VV: Take a Stab At It is a good example of what I kind of see as a bit of hyper-realism that approaches fiction. It was a very interesting surprise that happens in the middle of that essay suddenly I found myself in the middle of a ghost story and I didn’t expect it. Your essays made me think of – I had to look it up because I’d forgotten what the term was but now they call it New Journalism, Creative Nonfiction, authors like Didion and Wolfe and Truman Capote – were they a big influence on you?
SC: They definitely are. Oh my gosh! They’re so big that that I wouldn’t even name them as influences because I feel almost uncomfortable at all being mentioned in the same breath. It’s not like I was writing and I thought, “Well, God, you know, geez, what did Truman Capote do? Let me look.” And think that I could possibly even pretend to imitate. But I think there’s some sort of subconscious way that they’re influencing me while I write. I try not to read – I read those people or reread works of theirs that I love, you know, God, I mean, Truman Capote, Other Voices, Other Rooms, and Goodbyes and all that and the Didion and stuff like that. But you go back and visit something like Slouching Towards Bethlehem, but afterwards. While you’re writing it, I think it’s important to read the phone book, or the back of cereal boxes—or a big giant novel, or anything, anything else. But yeah, that particular essay, it’s funny, because people have all these tiny little things that seem embarrassing that really aren’t risking that much. And you know? That’s the gamble of the last essay, that’s risking a lot. And that essay you just referenced, Take A Stab At It, is risking a lot because it’s much more risky to say, “I full-on believe I saw a ghost when I was nine and here’s the story,” versus, you know, “Oh, I got caught picking my wedgie in the street.” Wooooooo! It’s not – it’s so funny that the things people think are everyday embarrassments, I don’t feel remotely shy about sharing.
VV: Ah, yes. An Abbreviated Catalog of Tongues. It’s a great title and also the experience of raising countless amounts of animals is really spot on because that’s what happened with me and my family. My mother and my older brother were always having this just obsessive need to have pets around. You know, they did have a lot of pets in the family –
SC: [Laughs.] Oh, they’re family. Don’t confuse, yeah – if you have a loyalist in your household, do not make the mistake of calling them ‘pets’ – they’re brothers and sisters. [Laughs.]
VV: And it was really funny, because, you know, you’d think you’d go through as traumatic an experience as the loss of an animal and then, nope, a few weeks later or a few months later, there’d be a new animal.
Do you own a pet now?
SC: I’m so happy you asked, because I’m proud to be a crazy cat lady. Although I think you’re not a crazy cat lady if you have one. And I do have one, and her name is Mabel. And she was adopted from a family. She was abandoned in an apartment complex in North Carolina and my friend who went to West Point and was stationed at Fort Bragg and was renting out somehow an apartment in this complex and found Mabel as a kitten. She was given birth to by this cat who had been abandoned, I’m sure – and this is not a very interesting story – but the one funny part is that I ended up adopting her and she – you know, if you’re going to get a cat and adopt it, you should have it litter trained by someone who went to West Point. Because the cat has never done anything wrong. She’s like the most perfectly affectionate, lovely animal, who’s never pissed or shat anywhere otherwise than where she’s meant to. So – it’s not my fault she’s so cute. She was born that way. So that is my story, to answer your question, “Do I have an animal?”
VV: Well, I was wondering if you had been burned out by the whole experience of growing up with animals.
SC: I had a long, long time in which I had no pets, and perfectly happily, so, I mean, obviously through college, and about the first four or five years in New York, and you know, and then I had no intention of getting one, actually, and then she came my way.
VV: Well, okay. So a couple of very brief questions, and I know you hate being put on the spot about this sort of stuff.
SC: I do? I do hate that? Have I gone the record saying that I hate –
SC: Phobias. Oh yes do I ever. I hate knives. And little kids with sticky lollipops who are unmanned – just running around with sticky things, and I don’t know where their parents are. And then my biggest phobia by far is, I don’t like speed. Roller coasters. Planes taking off. Motorboats, that’s a big one. Just speed. Anything that moves super-duper-duper fast. I really, really, really hate it. That is my biggest fear. So…
VV: Huh. So no dream of being an astronaut?
SC: I hate planes; it’s funny. I have a pretty terrible fear of flying and turbulence and things of that nature because of that. It’s very specific –I have no claustrophobia, I’m not afraid the plane’s going to crash, I’m fine with being in that space for a while. None of that’s a problem. So it’s funny when you’re flying and you explain what it is to people and they’ll inevitably – even if you explain it’s takeoff – they say, “Oh, but it’s a short flight!” Well, do you have to leave the ground because of it? So I guess a speedy chamber with lollipops everywhere and knives sticking out would be my worst nightmare.
VV: Wow. That would be one interesting astronaut training program.
VV: So several of your essays involve traveling to places like Alaska and Portugal and so on. Any places you’re still craving to visit?
SC: Oh, my gosh. Yes, tons.
The truth is, if anyone expects this to be a travel book, they’re going to discover that I’m quite poorly traveled. I mean, I would love to go to Japan, Thailand, Africa especially, India. I would love to go to Brazil. Yeah, places like that. So the list is endless. Unlike the fears, which are finite, the list of places I want to travel is pretty huge.
I can’t read a travel article without thinking, like, “Okay….now how am I going to do this?”
VV: How involved are you with the Internet?
SC: I am poorly involved with the Internet. I do have a Twitter feed and I do have a Facebook account. I try and keep them up, and I think certain writers, Colson Whitehead is a good example, we were just talking about him earlier, and he has taken to it like a fish to water. And certain writers have the humor of the pithy remark. And some just don’t care for the format of it. I do like it but I don’t do it nearly enough. But I also don’t have the Internet at home.
VV: [Laughs.] Really?
SC: Total Luddite. Yeah, I don’t have it at home. I mean, I have a day job where I have it all day long. I’m constantly exposed to media, all sorts of magazines, books, whatever. I’m constantly online, you know, refreshing various web pages. I have a BlackBerry for emergency emails, and I just don’t have it at home.
It’s rarely, rarely a problem.
VV: The reason why I was asking is that it crops up with certain writers about how distracting the Internet is.
SC: Yes. I’m not really distracted by it.
VV: The other part of that question was, “Do you Google yourself?”
SC: Oh, yeah. Sure. I’ll self-Google. But not a lot.
VV: Is it surprising what you come across sometimes?
SC: Mmm – nah. I don’t think I’ve ever been just shocked or anything like that. I’m not surprised by reviews. I think sometimes people’s personal blogs can be surprising because I think, even if it’s negative, a weird part of me is flattered because I rarely have the urge to share my opinion with everyone constantly. And that can be good or bad. I’m certainly grateful for the people that have enjoyed my stuff and they do share it with their friends. I mean, word of mouth and buzz is really I think how a book like this exists. And sometimes it can be intense – really, really fun. I mean, critiques like, “Why are you not writing for somewhere else?” And sometimes the negative ones can be fun too. But I’ve just never had the urge to directly interact with the person who either provided the entertainment or the horror. I‘ve enjoyed something, or been appalled by it, and I’ve taken it into my own life and told people about it.
VV: How does it feel being in the publishing industry now you’re actually kind of the product rather than the promoter or the publisher? How does that inform your overall understanding publishing now?
SC: Well, think there was something I had lost a little bit when my first job was for a literary agent where you’re taught, the author is right’ and you’re ‘protecting the author against the big bad publishing house,’ and then pretty quickly I ended up working for a big publishing house, and then another big publishing house, and I’ve been there for about nine years. And I think that you now realize, you see things a little more balanced. I think I’d gone too far the other direction of thinking that people’s expectations were too high, or not worrying enough about different authors’ feelings, and I now see what it’s really like to be on the road and it’s rough. But on the other side is, not that rough. You know, I’m sorry you have to wake up at 6:00 AM so that you can then go to a bookstore where people will listen to what you wrote, because someone’s bound it. Like, that’s a pretty sweet experience. So unless you’re AS Byatt, you’re Philip Roth, you’re Toni Morrison – who should never be woken up at 6:00 AM for a flight, you know – aside from that? Suck it up. That’s my conclusion.