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Exclusive Q&A with Lauren Mechling AB '99 (author, journalist)


Lauren Mechling AB '99 has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Slate, The New Yorker online, and Vogue, where she wrote a regular book column. She's worked as a crime reporter and metro columnist for The New York Sun, a young adult novelist, and a features editor at The Wall Street Journal. A graduate of Harvard College, she lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children. She is currently a senior editor at The Guardian US. Her next novel, THE MEMO, co-written with Rachel Dodes, will be published in June 2024.


Q: Congratulations on your most recent novel, THE MEMO! Do you have any particular writing habits or rituals while working on your writing? What are the hardest and easiest parts of the process for you?

 

Thank you! Some of my brilliant writer friends tell me about going away for a couple of weeks and banging out a draft of a novel–but I could never do that. Sad to say, I am not a mad genius. I am a hard worker. My process has always involved daily writing sessions, sometimes no longer than half an hour. When I was a crime reporter in my early twenties, I’d wake up and write a couple of hundred words before I got ready for work. Lo and behold I had a finished novel within a year or so (it helped that I had a co-writer friend who was diving into the manuscript every afternoon). This is my ninth book. I’ve bounced around among genres but the process has more or less remained the same: slow, steady, and early. As I type this, it’s 6:13 on a Sunday morning.


Q: THE MEMO is a time travel comedy. What made you decide to write in this genre, and how does it compare with other genres you’ve written in?


My last book, HOW COULD SHE, was a literary novel about three women on the downtown scene who jockey for social dominance. I started working on THE MEMO in the beginning of the pandemic, when the idea of writing another social satire set in well-to-do pockets of New York was unfathomable. I needed escapism, and a book about a woman who gets to go back in time and fix her past mistakes was the perfect magic carpet ride to take me away from the horrors of lockdown.


Q: You wrote THE MEMO with writing partner Rachel Dodes. How does the partnership dynamic work well for you both when writing, and how do you handle any potential disagreements while working together?


Rachel and I met when we were baby reporters at The Wall Street Journal, and I have always been blown away by her whirring mind and big fat heart. We reconnected a few years ago when I appeared on her podcast Nope (RIP) and we just knew that we wanted to do something together. Writing a novel with a friend isn’t that conventional, but it should be. I don’t know what I would have done without a “thought partner” as I hear they call them these days. Rachel and I would chat at least once a day and go over the latest additions to our shared Google doc and brainstorm ideas. We knew we were onto something when it made us both laugh. No less valuable has been having somebody with whom to navigate the ups and downs of the publication process.


Q: Humor seems to be a key element in THE MEMO, adding depth to the portrayal of the characters' experiences. How do you balance humor with the more serious or poignant moments in the story, and why do you believe humor is an effective tool in storytelling?


Whether its wry or poignant or arch or plain old bananas, humor is my queen. I think I would struggle to connect with a story that felt devoid of wit and a touch of zaniness.


Q: You’ve also written YA novels. How was the transition from writing for a YA audience to an older audience? Does your approach to storytelling differ when writing for a younger audience compared to writing for adults?


It was an inevitable transition. I started out writing YA when I was only a few years out of high school, when that world was still alive in my mind. When I was in my early thirties, I wrote what would have been my seventh YA novel. I thought it was going to be huge–it was about human trafficking and a pair of magical fortune teller sisters–but it didn’t find a publisher. I felt devastated, a little betrayed. I realized that a juicy book deal was by no means guaranteed, so I might as well write the book that I truly wanted to read. When I started writing HOW COULD SHE, I imagined it coming out as a pamphlet that women would pass around in secret. That freed me up to write a work whose plot was more subtle than my previous works, and that touched on my preoccupations and obsessions.


Q: In addition to your many published novels, your notable journalistic work spans prestigious publications like The Wall Street Journal, Vogue, and The New York Times. How do you adapt your writing style to suit the tone and audience of different publications?


No matter who I am telling a story for, I always conduct more interviews that I possibly need to and look for the details that excite me or crack me up. I’ve started writing stories for Elle Decor, which on the face of it makes no sense, and I am so not a “design person”--I live in my head. But I take the same approach that I do with all my journalism and grill everyone I can get on the phone, try to get to the deeper story about who these people are and what excites them (and drives them to tear down 8,400 square foot homes).


Q: Your journalism portfolio covers a diverse array of topics, from fashion trends to literary reviews. How do you decide which subjects to explore in your articles, and what draws you to write about them?


I’ve always been more or less of a generalist, meaning I do pretty much everything other than hard news. I have interviewed Beyonce, filed a dispatch from an energy vortex on an Arizona mountaintop and written a New York Times op-ed about the joy of breaking up with friends. Sometimes an editor will come to me with an assignment they think I could make interesting and funny, and other times I will be having a conversation and a stray tidbit will make an impression that gets me googling in the hopes that there is a “there there.” (There always is, if you look hard enough.)


Q: How does your writing process differ when drafting shorter articles versus writing full-length novels? Or does it stay consistent?


Well, I am a morning person and a morning writer, so if you were to look through my window it would appear to be the exact same (me, with my coffee, hunched over my computer). When I’m working on shorter pieces I tend to procrastinate by reporting as long as I possibly can before it’s time to start writing, and then arranging and rearranging the statistics and quotes that I think I want to include before I start writing the sentences that serve as the connective tissue. You can’t do that as much with fiction writing, so I procrastinate by obsessively rereading and reworking every little line. I could never write by hand!


Q: You currently work as a senior editor at The Guardian US. How do you balance the demands of this role with your creative writing?


I was hired at the Guardian the same summer that Rachel and I sold THE MEMO, and since then I’ve been focusing on getting acclimated at the paper. Most of my morning writing sessions are devoted to composing film reviews and author interviews, or editing features by other people. But there’s no way I won’t be working on another novel before long, so we’ll see how that goes.


Q: What advice would you give to young, aspiring writers working on their first drafts?


Books don’t write themselves, but if you can dedicate a tiny bit of time every day, you’ll be surprised how quickly you have 20, then 30, pages. And I hear we’re all meant to start a Substack! (I still need to get around to that bit myself.)

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