It’s always a delight to have new authors on the site, and today we’ve got two! Laura Blackett and Eve Gleichman are the coauthors behind The Very Nice Box, which released just yesterday from HMH! Here’s a little more info about the book:
Ava Simon designs storage boxes for STÄDA, a slick Brooklyn-based furniture company. She’s hard-working, obsessive, and heartbroken from a tragedy that killed her girlfriend and upended her life. It’s been years since she’s let anyone in.
But when Ava’s new boss—the young and magnetic Mat Putnam—offers Ava a ride home one afternoon, an unlikely relationship blossoms. Ava remembers how rewarding it can be to open up—and, despite her instincts, she becomes enamored. But Mat isn’t who he claims to be, and the romance takes a sharp turn.
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And now, please welcome our authors in conversation, Eve Gleichman and Laura Blackett!
EG: We wrote the novel over eighteen months, having never attempted anything like it before. What was the most challenging part of our collaboration, for you?
LB: The most challenging part was getting started– I can remember the feeling of writing my first chapter and wondering what you would think of it, and whether we’d have compatible voices and writing styles. So starting required a certain amount of vulnerability that felt exciting and very new to me. But it didn’t take long for us to find our rhythm. As we gained momentum I remember feeling surprised by how much fun it was, and I almost forgot that writing a novel in this collaborative way isn’t exactly the norm. I think the collaboration itself is queer in that way, because it exists outside the dominant narrative about what authorship and creativity looks like.
EG: I totally agree. It was such a joy to build off each other’s ideas, which I think you can really feel as you read it. The collaboration forced us to let go of our egos and narrative control. We trusted the characters and each other, and the plot unrolled from there.
LB: Speaking of the characters, let’s talk about Ava. She’s mostly dated women, now she’s falling for a cis man, and the book doesn’t define her sexuality. How have people responded to this? How have you come to understand her identity?
EG: It’s funny, we didn’t set out to write a queer book, or a satirical book, or a romantic book, but it ended up being all three. The most interesting aspect of Ava’s queerness, I think, is that it’s not fraught for her. She’s such a tightly-wound person, and yet her queerness, which is ambiguous and unpredictable, doesn’t bother her. She doesn’t suffer or experience shame–she simply is queer and able to live out that part of her life freely, which is a privilege. I was anticipating that readers would get caught up in whether or not she’s “gay,” but more often what we’ve heard is that readers actually identify with the complexity of her queer identity.
LB: Right, I loved giving Ava the gift of having an identity that was flexible and shifting. We gave her the leg room to be whoever she is, and to follow her curiosity and desires without putting her under a microscope.
EG: Plus, Ava’s already going through a lot. I wonder why we put Ava through so much. What do you think?
LB: Ava’s character was really where the book started. When I think back to the tiniest seed of an idea, it was her character– her neuroses, her rigidity. I think we knew about the things that irk her, and the images she uses to soothe herself, like a screwdriver fitting perfectly into the head of a screw and turning. And then we had to get really curious about her. What happened to her? Why does she move through the world this way? Is it helping her or hurting her? I think once we started asking those questions, her back story started to fill in. It was more interesting to us to have a character whose coping mechanisms are both hurting her and helping her. It’s much better than watching someone who is restrained and closed off for no clear reason. That’s what makes her relationship with Mat so interesting. He, like us, wants her to open up a little.
EG: Right, and I think it’s also what makes Mat at least somewhat appealing. It’s satisfying to see someone disrupt Ava’s routine. He’s a total bro, but we’re willing to give him a pass, because he’s forcing Ava to confront herself.
LB: And it makes sense why Ava in particular is attracted to him. Yes, he’s handsome, but he also moves through the world in this really smooth, confident way. He’s learned how to use his openness and extraversion as a form of currency. He’s the perfect cog in the machine that is STADA, a company that’s obsessed with team spirit and self expression.
EG: One part of Mat that was really interesting to write was his anxiety about dating a woman who has historically only been with other women. He’s sort of performatively surprised to hear this at first, and then he requires reassurance that he’s giving Ava what she needs. What do you think we were going for in those scenes?
LB: It was a really fun way to start to see some fissures in his otherwise completely confident personality. Mat doesn’t have the tools to fully access or understand Ava’s queerness. He’s not asking the right questions, and he’s not really even that curious about her identity. The book is written from Ava’s point of view, and we see her intense curiosity about what makes Mat tick. I doubt that curiosity is reciprocal. It was extremely fun to write Andie, and see the contrast between Ava’s experiences with men and women. Andie is curious about Ava’s desires and interested in (and excited by!) the capaciousness of her identity.
EG: Totally. Andie’s curiosity was such a special part of her personality. I love that when confronted with the complexity of Ava’s desire, Andie leans into it, rather than away from it.
LB: Who’s your favorite queer character in The Very Nice Box? You can’t pick Ava.
EG: And I wouldn’t want to! Ava is great, but her flaws are frustrating. She’s hard-headed and myopic. I’d have to go with Jaime. He’s patient with Ava, whip-smart, a great friend, and incredibly cute. How about you?
LB: I love Jaime too, and I’m extremely curious about his partner Chas, a trans man who is one of the only characters that exists outside the world of STADA. He has no interest in the flashy corporate gimmicks, and I think he seems really cool. I also would like to write some sort of spinoff, if only for my own enjoyment, of the queer Brooklynites we meet at a party that one of Ava’s internet dates brings her to.
EG: Lastly, what’s one thing you hope queer readers take away from the book?
LB: I want queer readers to feel entertained and to walk away with a crush on at least one of the characters.
EG: Yes! The entertainment aspect is big. I had a blast writing this book with you, and I hope our readers can feel that joy and experience it themselves.
LAURA BLACKETT is a woodworker and writer based in Brooklyn. EVE GLEICHMAN’s short stories have appeared in the Kenyon Review, the Harvard Review, BOMB Daily, and elsewhere. Eve is a graduate of Brooklyn College’s MFA fiction program and lives in Brooklyn.