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"A Fairytale for all Aspiring Writers"



The-NestCynthia D'Aprix Sweeney's overnight success was a long time in the making. In fact, she was in her fifties with college-bound kids when her husband, the chief writer for late night talk show host Conan O'Brien, urged her to pursue her dreams of becoming a novelist. Having traded New York for LA, she enrolled in Bennington's MFA Program and set about writing The Nest, a tale of a dysfunctional family in various states of financial ruin, forced to reconcile after one sibling, fresh from rehab, jeopardizes the trust fund they'd all been banking on. Journalist Jeff Vasishta (Interview, Billboard, the Daily Telegraph) spoke with Sweeney about her much buzzed about debut.

The Nest (available 3/22) is Amazon's Debut Spotlight selection for the Best Books of March.


Jeff Vasishta: The evolution of this book is kind of a fairytale for all aspiring writers, especially ones over forty. Is there a blueprint we can all follow?

Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney: I guess getting my MFA was my mid-life crisis. Cheaper than a dumb sports car and marginally less stressful than an affair! It was also a reaction to relocating to California. My kids were in middle school and high school and I suddenly had a lot of time on my hands in a city where I didn't know a lot of people. The work I'd always done—freelance marketing/communications copywriting—was great when my kids were small and I needed a super flexible work situation, but I was ready for something more challenging and interesting. I've always been an avid reader of fiction and had started playing around with writing it but in a half-assed, dithering kind of way. I wanted to either commit fully to writing fiction or exercise the demon and move on to something else. So the MFA program at Bennington was very much a rapid plunge into the deep-end – terrifying but exhilarating. At various points in my life I thought about doing it but I talked myself out of it because it felt very scary. Also I think being in NYC, living in Brooklyn and knowing all these successful publishers and writers who had been doing it their entire lives, I did feel like "that's a club house and the membership application period has passed me by." I think moving to Los Angeles kind of made me feel like I was doing it in secret from LA, and I didn't have to tell any of these people if it didn't go well. For a long time I felt if I try it and I'm no good at it, that is going to be devastating because I love fiction so much. Then I think a combination of age, maturity, boredom, living in LA had an effect and I just thought, "If I try and it doesn't happen it's truly not going to be the end of the world. I'll figure something else out. But if I don't try it, it will be a huge question in my head." When I made the decision I couldn't believe the relief I had.

Jeff-VasishtaJV: And now you've become the glamorous half of your marriage.

CDS: My husband's only too happy for that to happen. Honestly I felt like his job is so hard and demanding and we have a wonderful life because of it so it's really nice to say, "Here! Half of this is yours!" I have a son in college who has a friend who wants to go into publishing and he interns in New York at a publishing house. The following week after we signed the deal, it was in Publisher's Weekly and his friend came into the dining hall that morning with the magazine and said, "Dude, is this your mom?"

JV: You've managed to pull off a rare feat, writing something that's accessible and funny but also has some literary chops. Would we be able to get an idea of your style from the things you read?

CDS: I tore through and loved everything Elena Ferrante has written, like most of the world. I'm a long-time fan of Tessa Hadley, Zadie Smith, Alice McDermott, Chimimanda Adiche, Elizabeth Strout. I loved the posthumous Lucia Berlin collection and have also been loving Eileen Myles poetry and the reissue of Chelsea Girls. I hope Jennifer Egan has something coming out soon. Ditto Meg Wolitzer. Eula Biss knocks my socks off. And I'll read anything Michael Lewis writes.


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