Five Authors Talk About Their Strong Suits and What They’d Like to be Better At

From a Lit Hub feature that asked 5 Authors, 7 Questions, No Wrong Answers:

What are some words you despise that have been used to describe your writing by readers and/or reviewers?

Brady Hammes: Dysfunctional family narrative because it tells me nothing about the book. What family isn’t dysfunctional? And what constitutes dysfunction? As Mary Karr once said, “a dysfunctional family is any family with more than one person in it.”

Lauren Sandler: Many years ago, a friend described something I’d written as “news you can use.” I’ve never gotten over it.

Jenny Zhang: “timely” “urgent” “gritty” “shocking” “relevant” “now more than ever.”

Ivy Pochoda: Depressing. Unlikeable (characters)—aren’t we over this by now? Meandering. I’m on the fence about “gritty” these days. It’s overused, a catchall and somewhat dismissive in the wrong hands. I’ve also been accused of being a pseudonym used by Dennis Lehane for his lesser work, so I guess “fraudulent” should go on there.

Tracy O’Neill: Esoteric. My primary intention in writing is not scalability.


What craft elements do you think are your strong suit, and what would you like to be better at? 

Jenny Zhang: I never properly learned grammar. I still don’t know where commas go. Do I want to be better at it? Only insomuch as I want to stop hearing from annoying people. I probably need to improve in all areas of craft. I don’t imagine I could ever master something completely. Ideally, I will always be curious and open to learning. I like writing that’s hot and alive. Is that a craft element? I don’t enjoy reading things that are cold and lifeless. I think I’m a hot writer. I think my writing is alive. But I could always be hotter, more alive.

Ivy Pochoda: I’m told that I excel at dialogue. I prefer to write place over everything. I’m improving at plot with each book, although it’s been a painful journey and I have a ways to go. I still loathe writing physical descriptions of people. It makes me cringe.

Brady Hammes: I feel like I write pretty sharp dialogue. I have a decent handle on plot. I’m terrible at character descriptions, particularly physical descriptions. My pacing could use some work.

Tracy O’Neill: I do an okay sentence. I would like to plot happiness more compellingly.

Lauren Sandler: I think I’m very good getting people to let me into their lives and open up to me, simply by being around them and opening up myself. That’s how I report. And once there, I think I’m good at simultaneously being in the moment and making meaning of it on a separate track, which carries into the writing.


If you could choose a career besides writing (irrespective of schooling requirements and/or talent) what would it be?

Ivy Pochoda: Editor of a ‘90s British pop culture magazine. Public defender. Hotdog cart entrepreneur. 

Brady Hammes: Wildlife photographer.

Lauren Sandler: I want to front a band.  And recently, I think I’d like to be the president.

Tracy O’Neill: Dancer aging into choreographer.

Jenny Zhang: I would want to work in a children’s daycare. I’ve been looking after children ever since I was a child… and I love it.
The five authors and their new books:

Brady Hammes (The Resolutions)

Tracy O’Neill (Quotients)

Ivy Pochoda (These Women)

Lauren Sandler (This Is All I Got)

Jenny Zhang (My Baby First Birthday)

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