Sloane Crosley’s North Star: A Q&A About THE CLASP

This may not come as a surprise to you, but many authors are not terribly charming—not off the page, anyway. Think about it: authors spend countless hours alone, living in their heads, crafting characters and telegraphing their movements and thoughts through carefully constructed sentences. It takes a lot of internal focus to write a book—and, as a result, authors sometimes seem confused and gruff when meeting their readership, grumbling and stumbling as though hospital patients let into the sunlight for the first time in years.

Sloane Crosley, on the other hand, is one of the most charming authors I can think of, not only in her terrific essay collections I WAS TOLD THERE’D BE CAKE and HOW DID YOU GET THIS NUMBER, but also in real life, a skill which perhaps comes from the day job she worked for years: as a book publicist. My evidence of her charmingness? Watch nearly any interview with her on YouTube (this one is one of my favorites).

So yes, let me say that THE CLASP, her first novel, is also, as you may expect, charming. But don’t let that fool you. The novel, which follows a colorful trio of twenty-something characters hunting for a valuable necklace, is witty and urbane in the ways you expect from Crosley, but underneath the breezy hilarity lurks something much darker—something about how our smallest actions in our young lives can sometimes be what determines our personalities forever, and how the discovery of those personalities can sometimes be a terrifying thing.

Charming? You bet. But while you’re under her spell, Crosley gives you a jab to the ribs that leaves a bruise for months. You never saw it coming.

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Brazos Bookstore: As an acclaimed nonfiction author, how did you come to the decision to write a work of fiction? How does your work as an essayist inform your work as a novelist?
 
Sloane Crosley: I started writing fiction before I cracked into nonfiction, so it feels more like a return than a departure for me. Just in my brain, if not on the shelves. I do, however, think that writing essays for so long as been invaluable, especially when it comes to the structure of individual chapters and the notes they end on. I know that’s awfully specific but it’s the place where I can most feel the years of essay-writing at work.
 
BB: Your book is such a great homage to Guy de Maupassant's, "The Necklace." How did this short story help create the narratives of Victor, Kezia, and Nathaniel in THE CLASP? 
 
SC: Thank you, that’s very kind of you to type. The short story became like my North Star. Putting a three hundred eighty-four page novel on the bones of a classic story was not something I was interested in. It would crush the short story. Instead, I had each of the individual characters feel like characters in “The Necklace” and in some cases, follow the plot. I also included two necklaces and a whole lot of Guy de Maupassant once one of the characters becomes obsessed with him.
 
BB: I felt the book read as a modern-day treasure hunt, both in the literal and figurative sense. How would you say your main characters’ searching for jewels, friends, and a sense of purpose, comments on people in their late twenties?
 
SC: It’s funny—our culture puts a lot of emphasis on knowing what you want, being true to yourself, all of that. And it’s vital but what happens when you think you’re supposed to know and you don’t? When the definition of “yourself” has become muddled? That seems like a rampant late-twenties/early-thirties issue. It’s a confusing time because half your friends have babies and rent control and the other half have bad health insurance and a slight drinking problem. As you say, the novel is meant to be a treasure hunt and also a love triangle and a comedy of manners—but it’s also meant to comment on that time period where the things you’ve always wanted (people, objects, careers) may not be right for you anymore. This is a bit gross but I’m going to go ahead and point out a bit of dialogue in THE CLASP: At one point Victor accuses Kezia of abandoning their friendship and thus herself and he quotes Hemingway and says, “Make new friends and keep the old. One is silver and the other’s gold.” To which she replies, “That’s the Girl Scout’s motto, Jackass.”  That moment pretty much sums up these people’s friendships.
 
BB: In an interview with A.M. Homes, you used a quote by Annie Dillard to illustrate the novel-writing process: “If you aim for the wood, you’ll miss, but if you aim for the chopping block, you’ll hit it.” What kind of breadth and vision does a writer have to use when publishing a collection of essays? How is it different from envisioning a novel?
 
SC: Well, for starters, essays end. That’s what they do. You bring your thoughts and arguments and story to a natural completion and start the process over again relatively quickly. Perhaps there’s a theme that ties them together, perhaps not. With a novel you don’t always know exactly where you’re going (personally, I think you should have a very good idea but too much detailed plotting is a bad thing) and so your aim is less in making a singular point and more in revisiting the novel every day and shepherding it. So you have to hold the idea in your mind at all times without crushing it. Another way of saying all this is probably “just don’t look down.” But hey, also don’t forget you’re on a high wire.
 
BB: In writing your first novel, how did you surprise yourself? Were there any disappointments?
 
SC: I was surprised to discover that I write long. The first draft of THE CLASP was originally six hundred or so pages. As for disappointments, I suppose I was used to fixing problems with one or two key lines or some sharp edits. But if you hit a snag in the novel, it’s usually because of a decision that was made fifty pages back, which you’ve built on and so the sleeve-rolling-up is more intense.
 
BB: You have no idea which author we'll talk to next, but never mind that: What should we ask him/her?
 
SC: What are your eating and drinking habits when you write? Are you a crumbs-in-the-keyboard person? A whiskey-while-editing person?
 
BB: Speaking of which, Leah Lax, author of UNCOVERED: HOW I LEFT HASIDIC LIFE AND FINALLY CAME HOME, wants to know: Did you know what you were getting into when you decided to write this book?
 
SC: Nope. I have been around authors for a significant chunk of my life and heard many of them speak of their characters as if they were real. Which always struck me as a bit unhinged, especially after years of writing essays. And it still strikes me as a bit unhinged but count me among the crazy.
 
Sloane Crosley will read Friday, October 16 at 7 P.M.

The Clasp Cover Image
$26.00
ISBN: 9780374124410
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux - October 6th, 2015

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