Fiona Warnick

On the Hunt for a Perfect Croissant, IRL Versus Digital Relationships, and Her Debut Novel, ‘The Skunks’

Cover of Fiona Warnick: On the Hunt for a Perfect Croissant, IRL Versus Digital Relationships, and Her Debut Novel, ‘The Skunks’

Never have I ever been sprayed with a skunk. Okay, well, I can’t see if anyone’s raised a finger, but that’s what we think about when we hear the word “skunk.” To be honest, the only expectation I had when I cracked open the pages of Fiona Warnick’s debut, The Skunks (Tin House, 2024), was that there would be…skunks. I also think of Pepé Le Pew, but we’ll save that for later.

Needless to say, I was happy to meet the three skunks in the novel, but I was pleasantly surprised to meet Isabel.  

I saw so much of myself in Isabel and how she navigates her first steps into “the real world,” the fraught space between being young and being not so young anymore. It’s been a while since I read anything that taps into that feeling, the not quite failure to launch, but the hesitation to even board the rocket in the first place. For some reason, I’ve always equated failure to launch with that of a rocketship, but in The Skunks, Isabel finds herself freshly graduated and living back in her hometown.

So there are the skunks and a wise oriole and a cat, there are boys and girls, a yoga studio and hikes and walks and marshmallows, mustard, and lots of pastries (btw, Fiona Warnick has an amazing Instagram account dedicated solely to the pursuit of croissants @mythoughtsoncroissants), but at the heart of this debut, there is self-compassion and an openness to the present, which we so often aim to avoid in today’s world because, well, sometimes the present sucks.  

In one of my favorite Sarah Manguso essays, “Keeping Time,” she says:

“I no longer believe in anything other than the middle, but my students still believe in beginnings. Ask them, and they will tell you that everything is about to start in just a moment, just one more moment… more than beginning or ending, I enjoy continuing.”

There’s a universal sentiment that growing up means graduating high school or college or getting your first real job or getting married or owning a home or having kids, and that’s when life truly begins. But life is already happening, and Isabel shows us that more than formal beginnings or endings, we should learn how to enjoy continuing.


Brittany Ackerman: So, have you ever been sprayed by a skunk? I legitimately want to know, but also, I guess I’d love to know if the book’s impetus began with a skunk, or if the skunks came later in your writing process?

Fiona Warnick: I have never been sprayed! Maybe I wouldn’t feel as kindly towards skunks if I had. But I also feel like I’m missing out on a pivotal experience. I kind of hope it happens somewhere down the line. 

But, okay, here is where the skunk thing started: One summer when I was about nine, there was a family of skunks that lived in my yard. I was playing around the apple trees with my friend, pretending to make a magic potion or something, and we turned around and there was a line of baby skunks walking by us. Like five feet away. They were so cute and fluffy. We stood still until they were gone. I was very aware that this was closer than wild animals usually allow people to get to them, and at that point in my life, getting as close as possible to wild animals pretty much seemed like the point of existence. 

Then in college, in a creative writing class, I wrote a poem with a line about a skunk. I didn’t like the poem, but I liked that one image. So I wrote a short story that began with a girl, in her driveway, seeing a line of skunks. And I still didn’t feel like I’d exhausted the image, so I wrote the book. 

BA: “My phone often made me unhappy. I knew it wasn’t really the phone’s fault—it was what was inside the phone, combined with what was inside me. I closed Instagram and checked my email. No new messages. I opened Instagram again. I couldn’t think of any reason to put my phone down.”

:shyly raises hand and exclaims it’s me:

In one of my writing classes, I teach an article that talks about how the awareness that our phones and social media are bad for us does not equate to any real change around the issue. But, like, it’s gotten real bad. I saw Isabel as a mirror to my own phone issues—the muscle memory of clicking open apps that I hate; the boredom and filling of that silence with the Internet; the knowledge that literally nothing good ever comes from something I see online. Yet, here we are.

As writers, we have to be online to some extent. Where do you draw the line between life online and life…IRL? 

FW: I wish I was better at this! I think I fiercely believe that life online is real life. I remember being in high school, getting so annoyed at the language of “real conversation” versus texting. Texting, especially back then, was so visceral. Texting was the medium we used to tell people we liked them, or to ask questions we were scared of hearing the answers to. Sometimes it felt more real than in-person conversation.    

Yes, I hate my phone and it often compounds sadness. We’ve lost some forms of connectivity—if I knew how to get them back, I might be writing about that. But we’ve gained others. Both in terms of community organizing and individual relationships. I’m immensely grateful that my partner can send me silly videos of cheap French real estate throughout the day. It feels like a love language that previous generations didn’t have access to.  

BA: Speaking of silence, your book made me long for pre-Internet-consuming times. I love the bit about walks vs. hikes, how walks are about appreciating your humanness and hikes are about forgetting your humanness. In the words of Melissa Broder, “Living in a body… not my first choice.”

I feel like the only times I’m immersed in true quiet spaces are when I’m walking outdoors, reading a book, or when I’m playing with my daughter on the floor of our living room just watching her bang together two fake pieces of cake from her tea set. 

How can we reclaim more quiet spaces when the world and our phones and our minds are just so freakin’ loud?

FW: One of my New Year’s resolutions this year was to leave my phone at home sometimes. Go to the museum. Go to the grocery store. Like all good New Year’s resolutions, I haven’t really done it. But I plan to. 

BA: Pivoting to Pepé Le Pew. I remember watching Looney Tunes and deeply longing for this animated parisian skunk. As a girl, I wanted to be desired to the point of someone throwing themselves in front of moving traffic for me (sorry not sorry). But I think today’s society would argue that Pepé is a little le misogyne.

There’s a lot more research and intelligent things to be said here about how a skunk was chosen to represent the idea of toxic masculinity and how Penelope (the cat who accidentally has a stripe painted down her back making her appear to be a skunk when she is in fact not a skunk) is utterly repelled by Pepé in each episode. 

But I wonder if you could speak about skunks getting a bad rap in general? 

FW: For children, a lot of early literacy is learning to make connections between sounds and images, words and concepts. You show a toddler a cow, they say, “Moo.” You show them a pig, they say, “Oink.” You show them a bunny, they say, “Hop hop,” because bunnies don’t really make noises, so the primary association has become the action. With skunks—once kids learn what skunks are, which probably happens after they learn cows and bunnies—it’s the smell. And we never really go beyond that. The cow, eventually kids will learn to connect it with milk. Bunnies get carrots and Easter. Skunks are way more visually striking than bunnies. Some of them can do handstands. They could handle a holiday, in my opinion. 

BA: Isabel is in this sort of post-graduate delirium throughout the novel where she is confronted with the question of, What are you going to do after summer ends? I had a mental breakdown my senior year of college (hehe) so it resonated heavily with me that Isabel was reluctant to face the future.

Instead, Isabel works on meeting herself where she is in the present. I heard Bo Burnham say something about how all of us are no longer present, but instead we’re looking forward to moments for our future selves to look back on. We’re planning, not fully enjoying things we planned, and then posting about it anyway.

What advice do you have for confronting the present?

FW: I wish I knew. I’m glad the book read that way—that Isabel is trying to meet herself in the present. To me, it’s a question we have to ask societally as well as individually. We need to get better at redistributing the things we already have instead of trying to get new ones, both economically and within ourselves. I realize it’s a stretch to connect this question to climate change, but that’s what it made me think of. We have this “What are we going to do when climate change hits?” attitude, but it’s not like that. It’s already hitting. What are we doing right now? 

BA: Is there a skunk trope in literature or were there any other skunk resources you were in conversation with when writing?

FW: I love The Skunk by Mac Barnett. It’s a fantastic picture book, which Isabel and Cecelia read a sort of alternate-universe version of. I also watched skunk YouTube videos. 

BA: I mentioned to our readers your fabulous Instagram account (@mythoughtsoncroissants) where you write “frightfully unobjective reviews of croissants.” How did this genius (and delicious) endeavor come to be? And what are some of your best findings thus far in the croissant world?

FW: It was the pandemic. I was so bored. I wanted to go biking but hated to bike without a destination. Croissants seemed like a good destination. The first ones I reviewed were all biking-distance from my house. Now I’ve run out of local croissants, so I only post when I travel or when I’m in New York. It’s going to be hard to exhaust the NYC croissant supply. 

My favorite is still the one from Small Oven, in Easthampton, Massachusetts. Biased by the fact that I ate it after a fourteen-mile bike ride. My dad likes to say hunger is the best sauce. 

BA: There is a beautiful, surreal scene between the oriole and the Eldest Skunk where they discuss what happens when you get bored. The oriole asks, “What are your magnets?”

I understood this exchange as one about change and knowing when you’re ready to take flight. And when you do leave the nest (pun intended), where do you go? 

So, I ask you, what are your magnets?

FW: This is the hardest question, so I’m glad you saved it for last. Isabel and I are both still looking for magnets. I think my magnets are the individual people I care about. There was an op-ed in the New York Times recently about how young people these days don’t prioritize marriage enough. We make all our choices in service of our careers, and I think it’s gauche to consider a relationship a goal. In terms of marriage, specifically, I don’t know if I agree with the op-ed. But I would like to be less embarrassed to shape my life around my loved ones. 



Fiona Warnick grew up in Western Massachusetts and holds a BA in Creative Writing from Oberlin College, where she won the Emma Howell Poetry Prize. For the last two years she has been teaching preschool in Providence, RI.

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