The Glitch by Elisabeth Cohen
Behind the scenes, today's debut author and I got into a discussion about Pennsylvania's crazy weather. We're about an hour apart from each other and both getting drenched. 🚤 My forecast for the week from weather.com:
1- Welcome my fellow Pennsylvanian! How's the summer treating you in "The City of Brotherly Love" or "The City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection"?
I was having a marvelous summer until it started to rain every day! The weather forecast coordinates nicely with my book cover:
2- What ignited your passion for writing?
I’ve always kept journals, and I’ve always been interested in recording my own experience (and other people’s too--I worked as an archivist and loved getting to think about and imagine other people’s lives). I like talking even more than writing, but it’s the same desire: the urge to shape experience into narration.
3- Would you share a picture with us of your book with a Philadelphia landmark?
I wish I had a photo of my book with the famous “Bolt of Lightning” sculpture (it’s in honor of Benjamin Franklin’s electricity experiment with the key). It’s too rainy and I’m too far away to go snap one right now. Here’s the sculpture:
Bolt of Lightning. . . A Memorial to Benjamin Franklin
4- What are some of your short and long term writing goals?
My goal is always to write more and better than I’m writing now.
5- Do you take a multivitamin?
Yes. When I remember, which isn’t every day. I take it while cleaning up after dinner because I’m too much of a weakling to take a vitamin in the morning (coffee is all I can get down). Unlike my main character, Shelley, who takes a men’s multivitamin because she doesn’t want to miss out on any of the important stuff the men are getting from their vitamins, I take Trader Joe’s “Women’s Formula” with the mauve label. I also take iron.
6- What is your favorite book (by someone else), and what do you love most about that book?
I love that parenthetical, but trust me when I say that it isn’t even close. I keep saying my favorite book is Old Filth, by Jane Gardam, and I think that’s still true, but for a long time it was Dance to the Music of Time, by Anthony Powell, and if you ever want a great British 12-part novel, I recommend it. It’s very long and traces the life of a person and that person’s friends from their school days into their old age. By the time you get to the third volume or so, it becomes genuinely thrilling when the old characters from youth crop up, and feels very much like what it’s like to run across someone from your own past. It’s hard to explain but it’s an experience.
7- Who is currently your biggest fan? What does that person love most (or "ship") about your debut novel?
It’s my 10 year old. He read my book and gave it a somewhat stinging review (he had a lot of ideas involving androids and he was disappointed I didn’t work them into the storyline), but he falls asleep at night listening to the audiobook.
8- What emotions do you hope your book will evoke for the reader, and is there a particular scene you hope will resonate with readers?
I hope the book will be fresh and surprising and funny. I love when a book goes off in a sharp, surprising, funny direction and isn’t afraid of breaking the rules. I hope there are other readers who find that kind of book pleasurable and like The Glitch.
9- What most helped you to improve your writing craft?
Having a writing related job in which you write vast quantities of words helps: you realize that even writing simple, straightforward things like letters and speeches and grant applications can be hard and take too long and require too many drafts, and you learn that much of writing is just pushing through, revisiting, cleaning up, rethinking, doing it again.
I also feel like I’ve learned something about writing from doing crossword puzzles. Maybe that’s just how I justify doing them.
10- What is the most memorable trait or visual oddity of one of your characters? (Example: Jorek scratching his neck in Carve the Mark, or Harry Potter's lightning bolt scar.)
Funny you mention lightning bolts. I think the most memorable trait of Shelley is that she was struck by lightning as a teenager. And the grueling recovery from that experience made her into someone who is compelled to maximize her time and sees everything in her life in terms of value and productivity.
11- In what ways are the main characters in your book diverse? https://diversebooks.org #WeNeedDiverseBooks
So, my main character is not diverse: she’s white, rich, and the CEO of a tech company. She is atypical, in the sense that there aren’t many women CEOs, but she’s privileged in all the ways you’d expect (and not particularly aware of her privilege, either).
Alternative question 11: What's your favorite book with a diverse main character?
My favorite book with a diverse main character is Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It’s such an enjoyable book, pleasurable and perceptive and absorbing.
12- Does your book hold a mirror up to society, and in what way?
It’s in part about the contradictory expectations we impose on women in power: that they must be warm, involved mothers, while also clocking long hours at the office; that they should be attractive yet not vain; assertive but not shrill or pushy; fit but “feminine” looking; able to project gravitas but not old. It sets up a very complicated set of expectations for women in power. I think it’s something to think about, especially as we see an increasing number of women running for elected office. I’d like to see us examine our assumptions about what we expect of women in power, how we talk about and write about them, the question we ask them, the criticisms we raise.
13- As a reader, what most motivates you to buy a new book to read?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. The most obvious one is social pressure because the author is someone I know. Or going to a book event because I’m curious about the author and feeling a desire to support the bookstore or the author. Or feeling kind of down and wanting to treat myself to a book that will cheer me up. I also buy a lot of books as gifts. (I have to throw in here that The Glitch would make a very appealing gift!)
14- What's the best book marketing strategy you've come across?
Infiltrate the White House, get the scoop, and then tell all? That wasn’t possible for this book, though.
I think doing more of a pre-pub push to get preorders would be a good idea. I didn’t do that, but I think it makes sense.
15- What is one question or discussion topic which you would like the readers of this interview to answer or remark on in the comments?
How do you feel about the trend of covers that are abstract designs, rather than images or illustrations? Does it make it harder for you to jump into the book and get started? (I think it does for me). Or do you like the mystery/non-specificity of an abstract design rather than a defining image?
16- Anything else you would care to share about your book and yourself?
Shelley Stone, wife, mother, and CEO of the tech company Conch, is committed to living her most efficient life. She takes her "me time" at 3:30 a.m. on the treadmill, power naps while waiting in line, schedules sex with her husband for when they're already changing their clothes, and takes a men's multivitamin because she refuses to participate in her own oppression. But when she meets a young woman also named Shelley Stone who also has the exact same scar on her shoulder, Shelley has to wonder: Is she finally buckling under all the pressure?
Elisabeth Cohen's work has appeared in The Mississippi Review, The Cincinnati Review, Conjunctions, McSweeney's, and The Millions. She graduated from Princeton University and has an MA from the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins and an MLS from the University of Maryland. She works as a medical editor and lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and two sons.
The Glitch by Elisabeth Cohen