Um, aren’t you a little young?

I’m twenty-six.  Why do I feel like you are expecting me to apologize for this?   There will be no apologies.  All I can do about it is slowly, day by day, age.  I’m sure when I’m sixty I will look back at my twenty-six-year-old self and reflect upon how idiotic I was, but for now, my defense is that I’ve been writing since I was five, and I don’t think there is anything else I’ve been doing since I was five, besides eating and bothering my parents and brushing my teeth, so in that way, I do feel like I was ready.


Why did you write a book about an older man seducing a younger female student and vice versa? Is this something that has happened to you, or something you’ve always fantasized about happening to you?

I think it has something to do with how tall I am.I’m 5’10 and three quarters, before shoes.I was this height when I was thirteen, and even though all of my mother’s friends told me it was a good thing to be so much taller than all of the boys in eight grade, I knew it was mostly tragic, considering that I could see above the lockers, and every day I got dents in my knees from the desks. My friends and I couldn’t hold successful conversations unless we were all sitting down, ear-level, and then to think of all the “how’s the weather up there?” I had to incessantly find come-backs for, which I couldn’t, so I ended up answering honestly, “It’s fine.”

The only fun part about being so tall was that people thought I was significantly older than I was.I would often get asked what college I went to when I didn’t even know algebra yet.I think the fact that I looked so much older than my age made older men feel okay talking to me, like they weren’t some kind of pervert for looking me in the eye, because there was some understanding that I wasn’t really a child; I was a 5’10 and three quarters being; not exactly a peer, but as tall as one.

In response to all the attention from older men, I became petrified of them.I spent much of my adolescence worrying about them, and all the horrible things they would do to me, keeping my distance, making sure to never ever look one in the eye ever again.Eventually, though, I got tired of the extreme fear, and it segued into a curiosity—we fear death, so we think and write about it all the time, right?I guess it’s kind of like that.I don’t know.It might be a little too easy to say that I wrote The Adults because I was too tall as a seventh grader.Then again, it does kind of explain it.


Do you hate your characters?And/or why do you think some of your reviewers hate them?

There is a theory that we put the things we don’t like about ourselves into our characters.It’s easier to write what you don’t like about yourself, because it’s easier to know what you don’t like about yourself; our flaws our much more visible.So for that reason, no, I don’t hate my characters.But I also don’t think I hate my characters as much as some people do.I’ve always had a hard time being friends with “nice” people, no offense to my friends (you are all very nice).I like flaws.I think deviancy is a bit more interesting than conformity, and honesty is more valuable than niceness, especially in fiction–does that make me horrible as well?


Was it awkward after everybody you knew read the sex scenes in your book?

A little, yes.


What did your family say after they read it?

My father said, “There was too much sex in that.”My mother said, “That was a little sexy, young lady.” My uncle said, “I hear there is a lot of sex in your novel.”I don’t think my brother finished it yet.My sister-in-law read it while she was in labor, but did manage to say, “I liked it” right before she gave birth.


Do you think it means something bad about a person who enjoys writing this self-interview?

Maybe.In my defense, I find a kind of joy in articulation.It’s similar to the satisfaction I once felt when I hit a good serve in tennis, or made a three pointer on the basketball court.Yes, I played basketball or tennis for my entire life, not to mention volleyball. I am extremely tall, and spent my life doing the things tall people were expected to do, standing at nets, and under backboards. Don’t ever forget it.


Why are you so obsessed with how tall you are?

I’m not, usually. I am right now, for some reason.


Remember when you were in eighth grade and had no idea what you wanted to be, and weren’t sure if you wanted to join the WNBA? You told your parents that you didn’t really want to be in the WNBA, because it seemed like a lot of exercise, but that you would do it if you had to. And they said, “Maybe you want to consider other options besides the WNBA.”



Or that time you really wanted to be a professional ice skater and took lessons at the ice rink until your instructor told you that you were too tall to ever be pro, and you cited Nancy Kerrigan, and she said, “I think you’re going to be a bit taller than that,” and unless your mother enjoyed wasting all her money, you should probably find a cheaper hobby? Did all of this, or none of this, contribute to why you eventually became a writer? Because writing was free, and you got to do it while sitting down?

Writing, it turns out, is hard on the back and actually quite expensive. There are a lot of unforeseen costs that not even someone as cheap as me predicted. Nobody gives you paper or ink cartridges or health insurance for free. There is no fax machine unless you buy it. There is no birthday cake that randomly appears in the kitchen or happy hours paid by the boss. And since I work from home, I’m using electricity and heat all day long, plus my natural body temp is 97 degrees, so I really crank it up, which explains why my bill is double than anybody who works at an office.

And then there’s always that trip you’re not sure if you should take, the one you always hear about other writers taking, the one to that place you really want to write about, because you don’t know if spending 1000 dollars on a plane ticket to Europe is going to result in an enlightened state of self and publishable material or just twenty extra pounds from all the beer and fatty meat and an STD.It’s possible to think that one could go all the way to Europe, write about all the fun and crazy things one did there, and all the wild people who tried to change and give one drugs, and nobody would care.


But you did go all the way to Germany, and one of the first things you did once you got there was sit down and google “Germany.” Can you tell me a little bit about that?Does it ever alarm you how much time you spend at a computer, in regards to both mental and physical concerns?

I comfort myself by thinking of all the other people who sit at computers all day long too.If you think about it, there are a lot of us sitting at the computer, every day.I try to do my writing next to a window, so I can at least look out, and see the sun, if it’s present.But I worry about a lack of Vitamin D, yes.And sometimes, when my eyes start hurting, I roll them around, because I’ve heard you’re supposed to do that, though I’m not sure why it’s medically helpful.Sometimes I stand up and walk back and forth around the apartment for no reason, due to fear of blood clots.


What are you working on now?

I just finished a draft of what sadly turned out to be another version of The Adults.I didn’t realize it until I was finished, and a friend said, “um, isn’t this basically just The Adults but with a shittier title?”I reread it and it was, indeed, the same exact novel.I’m not sure why writers are compelled to write the same stories over and over again.Probably the same reason we tell the same stories over and over again to our friends.We like the stories, or we are amused by them, or upset by them, or we don’t believe them.

That, or there are certain kinds of relationships that I’m just obsessed with. I’m interested in the power dynamics between people, particularly age gaps, because age often immediately signifies who gets the power in a relationship and who doesn’t, and that doesn’t seem very fair.So I guess you could say my writings are really a series of elaborate complaints.


Can you just tell me what you’re working on?

Since I re-wrote The Adults, I’ve been spending my mornings trying to understand the labyrinth that is Twitter, and working on a new novel, one that I believe departs from the world of my first novel. I’m not going to say what it’s about though, because every time I’ve told someone, I found myself unable to continue writing it, and have to come up with an entirely new idea.And there are only so many left.


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ALISON ESPACH received her MFA from Washington University in St. Louis. The Adults is her debut novel, and her writing has also appeared in McSweeny’s and other journals. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

One response to “Alison Espach: The TNB 

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