Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Q&A with Daphne Uviller

I’m pleased to introduce Daphne Uviller as today’s Q&A guest. An editor, a novelist, and a third-generation West-Villager, Daphne will share the news related to her latest publication, Super in the City.

Hi Daphne. Can you tell us about Super in the City?
Super in the City is a sexy, urban caper about an overeducated young woman who unwillingly becomes the super of her parents’ Greenwich Village building and uncovers unsavory activity among the tenants. (It’s also a shameless love letter to my native neighborhood.)

Okay. But what's it really about?
It’s about the search for professional identity among twenty-somethings, a time in life (for the financially fortunate, to be sure) that David Brooks once generously termed “the odyssey years.” There’s this paralysis that grips many educated people, an inability to pick a profession and stay the course. It’s not laziness, not by any stretch – it’s an overabundance of opportunity, and it struck me as a great battle for a main character. It made me think of one of my favorite short stories, James Thurber’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which was published in 1939. My heroine is a new millennial, female Walter Mitty – similarly prone to wild occupational fantasies and self-reinvention.

It’s also about real New Yorkers, those of us who don’t stay up til 4am, drinking $20 martinis, wearing $200 Pradas and who still milk the city for all it’s worth.

What sources of inspiration led you to write this novel?
My agent wanted me to write another book for him to sell. Seriously, that was the main fire under my butt. I’d written four screenplays, landed some meetings in Hollywood, but after five years, still had no film agent. Then, when my first book, Only Child, was finished and in stores, I thought, well, hey, now I have a literary agent. Why not write something for him?

It seems you like variety. Have you any other odd jobs worth sharing?
Immediately after college, I worked at a New York City law enforcement agency that investigates crime and corruption in the public school system. They didn’t let me carry a gun, though I sometimes pretended (usually to guys on first dates that were not going well) that I was on the verge of getting my license.

What can you tell us about your contribution to Only Child?
Only Child: Writers on the Singular Joys and Solitary Sorrows of Growing Up Solo is a collection of 21 original essays by well-known writers on the subject of traveling through life without siblings. I co-edited it with my dear and talented friend Deborah Siegel. She hated being an only, I loved it, so we did a book. My essay, “Dodging Laurie,” imagines the sister I never had, imagines her failing to come through for me in the way my friends and husband did when my dad was dying.

Tell us a bit about your journey as an author.
I’ll skip the syrupy part about being six years old and drawing little books and saying, “I want to be an author.” After my stint in law enforcement, I worked as an unpaid intern at The Paris Review. My parents and I had agreed that in lieu of tuition for an MFA, they would support me for two years. (I think an MFA program is great for making connections and gaining discipline and I was lucky enough to already have both, so I passed and took the money.) At The Paris Review, I read other people’s short stories and realized that mine were like many out there – quite good, but not good enough. I didn’t want to be holed up for ten years working on some opus that might or might not see the light of day. I needed and still need lots of interaction with the real world. So I started writing book reviews for Time Out New York and later became an editor there. I went on to write for Newsday, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and also wrote for Allure and Self, where I had a column in the late ‘90s.

What advice do you have for writers starting out?
1) Make sure you love the act of writing (not all the time, of course, but most of the time) and not just a romantic idea of being published. It is not romantic. It is often quite ugly. Do not expect to get rich.
2) Regularly turn off your internet connection. There is no way to dive deep into a story if you’re constantly checking e-mail and Facebook and whether Michael Jackson is still dead. (I promise you he will not Twitter from the grave. RIP).
3) Some writers must have solitude. I am not one of them. I schedule writing dates in busy cafes with other writing friends. We sit, laptop to laptop, working on different things. Do not underestimate the power of having someone expecting you at a certain place at a certain time to complete a certain task. Sometimes I park myself at my husband’s office and write there, to have his company (he’s a biologist). If you’re having trouble, write with someone! (If you have any doubts about the legitimacy of this method, know that Malcolm Gladwell, that bestselling hound, writes at my cafe, too, though he doesn’t know me from Eve.)
4) Hound editors until they read your stuff. Call them again and again and again. Stop calling if they’ve read it and don’t like it. Go call someone else.
5) Read Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. Right now. Go. Read it.

How has social media and technology changed the way you connect with readers?
I don’t use social technology very well, mostly because I don’t have the time. I joined Facebook to promote my books, but wound up not interested in friending people I don’t know. I have an e-mail list of about 550 people that I call my “books and babies” list – I send them announcements when I deliver either of the above, or am doing a reading. I maintain a website, which is the best way to find out about my work. And I jump at the opportunity to do interviews like this! But, aside from writers who hire people to maintain their reader communication, I don’t understand how they find the time to keep writing. Publicity is a full-time job in itself.

What is your current work-in-progress?
I have a two-book contract with Bantam Dell and I’m writing a continuation of Super in the City.

How can readers learn more about you and your writing?
Visit or email


Thanks to Daphne for joining us here! Remember, there are more interviews and guest blogs coming this week and this whole month of August. If you haven’t yet read the interview with Christina Baker Kline, keep on reading below.

Until next time… happy reading!


  1. Great interview and tips from Daphne. Thanks.

  2. Thanks, Ricky! I appreciate you stopping in.