In Your Next Beach Read, we want to introduce you to a new author every day in June in the hopes that you’ll find the next book you want to take with you to the beach, the pool, or the comforts of air conditioning.
Today’s author is Nicole Callihan, author of The Couples.
What’s your name (or pen name) and where are you from?
Nicole Callihan. I was born Hefner, in North Carolina. Moved around a lot growing up. Went to high school and college in Oklahoma. Now, I’m in Brooklyn, New York, where I’ve been since the mid-1990s.
How long have you been writing? How did you start?
I started writing when I was fourteen, then really writing when I was twenty-one, then really, really writing when I was thirty-eight. Now, sometimes, I even revise. I started because I wanted to say all the things on paper that I can’t say out loud. Also, I am in love with language.
Who are some of your influences?
Oh, goodness. For this particular book, I’d have to say Woolf and Updike, but mostly, I read poetry, and I have so many poet loves, where do I begin? Celan, Sexton, Wright (both CD & James), Frank Stanford (especially for this book), Jean Valentine.
What is your book about?
The Couples is about a woman, Julia, who is spending her forty-second birthday in a posh house in Connecticut with her family and close friends. That weekend, she recalls a very intense relationship she had when she was a teenager in Oklahoma. It’s about lice and secrets and ice storms, and, finally, hopefully, redemption.
Where did you get the idea?
Well, I turned 42 once… But, really, I’ve always been drawn to the notion of the self. How can this self at this desk in New York be the same self that was in Oklahoma, or Prague, or Tampa? How do we reconcile who we were with who we are, who we are with who we were?
How long did it take you to finish it?
I wrote the first draft in a manic couple of months. The next summer, I revised it and rewrote the ending. After it was accepted for publication, I realized the first fifth was in past tense and the rest in present. Lately, I’ve been line editing until my fingers are blue.
Is this your first book, or have you written more than one?
This is my first book of fiction. I also have books of poems, which are published, and entire clouds filled with stage plays, screenplays, YA novels-in-verse, poetry manuscripts, and short stories which may never see the light of day.
We all like to write about people we know, even if we never name them. Who are some people who inspired characters or situations?
My mom, always (hi, Mom). My patient and funny husband, my daughters, a group of friends—the village—we’ve had for years. But the events of the book are all fiction. In fiction, things have to happen (and they do!); in life, not so much (at least in the lucky years).
What’s your favorite scene in the book?
I’m a sucker for redemption and forgiveness and everyone sitting around a dinner table sharing the last of the food they can rummage from the pantry, so (spoiler alert) I have to say the final scene.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you ever got?
When I was twenty-two, Dana Gioia told me that it’s a long game and that if you stick to it long enough, you can be one of the last ones standing. I don’t want to be one of the last ones, of course, but it never doesn’t feel good to keep on keeping on.
What’s the worst?
In college, my friend Jane wrote into my margin: “Poets needn’t use four-letter words.” But I think she was wrong. I think we need to use all the words, say all the things. I think words are pretty much all we have.
Where can we buy your book?
You can buy The Couples from Mason Jar Press as a part of a series of thematically connected novellas, the others by Tomas Moniz and Jaime Fountaine. Get them all! The official publication date is July 16, but that still leaves plenty of time for the dog days of reading.
Nicole Callihan writes poems and stories. Her poetry books include SuperLoop (2014) and Translucence (with Samar Abdel Jaber, 2018), and the chapbooks: A Study in Spring (with Zoë Ryder White, 2015), The Deeply Flawed Human (2016), Downtown (2017), and Aging (2018). Find out more at www.nicolecallihan.com.