Don’t Write Alone | Interviews

CJ Hauser Is Making Meaning from a Fragmented Life

Ladane Nasseri interviews CJ Hauser about her memoir in essays ‘The Crane Wife,’ the impact of a viral publication, and the braided-essay form.


memoir in essaysThe Crane Wife

Ladane Nasseri: These days, writers are often told that having a viral essay increases their chance of getting an agent and a book deal. You had already published two novels, so it was different for you, but how did the book come about after the success of that essay? Did the fact that it went viral give you momentum to write the memoir or make it more challenging because it raised the stakes?

I’ll just take these notes with me and see what happensSorry, novel, you have to wait, because I’m now deeply obsessed with John Belushi

LN: You knew this was going to be a memoiristic endeavor, but did you know it was going to be in the form of an essay collection?

LN: In my own writing, I sometimes feel a tension between having a plan and wanting to know what I am writing toward and allowing space for surprises and discoveries. How do you approach this?

LN: So did you have a sense of the through line, or did that come in the process, as you looked back at what you had written?

LN: In therapy, one approach consists of getting the patient to tell old stories in a new way. It feels like that’s what you were doing, looking at some life stories differently, starting with how you told them to yourself.

LN: You have several epiphanies in these essays. Some spur from friends’ comments, or lines in books or movies, and sometimes I felt it was the result of your thinking on the page. Did you have these epiphanies and want to write about them, or did they manifest as you were writing and being exploratory on the page?

LN: It’s a delicate balancing act. It takes playing around to find the right idea, the right symbolism or image, but you still want the story to stay true to the experience and your feelings at the time. You don’t want to change it by engineering it too much.

LN: You jump in time, you shift POV, sometimes you address the reader directly. How much leeway did you give yourself so that the form of these essays is not repetitive but so there is some coherence as a whole?

LN: What do you start with?

LN: The threads in “The Crane Wife” essay (breaking your engagement, going on the scientific expedition, and reading the folklore story) all seemed to happen around the same time. How did you choose the braids for some of the other essays?

The X-FilesOh, interesting! Maybe if I put these two in conversation, there is something to be said

LN: Your voice is one of the things that stands out throughout all these essays. You have talked about coming across some of the original, unedited stories of Raymond Carver and how in those versions, he was “full of sweetness and kindness to the world.” Is voice revealed with practice or constructed through revisions and editing? And how did you develop your writerly voice?

LN: The first line in your acknowledgment reads, “This is the unlikeliest of books. I meant to go on inventing people and islands and ducks in fictional perpetuity and never write about myself at all.” What had stopped you until then?

LN: You have said, “I mostly write essays about things I have been wrong about. This is what I’m interested in.” Tell me more.