So, the self-interview is a great opportunity, huh? As you and I both know, interviewers rarely ask the questions one wants most to be asked. What are the questions you most want to be asked about your recently published memoir, Whip Smart?

I can’t actually think of a single question I’m interested in answering about being a dominatrix, or a junky. The very thought makes my whole body groan with malaise. For the last few months I’ve been a writer whose primary genre is the email interview.


Don’t you fear that that sounds ungrateful?

Yes. And I’m sure it does. Most writers pay a lot of lip service to the work being its own biggest reward, while secretly thinking that the satisfaction of their publication ambitions will be an even sweeter reward. Maybe I’m just talking about myself here, but it feels safer to universalize. In any event, it is both an enormous relief and enormous disappointment to discover that actually, creating the work is far more rewarding than talking about it. Or writing about it in email interviews.


Has publishing this memoir upset many of your expectations?

I can’t think of one that it hasn’t. Mainly, I think that we (and by we, I mean me, again)—against our great wealth of experience to the contrary—harbor the belief that in reaching our goals we will be freed from the neurosis, fear, self-doubt, obsession, and myriad other emotional and psychological discomforts that accompany writing. Or any other kind of work, life, or humanness. If I just find love. If I just get into this graduate program. If I just lose this 5 pounds. If I just finish this book. If I just publish this book. If it just gets reviewed well. If I just manage to assemble this Ikea bookshelf. THEN, I will stop wondering if I am good enough. Then, I will be able to stop worrying. Then, I will be liberated from the bondage of self-concern and free to pursue a life of service. Needless to say, this secret expectation is never met. I mean, thank god. Each time it goes unmet, I think we wake up a tiny bit more to the actual experience of living.


So, if you don’t want to talk about your experiences of being a dominatrix, or a drug addict, or writing a book about them, then what do you want to talk about?

I could talk about my dog forever.



You asked.


Why don’t you tell you about your new book instead?

Why do you feel the urge to waste this opportunity to ask the questions you really want to answer? Is your devotion to the expectations of people reading a literary interview so slavish that you can’t be true to your own desires even when it is prescribed?


Hey, I wrote a whole fucking book about my own desires, and how I came to accept them. Who’s giving this interview anyway?

Yeah, but that was about sex, which has always been easier for you to write about than other kinds of desire.


It was NOT about sex. You’re just like everybody else. Do you also want to know what my dominatrix outfits were like? How weird it was to tie somebody up?

Did you just take a dig at Terry Gross? Talk about ungrateful.


Sorry. I just got a little defensive. This whole thing is making me kind of uncomfortable.

How so?


Well, it’s a pretty narcissistic exercise, interviewing oneself. I already wrote a whole book about myself.

But don’t you think that book was about humanity? The nature of desire, judgment, love, feminism, and growing up? Those are pretty universal subjects. How else to approach them most intimately but vis-à-vis your own experience? Are you afraid of being a narcissist?


Not anymore. Not after getting so very tired of talking about myself.

So do you want to talk about your dog, or the new book?


I want to talk about the new book.

Really? You’re not just placating me?


No, I do. I’m really excited about it.

What’s it about? (I know you hate this question, but it’s good practice. Don’t forget that you’re going to have to go through this whole publicizing/email interviewing/elevator-pitching nightmare again once you finish it. I mean, if you’re lucky.)


Yeah, I know. But right now I’m really enjoying getting lost in the world of the new novel. Going back to fiction is both terrifying and rapturous. There are so many decisions to make! But at a certain point, they start making themselves. It’s a much more mystical experience than writing memoir.

But what’s it about?


God, the pragmatic part of your brain can be so fascistic.

Tell me about it.


Well, I’m really interested in unconventional love stories. By which I mean, not heterosexual romances. Or even queer romances. Love stories about relationships that honor the complexity of less easily categorized kinds of love. Specifically, it’s a book about a friendship between two girls. It’s also about madness, art-making, and rock and roll.

Sounds good.


I think so.

Well, you better.


I think this conversation is over.

Didn’t your mom used to say that when you were being incorrigible as a kid?


Totally. It infuriated me. But it worked. The conversation usually ended.

Okay, just one more question. What do you think about electronic readers? Do you think they foretell the death of the publishing industry? Are you sad about the imminent obsoletion of the book object?




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MELISSA FEBOS is the author of the memoir, WHIP SMART (St. Martin’s Press, 2010). Her writing has been published in Hunger Mountain, Salon, Dissent, Glamour, The Southeast Review, ReDivider, Storyscape Journal, The New York Times, Bitch Magazine, and The Chronicle of Higher Education Review, among other places, and she has been profiled in venues ranging from the cover of the New York Post to NPR’s Fresh Air. A 2010 & 2011 MacDowell Colony fellow, she has taught at Sarah Lawrence College, The New School, and NYU, and holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence. Currently Assistant Professor of English at Utica College, Melissa splits her time between Brooklyn and Clinton, NY. She is currently at work on a novel. More info at melissafebos.com.

4 responses to “Melissa Febos: The TNB Self-Interview”

  1. An interest in unconventional relationships and exploring a friendship between two girls does sound good. I look forward to the new book. Can’t wait to read Whip Smart, too–it’s on my list–since I, of course, have not had to answer email interviews about it and am therefore not sick to death of it. But I do confess to gratitude that you did not talk about your dog for the whole interview, because I am an asshole and don’t like dogs. Unless your dog is dressed up in one of your old dominatrix outfits, then it might be interesting to talk about . . . especially to Terry Gross.

  2. simply scott says:

    So, my question is simple: is there real value to the “self interview”? I’m not trying to be a jerk here. If this is simply a marketing thing or an exercise in creative writing, that’s one thing, but one would think it would be much more beneficial to have a real interview. I’ve read these before on here, but I guess I’ve finally decided to ask: what’s the point?

    I haven’t read the book yet, although I did buy it. It’s in one of the 15 piles of books on my floor, but the subject does interest me, and I have some personal interest in that area of life, so I’m looking forward to reading it. I like to see the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ behind the actual actions of the individual, personal involvement, and the emotions that drives us, which is why this book appeals to me. I certainly hope it is successful and leads to bigger and better things. Good luck!

  3. “Love stories about relationships that honor the complexity of less easily categorized kinds of love.” Eloquently framed, Melissa. I’ve never understood why so many view something so vast and complex in reductive terms. Looking forward to reading more of your work.

  4. Joe Daly says:

    Please make space somewhere to talk about your dog, too. If you don’t, the terrorists have won.

    As an aside, when someone comes to my house and doesn’t immediately fawn all over my dogs, it’s really hard for me not to punch them in the teeth. It’s my issue and I’m dealing with it.

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