Q&A: Molly Young, Troubleshooting

Welcome, dear readers, to the debut installment of Q&A, a series of short back-and-forth interviews with authors I like. I’m hoping to make it a semi-regular feature here on Too Many Books In The Kitchen.

Helping me out in the pilot program is Molly Young (pictured above), a Manhattan-based writer whose book Troubleshooting was self-released through her website earlier this year. (It will also shortly be available through Urban Outfitters’s online division.) The book is a delightful collection of very quick, very incisive snapshots of human interaction, social niceties, and whatever else happens to pop into Young’s ever-curious head.

"If you counted every can of tuna and loaf of bread in a supermarket," goes one piece, "added everything up—what would it equal? A million dollars? Five million? Or less?"

Okay, here we go.

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In my review, I described the pieces in Troubleshooting as somewhere between short fiction and “inspirational”/”self-help”, which fills me with a sense of mild dread. Can you help me out? How do you classify these pieces?

Molly Young: Ah, that’s what I like best about blogging: there’s no need to classify what you write. The short answer to this question is that I have no idea what to call the things, so I say that they are “pieces” or “vignettes”—which is really no help at all. Still evading the question, in other words.

It’s a very distinctive mode of writing: short, quick, and with an almost photographic sensibility. How did you arrive at this style?

MY: What I write is more or less a transcription of my thoughts (with a layer or two of revision), so the origin of my writing style is really a stewpot of all the books I’ve absorbed and loved, as well as the stuff I eat and see and otherwise think about.

You strike me as the kind of writer whose inspiration comes more from being out in the world, wandering the streets, rather than conjuring images while sitting alone at a desk. How accurate a guess is that?

MY: Bingo! I spend a lot of time walking, for one thing, and also reading at the local library. Both good ways to see a wide range of human behaviour.

Why did you decide to self-publish the book? And how did Urban Outfitters get involved?

MY: I have an inherited fond spot for self-publishing. My uncle has long run a small press, The Figures, which puts out beautiful books of poetry, fiction, art criticism and more. He trades the books with his friends like wampum. What could be better?

The experience of forming a small book from scratch is like handwriting a letter versus sending an email. You don’t have to do it too often, but when you do there’s nothing lovelier. (Both giving and receiving.)

As for Urban Outfitters, my partner in crime—Chris Luxton, who did the art for the book—works under the company’s auspices. They’re great at supporting young artists and writers.

You mentioned in an earlier email that, like me, you’re a devotee of Moby-Dick. What other books or authors do you most admire?

MY: Yeah, Moby-Dick is central. I tend to love books that combine sprawling and analytical tendencies with moments of tenderness. David Copperfield (Dickens), The Wapshot Chronicle (John Cheever), The Custom of the Country (Edith Wharton) are touchstones. I also like snappy, lighter books. Palate cleansers! Kyril Bonfiglioli wrote noir parodies in the ’70s that are unbeatable.

What are you working on next? Is there a full-length book in the works?

MY: Working on a book, yes, but it’s not exactly a novel. It’s still a homunculus. Totally unformed…

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Want to read more? Sure you do. Here’s where you can buy Troubleshooting online: Magic Molly; Urban Outfitters.

And stay tuned for more Q&As, just as soon as I can find and exploit some other authors’ personal email addresses. Hooray!

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