BabyCakes Conversations

Sloane Crosley

You know Sloane Crosley. She’s the author of I Was Told There’d Be Cake, which seemed like the book that every girl on the subway was feverishly reading in the summer of ’08 (myself included). Sloane now charms us with  How Did You Get this Number  which I read before bed every night and I swear it’s sometimes all I have to look forward to. Okay, not true. Okay, true. You should read it! On top of being talented and beautiful, Sloane also has a really cool name that I’d like to name my first daughter but I hear that she’s kind of weird about stalkers, so I probs won’t do that. Now, onto the good stuff…

Sloane: Hi, Erin!

Erin: HI! Thanks for taking time to IM with me.  I want to start at the beginning. Before your first book, I Was Told There’d be Cake, you were (and continue to be) a book publicist. How did you get into it? Did you know someone at the agency or was it good luck? I mean, let’s be real – did you get the job because of your hair? It’s so silky!

Sloane: Actually, I quit. I never mention to this to you when I see you because I am far too preoccupied with complimenting your shoes and making you hunt down gluten-free donuts for me at your own book party. Sorry about that. But 6 months ago, I had to leave. It killed me to do it because I loved my job but it was too much and I wanted to focus on writing. I realize from the outside it’s obvious that I’d want to write a novel and not sticker postcards… but people who say that have clearly never felt the Zen of labeling 600 postcards. As for how I got said job, I used to work for a literary agent and, well, before that I interned at magazines – The New Yorker and Mirabella (good morning, I’m dating myself!) – and book publicity was a nice marriage of the two professions. Also, my hair is a frizz ball today. Know this.

Erin: I am really happy for you that you quit, simply because it frees you up to totally devote yourself to writing. But I get the Zen activity! For me, the zen is in the dipping of the donuts. I can tell I’m avoiding the big pile on my desk when I spend too much time decorating donuts. When you see a tilting donut tower at the bakery, you know I’m getting a bit too involved. For a long time you kept up the crazy schedule, though. You’re like that Webbie song, ‘Independent’. “She got her own house, she got her own car, 2 jobs, work hard, she’s a bad broad.” And I’m happy that your hair is frizzy today. I don’t know why, I just am.

Sloane: I love little lady secrets like that. And I do think – not just because of our audience here – that over-decorating is a lady thing but with misunderstood origins. It’s like when I wear a dress and someone says, “You’re dressed up today,” and I’m all, “A dress is one choice.” It’s actually less effort. Similarly, I built and stained the bookshelves in my apartment and this actually came up at breakfast with a friend this morning. She said, “You must really not sleep.” And I thought, “I must really not write.” I don’t know that Webbie song but I wish I had a car! I used to think the washer and dryer was the ultimate Manhattan indulgence and now I think it’s a car. I think I’m aging in reverse.

Erin: Yes! Dresses are always the go-to when I don’t feel like putting in an effort. Especially if it has an elastic waistband or if it A-line! I know what you mean, they’re creative distractions but they work, they sort of silence the fear a bit. That reminds me – I read this Gawker interview with you recently where they asked you if you were nervous when you sat down to write your second book after the huge success of your first. You said that you don’t have performance anxiety or that it doesn’t happen in a timely fashion. I find this to be essential in the creative process, this lack negative self talk. There’s something to be said about just doing something without thinking too much. What are your thoughts on this?

Sloane: I said that? I must have been drunk. No, really, I think I just push it all out of my mind, good and bad. I don’t think about the past successes or the future failures. You have to talk yourself up and ignore the sneaking suspicion you’re meant to me doing something else and go for it. Engaging in activities that come naturally helps. I don’t think I could “psych myself up” into being a physicist. Black holes! You can do it, kid! And now I guess what I’m about to say is going to make me sound sad but here’s the thing about creating anything: no one will ever care about it as much as you do. Ever. Not your boyfriend or your mother or your best friend or your agent. Those people may come close and they should, they should get as close as possible for you just like you should for them. People ask but sometimes I feel like me being a writer is no different than if I had broken my leg. You run into someone you know on the street and they ask you about it. It’s not that they’re uninterested, it’s just that it’s what they know about you at that moment. If you do something that has a creative output to it, your entire person becomes a fun fact for most other people. Like for you, people want to know how the shop is doing, how it’s expanding, what you’re into and what you’re up to next but only a handful of people will want to hear all about it and only a pinky-full of those will want to be in your brain. It’s not cruel or rude, it’s just natural. But that means you are ultimately responsible for what you’re creating and you just can’t have it both ways. You can’t think of the good consequences but not the bad, of what all those people will think…. You have to shut out everything when you create something I think. And think hard about all the permutations and scenarios later.

me: Creating something for yourself is where everyone should begin but it is hard, when you are in that process, to not think about the negative aspects like how before you put anything out there, it has its moment where it is so pure and it’s just this thing that you’ve done. Then once it’s public, the critics come and everyone is a critic with an agenda. How do you deal with criticism?

Sloane: I guess I would say I take it to heart but not to the page? Or something like that. I am a complete nut – I read my Amazon reviews and I’m like, really people-who-can’t-be-bothered-to-spell-the-author’s-name-right-and-whose-last-purchase-was-a-Swiffer? Get f**ked. I think these things and I go searching for them because I’m human and some one invented the Internet and that’s that. But real criticism is something I value. Some of it is so spot on. And it can come from blogs or the TBR or NPR or someone at a reading. Writing is interactive. You have to know and love your audience and I think I do both of those things. But it’s like I send them away to summer camp in my brain when I’m actually doing the writing part.

Erin: I like that! Taking it to heart but not to the page. That takes a lot of self awareness. And Amazon, ugh! I had someone leave a negative review (just 1 star) because she didn’t like my writing style. She thought I was self-congratulatory.

Sloane: Ugh. Though I do generally feel like we live in this cutesy world where you’re suddenly not allowed to critique people because it’s “mean”. But if it’s that they objected to the “writing style”, that’s ridiculous. A) change the channel then and B) people want things that are unique. Your book isn’t “home Italian cooking” or something that’s been done before. On some level you have to say, hey, this is why my type of baking is important. And why it’s delicious. So you’re in the awkward position of having to defend your existence right off the bat against the very people who were clamoring for something different and amazing in the first place. Also, thirdly: it’s cupcakes, anger-nauts. You might want to sit this round out. Take a breather.

Erin:Thank you, Sloane! I’m going to cut and paste what you said as a reply to that woman’s review and use your full name. That’s cool with you, right? I personally never read the reviews because the tone tends to be sonegative and while I love constructive criticism, there’s something about that anger-energy that makes me think they have some other stuff they’re trying to work out. Instead, I just ask everyone I meet who bake from my books what they really thought or if any recipes weren’t coming out right etc. They usually have a lot of good feedback. Anyhow, onto my final question: What’s the best advice you can pass on to  young women who really really want to pursue writing? Any mistakes to avoid?

Sloane: Jennifer Egan gave an interview recently in which she said something like, “Don’t be afraid to write poorly.” Obviously she didn’t mean, “Please publish derivative cliché stories because that sounds fun,” but I like the way she honed in on a piece of advice that’s been going around for years (write every day and work hard). For most of the young women I meet, laziness is really not the issue.  The younger women who come to my readings are smart and so funny and put-together and frighteningly ambitious. They kind of make me want to hide behind the podium until I can pop out looking and speaking as wonderfully as they do. But the flip side of that is that want everything to be perfect out of the gate.  I believe they paralyze themselves with this fear.  That’s what Jenny was saying.  Basically: get over yourself, have a little faith in your own talent, do something new that only you can and produce above all.

Erin: I love that. Fear, perfectionism and unwillingness to make mistakes only lead to avoidance or failure. You have to know that each time you screw up, you’re just that much closer to your victory. Man, when I started baking, everything was naaaasty and I was often on the floor crying! But  instead of laying there in a tear fest, I’d visualize the bakery, breathe in that joy and pick myself up and start over. I was on the floor a lot and continue to have my moments but you get better at dusting yourself off again, (as Aaliyah says!). Now something we all need to know: do you have a boyfriend?  What’s it like dating in New York? Can we have 1 story please?

Sloane:: I do not have a boyfriend. Broke up with a crazy-perfect-but-not-perfect-for-me gentleman two months ago. Ouf, I am no good at dating stories. I actually think this is connected to writing or has become moreso. My strong aversion to a certain kind of episodic lady lit has made it so that I could go on a date where I get shot out of a cannon into a vat of whiskey and chocolate and it turns out that the cannon operator is my long lost love from high school and he gives me a lemur baby at the end of the night…. and I probably wouldn’t tell anyone about it. Just because it happened on a date.  Have I successfully avoided answering your question yet?  Oh good.

Erin:Pretty much. Writers!!!

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