Post­ed by Nao­mi Firestone-Teeter

Our third install­ment of Words from our Finalists”…Elisa Albert

Elisa…meet our Read­ers
Readers…meet Elisa

What are some of the most chal­leng­ing things about writ­ing fiction?

The wide-open pos­si­bil­i­ties, I sup­pose. When you’re not bound to facts, the what-real­ly-hap­pened”, those end­less open roads can be daunt­ing. How to make the right choic­es for your char­ac­ters? How to be true to life while mak­ing the whole thing up?

What or who has been your inspi­ra­tion for writ­ing fiction?

I fell in love with books as a kid and always felt dri­ven to express myself in such a way as to hon­or what I found in my favorite writ­ing. Lor­rie Moore’s short sto­ry How to Be a Writer” (from Self Help, 1984click to read) struck me like a bolt of light­en­ing in high school. And I have an extreme­ly dog-eared copy of The Vin­tage Book of Con­tem­po­rary Amer­i­can Short Sto­ries edit­ed by Tobias Wolff; I must’ve torn through that thing a hun­dred times.

Who is your intend­ed audience?

I actu­al­ly try to avoid think­ing about audi­ence alto­geth­er; it can hob­ble me in a lot of ways. The real or imag­ined expec­ta­tions of real or imag­ined read­ers (your mom, your mom’s friends, your friends’ moms, your teach­ers, your friends, your ene­mies, the lady at the drug­store, that guy who wronged you a decade ago,ad nau­se­um) seem to serve only as a lim­it­ing, cen­sur­ing force, and to write fic­tion I believe one needs to be free of all that.

Do you think your work speaks pre­dom­i­nant­ly to your gen­er­a­tion? Future gen­er­a­tions? Or, old­er generations?

My work tran­scends time and gen­er­a­tion, speak­ing to the core of uni­ver­sal human expe­ri­ence. Okay, no, sor­ry. I real­ly couldn’t say, but I do feel fair­ly root­ed in this present moment, both as a read­er and as a writer. Who knows how that might trans­late over time?

Who is the read­er over your shoulder?

Some con­glom­er­a­tion of the teach­ers I’ve been so blessed to have (Bin­nie Kir­shen­baum, Jayne Anne Phillips, Stephen McCauley, and David Gates, espe­cial­ly), and some best ver­sion of myself — a read­er who is sym­pa­thet­ic, empa­thet­ic, aware, well-versed, and capa­ble of hold­ing two oppos­ing ideas in her head at the same time. Basi­cal­ly, a pres­ence I adore and trust, and with which I don’t feel the least bit self-con­scious or afraid.

Are you work­ing on any­thing new right now?

Well! I just fin­ished an opus: his name is Miller David Schwarz­schild and he’s nine days old as of this writ­ing. Next up, I’m edit­ing an anthol­o­gy of orig­i­nal per­son­al essays by lit­er­ary authors on sib­ling rela­tion­ships, under con­tract to Free Press. Work­ing title is Freud’s Blind Spot, and con­trib­u­tors include Eri­ca Jong, Julie Orringer, Peter Orner, and Joan­na Her­shon. I’m also tak­ing notes for a new nov­el about trav­el (the notion of the wan­der­ing Jew looms large), play­ing with a cou­ple short sto­ries, and writ­ing two essays for upcom­ing antholo­gies, one on my fem­i­nist click” moment and one on sex.

What are you read­ing now?

I fin­ished Joseph O’Neill’s Nether­land recent­ly and was utter­ly charmed, moved, and delight­ed by it. An absolute­ly ele­gant and per­fect­ly wrought book. So very deserv­ing of its reception.

Very dif­fer­ent, but no less excel­lent, is Gilad Elbom’sScream Queens of the Dead Sea, which I found at Dove and Hud­son, Albany’s won­der­ful used book­store, and picked up on a whim. A wacky, wild, very fun­ny and per­verse ride through a few days in the life of an Israeli met­al­head work­ing at the local men­tal institution.

When did you decide to be a writer? Where were you?

I don’t think I decid­ed to be a writer so much as decid­ed that my attempts to be any­thing else were just not going to cut it. I did decide to go to grad school while temp­ing at a real­ly depress­ing lit­tle lit­er­ary agency, though, and tak­ing that step was a big com­mit­ment, in my mind, to giv­ing the writ­ing a seri­ous go.

What is the moun­tain­top for you — how do you define success?

A steady and con­stant writ­ing life is the ulti­mate goal for me. Push­ing for­ward and quite sim­ply doing the work, day in and day out. It’s a huge chal­lenge for me: I tend, quite hon­est­ly, toward rather dra­mat­ic bursts of pro­duc­tiv­i­ty book-end­ed by peri­ods of cre­ative despon­den­cy and self-loathing. I feel like I’ve con­quered the world and the worst in myself when I can just do the work, do the work, do the work, and let the chips fall where they may.

Also, late­ly, I very much aspire to breast­feed and nap at the same time.

How do you write — what is your pri­vate modus operan­di? What tal­is­mans, rit­u­als, props do you use to assist you?

I cir­cle around it pret­ty elab­o­rate­ly: a walk to the store, a cup of tea and a snack, the win­dow shades just so, the sound­track exten­sive­ly mulled, the laun­dry done, the house clean. (See also, above: cre­ative despon­den­cy.) Then, when there’s noth­ing else to be done, when I have no choice but to face what­ev­er I’m try­ing to write, I write. And if it goes poor­ly, at least I have the solace of some nice music in a clean house.

What do you want read­ers to get out of your book?

I sup­pose the answer depends on the read­er. On the broad­est lev­el, and at its best, fic­tion can do mirac­u­lous things: show us bits and pieces of our­selves in sto­ries with which we might not oth­er­wise imme­di­ate­ly iden­ti­fy, expand our capac­i­ty for real-life empa­thy by forc­ing us to empathize with char­ac­ters we’ll nev­er actu­al­ly meet, and make us think about how vast­ly dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives on the world can form a real­ly vibrant, if chal­leng­ing, harmony.

You can read more about Elisa Albert by vis­it­ing her web­site here.

Orig­i­nal­ly from Lan­cast­er, Penn­syl­va­nia, Nao­mi is the CEO of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil. She grad­u­at­ed from Emory Uni­ver­si­ty with degrees in Eng­lish and Art His­to­ry and, in addi­tion, stud­ied at Uni­ver­si­ty Col­lege Lon­don. Pri­or to her role as exec­u­tive direc­tor, Nao­mi served as the found­ing edi­tor of the JBC web­site and blog and man­ag­ing edi­tor of Jew­ish Book World. In addi­tion, she has over­seen JBC’s dig­i­tal ini­tia­tives, and also devel­oped the JBC’s Vis­it­ing Scribe series and Unpack­ing the Book: Jew­ish Writ­ers in Conversation.