What’s up with you and Nebraska?  Your new novel, The Melting Season, takes place there, but you live in Brooklyn, NY.

Have you ever been to Nebraska?  It’s kind of special.  They have an aquifer underneath the state, and really amazing thrift stores, and corn and cows and the skies look gorgeous after a summer storm. Holy shit, they have some great peaches in the summertime.  Omaha is a fun town, too, if you’re looking for a little city fun.  Oh, and the people are great: kind, and funny, and a little dry in the exact right way.  I was there for a few months four years ago and I just fell in love with it.  Enough so that I felt compelled to write a book set there.


Where are you planning on setting your next book?

I have completed a first draft of a novel that takes place mostly in Los Angeles, but really it’s mostly in a house in Silver Lake.  It doesn’t feel as geographically motivated to me as The Melting Season.  Los Angeles is sort of interesting to me, but only sort of.

And I have about a third of another novel that takes place in Portland, Oregon, but I don’t know if I’ll ever finish that one unless I go back to Portland for a while.  I was there for a summer two years ago and I held the city in my head for a while, the neighborhoods, the people, the weather patterns, etc. I walked miles and miles every day, very deliberately, so that I could learn the city well.  I was efficient and focused.

But then a bunch of big things happened in my life, there was a breakup, and then a broken ankle, and I traveled a lot.  I had to make room for those new things in my head and I lost hold of Portland.  I would love to go back and try again, but I’m worried it might be a lost cause.  I don’t usually give up on books though.  I guess I need to find another free summer.


Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Well, I’ve always written, but I don’t know if I necessarily thought I would be a writer, though I knew I was good at it.

When I was very little I wrote and illustrated a little book called “Me Myself and I” which was about three girls who looked exactly like me (or my interpretation of me) that worked together to save a dog from a burning building.  Even at a very young age I was obsessed with documenting my existence, fictional or otherwise. (It is only recently that I’ve learned to monetize that obsession.)

I wrote throughout high school. I was the only girl in the after-school creative writing workshop and I was editor of my high school paper. I went to Johns Hopkins for the fiction-writing program because that was the only thing I was interested in studying.  (Undergraduate. I didn’t get an MFA, because that would have meant I really was going to try to be a writer.)

In my twenties I dabbled in essay writing, and I had a blog. I wrote a few articles.  I put out a few zines. Mostly I worked in advertising copywriting, which is where all the “real writing” dreams go to die.  But I swear it wasn’t until I was in my early thirties that I actually said that I was going to be a writer when I grew up.  It didn’t seem like something people really did, or could make a living out of it anyway.


So what changed your mind?

I had a friend who shook me by the shoulders (over the internet anyway) and said, “What are you doing?  Why don’t you write a book already?”  And so I just decided that was it, and I did it, and then it was done.


You owe it all to your friends.

Kind of.  I owe it (whatever “it” is, because last time I checked, I’m still pretty broke)  to myself, because I’m the one who sits down and does the work, and I owe it a little bit to my editor and my agent, for example, because they are the ones who push me to the next level, but if I really thought about it (I am now really thinking about it) it’s kind of my friends who drive and support and inspire me in extremely important ways.  I’d be a lonely wreck without them.  Writers think they want to be alone – we often work very hard at pushing people away – but if there’s no one to complain to about how HARD and what a STRUGGLE it is to be a writer, what fun is it?


That’s your idea of fun?

That’s one of my ideas of fun.  What’s your idea of fun?






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JAMI ATTENBERG has written about sex, technology, design, graphic novels, books, television, and urban life for The New York Times, Print, New York, Nylon, Jane, Double X, The Huffington Post, Salon, and others. Her fiction has been published by Nerve, Five Chapters, Smokelong Quarterly, 3: AM Magazine, and Spork. She recently appeared in the anthologies Sex for America, Future Misbehavior, Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone, and Love Is a Four-Letter Word: True Stories of Breakups, Bad Relationships, and Broken Hearts. She also wrote Wicked: The Musical: A Pop-up Compendium. Her debut collection of stories, Instant Love, was published by Crown/Shaye Areheart Books in June 2006. The Kept Man was published by Riverhead Books in January 2008, and is now available in paperback. A third book, The Melting Season, was published by Riverhead Books in January 2010. Visit her at www.jamiattenberg.com .

One response to “Jami Attenberg: The TNB 

  1. Jami, I too didn’t admit to myself that I wanted to “be a writer when I grew up” until I was already pushing 30, even though I’d been writing stories and longhand novels since I was younger than 10. It just seemed too economically nonviable. I was going to be a psychologist. I even practiced for a few years, until I started calling in sick to work all the time to stay home and write. Then my husband was like, “Do you want to be a writer and maybe be poor but at least be excited about what you do, or do you want to be a malcontented therapist who keeps getting fired because she never shows up to work, which will probably make you poor anyway?”
    Looked at from that angle, the choice was pretty easy . . .
    Glad you made the leap, and great to see you on TNB!

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