Emily Weiss on Food Writing, The Hairpin and American Girl Dolls

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This week my guest was the very funny Emily Weiss, who has written for The Hairpin, had a stint as the dining critic at City Pages and now works at Iconoculture. I met Emily a few years ago and begged her to write for The Tangential. She went on to help us publish a book with Mill City Press (where she worked) and since then we’ve shared many a cocktail. Emily dropped by to talk about her idea for a sauna-driven podcast, and her serious expertise on American Girl Dolls. Thanks for coming on Emily!

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1. What’s your favorite type of writing? Where do you get your inspiration?
What comes most easily to me and what I find most enjoyable to write are short stories – which I haven’t been doing much of these days – and kind of nostalgia-tinged humor pieces. My ideas for the latter usually come from imagining already-established characters or narratives and then trying to mash them into a situation or framework that is not necessarily congruent with their ethos or their usual environment. I guess I’m essentially describing fan fiction. I’ve also been noodling how to make an accurate, Dungeons & Dragons-style alignment chart of Real Housewives from all the franchises for a very, very long time. I tend to get a lot of energy from collaborating and spitballing with other people.

2. How did you start developing your current style of writing, and how did you get the confidence to share it?
Some of it comes from personal blogging, I guess. I tried to capture stories I felt like I had successfully relayed or were well-received IRL, like as spoken delivery, and put them in a written form that still felt like me. I feel more comfortable getting things recorded and having the luxury of endlessly tweaking them, but in reality I think a lot of my best pieces and ideas come from saying them out loud first.

My sister KrisAnne was the person who first encouraged me to just start submitting stuff and trying to get it published on other platforms aside from my own blog. I think when I was growing up I had this big preoccupation with identity being wrapped up in what you’re good at because that’s how I heard my siblings being sorted and categorized all the time: KrisAnne the singer, Molly the dancer, Hobby the musician. When I realized I could create my own designation as “the writer” if I just started writing, that’s when I really felt the confidence to start sharing my work. When I talked to KrisAnne about that whole artistic identity thing and how I had wrestled with it, she was just like, “you’re the funny one.” That boosted me a lot too. I wish I could say the confidence all came from within but it was sort of a relief to have someone else point that out for me, or at least it felt like that at the time. Maybe I was less secure in my 20s. Ok, certainly I was less secure in my 20s.

3. How does working in publishing vs. journalism differ, in your opinion?
I’ll just start by saying my experience in both those industries is not representative of the typical professional path. But I think the biggest thing is that in publishing your main job is to wrangle and help execute someone else’s creative vision, which is like an emotional minefield for both parties. In journalism – while you still want to weave a good yarn – your responsibility is to reporting “the facts”, which in a weird way takes some of the pressure off. Of course my job when I technically worked as a journalist (I am not one, by training) was to constantly express my opinion, which was obviously outside the realm of “the facts” and that was exhausting. Readers seemed to think that I didn’t understand the difference between those two things, but that was always at the front of my mind when I was doing that type of writing.

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