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An Interview With Sloane Crosley, Author of How Did You Get This Number?

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Sloane Crosley is a hilarious writer, up there with David Sedaris, Eric Poole and A.J. Jacobs — those three, like her, sharing funny memories and experiences with the readers.

The story goes that Sloane's writing career took off after a story she wrote — true, sadly — about being locked out of two apartments at once was distributed.

Her new book, her second, is getting much buzz. NPR, for example, did this piece on her last week, for example.

Her first collection, I Was Told There'd Be Cake, focused on life in New York, but for this one she focused on trips elsewhere in the world.

One of the reasons I wanted to interview her was because I was curious what would happen when a book publicist becomes the author of a book publicized.

Our email interview follows. I began by asking her about the book's dedication. At first the dedication seems ordinary enough, saying in regular size letters: "To my parents for everything" but has an asterisk which leads the reader to these comments in smaller print:

*Everything except the two-week period in 1995 directly following the time you went to Ohio for a wedding and I threw a party in the house, which is the most normal thing a teenage American can do, aside from lie about it, which I also did, and Mom eyed me suspiciously for days, morphing into a one-woman Scotland Yard, marching into my bedroom with a fistful of lint from the dryer to demonstrate that I had mysteriously washed all the towels, and then she waited until we were in a nice restaurant to scream, "Someone vomited on my couch, I know it!" and Dad took away my automotive privileges straight through college so that I spent the subsequent four years likening you both to Stasi foot soldiers, confined as I was to a campus-on-the-hill when I could have been learning how to play poker at the casinos down the road and making bad decisions at townie bars. I think we can all agree you overreacted.

For everything except that, I am profoundly grateful. I have only the greatest affection for you now. Also: I vomited on the couch.

What were your parents reactions to the book dedication? I thought it was hilarious. 

They laughed. They were touched. Then they promptly called the couple in Ohio whose wedding they attended to inform them of the shenanigans that had been taking place back in New York as a result of their nuptials.

What was your goal with this book? What do you want people to take away from reading this collection? Is it something different from what you wanted people to take away from your first book?

I think the goal with any writing, but especially narrative nonfiction, is to put the blockade of putting your thoughts in this unnatural medium of print and then trying to reach through that and actually convey what’s going on, what you think, and make people laugh and recognize themselves while doing it. Definitely the laughing thing.

What's it like to read publicity material about yourself when you have a career involving doing publicity for other authors? Will it or has it changed how you do your work either as a publicist or as an author on tour?

I am certainly more sensitive to how grueling travel can be – these aren’t just rag dolls we’re sending around from city-to-city. Rag dolls, far as I know, are not prone to jetlag, and they don’t have to take their shoes off at security. But overall it’s had the opposite effect. It’s a privilege and generally quite fun to go around the country and read to people, to meet booksellers, see new cities and visit old friends and discuss your work. As far as the press materials, because of my job, I experience a bit of remove from them. I may not be able to view the resulting press objectively but when I see a pitch letter about my book, it’s easy to pretend it’s one of the zillions of pitch letters I’ve seen over the past 10 years.

Do you have any fears that you'll run out of stories about yourself to tell?

I know this sounds odd, but I don’t think of myself as writing memoir or even stories about myself. I get that there’s a cumulative personality that comes through and that personality is mine, but the bedrock of these essays is not about me. It’s observations about what I see. So as long as I live in the world, I certainly hope I’ll still walk around with my eyes open to it.

Are there any areas or topics that you consider inappropriate to share of? Put another way, is anything off-limits. Should people who date you, for example, fear they may end up in a future book?

Sure. But in keeping with the honesty of your question and my answer: I won’t tell you what those areas or topics are. Meanwhile, I don’t really write about dating. Not because it’s off limits, but because I don’t think it’s a fundamentally interesting thing to write about. I’ve only ever written one essay about the opposite sex. Well, two. There’s a light essay that kicks off I Was Told There’s Be Cake but the one that really delves into the world of relationships and heartbreak at the end of How Did You Get This Number. That essay was extremely difficult for me to write. But hopefully worth it. It was the kind of difficult where you think – I’m just going to go for it, do it up big, get in, get out and never come here again.

What's it like to get compared to such personal essayists as David Sedaris, David Rakoff and Amy Sedaris and/or as this same writer went on to say of you:  "a younger, smarter, cooler, deeper version of Sex and the City — without the air of money-grubbing desperation, and the skankiness."

It sure as hell doesn’t suck.

Which authors are your own favorites? Or put another way, if you could make everyone reading this go read three living authors who would they be?

Oh, I like the second half of that. Helps narrow the field. I guess Joan Didion, Dave Eggers and Haruki Murakami.

What's this I hear about you having someone make scenes from the book using miniature puffy chickens? How did that come about? Do you expect this to become the next step with each new author and book? Would you encourage for the authors you work with?

I made giant Plexiglas dioramas to correspond with three of the essays in the first book. Each room was a scene. This time, I decided to outsource it diorama-making to the coolest Sloane on the planet – the artist and author Sloane Tanen. I love her books, Bitter With Baggage Seeks Same and Going For The Bronze in particular and she and her photographer, Stephan Hagen, were kind enough to create and photograph original chicken dioramas for me. Again, based on some of the essays in How Did You Get This Number: (You can see them at her site.)

Are you working on a third collection? Any plans to write some fiction too or are you sticking with non fiction?

I am working on both right now.

Do you consider yourself a klutz? Before you get mad at the question let me confess my own klutziness so when I read that your start came from writing about being locked out of two different apartments it warmed my heart.

Not really. Though I did smack straight into a door frame this morning. I’m a relatively small person but you would think I was one of those people with massively fluctuating weight that goes from 100 pounds to 200 in the course of a day. Put it this way: I don’t know the size of my own car. Driver’s Ed Rule #1.

Lastly you get a bonus what question do you wish you would get asked? Here's your chance to ask and answer it.

Is there a word I use over and over that I would like to weed out of my conversation as well as my writing? Actually, yes. “Actually.”

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About Scott Butki

Scott Butki was a newspaper reporter for more than 10 years before making a career change into education... then into special education. He has been doing special education work for about five years He lives in Austin. He reads at least 50 books a year and has about 15 author interviews each year and, yes, unlike tv hosts he actually reads each one. He is an in-house media critic, a recovering Tetris addict and a proud uncle. He has written articles on practically all topics from zoos to apples and almost everything in between.
  • Scott Butki

    Is there a word I use over and over that I would like to weed out of my conversation as well as my writing? Actually, yes. “Actually.”

    Actually is also my nieces overused words. “Are you playing princess?”
    “actually, uncle scott we’re playing queen.”

    They have been using it since they started talking.

    “Are you teething?”

    “Actually i’m just chewing on this piece of wood,”etc