Former literary publicist Sloane Crosley made the leap into writing with her acclaimed collections of essays I Was Told There’d Be Cake and How Did You Get This Number? Now the New York writer has written a novel. An homage to Guy de Maupassant’s short story The Necklace, The Clasp (Hutchinson, £12.99) is a comedy of errors following three estranged college friends as they reunite in pursuit of a legendary piece of jewellery in France.
Was your experience as a literary publicist and agent’s assistant a blessing or a curse when writing your novel?
It was both. It’s great in a lot of ways in that you know what’s possible. The joke was always “have you thought about sending a copy to Oprah” and I’d say “yes, it’s crossed my mind”. Meanwhile I’d FedEx’d seven copies of it. You can’t help but develop relationships with a couple of members of the media – you know, my best friends – but at the same time that can be a disturbance because that “local girl makes good story” goes away pretty quickly and you really have to go on your own merit because, in a way, you know too much. It’s mostly good but at the same time some people won’t write about it because it’s a conflict of interest.
How was the transition from writing essays to a full-length novel?
It was difficult but I loved it. Now that I’ve done both I can say that fiction is harder. A lot of authors who write novels say they could never write about themselves but that’s not because it’s more difficult – it’s just that they’re worried about appearances or hurting people, or themselves. But it’s such a delight to be able to revisit an idea every day as opposed to just thinking: “I have to get to the end of this month.”
The Clasp is an homage to The Necklace – is this a nod to your beginnings in the short form?
Short stories are so closely related to novels for me that it hadn’t occurred to me that the fact that I wrote essays was really related.
The main thread of the story is the pursuit of something coveted that turns out to be worthless. Is that a condition of life in our twenties?
No, that’s so sad! But the actual physical necklace isn’t as important to me as the idea of keeping up appearances or striving for something that turns out to be not that important anyway, and I think that can be a condition of your twenties. You’re carrying with you the dreams of your teens, of your contemporaries, and this idea of yourself as an adult without really being an adult yet. So in a way you’re trying on versions of yourself. I’m thinking of In Cold Blood where Nancy’s diary has all different handwriting in different coloured ink and Capote points out that she’s trying on versions of herself. I feel like that is the thread of The Necklace that I took and applied to The Clasp.
“I think that you tend to be a little bit imitative in writing when you’re younger unless you’re truly extraordinary.”
Did you spend your twenties trying on different styles of writing?
I think that you tend to be a little bit imitative in writing when you’re younger unless you’re truly extraordinary – which some people are – but even then, it’s like good cholesterol and bad cholesterol: there’s good influences and bad influences. Everyone wants to be Raymond Carver, you’ve spent all your life reading literature and studying literature and you suddenly think: “I can write a little slice of life, and it can be about nothing, but I can get away with it – these guys did.” But then of course you unpack it and it’s not about nothing and it’s very difficult. When I worked for a literary agent we would get query letters that would say things like “I’m a little bit worried my writing is too much like Fitzgerald” and I’d think “Why don’t we jump off that concern when we come to it?”
Guy de Maupassant was mentored by Gustav Flaubert. Do you have a literary mentor or role model?
He was practically related to him – his mother was best friends with him growing up. I had professors that were really amazing but in terms of actual writers, because I worked in publishing so early, there were writers that were especially kind and helpful from the get-go. Jonathan Letham is one of them, and Lorrie Moore is another. David Rakoff was huge – I miss him dearly every day. But I wasn’t sending these people writing – they were just incredibly encouraging. In terms of influences for non-fiction, David Rakoff, Joan Didion, Joseph Mitchell, Ian Fraser. For fiction, if I woke up tomorrow and wrote like Zadie Smith I wouldn’t be mad about it.
Was it a challenge to write from the male perspective?
It gives you renewed empathy for poorly behaved, bumbling men. It was actually very refreshing because I think there’s plenty of wrenches I threw in the works – one of them has a history of sticky fingers and is obsessed with a piece of jewellery, and these are two traditionally female things. I felt like I knew them. I’ve known many men – and dated them, been friends with them, loved them and hated them – and so I feel like I know them pretty well, and if you observe them enough it becomes a lot simpler. If you think about it there’s only one woman I’ve really ever written before now and so it was pretty easy because I know what I’m thinking. You would think I would relate mostly to Kezia in the novel but she’s so much more tightly wound and more of a pushover than I am. At the same time she’s grown into someone I really respect and love. But there is a challenge to writing women now, as a woman, which no one talks about – you’re hyper-sensitive to any anti-feminist misstep you might make and I had to shut that out of my mind and think: “Yes, sometimes she is worried about the superficial things. Sometimes she is making choices based on what a man might think and it doesn’t mean that she’s a terrible anti-feminist.”
Was writing about two men an attempt to avoid being autobiographical?
I think there was definitely something in my brain that was trying to move further away from the essays but really that can only get you in the door – just thinking, ‘Ok, I’ll write from a man’s perspective’ it would end up being like John Updike but they became the characters I wanted them to be.