Happy Pub Date to Raphaela Weissman, whose novel Monsters comes out today! Raphaela and I first met at the Shakespeare and Company bookshop while she studied at New York University in Paris for a semester. She now lives in Seattle and wrote part of this book at the Richard Hugo House. Today, she and I talk about the long process of writing a book, why we write, and some of the authors she can’t live without. Congratulations, Raphaela! I’m so excited for you.
Tell us about Monsters.
Monsters is a novel about a small family— Mom, Dad, eight-year-old boy— living in Brooklyn shortly after 9/11. The marriage is going bad, the boy is having nightmares, and the mom is sleepwalking. Everyone is scared, and restless, and feels a little trapped. In a word, it’s about fear, in all forms: existential fear, insecurity and self-doubt, a child’s boogieman-type fear, end-of-the-world fear.
This is your debut novel. How does it feel to have it finished and out in the world?
I started writing this book eight years ago, and “finished” it for the first time about a year after that. I got an agent and shopped it around in 2011, gave up on that route in 2012, and abandoned it until 2016, when I decided to quasi-self-publish through a London-based crowdfunding platform/publishing house called Unbound. In 2017, I read it again, for the first time in years, and crawled back into its world to tear it apart and rewrite it, which was a bizarre experience. It’s a bit of a different book than when I first wrote it, because by now, I’m a bit of a different person.
Living in 2018 is so strange; we’re all out in the world all the time, in a way, so this idea of my work reaching a bunch of people I’ve never met is maybe less exotic than it would have been before we were all talking to each other 24 hours a day. I corrected a spelling mistake on Kyle Maclachlan’s Instagram and he thanked me, you know what I mean? The exhilaration of touching the rest of the world is dulled a little. That’s unfortunate. That said, of course this is thrilling; when I held the physical copy in my hands for the first time, I felt something. That night, I lay in bed and flipped through it, not really reading, just to hold it again.
Have you always wanted to be a writer? (And was there a particular moment you thought, ‘I can do this!’?)
Actually, yes, I have. I’ve been writing, and enjoying it, since I learned how to, and it’s something I’ve always excelled at (when I was a child, that meant it was a thing adults would compliment me on, which was not always true of my behavior or self-control or skill at physical activities or eating without making a mess). I got encouragement along the way (in fifth grade, at the end of a pretty difficult year when I was bullied a lot, my teacher gave out awards to everyone and gave me “Best Writer,” which made me feel seen, and redeemed to a certain extent). One moment that stands out from my adult life was when I was accepted by an agent, after I originally finished Monsters; a year or two earlier, I’d applied to twelve prestigious MFA programs and was rejected from every one, which undid some of the confidence I’d built up, and made me wonder if I really was a good writer. Somehow I managed to shake that off enough to write a novel shortly afterwards, and getting an agent was a nice affirmation of, It’s okay, you do belong here.
Why do you write?
To keep from going insane. Or, to organize my insanity.
I’m a pessimist. I think life can be almost unbearable. Art— making it and consuming it— is always a possibility, always an escape, always something positive that I can put into the world, or take in.
Where do you write?
At various quiet establishments around the Seattle area. Shoutouts to Suzzallo Library at the University of Washington, the Central Library downtown, All City Coffee in Georgetown, Voxx Coffee in Eastlake, Caffe Vita in Fremont, and Roy Street Coffee and Espresso Vivace in Capitol Hill, where Monsters was written and re-written.
What does an average day look like for you?
I have a day job, which I love! I work at a nonprofit, a civil justice advocacy organization here in Seattle, and I get to write/proofread/edit for work. I write and do whatever else I have to do (taking long walks, being outside whenever possible when the sun comes out here in Seattle, drawing and cartooning, maintaining a few close friendships) on evenings and weekends.
What books are on your nightstand?
On my nightstand, for always and forever, Elizabeth Bishop’s collected poems (which I can’t read too late at night or I’ll cry). I’m currently reading Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt (they changed it to Carol after the movie came out, but I think we all know which is the better title), and re-reading, for the first time since I was eleven, The Phantom Tollbooth, which holds up beautifully.
Definitely promoting this book. (Please buy the book, and write reviews on Amazon and Goodreads!)
It’s becoming a stock answer at this point, but I still have the beginnings of a novel about a high school marching band and the beginnings of a play set entirely in an airport that I hope someday will be completed and see the light of day.