Emily St. John Mandel; writer, Station Eleven (forthcoming, September 2014)
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a dancer. I studied ballet for my entire childhood— by thirteen or fourteen I was dancing five days a week—and then fell in love with contemporary dance and went to the School of Toronto Dance Theatre for my postsecondary education.
What was your path to being a writer?
A little convoluted, I suppose. I’d always read a lot, and had always written as a hobby, but I’d always been single-minded about making dance my career. But by the time I graduated from the School of Toronto Dance Theatre, I was a little burnt out on dance. It was all I’d ever wanted to do, but something had changed and it wasn’t fun anymore. Being a dancer is very much like being a writer in that both professions usually require a day job to pay the rent, so I kept working my soul-killing retail jobs and just quietly started writing my first novel (Last Night in Montreal) during my off-hours. There was a slow transition where I went from thinking of myself as a dancer who sometimes wrote, then a writer who sometimes danced, then just a writer.
Do you like your job?
I love it.
What are the hardest parts?
The hardest thing is that there’s a constant stream of people who want something from me, and I do what I can but there aren’t enough hours in the day. My inbox is perpetually swamped by authors and publicists who want me to review their books. At a certain point I had to mostly stop replying, which I feel bad about, but I can either respond to emails all day or I can write novels.
What are the most rewarding aspects?
The work itself, the times when you’re completely caught up in the novel you’re writing and returning to it every day feels like coming home. Meeting people—especially independent booksellers, who are always passionate about books and really smart and an absolute pleasure to spend time with—and going to places where I might otherwise never have had the opportunity to go. I was invited to a literary festival in Australia once, for instance, and it was one of the great experiences of my life.
If you could be anything else, what would it be?
Diplomacy, probably. I’ve always been interested in foreign affairs, in languages, and in travel. I think it would be interesting to work in an embassy or consulate abroad.