Sloane Crosley Adjusts to the Writerly Life

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Published April 22, 2011

 

SLOANE CROSLEY. PHOTO COURTESY OF GRAEME MITCHELL

Two books ago, Sloane Crosley was just a publicist who chose book publishing because magazines didn’t turn out to have as many job openings. Then an email she wrote about getting locked out of two apartments in one day got noticed by an editor at The Village Voice and turned into a published essay. Her essays turned into a book, which book became a finalist for the Thurber Prize for American Humor, and Sloane Crosley became the talk of the town. After her latest book, How Did You Get This Number, came out last summer, Crosley quit her day job and gave in to being a full-time writer. The book of essays, which comes out in paperback May 3, is darker than her first. It deals with loss, heartbreak, and loneliness in places from Alaska to Portugal, yet remains genuinely funny.

SHANE FERRO: So you are writing full-time now.

SLOANE CROSLEY: Yes. I am writing full-time. Which is strange. It feels like not having a job. I quit at the end of December, so it’s been about six months? Is that right? I can’t count. That’s why I write.

FERRO: Five months.

CROSLEY: [laughs] Five months. There you go.

FERRO: So what made you finally quit?

CROSLEY: I felt like I wasn’t doing justice to either side of my life. It wasn’t pronounced. Publicity is an awkward thing to do. It is awkward to call people up all the time and ask them for things on a very basic level. I have a friend who used to work at Random House and we used to talk about how dangerous it was for our dating lives, because you go on these dates and you are so freakishly obsessed with making sure that everything is fine. You turn into a ’50s housewife. Only like three dates in are you like, “Do I like this person? I don’t even know.” It does make you a little bit too intellectually subservient. It felt like I couldn’t write everything I wanted to write.FERRO: Sometimes I feel like, being a journalist going on a date, it’s like question, question, question, question.

CROSLEY: Oh yeah, you probably have it worse than I do.

FERRO: We are just programmed to ask questions.

CROSLEY: Well, that’s better than the alternative. And that’s also what’s strange to me, is I am like the two-headed monster where I am sort of sitting here and I’m being asked questions. It’s just hard to keep it like church and state. I actually really, super-naïvely—it’s actually hard to even imagine saying this now—I never even thought anyone would know about my day job when I first published the book. [laughs] I really, truly did not see how it was relevant. It didn’t occur to me to pitch, let’s say, the San Francisco Chronicle a new book we have coming out, and have them say, “No thanks, but is your book coming out?” It’s awkward. Yes.

FERRO: Now you are a full-time writer, so what do you do all day?

CROSLEY: My days are very different so far. I’m just getting used to the structure. I think that I’ve started to make some simple rules for myself. I do everything I would have done on the way to the subway in that same time frame, like, dropping off dry cleaning, maybe going for some sort of exercise, errands at Duane Reade. These little things, if you stretch them out over the course of a day, they will take the whole day. I try to write fiction in the morning. I just finished editing Best American Travel Essays for Houghton Mifflin. You read a hundred essays, which is a lot, and write a big introduction. And then I have the column for The Independent every week.

FERRO: Is it different to write for a British publication? Do you change what you write at all?

CROSLEY: I don’t change it; you just have to take a step back from whatever perspective you have on the universe. One real problem I’ve run into with it was, I was writing some story about picking up a prescription at Duane Reade, and I obviously know enough to know that they have Boots, not Duane Reade, but it was the concept of picking up a prescription. The editor was like, “No one is going to get that.” But she’s a really lovely woman. She’ll just change stuff. Much to my amusement, actually.

FERRO: Do you think your writing is defined by you being a New Yorker? Do you think your humor comes from a very specific time and place that we are in right now?

CROSLEY: Oh gosh, the “right now” is such a compliment! In New York and LA, there is sort of that silent competition to be on the cutting edge of something. You end up having a conversation with how the world receives your work, especially if you are writing narrative, not fiction. Sometimes it is an awkward conversation. It’s like group therapy. Tell me what’s wrong with me, San Diego Union-Tribune. [laughs] But I feel like because of that, I have come to understand myself as more of a New York writer, or more of a woman writer, but I don’t feel like that while I’m writing. But I think that most New Yorkers would object to calling me a New Yorker. I didn’t grow up here.

FERRO: Are there any cities that stick out from your book tours?

CROSLEY: Oh, yeah. Book tours are such a little tapas meal of where I could live. I was surprised by how much I loved Portland. It is so wonderfully creative without being artsy. Great food scene. I am starting to like LA, but the concept of a place you have to get used to so much seems a little weird to me. I have been to many foreign cities where I didn’t have do acclimatize as much as I did to LA. But Austin seems great. Apparently the problem is I have never been there in August. Oh, and San Francisco. But I think San Francisco I know so well that I am comfortable with the relationship that I have with it. I would move internationally more quickly, I think.

FERRO: So where would you move?

CROSLEY: Anywhere. Well, maybe not anywhere. I wouldn’t want to live in Berlin. It’s bombed out and there’s a lot of techno. Not Canada.

FERRO: Not Canada?

CROSLEY: No. They’re like our attic.

FERRO: That’s funny. There is this blog I read where the blogger refers to the United States as Canada’s Bib or Canada’s Tablecloth.

CROSLEY: Oh! What does that make Mexico? That is not pleasant. It’s like our diaper. It’s terrible. No, I have nothing against Canada. I think that Canadians might know the secret to all existence, but to us it just comes off as timid and kind and too nice, and it strikes us as lacking edge. Unless you are hijacking someone and going on a reality show with your eight kids and wearing a velour pink pantsuit, then you have no edge to us. 

SLOANE CROSLEY’S HOW DID YOU GET THIS NUMBER IS OUT MAY 3 IN PAPERBACK.