I was already a fan of Debra Jo Immergut’s writing months before reading her latest book and the topic of this Q&A – You Again.
Immergut’s article for the NYT’s Modern Love section Making Space in Marriage Even as the Walls Close in grabbed me from the start:
She didn’t want to go to Burning Man (for all the reasons people don’t), but then there she was, dancing naked in the desert, and it was good.
Both in this article and You Again, Immergut’s writing is packed with vivid, poignant, funny details that reveal the challenges of a long-term marriage, even a happy one.
In You Again, Immergut’s protagonist 46-year old Abigail Willard keeps bumping into her much younger 22-year-old idealistic self. Ever wonder what you’d say to the younger you? Or, maybe scarier, what the younger you would say to the middle-aged, more settled, dreams gone astray version? That’s the thought-provoking premise of You Again. And below is my Q&A with the Massachusetts-based writer.
You once wrote that “the best thrillers start at full tilt. I want to be drawn in on the first page and addicted by the end of the first chapter.” Here’s the first paragraph in You Again:
I saw myself last night. I drove right by myself. In a taxi, through a winter rain, coming home very late from work, on a shadowed block southwest of the Holland Tunnel. I gazed out the cab window, worn down from my day, and then suddenly she appeared, emerging from a dark doorway in silver platform sandals and a pink velvet coat.’
‘Me. The way I used to be.’
I was definitely drawn in. How easy was it to write that first paragraph?
That paragraph and that first scene on the rainy New York street were the first lines I wrote for this book, and they’ve stayed fairly unchanged through many drafts. I don’t know if all writers feel this way, but every so often I have a peak writing day–that feeling when you’re so deep in the flow that you are living the story, and at the end you know you’ve written some pages that will stick. That’s how I felt that day.
In addition to working as an editor and journalist for many years, you also have taught writing in libraries, military bases and prisons. And you worked as a soda jerk and fast-food ranch hand. How would you describe your varied career?
I’d describe it as a very typical example of a woman’s journey through life. Living in a female body means one must play many roles and make many course corrections along the way. Working with language has been the connective tissue for me, leading me to editing, journalism, and teaching writing in many different settings. I enjoy introducing people to the pleasures of setting down words, so I do a lot of teaching in non-academic settings, and I now teach all kinds of writers and non-writers in courses on Zoom. The fast-food and the soda jerk jobs–that was when I was really young and just trying to get money the best I could.
And the question I always love to ask, if you couldn’t be the genius writer that you are, what would you do instead?
Brain scientist or florist or a DJ on the international club circuit.
You can read the rest of my Q&A with Immergut, who thankfully for us readers chose to be an author over a florist, here in 26’s latest November newsletter.