On Co-Writing, Belonging, and Punishing Your Characters: Eve Gleichman and Laura Blackett in Conversation

This is an excerpt of an interview between Eve Gleichman and Laura Blackett, co-authors of Trust & Safety, a novel about a newly-wedded straight couple who move from Brooklyn to Upstate New York and quickly become entangled with a queer polycule living the dream, analog life. They discuss their inspiration for the novel and cover a range of topics including loneliness, Instagram, bi-erasure, what it’s like to write unlikable characters, and their individual writing processes.

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Eve Gleichman: We wrote the first chapter of this book in 2020, which feels like a long time ago. So much has changed since then. What did your life look like at the beginning of this project?

Laura Blackett: I had just moved from New York City to a small, rural town. Like our protagonist, I was feeling lonely, aimless, and in need of a change. So I found a short-term sublet to feel out what it would be like to live in the country. I was supposed to have just one housemate while the other residents were traveling, but then the pandemic hit, and everyone came home. Anecdotally, we’d all ended up in that particular house because at one point in time we’d each matched with the homeowner on Tinder.

So I was doing my remote tech job in a house of queer artists. There was a seamstress, a painter, and a mycologist. I would peer over the top of my computer during Zoom meetings and see one of my housemates through the window, tapping maple trees to make maple syrup, while someone else was dyeing linens pink from avocado seeds. I felt inspired, but I didn’t totally fit in. I was working on our first novel, so I had that in the way of creativity, but I also felt very corporate for that environment. I straddled both worlds.

Starting with a blank page is part of what makes writing a book so vulnerable. A novel can be anything, and the way it turns out is highly personal.

LB: Your living situation was quite different. Can you talk about that?

EG: Yes—I also found myself upstate, close to you! I moved there temporarily, in the early days of quarantine. I was living with my partner, and—for child custody reasons—her ex-husband, the kids, our pets. I can’t believe we did that. When I got to the house, I thought “this is either a horror movie or a twisted rom-com.” But I felt like there was something interesting and actually inspiring about the fact that my partner and I were living our queer relationship in the shadow of her former straight marriage, the evidence of which was all around us. To get a break from this, I would drive to your house. I remember it was cold, so we would park our cars trunk-to-trunk, keeping six feet between us. We’d talk about our living situations and the various dynamics in our homes.

LB: I think the tensions that were simmering in each of our households were very different. It wasn’t until we finished the novel and reflected on how the story came to be that it became clear how much of our lives and living situations at the time were written into the book. I don’t know that we consciously tried to do that when we were meeting in the early days—it felt more to me like we were just talking and commiserating.

EG: I think that’s true. I’m curious what you consciously thought the book would be about. What were we trying to write? What did we write? How did we get there?

LB: Starting with a blank page is part of what makes writing a book so vulnerable. A novel can be anything, and the way it turns out is highly personal. There were some things I felt excited about writing into the book. I knew I wanted to try to capture some of the lush, beautiful parts of rural Upstate New York. I knew that I wanted there to be an obsessive crush and some elements of voyeurism between these two neighboring properties. I wanted to try to capture a feeling that I’ve had at times on vacation, of being someplace beautiful and unfamiliar and asking myself, “What if I belonged here?”

On a character level, I also knew that Rosie, our protagonist, was going to be working through feelings of loneliness and aimlessness, and that large parts of her efforts to find a sense of belonging would be misguided. Things did come as a surprise. Our book also deals with ambivalence about motherhood and the relationship between parents and their adult children. I was also surprised to have written characters who are unlikable, or at times unlikable.

LB: We didn’t try to write unlikable characters, but I think they did turn out that way. Do you agree?

EG: Nobody can agree who the villain of the book is. I think readers are polarized, and I like that. It makes me feel like we did something right. I think about this craft lesson that I once learned: that characters should only be 51% good or bad. I think that there are some characters in this book that are 65% or 70% bad. But most of them take you for a little spin. I think as soon as you get comfortable liking a character in this book, something happens to change that.

LB: I think that no matter who you’re loving or hating, everyone will be punished a little bit in the end.

EG: Yes. I also think there’s a little bit of me—and I’d be curious if there’s a little bit of you—in all our characters. I really feel myself in all of them. 

LB: I do feel that way. The experience of writing these characters was a little bit of a psychological thriller. Depending on the day, I would identify with one of them and hate another. It was exhausting. The first half of the project for me was about writing my own desires into Rosie. And then about halfway through, I had to zoom out and get critical of her and her choices, and the efforts she makes to change her life and connect with people. She believes that Jordan, her husband, is preventing her from reaching her full potential, but really, it’s her own ambivalence.

EG: Rosie’s ambivalence is exacerbated by social media. Can you talk about the role of Instagram in our book?

LB:  Instagram is a great place to go to feel stressed out, and then to buy something to soothe the anxiety. Rosie is a consumer. I think she believes that buying something will help her self-actualize. She feels like if only she had the right stuff, and a little peace and quiet, she could become someone she likes. There are some big problems with that way of thinking. Instagram is how she meets her husband; it fuels her dissatisfaction; it shows her a house to buy, and she buys it.

LB: There are some benefits to the way Instagram can connect people, though. I’m reminded of how we used Instagram to connect with queer women who are in relationships with cis men, for research while we wrote.

EG: Right. We asked women in this category to tell us about their experiences, because we were interested in getting to the heart of Rosie’s character. Many of the women we talked to felt excluded in queer spaces. They didn’t feel totally recognized or accepted as queer because of their relationships with cis men. At the same time, many also felt that their queerness was not appreciated, understood, or recognized by their partners. So there’s a lot of angst and isolation there, which we ended up writing into Rosie’s character.

I want to pivot to our collaboration. We get asked a lot about how two people write a book together. One answer is that we get together, outline, and pass the draft back and forth in Google Docs. But it occurred to me that I don’t know what your solo writing process looks like. When do you write? What do you need in order to write?

LB: Your question makes me laugh because one time when we were writing in the same room, you said something to me like, “You do such a good job getting right to work,” but meanwhile I was just online shopping. I have to go home and procrastinate a bit. I have to start feeling guilty that I’m holding up the process, and then, when I’m feeling bad enough, I have to trick myself into working by doing things like waking up at the crack of dawn to convince myself I’ve gotten extra time, or by setting a timer so that I only have to work for an hour. I’ve never reached what some people might call a “flow state.” It was just hard the whole way through.

EG: I also like to feel like I’m getting away with something while writing. Back when I was commuting to work, I would write in the notes app on the subway. I love to write when I have just 15 minutes, or I’m an elevator. I have to feel a little bad. There’s nothing worse than being in a quiet room. I can tell how much I’m procrastinating writing by how clean my room is. It’s amazing that we managed to write this book.



Trust & Safety by Laura Blackett and Eve Gleichman is available now via Dutton. 

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