By Carten Cordell
Sloane Crosley can coax humor from the unlikeliest of depths, whether it’s a good line from your locksmith or avenging a childhood slight during a pride parade.
Right-hand photo Credit: Ungano + Agriodimas 2017
It’s in those often-overlooked moments that the author of the essay collections I Was Told There Would Be Cake and How Did You Get This Number sharpens her wit with Thurber-esque aplomb.
“I think it’s really hard to make humor timeless,” said Crosley, who appeared at Washington, D.C.’s Sixth and I Historic Synagogue on April 10 to promote her new book, Look Alive Out There.
“The easiest things to go for are pop culture and the crotch. Those are the easiest things to go for if you are either a stand-up comedian or a humorist. It doesn’t mean they are not funny, but they generally don’t last.”
Look Alive Out There marks the author’s return to bookshelves following her 2015 novel, The Clasp, and is Crosley’s third essay collection. Currently on tour to promote the new book, she offered fans insights into her writing process.
1. Mine Your Life
Crosley said her career as a humor writer began with the inauspicious luck of being locked out of two separate apartments in the same day, thus having to be rescued twice by the same locksmith.
“I had this doormat that said Deja Vu frontwards and backwards,” she said. “And with no irony whatsoever, he filled out the slip, points with his pen and says, ‘That’s a funny doormat.’ And I was like, ‘OK, yeah.’”
Crosley wrote out the tale as an anecdote that she sent to friends, one of whom worked at the Village Voice and encouraged her to craft it as an essay. The piece, “Fuck You Columbus,” kicked off a career of regular writing for the Village Voice, New York Observer and The New York Times’ City Section. The same piece was featured prominently in I Was Told There Would Be Cake.
It’s the ability to recount those relatable tales and explore broader truths that draws Crosley to writing essays, providing her readers an almost shared experience.
“I kind of like the ability to mine your own life in a universal way as opposed to a selfish way,” she said. “I like the part where you can take [the things that] really connect. Basically, you can have this little tendril that comes out if and when people do connect with my writing, because they feel like it’s something that would happen to them, even though it’s ridiculous and outlandish.”
2. Be a Volunteer
When asked whether her writing comes from a simple desire to write, Crosely cited author Jim Crace, who once said at an event that as a writer, one should never forget that you are a volunteer.
“It’s so dark when you look at the arts, but it’s also inspiring, because no one actually needs you,” she said. “There’s a desert island and there’s a writer, a doctor and a construction worker. Who gets eaten? Who’s been sitting around eating cheese fries and watching their mail get wet? The writer.
“So that idea that you are a volunteer and that you also have a responsibility to entertain people, and a responsibility, to me at least, that I make them laugh is huge. To meet people, to make them laugh and to articulate something that they perhaps have not articulated themselves.”
3. Write Like Yourself
As for her advice to achieve writing success, Crosley has a deceptively simple formula.
“I think you should just try to write like yourself,” she said. “I feel like the closer you get, in writing or anything, to being more like yourself, the more successful you will be.
“The other thing a professor said to me when I was just starting was, ‘You don’t have to wait to be great.’ It’s just this idea that your great, big novel or your great, big story that you’ll write when you are a mature writer, that that will happen later and now you are just messing with it. Don’t do that.”
Carten Cordell is a Senior Technology Reporter for FedScoop. He is a former workforce and acquisition reporter at Federal Times, having previously served as online editor for Northern Virginia Magazine and Investigative Reporter for Watchdog.org, Virginia Bureau. Cordell was a 2014 National Press Foundation Paul Miller Fellow and has a master’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Follow him @wccordell.