Photo credit: Elena Seibert
Describe your book.
My novel, The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky
, is about a young woman who decides she’d like to read a book by Noam Chomsky
but never does. Through a chronicle of her life from the moment she decides to read the book to the moment she never reads it, we get to see all the other things she does instead. Told in episodic chapters that focus on the everyday, the narrative explores the complexities and joys of modern womanhood.
The project I’m currently working on is a screenplay. It’s about a woman whose relationship falls apart, so she goes to the land of lost love to get her love back. Even though it’s a bit of a fantastical concept, it really is more about what love is and what we should and shouldn’t do for it.
What was your favorite book as a child?
I loved the book The Children of Noisy Village
by Astrid Lindgren. My mom would read it to me and my brother before bed, and when I got older I read it to myself. Recently, I had kind of an epiphany about what an influence that book has had on me. Without question, you can see Lindgren’s influence in my novel: the way she structures time and the episodic nature of it all, but also there’s something homey and cozy about her writing, and I think (or at least hope) I capture that kind of tone in my own voice.
When did you know you were a writer?
There are two answers I could give here. The first is when I knew I wanted to be a writer, and the second is when I felt like I finally was. I knew I wanted to be a writer in the fourth grade. I had this amazing teacher, Mr. Lambert, who absolutely changed the direction of my life. We had this assignment to write whatever we wanted in our composition notebooks and Mr. Lambert would read through them and would use our work to teach us about grammar and sentence structure, etc. I came in from recess one day to see my story up on the overhead projector and my stomach instantly sunk. I knew I was going to be the example that day of what you shouldn’t do. Mr. Lambert asked everyone to read the story to themselves and then to tell the class what they thought. Different kids pointed out this spelling mistake or that grammatical error, but Mr. Lambert stopped them all and said, “Isn’t this story incredible.” And that was it. My whole life changed in that instant.
I knew I was a writer is when I sold my novel.
What does your writing workspace look like?
I am only able to work at home, I’m sorry to say, because I love the romance of working at a café. I don’t write at a desk and usually just write in bed or on the couch.
What do you care about more than most people around you?
Why people do the things they do. I’m obsessed with the way people think and what motivates their actions. Obsessed and pretty befuddled at times, which is why I think I write. I think I’m trying to understand things that I probably can’t.
Share an interesting experience you've had with one of your readers.
When I was still a student, on a few occasions I had friends quote my own writing back at me to illustrate a point, not because they were trying to flatter me, but because they were trying to express something to me about themselves emotionally and that was the best way they could think of to do so. Besides that, any time people read my work is mind-blowing to me. I’m really humbled by it because reading takes time and asks for a lot engagement from its audience.
Tell us something you're embarrassed to admit.
I honestly don’t embarrass all that easily, which is probably a big part of why I write. You can’t be scared to say things that are raw and sometimes painfully true.
Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
. If you haven’t read her work, run — don’t walk — to your local bookstore, and buy all four of the books from her Neapolitan series.
Besides your personal library, do you have any beloved collections?
I don’t have any, which is kind of surprising when I think of it, considering as a child I collected all kinds of things: stickers, My Little Ponies, Breyer Horses, Beanie Babies... I could go on. I need to start collecting something. My child-self would be disappointed!
What's the most interesting job you've ever had?
Being a writer!
Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?
No, but I’m instantly drawn to any bookstores anywhere, even if I can’t read the language of the books they sell. Obviously that doesn’t really count, but in some sense it does kind of feel like any time you go into a bookstore it’s a bit of a literary pilgrimage. A million little literary pilgrimages in my lifetime.
What scares you the most as a writer?
How much luck is involved in the process. You can write a great book, but when it comes down to it the stars really have to align to find success, and I find that incredibly daunting.
If someone were to write your biography, what would be the title and subtitle?
Herstory and Hershey Kisses: The Jana Casale Story
Offer a favorite sentence from another writer.
by Vladimir Nabokov: "[M]y Lolita remarked: 'You know, what’s so dreadful about dying is that you are completely on your own.'"
I love that passage because to me it exposes the devastation in Lolita as a character. I also love it because what she’s saying is true.
Share a sentence of your own that you're particularly proud of.
“Real intimacy estimated by audible farts” or “Life could be so unreal and so vivid all at once you’d think it was a dream.”
Describe a recurring dream.
I dream about whales all the time. No idea why, but I constantly, constantly have whale dreams. Most of them are as sublime as you’d imagine a whale dream to be.
Do you have any phobias?
Mice and rats really get to me! I know they’re just animals trying to live their lives, but I am running the other way as soon as I see one. I think I inherited that one from my mom, if I’m being totally honest, which is proof you should hide your phobias from your kids (if that even is possible!).
Name a guilty pleasure you partake in regularly.
I love reality television. But I’m not sure it’s entirely fair to call it a guilty pleasure, because when I think about it I probably respond to the same thing in reality TV that I respond to anything else I love, which is thinking about people and why they do the things they do. Sidenote: I named a character Stassi after a cast member on Vanderpump Rules
What's the best advice you’ve ever received?
To think of your career holistically. I think so often writers feel they have to do absolutely anything to get from point A to point B, but I’m not sure that’s the best way to create the best work, and I think, long-term, good work will be what defines your success more than anything.
What kind of chocolate most helped you through writing this novel?
My Top Five Books I Couldn’t Put Down:
These are books I read in one sitting, or close to one sitting.
Blubber by Judy Blume
I read this one as a kid, so it’s a bit of a cheat, but it was the first book I read in one night. I remember being up until 3 a.m. to finish it. What a wonderful feeling: being alone with your book, your trophy turning that last page. It’s a great book that, like all Judy Blume books, stands the test of time.
The First Bad Man by Miranda July
This book is magical and weird in all the best ways. I love a book that has about a third of it devoted to the arrival of a newborn baby. There’s an indulgence in womanhood there that you don’t often see.
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
This is one I read years ago, but I still remember just absolutely inhaling it. The writing is superb and the way Tan moves in and out of her characters’ narratives is absolutely seamless.
The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta
I could put just about any Perrotta book on this list, but I chose this novel because of all the books of his I’ve read, it was one I wasn’t super excited to read and yet I absolutely adored it. In the end I think it’s one of the most genius books about grief ever written.
Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood
A lesser-known Atwood, but just as spectacular as anything else she’s written. I loved it so much I quoted it in my novel.
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has a BFA in fiction from Emerson College and an MSt in creative writing from Oxford. Originally from Lexington, Massachusetts, she currently resides in San Francisco with her husband. The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky
is her first novel.