If you’re a fan of personal essays, then you’re almost certainly familiar with Sloane Crosley. Her first two essay collections, I Was Told There’d Be Cake and How Did You Get This Number, were both New York Times best-sellers, and the former was selected as a finalist for the Thurber Prize in American Humor.
Her latest collection of essays, Look Alive Out There, was chosen earlier this year as an Amazon Book of the Month. Earning comparisons to essay superstars like David Sedaris and Nora Ephron, Crosley’s work is relatable and wry. With Look Alive Out There, Crosley delivers a collection that contains a spot-on balance of humor, poignancy, and stellar observations about everyday life alongside more serious topics.
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Although she’s best known for her essays, Crosley is also a novelist: Her debut novel, The Clasp, was released in 2016 to much acclaim. The author says she is currently working on another novel in addition to writing a screenplay.
Choosing essays as a form
Essays are a clean way of expressing thought, and I like the immediacy of them, especially after writing a novel. All writing is about making choices, but the choices made in shorter narrative nonfiction are objectively easier than those made in fiction. I don’t have the option to end an essay with an alien abduction of all parties.
It completely varies. Sometimes I write towards a perfectly formed last paragraph, already composed in my head. Often I just start at the beginning.
Tapping into memories
Asking about the role of memory is like asking about the role oxygen plays in my writing. Yes, breathing helps. All writing is founded in memory, no matter what kind. It starts with a good memory. This is often called “observation,” but it’s the same thing. For my essays specifically, I remember everything in detail because I am the one selecting these memories. They’re not being assigned to me. So I have no idea what I wore yesterday, but I can tell you about a boy who was unkind to me in fourth grade, which is a moment featured in this book.
Using humor effectively
Not to get too “oh, this old thing?” about it, but yes, it does come naturally. I think in analogies. I enjoy making other people laugh and, when there are no other people around, making myself laugh. I should hope I’ve gotten funnier since I was a kid but it’s not just humor – hopefully I’ve gotten wiser and kinder and somewhat smarter.
Choosing essay subjects
I never write for revenge, and I never write for love. Those are emotions, not essays, and the engine of “I’m gonna get you with a mean essay” will stop working about four paragraphs in. So it’s really not a process of deciding who stays and who goes and why; it’s about the story, the “funny,” and the point. Those are the elements I care about, and if a person is tied into both, that person stays in the essay.
Allison Futterman is a freelance writer based in Charlotte, North Carolina.
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