Sheltering: Hilary Leichter on Working Remotely (and Other Synonyms for Death)
Episode 4: The Author of Temporary Talks to Maris Kreizman
In today’s episode, Maris Kreizman speaks with debut author Hilary Leichter about her recent novel, Temporary, the story of one woman’s struggle for steadiness and happiness under late capitalism, a subject more relevant than ever. Hilary talks about applying for jobs the way a man would, and having her book take on new meanings already. Please buy her book from your local bookstore!
From the episode:
Maris Kreizman: Welcome to Sheltering. I am so happy to be talking digitally today to the author of Temporary, which is one of my favorite books of the year. Hilary, welcome. Please introduce yourself and tell us how you’re doing.
Hilary Leichter: Thanks for having me, Maris. I’m Hilary Leichter. I’m the author of the novel Temporary, with this beautiful pink face, and I’m doing OK. I’m working from home. Working remotely. Which in my book means something different. It’s a lingo in the book that pirates use for being dead. So, if only I had known when I was writing this.
Maris: It’s really creepy how so many books, seen through the lens of all of this, have completely new meanings, and yours is one of the first ones I thought of.
Hilary: It’s wild. I wish it didn’t—I wish it didn’t have a new meaning. But re-reading parts of it now, I’m kind of shaking my head at myself. Like, Hilary, this is inappropriate in this new world. I really feel like we’re in a new world now. The world has shifted permanently, and so everything that happened before has this aftertaste.
Maris: Well, tell us a little bit more about the book and your original intentions for it.
Hilary: Sure. So, the book is about a woman who works as a temp, but it’s a world that’s not like ours, and it’s a job that’s not like ours. Her job being a temp involves temping for pirates and assassins and temping as a mother and working on a blimp. And the world of the book finds all of this excruciatingly normal. It’s a magnified version of our own kind of capitalism. When I wrote it, I was really just thinking of all of the jobs that I’ve had and trying to put them on the page emotionally. I’ve never worked as a pirate before—
Hilary: No, I haven’t! But I thought that maybe I could find a playful way to talk about the fear that comes from being in an uncertain new workplace, or the morality of certain kinds of jobs, when you’re a little bit on the outside of them. And that’s what I was thinking about. And then after I wrote it, Trump was elected. So, this book has survived two major shifts in the public perception of work and what it all means. And after that, when I was editing it, it turned into a book about how broken capitalism is, and the way that it breaks each of us because it’s broken. And now it means something new! But I think all of that is still in there.
Maris: I mean, your narrator does not have paid sick leave, we know this.
Hilary: She does not, she does not. I mean yeah, it’s a world that’s not like ours, but it’s a world that’s exactly like ours. With all of the formalities taken out. With all of the emails that say, you know, we’re really looking at your best interests here when we tell you X, Y, and Z. We want you to work full-time but with no health insurance and with no sick days and with no security. For her world, it’s just a given.
Maris: And it’s kind of, I mean—it’s a real fake-it-till-you-make-it kind of job situation, and I love watching her fake it for so many. I think that’s a real true emotion anytime you’re thrown into a new work situation.
Hilary: Oh, absolutely. I remember first applying for jobs right out of college and looking at Idealist.org and Monster.com and MediaBistro and GalleyCat, and just applying for jobs that didn’t even exist. I remember I would find jobs that said, “requires one to two years’ experience doing this.” And I would say, oh, well I don’t have that, so I won’t apply to that one. And at a certain point, I realized that I should just do it anyway. And that emotion is definitely in the book—of claiming that you know how to do something because you know you know how to do it. And just learning how to do it on the job. I work as a copyeditor right now, and I had much more of an understanding of Chicago Manual of Style when I started, but a passing understanding of AP, and I was honest about that, but I’ve learned how to do AP Style on the job because I said that I could do it. And I think that’s something that’s broken but also a good lesson to learn, because I also think that when men are applying to jobs, they don’t look at those bullet points, and they just go for it.
Maris: Over those requirements.
Hilary: Exactly. It’s a deeply female thing to say, well, I’m going to follow this to the letter and miss out on something that I’m actually more than qualified to tackle.
Maris: Speaking of a deeply female thing, in a good way, you are—Temporary is the last Emily Book.
Hilary: I know. I’m so sad. For those who don’t know, Emily Books—[holds up book spine] that little E right there—is this wonderful project by Emily Gould and Ruth Curry. They’ve published books like Mean by Myriam Gurba, Problems by Jade Sharma, I’ll Tell You in Person, The Gift—just wonderful, experimental titles that don’t really fit into any description, that have no comps, that are just their own thing. They’ve been publishing these books for years through Coffee House, as an imprint of Coffee House Press, and this is their last title. I think it’s maybe a signal that the world is ready to publish books like these at larger houses, but I also am sad for the loss of their voice and their taste. They’re so ahead of their time in every way. I mean, I’m not even talking about my book. I feel like their vision was seven years ahead of the time in terms of what people are looking to read right now.
Maris: So, was it your first event that was digitally with Emily at Books Are Magic?
Hilary: Yeah, so, my book tour was cancelled, like everyone else’s obviously. But it was the date that was early in his whole isolation process, and so things were still open, and people were still out, going to restaurants. So, we went to Books Are Magic the day of the launch and recorded a short, ten-minute Q&A about the book. It was really fun, actually. It was something special that I don’t think I would’ve had the chance to do otherwise. And Emma Straub was there participating, and it was lovely. It was really lovely. And then that night, the debut writer Emma Copley Eisenberg, who’s a friend of mine, and my husband organized a surprise Zoom launch, and that was lovely. I thought it was going to be my mom and my in-laws, and I would read to them and it would be something silly, and he turned the computer around and it was all of these faces, and it was really overwhelming.
Maris: That’s really wonderful. Sad, but wonderful.
Hilary: Sad, but very moving. And also, it got me thinking about accessibility in new ways. Something that I did not think about until I was looking for a place for my launch was finding an accessible bookstore in New York, for people who have trouble walking, for people in wheelchairs, for people who can’t see or hear. And Books Are Magic is accessible; they have two different spaces too, which I think is extremely helpful. But a lot of spaces are not. A lot of spaces you have to walk down a flight of stairs or walk up a flight of stairs. There’s no elevator. And seeing all of the faces of people I love on Zoom, some of whom have toddlers and wouldn’t have been able to come otherwise, and some of whom live far away, and some of whom it would have just been a challenge getting there physically. I think there’s an opportunity here to reconsider what a book event should look like and who we can include with this new kind of medium.
Maris: I mean, my dog has been loving it.
Hilary: Yeah! Oh, I love seeing the dogs. More dogs at book events in general.
Maris: Tell me about—you’ve been working as a copyeditor. What else have you been doing at home?
Hilary: Well, I’m teaching this semester at Columbia Zoom University. I haven’t had my first class yet because they keep getting postponed, so my first session with my seminar is on Tuesday this week, and we’re reading—[moves to grab a book] I’m not wearing pants, so I’m not going to stand up, I just realized—but it’s a time travel seminar. It’s a seminar on time travel in fiction, and we’re reading They Will Drown in Their Mother’s Tears, which is a title from Two Line Press, so I’m really excited for that. I think that reading about time travel—again, in this time—is not something I had anticipated. And they’re so smart, and I can’t wait to hear what they have to say about everything; they’re just, they’re brilliant. And what else am I doing? I’m not writing anything.
Maris: Oh, come on.
Hilary: No. And I’m having a lot of trouble reading too; I want to be honest. I don’t know, I just am so distracted right now. I’m so, like—I sit down to look at a book, and I find that an hour has passed and I’m just scrolling through Twitter.
Maris: I have no idea what you’re talking about!
Hilary: I know, I know. It’s hard to focus on anything, so I’m looking forward to the return of attention. And also, we’ve been spending a lot of time having happy hour dates with our friends—
Hilary: —who live a mile away but are now as far away as my friends in California. So, that’s been really nice too. Just checking in with each other and making sure everyone’s OK.
Maris: And what have you been eating? What are your quarantine snacks?
Hilary: Oh my god. The snacking is a problem, right? Because I need to start rationing snacks. I’ve been making a lot of giant casseroles of food and then freezing them, and then immediately eating all the containers. So we made this—I love making this even not in quarantine—but we made a giant casserole of orzo where you don’t have to boil it, you just put the sauce in and a little bit of water and whatever vegetables you like, and cheese, and then bake it. It’s easy. And then, our electricity—not our electricity, our gas was not turned on for the first two weeks we were here, so we had no stove, so I made a lot of crockpot concoctions. A lot of beans. A lot of beans. A lot of beans on toast.
Maris: People are eating a lot of beans these days.
Hilary: Yep. Chicken and beans, beans and rice, just all sorts of beans. Which, you know, is great other times too. I’m very pro-bean.
Maris: Good. We should all be pro-bean.
Hilary: Last night though, we made—I want to share this because this is like, it shows our mental state. But I live with my husband, and we made this giant plate of hint-of-lime tortilla chips with cheese, microwaved, and then just like avocado and whatever was going bad in the fridge thrown on top, and we had nachos for dinner.
Maris: That’s wonderful.
Hilary: I’m proud of that.
Maris: Yeah, that’s really, really good. Thank you so much!
Hilary: Thank you! This is great. Thank you for doing this and for supporting everyone during this time.
Maris: Oh, it’s my pleasure.