Leigh Stein published her debut novel this year, proving herself as a strong writer with a sharp awareness of contemporary youth culture. “The Fallback Plan” offers a realistic depiction of a girl forced to move back in with her parents and get a job babysitting in her first year out of college, all the while trying to cope with the question of what it means to “grow up.”
The Badger Herald had a chance to speak with Stein about writing a first novel and the experience of getting a book published.
“It’s funny,” Stein said. “You think your book is going to come out and your life is going to be completely different. But mostly my life is the same. I work two jobs and I go to school full-time at Brooklyn College. So it’s pretty busy (laughs).”
Stein’s idea for the book came from her first-hand experience as a boomerang child returning home to her parents.
“Having just lived at home the experience was really fresh in my mind as something I wanted to write about,” Stein said.
“Esther [the main character] is a kind of exaggerated version of me. It’s a fictional book but I wanted to describe that experience at home when you’re kind of caught between childhood and adulthood and that’s definitely something I experienced as well,” she explained.
The vivid realism of “Fallback Plan” comes as no accident for Stein, whose first-hand experience of a strange professional relationship informed the story.
“I set out to write a babysitting story because when I was 20 I had a job babysitting for a woman,” Stein said. “We got into an intense relationship where I basically felt like she was paying me to be her friend. I cared a lot about the child but eventually I had to quit because it was like I was spending every waking hour with this person. That experience really rattled me and was something I wanted to write about.”
Like many writers, Stein went into retreat to work on her art.
“I was living at home in Chicago with my parents and I met a guy who knew I wanted to be a writer. He said, ‘Why don’t we move somewhere so you can write a book?’ So we moved to Albuquerque, N.M., and that’s where I started the book,” Stein said.
While Jack Kerouac was said to have written “On The Road” in one fevered writing session and Samuel Taylor Coleridge claimed to write poems in his dreams, Stein’s creative process seems a lot more like actual work.
“I like writing in the mornings. I write really slowly so I tend to underwrite. A lot of people overwrite but I need to set word-count goals for myself,” Stein said.
“Usually I write a scene of dialogue first, almost like a play, and then I fill in all the other stuff that happens. I keep going from the morning until I meet my work goal and then I have a glass of wine,” Stein said with a laugh.
Stein was forced to come to terms with people’s interpretations of her book and their newly-formed ideas of her as a writer. While Stein sees herself as just writing what she knows, some see her as speaking for a generation.
“I just wanted to write about a babysitter,” Stein said. “But a weird thing that happened to me was, you know, you write a book and you think that it’s one book. But then everyone’s like ‘Oh you’ve written a coming-of-age story’ or ‘You wrote a book about the Boomerang Generation.’”
People’s reactions to her first book, while mostly positive, have put pressure on Stein as an artist.
“Now that I’m writing a second novel, that’s more stressful for me because now people have read my work and there’s this expectation of what kind of a writer I am. People are like ‘Oh, she’s such a funny writer’ and I think ‘Do I have to be funny all the time? Is that my shtick?’” Stein said.
As a current college student, Stein identifies strongly with other undergrads who may be trying to pursue writing as a career. For these creative types, Stein had this advice to offer.
“It’s one thing to finish writing something and give it to your mom who’s going to tell you how wonderful you are, but having a couple good readers who are nice to you but know how to give you criticism is really important,” Stein said.
For those looking to see their name in ink, she added, “With publishing: just start [with small publications] and just get a few things published. You can look online for literary magazines. Just build you portfolio that way.”
Leigh Stein’s first novel, “The Fallback Plan,” is available at book retailers nationwide. For more information about the book or the author visit www.mphbooks.com