Have you always been a writer?
I always wrote and I read everything, even things I wasn’t supposed to. But I didn’t think I was going to be a writer. I wasn’t raised in an environment where pursuing a career as a writer was encouraged. Perhaps there was this idea that making art should be supplementary to a more practical job. If I was able to pursue an artistic path on the side, that would be fine. What happened was a happy accident.
And when you were a student, did you study writing?
I have no classical training in writing. I studied international relations and at one time planned to pursue a graduate study.
But despite not having any formal training, as a writer you work on honing your craft. Are there specific areas where you feel that you have more room for growth?
Everywhere. I don’t claim to know much as other writers and I definitely approach writing more as a visual artist would. My first book, An Extraordinary Theory of Objects, is written with the intention of sounding like a self-absorbed teenage girl with real problems with depression.There are also illustrations. That’s the voice and the story. I often find it difficult to see beyond the immersive process.
And what was your intention for your first book?
The purpose was to craft a narrative, to share a personal experience that might spark recognition and offer comfort. A memoir is a projected story. What is interesting is that a biography can be more objective, but in terms of being a circulated book, it still needs to sell.
Your novel talks about your upbringing, where you grew up between the suburbs of New York and also in France. What parts of the French and American cultures do identify more with?
I am very nomadic, my childhood was more about my family unit than a place. In France, we lived in a town that was an hour away from my international school. I wasn’t as immersed in French culture as I could have been. I was more influenced by my family than where I was, because I was always with them. My parents are from Boston but they’re not very American. They’re a very weird kind of nomadic bohemian, and yet extremely strict with their ideas. It’s an interesting clash. [Laughs] They’re just LaCavas. My brother would be a better person to talk to because he has more objectivity.
Do you find yourself gravitating more towards fiction writing these days?
Yes. Fiction really interests me, especially as mother. Fiction is moving and affecting and can address universal issues through imagination and example.
As you mentioned earlier, you read a lot. Are there any underrated authors that you think are worth checking out?
I would say that there are many authors that are less well known, rather than underrated. The authors that I am passionate about are not as commercially successful as others, but they’re brilliant. I’m certainly not the first one to discover them. For example, this year has been really great for authors like Clarice Lispector, Renata Adler, and Mary McCarthy. Now, these authors are much more in the conversation. But that said, I don’t like when people are very precious about the authors they read.
What do you mean by “precious”?
People can be very particular and cult-like about the books they read. The recent Joan Didion documentary blew open this discussion. Sure, you may love her, but have you really read any works by her? It’s great to love someone or something, but really love it. Don’t do it because it is popular or to be cool or the opposite, because it seems alternative. Know why you love it.
That’s great advice. Speaking of advice, do you have any thoughts you would share with the younger generation that is preparing to take their first step into adulthood?
I would say be brave and thoughtful. I tell my son this all the time. If you really break it down, that’s about it.
at do you find is most wonderful and most challenging about living in New York for writers or freelancers, from your personal experience?
It’s the most amazing place to be curious. If you were to make some crazy claim about how many stories there would be per square foot, New York would take all. Turn that over and you also have what’s very difficult about New York and being in the arts; it is a very expensive place to live.
And on that note, are there books that you are particularly passionate about?
There are too many, because a lot of my young life was just about the books that I have read. I was alone a lot growing up. That’s why I am so awkward now. [Laughs] It’s impossible to choose.
Is that the same for films? You can’t choose one favorite?
I can’t because I can’t watch one film and sit still. [Laughs] There are so many different films I love for different reasons. Something that my dad used to say is that he wasn’t going to the movies to be sad. It’s such an anti-emo writer stance, but it’s one thing my dad said that stuck with me. Why not go to the movies to be entertained? These days my husband also says the same thing. He’s a stoic guy who works a high pressure job and I get it. If I had to choose though, I’m really into Curious George. I can watch that over-and-over again with my son.
What books have been collecting dust on your to-read list?
I have this stack: a lot of Tom McCarthy, Annie Dillard’s The Abundance; Mike Kelley: The Educational Complex by John Miller.
As someone with a couple thousand followers on Instagram, which this day is a modest following, what are your thoughts on Instagram as a social media platform?
Instagram is a beast. I think it can be great but also not. It’s a great way to connect with people if you are open and safe about it. The whole concept of Instagram is very funny to me. There’s an entire generation of kids that mine Instagram for information like detectives, so you end up getting twisted facts because you are going through three filters of what people want you to think. I’m worried about the human capital invested in playing detective versus going out and having coffee with someone face-to-face. I wrestle with it, because it could be better to have less followers and not alienate ones that are important to you.
So who would you like to have coffee with?
I love people and asking questions and hearing stories. I have little respect for boundaries because I am such a curious person. The list is endless, but definitely someone who is not available and known for being mysterious or not giving interviews or sharing personal information.
On Instagram, whose feeds do you find yourself revisiting?
I’d like to discover something interesting and new there.
What is something most people don’t know about you?
I play lacrosse.
At a bar, what do you order?
Who would you love to see live at a concert?
And how do you define beauty?
I don’t know that I can define it.
For more of Stephanie’s work, check out her Instagram.