Interview with Author Elizabeth Crane by Greg VOSTROMO
ELIZABETH CRANE is the author of the critically-acclaimed short story collections When The Messenger is Hot, All This Heavenly Glory, and You Must Be This Happy to Enter. Her work has been featured in numerous national magazines and anthologies, and been dramatized by Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater Company and National Public Radio’s Selected Shorts. Her first novel, We Only Know So Much, was published in 2012 by Harper Perennial.
Betsy, as I know her, is tall, quick-witted, sometimes loud, and once presented me with a profoundly beautiful, somewhat passive-aggressively threatening gift: a funny phrase of hers I’d admired, written in gold marker on an antique hacksaw blade, ribboned in pink. Shortly after receiving this she met the man who would become her [unfairly gifted] husband, Ben, so you’re welcome. She is also the circumstantial genesis of one of my now-signature comedy bits, where, on meeting a pregnant woman, I offer my hand and say, in a conspiratorial tone, I had nothing to do with it. If her career tanked tomorrow, there’d be that, so let’s all join in welcoming her and asking me to leave.
Q: Congratulations on publishing We Only Know So Much, your first full-length novel. Previously you have published collections of short stories. I’ve written short stories myself, but not a novel. You think you’re better than me?
A: Thank you, and no, or at least not because I’ve written a novel. I kid I kid.
Q: Much of your writing has an easy, conversational, hip style that readers can readily relate to. What were your SAT scores?
A: I don’t remember exactly, all I remember is that they were fairly average, and that that when I took them a second time I went up in Verbal and down in Math. I figure the real life interpretation of this is that in the following decades I have continued to go up in Verbal while I can no longer perform any tasks relating to Math.
A: Freaking meringues. I am, at this point, fully addicted to them. It’s almost nothing more than sugar in a pretty, puffy presentation.
Q: The US covers for your collection You Must Be This Happy to Enter feature a striking gnome-like figure. Is this a veiled critique of North Korea?
A: If it is, it’s veiled even to me.
[Note: at this point in the interview the polygraph to which the author is unknowingly connected (through a series of sensors hidden in the June 1984 copy of Modern Surveillance magazine which has previously been secreted into a small vault dug into the hotel room floor, over which the author's chair has been placed) begins to emit a series of reactive trace patterns which are later examined by experts from the "MAURY" show. It is determined that these patterns are likely the result of acoustical pressure waves resulting from the loud knocking on the meeting-room door of the hotel day manager demanding to know why a vault has been dug into the hotel-room floor, and who authorized such a thing. To the best and most complete knowledge of the interviewer, HarperCollins Publishers, and the staff of the Riker's Island Marriott Hotel & Suites, Ms Crane's response to the question in question is unquestionable.]
Q: Who’s been the biggest influence on your development as a writer? Hint: Is it me?
A: I’m not sure about the biggest, that would probably be my dad, who was a big cheerleader. But to say something utterly un-ironic or funny, you were one of the first people to tell me — or who I heard, let’s put it that way — that I was smart. And that helped a lot.
Q: Is it true that you used a quote of mine in a short story which The New Yorker rejected? How many times did you resubmit it? Did you try anywhere else? Do you often give up that easily?
A: Ah, I believe you must mean “Out is better”? Well, I didn’t resubmit it there because the rejection letter told me not to come back until I was no longer Havas-derivative. As per usual, I’m not even sure what story that was in, but most likely it was published elsewhere.
Q: Who are some authors you admire? Are they dog or cat people? They’re not fish people, are they?
A: The list of writers I admire is a long one, David Foster Wallace, Lydia Davis, Rick Moody, and George Saunders among them. Wallace had dogs, I don’t know about the rest — well, Saunders has a dog, but I don’t know if any of these people have fish. It’s true, that could be a game-changer.
Q: Your story “The Daves” from your debut collection When the Messenger is Hot has always struck me as depicting, in its way, the end of the world. Where did I develop such acute critical faculties?
A: You’re just more tuned in than the rest of the world to the fact that the world is ending.
[Note: at this point in the interview a wall calendar depicting the Mayan Temple of the Masonry Altars at Altun Ha appeared to fall from its point of attachment and slip behind a writing-desk. After the close of the interview an attempt was made to retrieve the wall calendar, but no trace of it was found. A similar mysterious event involving a large bath towel has been reported.]
Q: Which is more important: spelling or punctuation?
A: Well if you were my student asking that question I would say don’t turn anything in to me if both are not perfect. Otherwise I’d have to write a book. Screw-ups on both can cause inordinate problems for a teacher — I mean reader.
Q: Better kisser: Bill Maher or Charlie Sheen?
A: I’d sooner French kiss my dog than either of those.
[Note: Ms Crane's dog, a French poodle, is named "Charlie Sheen."]
Q: Do you write when the spirit strikes, or are you one of those people that go to “the office” regularly and pretends to have a real job?
A: I have a real job, but it’s not in an office so my hours are flexible. Anyway it’s a little of both, but I do make an effort to write most mornings.
Q: You were an extensive journal-keeper before blogging became a thing. What’s your internet connection speed?
[Note: repeated calls to Manny's Ninth Avenue HVAC & Internet were not returned.]
Q: After your husband recently received his MFA, your family moved to New York City. Is “Max Fish” still there?
A: Don’t you have Google?
Q: What about “Sammy’s Roumanian Steakhouse?”
A: Sammy’s is still there and I think it’s open.
Q: Do you have a favorite among your own works? Are you right?
A: I have a few favorites, but I don’t want to make the rest of them feel bad.
Q: Finally, what advice would you give a young person just starting on a path as a writer: should they use the public wifi at Starbucks or at the library?
A: The library!
[Note: at this point in the interview the interview ends.]
To learn more about Elizabeth Crane, you can visit her website, http://www.elizabethcrane.com/
Thank you, Greg and Ms. Crane for a most enlightening interview!