. Pointless YouTube posts about “What I eat in a day.” Vanessa Paradis in the 1980s. Slam books. Boys. Deliquescence. Missing fathers. Being discovered. Being lost.
Jessica Andrews: Fake tan, fish markets, indie discos. A photograph of my mam in the 80s with a curly perm in a man’s shirt knotted at the waist. Her Marc Bolan record from the same era. Sun-In hair dye, pink Converse. Anger. Loss.
Kiley Reid: The number 3. Philadelphia. Books about money. The Internet. Using a Groupon to receive a teeth cleaning at the dentist. Group texts. Too many children to name.
Paul Yoon: Visits to museums, the climate crisis, Madrid and Barcelona and the Costa Brava, the Tile Museum in Lisbon, the death of John Berger, seeing roadkill every day while running along the Charles River, then seeing the birth of all the goslings every year along the same river.
Liz Moore: The visits I paid to and community work I did in Kensington, Philadelphia. Falling into internet rabbitholes re: police corruption. Having a family with a history of addiction. Having a sister. Having children. Sleep deprivation. Anxiety.
Without using complete sentences, can you describe what was going on in your life as you wrote this book?
Paul Yoon: A whole lot of running, crying, eating, traveling, thinking about the lives of animals, walking my dog.
Scarlett Thomas: Nope. Only the book remains. Maybe gin?
Jessica Andrews: Turf fires, whiskey, bruised skies, endless fields.
Kiley Reid: New York. Arkansas. Iowa. A lot of false starts and literary throat clearing.
Liz Moore: First pregnancy. Childbirth. Babyhood. Sleep deprivation. Toddlerhood. New job. Second pregnancy. New house. Childbirth. Babyhood. Sleep deprivation.
What are some words you despise that have been used to describe your writing by readers and/or reviewers?
Jessica Andrews: “Manic pixie dream girl” and “ennui in a vintage frock” (although I do think the second one would make a good author bio).
Scarlett Thomas: Feisty. Disappointing. Cruel.
Paul Yoon: Quiet. What’s so quiet about my work? I never understood that.
Liz Moore: Quirky. (I’ve gotten that one for almost every book I’ve written so far, but maybe not for this one? We’ll see.)
Kiley Reid: I don’t mind when people call my writing “easy” but I do mind the notion that my writing style is a means to ease a reader into reading about class and race. Comfort of the reader is never a concern of mine.
If you could choose a career besides writing (irrespective of schooling requirements and/or talent) what would it be?
Liz Moore: Last time I did this exercise, I said I’d like to be a public radio personality and then a public radio personality (Marty Moss-Coane) found my answer online and asked me about it. This time I’ll just say I’d like to be Marty Moss-Coane and see if she notices.
Kiley Reid: Easy. Gymnast. Olympics-bound. Perpetually 16 years old.
Scarlett Thomas: Ballerina, figure skater, pilot, spy.
Jessica Andrews: I would really like to be a hairdresser. I love the intimacy of it; talking to someone, touching them, helping them transform into another version of themselves and seeing how they change over time.
Paul Yoon: Runner/athlete; or a chef; or managing an animal sanctuary; or all three at the same time.
What craft elements do you think are your strong suit, and what would you like to be better at?
Jessica Andrews: I think I’m good at writing sentences you can wrap your tongue around. I can never remember the dialogue rules and I care about it all too much.
Scarlett Thomas: I think I can sustain mood and voice. I’m OK at small irreverent moments, perhaps not so great on the big stuff. I’m so good at structure that I appear bad at structure, but I’m not sure what the answer is to that. Putting theory into practice in general is something I could be better at.
Paul Yoon: I think I’m decent at setting a stage and guiding the reader through something—having them see what I’m trying to paint. I always want to be better at dialogue. And better at choreographing scenes where there are a lot of things happening at once. I want to be better at chaos.
Liz Moore: I used to say story is my weakness but I’ve actually gotten more interested in story over the years, and—I hope—better at it. Now what I’m working on is pacing.
Kiley Reid: My strong suits are dialogue and plot. I’m not that amazing with structure and I’d like to get better at it, but that is also my editor’s strong suit, so I might just let it slide.
How do you contend with the hubris of thinking anyone has or should have any interest in what you have to say about anything?
Kiley Reid: When I’m writing, my thought process is never, “Will other people be interested in what I have to say?” I think my job as a fiction writer is to tell the truth of human experience. And I also think a healthy amount of hubris is beneficial, as long as the work has priority over the self. If I was in the position to need a surgeon or a firefighter, I’d love to have one with a nice amount of hubris.
Scarlett Thomas: I never think about this; I just tell stories.
Paul Yoon: I’ve thrown away a lot of finished manuscripts because of this. For every book that comes out, I’ve got another different one in the trash that no one will ever see. I’m never convinced anyone is interested in what I write. What I deeply care about is that I want my books to have a dialogue with other books that have inspired me to be a better reader, a better person. If I feel good about that—that maybe my book can exist somewhere beside others that have come before—then I’m okay with seeing it out in the world.
Liz Moore: Self-imposed social media breaks.
Jessica Andrews: I have spent a lot of time making space for other people.