Juliet Escoria

On Staying Sane While Launching a Book, the Dire State of Publishing, Taking Herself to Church, and Her Story Collection ‘You Are the Snake’

Cover of Juliet Escoria: On Staying Sane While Launching a Book, the Dire State of Publishing, Taking Herself to Church, and Her Story Collection ‘You Are the Snake’

Juliet Escoria’s first novel, the seminal Juliet the Maniac (Melville House 2019), was such a formative book for me that I had to ask her multiple times if it was truly released in 2019 (it was). I thought I had read it in high school. It had become that deeply rooted in my psyche. 

Her new book, You Are the Snake (Soft Skull 2024)—also poised to become an instant classic—is a collection of short stories that picks up where Juliet the Maniac left off, along the dark edges of female adolescence and eventually moves into the morphology of our core selves as we enter romantic partnerships, join extended family, and explore the intricacies of parenthood. 

Juliet and I caught up over Zoom (and email, and Instagram DMs) to talk about how she successfully blurs the lines between reality and fiction, balancing writing with teaching and family, and how to stay sane leading up to a book launch. 


Barrie Miskin: You write and speak a lot about living with a mental illness and how you care for yourself and the steps you take to ensure that you feel healthy. Do you find that coming out with a new book and the months leading up to it stirs things up, so to speak? As someone who lives with a mental illness myself, I’ve found myself struggling a bit through this final stretch of my first rodeo. How do you continue to stay grounded and feel well?

Juliet Escoria: I think something most writers discover is that while publishing is the goal, and while publishing a book eventually feels good, the months before and after publication are just wildly uncomfortable for so many different reasons. 

I’ve been sending myself to “church,” which is different from what it sounds like. It just means that I need to go sit on my deck and listen to the birds, or meditate or pray or do some weird little ritual. I’ve been doing that whenever I feel sort of unhinged. 

I also think keeping things in perspective is important—to at least attempt to have the logical thought that this is a long game. A writing “career” is not just one book, and a book, if you’re lucky, has a long life. It’s not just the months before and after publication. 

I think that our culture is set up to treat things as though the minute something comes out, it’s dead, and then we have to move on to the next thing. Ever since I’ve been aware of the publishing industry, people have just acted really dire about it as an industry, like it’s dying, and it does seem to be getting worse and worse. But at the same time, people still read, and they still want to read good books.

BM: Do you feel like readers often mistake your work for memoir rather than fiction? I feel like autofiction is such a strange term because unless you’re writing science fiction or fantasy—and maybe even then, I don’t know—a writer draws upon their own life when they sit down to write. Is it strange to have readers feel like they really “know” you and have insight into these highly personal and private parts of your life? 

JE: I think that writing forces you to engage with people you don’t know very well in an honest way. I’m not trying to pretend to be a one hundred percent sane person, so having that facade of social acceptability already done away with causes more authentic, honest, and unpretentious interactions.

I don’t sit around thinking I’m going to make a book that feels real but actually has lies in it. But I don’t understand how you could read a book like Juliet The Maniac and not get that it’s about something related to my actual life. 

I tried to write Juliet The Maniac with a bunch of different approaches before it finally clicked. At one point it was like, maybe this is a nonfiction book, but it never seemed to work when I framed it in my mind that way. It only worked as a novel.

In You Are the Snake, just about every story is based on something that actually happened to me. But I feel like a lot of the stories are contradictory, and same with my earlier book, Black Cloud. Like if this thing happened, then this other thing couldn’t possibly have happened—so they can’t all be true, as opposed to a novel which is a single cohesive story. One of the stories in Black Cloud, for example, was about a mom who was a cokehead model. And that’s not my mom at all. My mom is a sweet kindergarten teacher. So I think there’s a kind of splintering of reality that happens when you have something that’s a story collection, which doesn’t happen with a novel.

BM: I feel like the stories in You Are the Snake have a natural, linear flow. In the first part of the book, you explore the more reckless abandon and that kind of joy we find in acting on selfish impulses without much consequence that we get to experience during young adulthood, but towards the end, there’s more on what it means to let go of certain parts of yourself in order to become a part of something—an extended family in West Virginia, a marriage, stepmotherhood. I loved all the stories in this book, but I found those stories particularly moving, especially “Little Bitch,” which I found myself deeply relating to. Which stories flow more easily for you—the ones that reflect on past lives or the ones that might be more rooted in the present?

JE: The stories that are more contemporary in that book are all from Scott’s and my early marriage, so almost a decade ago. I feel like there has to be some sort of remove for me. I can’t write about things that just happened. There are certain things that I’ve experienced more recently that seem like it’ll be a great story someday, but I have no idea how I would write it in this present moment. The experiences have to be removed in time to make sense to me.

Also, my memory’s not very good, and sometimes I think that’s a positive thing, in terms of my writing. I have to make stuff up because I don’t remember what actually happened. 

BM: I read You Are the Snake over a weekend while I was at my in-laws’ house. They aren’t from West Virginia but from rural PA which seems to have a lot of cultural similarities to where you are now—the grandparents really pitching in to raise the grandkids, the emphasis on extended family.  Anyway, as someone whose cultural background is Jewish New Yorker, it’s taken some time for me to get used to. Your book was really healing for me. It made me feel more understanding. I went on a West Virginia book binge after reading yours—Mesha Maren, JT Leroy. Anyway, how has it been living and writing and working in West Virginia? Do you feel you’ve found a creative community there? Are you a writer who needs that? 

JE: My upbringing was so different from what is typical here in West Virginia. I’m an only child and I grew up in California, which I think is a rootless place compared to West Virginia. 

Practically, writing in West Virginia is great because I do need space to work, like, Virginia Woolf-style. Our house here is big enough for Scott to have a room to work out of, and I have a big chunk of the basement. I can’t afford this big of a house in other places. 

I also am kind of a hippie when it comes to nature. It’s really important to me. It makes me feel grounded and good, which is important for me as a writer. 

I’ve got a creative community. One of my closest friends here is a baker and a printmaker, with an old-fashioned printing press, and I have another friend who does photography, and some other friends who do other types of art. But really the only writer friends that I have besides my husband are Mesha Maren and Matt Randal O’Wain, who only live here part-time.

I feel like community is good, but you don’t need physical community anymore. The majority of my writing friends, if I need to talk to them about something, I do it by text, or we see each other during readings, or something along those lines. You don’t necessarily need physical proximity to have a community. But it certainly helps that I have another writer living with me.

BM: You’ve written books  in so many different forms—novel, poetry, now short stories. Do you go in knowing how you want to say what you want to say, or is it just intuitive, whatever hits at the moment? 

JE: I’ll have in my head that I want to write a story, or I want to write this poem, or a book, but sometimes they don’t work with the initial approach. Like there’s a story I cut from You Are the Snake that I tried to write as nonfiction, and then I tried to write it as fiction, and I still haven’t been able to make it work.

Generally speaking though, I know what I’m going to do before I do it. And sometimes I like to create what feels like complicated math problems for myself. Like, I want to write a story in which I channel my dead grandmother. There was one I wrote that was in the reissue of Black Cloud and Witch Hunt, where I was wondering if I could take my obsession with 9/11 and turn it into a story. The last story in You Are the Snake, I wrote while wondering if I could take all the science facts that I like and turn them into a story. I think it’s this kind of approach of, I wonder if I can make this work or not

I also think you can recycle things. When I was in college, one of my first creative writing teachers, Dwight Yates, told me that you can plagiarize yourself, and I really took that to heart. There’s certain stuff in Juliet the Maniac that appeared in my other books, and there are things in You Are the Snake that have shown up in my poems. I don’t think you have to reserve material for just one piece of work. You can use an image again. You can use a line again.

BM: What are you reading lately? Do you have books that you keep close while you’re writing? 

JE: I just finished Sarah Gerard’s new book [Carrie Carolyn Coco] that’s coming out in July. I’m reading Kristen Felicetti’s book Log Off, which is in Livejournal format, next. I feel like I’ve been on a hot streak of women writers whose books are coming around the same time that are all amazing—such as yours!

Some of my other friends, like Mesha Maren and Nicolette Polek, have books coming out, too—there are just a lot of books coming out in the first part of the year that are amazing.

I’m not much of a rereader. I am with poetry collections to a certain extent. I like Melissa Broder’s poetry, particularly her earlier stuff. I’ve returned to Scarecrone and Meat Heart multiple times.

And then there are writers who function as sort of beacons or gods to me. Lucia Berlin is one, Mary Gaitskill, and Tove Ditlevsen is a newer one for me. She wrote The Copenhagen Trilogy. I do have a stack of books that I keep when I’m working on something, but they’re there because they feel like they’re in the same spirit, more than something I want to re-read.

BM: Are you someone who has a writing routine and writes every day, or do you write just when inspiration strikes?

JE: It depends. I’m definitely an ebb and flow type of writer and I always struggle in between projects. I keep on really wanting to work on this book now, but publishing is hard and kind of makes the record skip in a way. So, that frustrates me.

Scott writes every single day and is very regimented and I get jealous of him because I just can’t do that, and when I’ve tried to do that, it didn’t work. I’ll get into a groove where I’ll have a certain routine, and the routine has changed over the years, in terms of times and exactly how I do things. I wish I could be a daily writer, but it’s just never worked for me. It’s like, I’m just wasting my time by sitting here; nothing’s working. And my job makes it hard too, because I teach at a community college. My job is easier than a lot of other jobs, but it’s still pretty draining. Summers and winter break are productive for me.

BM: Do you feel like the pressure to create new work is greater internally or externally? 

JE: I feel like externally, there’s a small, petty part of myself that’s like, Oh, you need to publish. Other people are publishing and you’re not. But that part of my psyche has gotten smaller and smaller. I think the more books I publish, the more that part of my brain is able to chill. Now, it feels more internal. When I’m not writing or creating stuff, then I don’t feel good. Writing cleans out my brain and I like the clean feeling that writing gives me.


Juliet Escoria is the author of the novel Juliet the Maniac (Melville House, May 2019), which was named a “best of” book by Nylon, Elle, Buzzfeed, and others, and was shortlisted for the VCU Cabell First Novelist Prize. She also wrote the Witch Hunt & Black Cloud: New and Collected Works (CLASH Books, 2023). Her writing can be found in places like The Southwest Review, VICE, Tyrant, BOMB, and the New York Times She was born in Australia, raised in San Diego, and currently lives in West Virginia.

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