Lit Hub Asks: 5 Authors, 7 Questions, No Wrong Answers



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The Lit Hub Author Questionnaire is a monthly interview featuring seven questions for five authors with new books. This month we talk to:

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Hala Alyan (The Moon That Turns You Back)

Steven Kurutz (American Flannel: How a Band of Entrepreneurs Are Bringing the Art and Business of Making Clothes Back Home)

Nam Le (36 Ways of Writing a Vietnamese Poem)

Jacob Rubin (Piggy Bank)

Adelle Waldman (Help Wanted)

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Without summarizing it in any way, what would you say your book is about?

Adelle Waldman: Work.

Hala Alyan: Longing. Beirut. Codependency. February. IVF clinics. Lucid dreaming. Palestine. Pregnancy tests. Daughtering.

Jacob Rubin: Trying to connect with people who are gone and / or can’t hear you.

Nam Le: I reckon the title about almost covers it.

Steven Kurutz: American makers. Resilience. The tragedy of deindustrialization. Survivors. Hope. A well-worn flannel shirt. Asking who we want to be as a country—consumers and marketers, or makers?

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Without explaining why and without naming other authors or books, can you discuss the various influences on your book?

Hala Alyan: Archives. Maps. The first few weeks of a new season. Carving a heart on a rubber stamp next to two initials. Sonogram heartbeats. Anesthesia. Walks through Cooper Park. Calling a friend breathlessly. Finding the water at the end of a humid night. Rhyme schemes.

Steven Kurutz: A vintage Carhartt jacket found in a resale shop. My childhood in the rust belt. Family road trips to Woolrich, Pennsylvania. Picanol high-speed looms and ANGE sock knitting machines at furious work. American style especially the holy trinity of jeans, white tees and flannels.

Nam Le: Red, general; green, food & garden organics; purple, glass; yellow, mixed recycling. PET code 1 bottles, yes; food containers, jars, berry punnets, no; HDPE code 2 detergent, milk & juice bottles, yes; grocery bags, no; PP code 5 ice-cream, butter & yoghurt containers, yes; PVC code 3, LDPE code 4, PS code 6 and PC code 7, no, no are you dense?, no.

Adelle Waldman: Boxes, trucks, The Office, Succession.

Jacob Rubin: White Rock Lake; certain beloved walks I take by my house in Dallas; the pandemic.

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Without using complete sentences, can you describe what was going on in your life as you wrote this book?

Nam Le: Lockdown. And not the Duolingo / Zoom-drinks / sour-doughy one.

Adelle Waldman: Caring for a small child.

Hala Alyan: Cutting my own bangs. Waiting for HCG levels. Googling fetal heartbeats. Crying in green paper gowns. Waiting for him to pick up. Covid.

Jacob Rubin: Coffee, memory, and ESPN.

Steven Kurutz: New fatherhood. Covid. The death of a family member. Fatherhood, again. Too much time procrastinating on online auction sites. A big, jolting move out of the city.

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What are some words you despise that have been used to describe your writing by readers and/or reviewers?

Steven Kurutz: I work for The New York Times. The critiques I receive from readers are too varied and specific to neatly summarize.

Hala Alyan: “Human.”

Nam Le: A domestic scene from this morning comes to mind. My daughter puts my huge headphones over her ears, says, “Try and talk to me to see if I can hear.” I say nothing, do nothing, just watch her. Daughter: “What? What?! What??!”

Adelle Waldman: Pretentious. Confusing.

Jacob Rubin: “Zany.”

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If you could choose a career besides writing (irrespective of schooling requirements and/or talent) what would it be?

Jacob Rubin: Defensive end.

Nam Le: Maybe a music producer? Maybe a music producer in, like, Tuscany?

Adelle Waldman: English teacher.

Hala Alyan: Visual artist. And/or photographer.

Steven Kurutz: Woodworker, sculptor, landscape architect, classic car restorer—some job where I’m molding physical objects rather than words.

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What craft elements do you think are your strong suit, and what would you like to be better at?

Nam Le: All of the above.

Jacob Rubin: I think I’m good at narrative structure. I would like to be better at every element of writing.

Steven Kurutz: I have a good instinct for story and characters and an ear for great quotes. I’d like to develop the fiction writer’s talent for sensory detail and description.

Adelle Waldman: I think my strong suit is light irony. I’m terrible at lyricism.

Hala Alyan: I’ve got description and meandering imagery down. Plot is an ongoing wrestling match.

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How do you contend with the hubris of thinking anyone has or should have any interest in what you have to say about anything?

Steven Kurutz: As a journalist I mostly tell other people’s stories, which cuts down on the self-indulgence. And I try to shine a light on deserving people who for one reason or other haven’t received their due, which gives me a sense of mission.

Jacob Rubin: I don’t think it’s hubristic for a person to feel they have something to say.

Nam Le: What? What?! People are interested?!

Hala Alyan: I genuinely don’t. I trust people to make decisions on engaging (or not) with my work.

Adelle Waldman: By feeling disgusted with myself much of the time.



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