In this week’s installment of Meet A Human, meet Emily Logan. Singer. Pianist. Copywriter. Admitted Nook owner. Blogger. And, most recently, published author. Logan’s novella, Paper, about a writer and a fictional character whose worlds increasingly intersect in reality, is available now. We spoke about the story, the writing process, seeing yourself in your work, the secretly delightful violence of editing, and – because it’s my blog – The Walking Dead.
How did Paper come about?
EL: I started writing it in Roger Rosenblatt’s class.* It was the very first class in the MFA that I took, so I think…the idea might have come from my fear that I was starting this whole writing journey and maybe I wasn’t cut out for it. Because I thought a lot about how much I go back and forth with writing, and I kind of feel guilty – “Why am I in this writing program if I have no idea how to write or finish a story?”
* [Editor’s note: I was in the same novella class.]
What was your writing process like with this story?
EL: My mind goes to different places at night, like when I’m just sitting there thinking about things and falling into a pit. The daytime is a little bit more friendly to me. I definitely don’t have a fixed process. I’ve heard of people writing in different places affecting their writing. Somebody told me never write in a place that has walls other than the color white. I don’t really have a set writing habit or place. I probably mostly write in my room. The time of day has kind of changed. Recently I’ve been writing in the middle of the day because that’s when my brain is more active.
In the public workplace, the narrator, in the public space, is dispassionate, but at home, in private, when writing, there is passion and agency. The fictional character created also literally and literarily fights against her dependence on her creator versus her own desires and drives. A divide often found among storytellers is whether the story is an intrinsic personal creation of the author, or if instead they’re more a satellite or receiver, and that the stories are actively seeking a vessel. That’s not really a question, but what do you think?
EL: What’s that idea? There’s only seven kinds of story in the world? I definitely think that’s true: every single story kind of fits into those seven categories. So in a way, that makes me feel not very inventive when I’m writing. If I’m consciously thinking of it, I’m like, “This is a story that’s been told before.” I have thought “Has [Paper] been told before?” I just maybe haven’t found it in the same way, and maybe that’s why I write the stories that I write. Maybe because I want them to exist in that way. I guess I take experiences and translate them so they’re coming more to me. I feel things that come out of me, like originate in my head, are not meant for paper. They’re not meant to be written down. It’s like when I have the craziest dream. I wake up and think “Oh my gosh, that’s so cool; that’s so weird; I have to tell someone.” It makes so much sense in my head, and as I’m saying it [to someone] all I want to do is stop talking.
There’s a line in the story: “Everything worth having is actually not meant for me.” Perhaps connected to that notion: there is no indication of the main character’s gender. Was that a conscious decision by you?
EL: That was probably the most memorable part of the MFA workshop critiquing experience. I was at least two chapters in that the class had already read, and I myself wasn’t even thinking that I didn’t include a gender until someone brought it up in class. I had no idea. I know in my mind who the speaker is, or who I want it to be. But there was never really any opportunity that felt right to include it. And it started this discussion in class: people were really divided about whether they thought it was a man or a woman, and whether that affected the story at all. It started off completely not deliberate, and then, thinking of how it might affect the reading experience, then it became “OK, I want people to think about it.”
Also interesting in this work: there’s zero dialogue until a brief flurry in chapter 8, one line in chapter 12, and that’s it. Even when dialogue occurs, there’s never an exchange or answer. Was this a deliberate decision, or organic?
EL: The fact that there’s no dialogue works the same way as the gender thing: I wasn’t really thinking too much about it. [The speaker] just felt like a very isolated person was speaking, so there wouldn’t be any dialogue. By the time I got to the chapter where there was an opportunity for dialogue, it didn’t feel like the speaker should have a chance to say anything…why would it change just because there’s a different environment?
Maybe my favorite line in Paper comes when the speaker is describing the drudgery of the office job: “It would be a normal day of playing staring games with the clock. The clock almost always won.” That “almost” implies a kind of magic or embracing of impossibility as possible. You’ve said you love breaking the fourth wall. Do you remember any influences when you were younger who exposed you to this?
EL: In high school and middle school I did a lot of theatre. I was never the lead, but it was always fun to be part of that -wait, I was the lead! In a summer library play, in Horton Hears a Who!* I don’t remember when I learned about breaking the fourth wall. I just remember that it was such a cool image to me, somebody turning from the stage and looking right at you and addressing you. That’s such a powerful technique. It’s not always appropriate, but when it works it really works. I’ve always really liked breaking the fourth wall. It also almost seems kind of violent. And I like that.
* [Ed. note: Horton Hears A Who! = the Hamlet of Dr. Seuss plays.]
Paper is a novella. Did you ever conceive of it in any other form?
EL: It was always going to be a novella. The idea of writing…a longer piece is something I’m still trying to think through. I feel like I don’t have the mindset, really, for writing longer pieces. I’m kind of coming to terms with the fact that I don’t think I’ll ever get to a place where I write a full novel.
Do you see pieces of yourself in any of your characters?
EL: I let the [story] sit for years before I went back to it and started editing and re-writing. I can definitely read some lines and think “Oh wow; I think that way still.” It’s a weird experience to go back and read and ask, “Was I writing myself this whole time?” So…sometimes.
At one point the fictional girl character sings on stage in front of an audience. There are lines in Paper like “trill of terror” and discussions about the girl’s relationship with words, music, and definitions. What’s your background with music? Does Musician Emily intersect with Writer Emily?
EL: My whole family is really musical. I play piano. I played viola. Singing is pretty much the foremost musical thing I do. In middle school and high school I did want to be a songwriter, just because it felt natural and that was my outlet at the time. So in a way, those are connected. I was creating words to go with music.
Do you listen to lyrics?
EL: Absolutely. I don’t think I ever listen to a song and not hear the words. Because that’s not that enjoyable.
The girl character does that, right? And re-invents melodies.
EL: She doesn’t understand a lot of the words that she’s singing. She just likes the way it feels. It’s kind of the opposite of what I do.
In one potentially violent moment, the speaker/writer grabs a pencil maliciously and intends to use the eraser. Your drafts and finished writing are always strikingly clean. There’s no wasted motion, but you smirked when you said you like violence. Are you a violent editor?
EL: That’s definitely one specific instance when I went back and read it…I was like, “That feels like me.” Because – and I don’t even want to say it – I hate re-writing. I hate editing. Before I write anything, all of the craziness happens in my head first, because I’m too scared to write something that I’m not happy with. The second I put it down in words, if it’s not something I like or if it doesn’t sound right to me, I lose complete interest in continuing. And that’s terrible. It stops me all the time from continuing with a project. It takes me forever. I ruminate all the time. When I have a line, then I’ll write it. I think that line about the eraser, and threatening…when I think about the act of erasing something, that makes me feel anxious. Because it means, to me – this is going to sound like I’m so self-pitying – that I failed the first time. It’s a terrible way to be a writer.*
* [Ed. note: every way to be a writer is terrible.]
Is Paper a story younger Emily would ever imagine older Emily writing?
EL: No. There was a time, especially in high school and college, that I was like, “I’m never gonna finish anything. I have all these unfinished things.” It feels terrible, because you want to say that you write and enjoy doing it, but then you never finish anything, so who will believe you? Most especially, there are scenes that are a little bit too intimate, I guess, and I never really felt comfortable writing that stuff.
You wrote a sex scene!
* [Ed. note: The noise she made was a hybrid of “Ohh” and “Oww.”]
Had you ever written one before? And since you want things to come out perfect right away, did that work out for you with this scene? It was a beautifully written scene.
EL: This is gonna sound like I’m full of myself, because I don’t like editing or writing, but it did come out kind of naturally that way. I don’t remember working very hard afterward. I remember being anxious writing it, because I’m a really private person and I don’t like showing certain sides. It did come out kind of easily.
Did you know you were done with this story before you finished writing it? Or did you only find out once you got there?
EL: Writing Paper was very different from my experiences writing other things. I had the whole story in my head from the beginning…which has never happened before and hasn’t really happened since. And then when I ended it, I knew exactly when it was done and it was such a crazy feeling, like “This is the last sentence!” I knew it as I was writing. It sounds like such a perfect thing to happen, but it’s never happened since. And it had never happened before that.
You published Paper as an e-book on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. How’s your digital author experience been?
EL: It’s been cool. I’ve always been really daunted by the publishing process, so after everything that I’ve ever written has just been sitting and not doing anything, sitting on shelves or waiting on my computer, I felt “It’s time to get it out there.” I’ve sent things to publishers and it’s agonizing not to hear anything back. It’s worse than getting a rejection. And then I just settle on the undeniable fact that it was just lost in the mail, just floating out there somewhere in the world. So I decided to have the control myself.
Do you think more now than when you first started writing, or studied it?
EL: I love the MFA (Stony Brook-Southampton). When I think about the stuff I learned, it’s invaluable. But then I also think about how, for years after finishing the program, I was like “I have no idea now, without the academic structure, how to start or finish any story.”
It’s harder after you get out then it was before.
EL: “It is. I felt really sad!”
Everyone I know has this two-year post-MFA depression. Everyone single person I know has had it.
EL: “That makes me feel so much better!”
That’s the only thing that brings them out of it: finding out that everyone else has gone through the same thing.
The cover art by Kevin Delvo is suuper cool. How did he come to be involved?
EL: He’s a friend from undergrad. We never really talked one-on-one, not for extended periods of time. We’ve always been in the same social circle. It’s one of those things where you have a friend who you have absolutely no idea what their talents and skills are outside of hanging out, and then on Facebook his art kept cropping up and I was like “Oh my gosh! Maybe I can ask him if he’d like to be involved with this.” Thankfully he said sure.
Did you dictate what you wanted the design to be, or did you collaborate or leave it entirely up to him?
EL: I did have an idea. It was definitely different. I mentioned to him what I was thinking of, but I gave him the freedom to do what he wanted because he knows way more than I do about art. I drew a sketch – I don’t think I showed it to him – and it was the creepiest thing ever. It was a hand reaching into a piece of paper. I wish I could find it; it was really creepy. I don’t know how to draw hands. The proportions were all off. He came back with 10 sketches, all of them completely different, all of them totally creative and unique. It was really cool to see somebody else’s interpretation of what they thought the story was about.
Are you reading these days? Do you ever have time to read?
EL: Right now I’m reading Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari. I got really super into reading comedian’s books in the past year. I don’t know what it is; I think I’m really interested in successful people and how they got there. Oh wow. The way I said it sounded like I came up with something new.
I kind of expected it to be a memoir. I knew it was about how people interact differently now in dating situations, but I assumed that was a small ploy and he’d mostly be talking about his life. But it’s a legit research paper. There’s psychologists, sociologists, there’s graphs…it’s not expected. I recently finished Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. The world has ended and the main characters are in this traveling orchestra and acting troupe, and they go from camp to camp with their instruments and their weapons, trying to keep art and music alive during this time when everything is falling apart.
The dedication to Paper reads: “For all the characters still confined to their paper.” Do you have any new characters confined to paper? Are you writing new work?
EL: I do have some stuff in the works. It’s been my ongoing project for the past year. I’m doing a lot of flash fiction, which I’ve never done before but it’s been an exercise in being able to complete a story, because it’s so short. It’s been a satisfying experience to have actually little pieces that are completely finished, or at least that feel completely finished. The ones I’ve been working on are zombie pieces. So I’m thinking I might put that into a collection. They’re not related. They’re just related by the universe that [they’re] set in.
Speaking of zombies – which I’m always excited to speak of – a The Walking Dead question: how do you feel about the show these days?
EL: I really like the show. There’s a part of me that can never stop liking it. There was a marathon a couple weeks ago, and I distinctly remember thinking, “Wow, that first episode was so compelling.” The first season itself is super, super compelling. I guess in comparison it doesn’t have the same…not mystery, but the same thing that keeps you going back for more. If it started in this season, who knows?
The show is SUCH a mammoth success that it’s commercially invincible. But in a show about people in a zombie universe, you figure either everyone has to die or there has to be a cure. I think for the show to persevere much longer, Rick has to die. Can this be a show that lasts to a 10th season and still be great? Or does the show’s world demand it end sooner rather than later?
EL: You know what’s weird? I had this conversation – it was a heated conversation – with my mom and dad. My mom isn’t that interested in the show. She’ll watch it because my dad and I are watching it. She’s like “This show’s not gonna last much longer.” I got so mad! It wasn’t completely logical, but I got so mad, like “How could you say that?” She said “It’s got one more season in it.” It’s true. It has to end somewhere. I don’t want it to be one of those shows that doesn’t finish because then you remember it for different reasons. Dexter was a show that did that.
Can you imagine watching The Walking Dead with them rebuilding the world?
EL: No. I don’t think it would end there. It would end way before that. And maybe the only way it can go on for much longer is if Rick died, and if it completely re-shaped. It would have to be done really well, because I could see that getting stale too.
A line from your novella: “The trouble with nice people is that they are often only pretending. Every nice person needs something dangerous.” You’ve always struck me as nice. Where do you get your danger? Do you ever go out at night and secretly ride motorcycles and drag race?
EL: First of all, I thought you said do I secretly ride motorcycles or dragons?
Let’s go with that.
EL: Everyone who knows me sees me as this really kind of lame, goody two-shoes. The joke at work is that I only drink Shirley Temples. Which is kind of true. Every time there’s a work function and everyone’s being an adult and drinking like normal people, I go to the bar and get a Shirley Temple.
If you look at the chemicals in soda, that is actually pretty ballsy of you. Much respect.