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Powell’s Q&A: Alison Espach

Describe your latest book.
My first novel, The Adults, came out in February. Right now, I'm working on my second novel, but I'm at that critical stage where saying the plot aloud or attempting to describe it in any way makes me not want to write the book.I'm at that critical stage where saying the plot aloud or attempting to describe it in any way makes me not want to write the book. So, for the sake of the second novel's completion, I plead the Fifth.

What's the strangest or most interesting job you've ever had?
I once had a job transcribing market-research interviews. Duties ranged from listening to married couples talk about their Honda CRV to watching a video recording of an "average American family" shop at Wal-Mart. As they shopped, I had to record their movements in detail (Women in red shirt picks up Bic Pens and hands to man, presumably her husband, in beige), along with dialogue ("The red pens? Why not the multipack?"). Shopping at Wal-Mart is one of my least favorite things to do ever, but at least there's the satisfaction of buying things. Watching another family shop at Wal-Mart is boring in too many ways and really makes me wonder why I had to sign a confidentiality agreement that I would never tell anyone what I had witnessed.

Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?
I drove to Iowa City once in order to look at the graduate theses of famous writers at the University of Iowa. I mainly went for Flannery O'Connor's, but ended up reading Ann Pachett's, Chris Adrian's, and a few others. It sounds creepy now but felt educational at the time.

What makes your favorite pair of shoes better than the rest?
It's hard to find shoes without heels that are not ballet flats and not ugly. So my favorite pair keeps me under six feet, and are not that ugly. That's all I ask of shoes. I'm very boring and desperate when it comes to shoes. I wear large, obnoxious earrings to counterbalance.

What is your astrological sign? If you don't like what you were born with, to what sign would you change and why?
I'm a Virgo, which mostly offends me. If you read about Virgos, they don't sound very affectionate, or normal, or pleasant to be around.I'm a Virgo, which mostly offends me. If you read about Virgos, they don't sound very affectionate, or normal, or pleasant to be around. Virgos are supposed to be obsessed with hospital corners and have hearts of stone, so I find comfort in the fact that I'm not organized or neat, and cried once while watching Jack Frost. But people tell me I can be militant in my refusal to be organized, that I'm a perfectionist about wasteful, unproductive things. Instead of cleaning my room, I'll randomly decide that my scarf is better served as a skirt and spend days trying to make it the best scarf-to-skirt ever. I've also been told that I'm a terrible hugger. So, who knows?

What is your favorite indulgence, either wicked or benign?
Donuts. It's not wicked, and yet, not benign either. In fact, I've convinced myself donuts are a kind of poison. So, I never eat them, sadly. Because I love them too much. But I'm confident I could eat an entire box, if ever challenged. Someone please challenge me.

On a clear and cold day, do you typically get outside into the sunshine or stay inside where it's warm?
I usually stay inside where it's warm, but feel guilty about it the whole time.

If you could have been someone else, who would that be and why?
I always wanted to be a Broadway actress, but unfortunately I'm terrible at acting and can only get away with singing breathy, whispery folk songs in front of people who really, really love me. So, I'd be reborn as Idina Menzel, and get to be in Wicked. The most fun I've ever had was being on stage in my eighth grade production of Cinderella. Hopefully, I will peak like that again. I love how words come alive on stage, in a community, in front of a community. As a writer, I'm not sure if I'm supposed to like people or not, but I do. As a writer, I'm not sure if I'm supposed to like people or not, but I do. The worst thing about being a writer is being alone with your computer all the time, and nobody ever acting out your scenes. Basically what I'm saying is that if anyone reading this wants to write "The Adults: The Musical," I'll audition for it.

Recommend five or more books on a single subject of personal interest or expertise.

Books that make me laugh and cry at the same time:

Compression Scars: Stories by Kellie Wells

No One Belongs Here More Than You: Stories by Miranda July

Then We Came to the End: A Novel by Joshua Ferris

Who's Irish?: Stories by Gish Jen

Bad Marie: A Novel by Marcy Dermansky

÷ ÷ ÷

Alison Espach received her MFA from Washington University in St. Louis. Her fiction has appeared in McSweeney's and other journals. Her first novel is The Adults.


Books mentioned in this post

  1. The Adults Used Hardcover $6.95
  2. Who's Irish?: Stories
    Used Trade Paper $8.00
  3. Then We Came to the End: A Novel
    Used Trade Paper $6.50
  4. No One Belongs Here More Than You:...
    Used Trade Paper $7.50
  5. Bad Marie (P.S.)
    Used Trade Paper $4.95



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