As told to Nina Kokotas Hahn
Office Girl, out July 3 ( Akashic, $16)
With Office Girl, I wanted to explore the idea that a book can capture very small, brief, almost transitory moments—moments that would become far less dramatically charged in film, TV, and plays. The books that I grew up loving were always about people and their relationship to each other, like Franny and Zooey or Goodbye, Columbus. So the goal with Office Girl was not only to capture the moments of a brief relationship—literally three weeks in the lives of two young artists—but also to let it be just about these two people, with only their relationship driving the story.
I knew I wanted to bring artwork into the text to follow their conversation. That’s when I started talking to [the illustrator] Cody Hudson and [the photographer] Todd Baxter, both Chicago artists and good friends of mine who always challenge the way I think about storytelling and art. In Office Girl, Cody’s drawings have a really improvised, almost graffiti-like feel of something that doesn’t last. You can imagine his drawings on the side of a building getting painted over. And with his photos, Todd was trying to capture Polaroid-like snapshots that someone might take while walking down the street.
Compared to some of my other novels, Office Girl is really quiet. No one dies, there’s no war, there’s not a car chase or anything like that. One of the ways I was trying to emulate this sense of quiet and the feeling of riding your bike through the snow in Chicago—something both characters do throughout the novel—was to find white space on the page.
Snow can make it quiet, even if just for a short period of time, which is why I chose winter as the backdrop. There is this feeling with that first snowfall that has this transformative, almost magical quality, where suddenly the way you experience the roaring, noisy city is very different. And what makes it really beautiful on some level is that you know it’s not going to last.
Even with the snow, the tenor of Office Girl fits summer perfectly. There’s a lot of airiness and delicacy to it. I wanted to build something with Todd and Cody that didn’t feel ponderous—like winter book releases often do. Something you could read in one or two sittings and have a brief experience with.