Pixelated is the digital, double-blind, lit-inclined conversation series. 

In each episode we put two writers on a sort of blind-date, and have them interview each other. The result? Who the hell knows. All conversations are 'manuscript-first', meaning they were typed as you see them.

Our complete list of conversations, including:

A Bit Contrived, interviews with real authors about improvised books

The Art of Commerce, exploring the intersection of literature and the market 


Episode XX: "i spent all these years thinking i was a fraud for thinking i might one day be a writer."

Published 10/20/15
In this installment, I set up Julie Buntin (above) with Lynn Steger Strong (below). They discuss husbands being or not being writers, kids, the teenage years, bookending sleep with writing, Brooklyn, Woolf & more.

Andrew: Today, for the first time on the series, I’m here with two writers who’ve yet to put a book out into the world—though both have one slated with major publishing houses.

Lynn Steger Strong’s HOLD STILL is coming out in late March with Liveright (W.W. Norton). Richard Ford says she “has a great eye for the visible world, a near perfect sensor for those of us living in it, and a deep compassion and curiosity for how we go astray and find ourselves again.”

Julie Buntin’s MARLENA won’t hit the shelves for a year or two, and will come out under Henry Holt (Macmillan). It’s about the dynamics of female friendship, and is inspired by an essay Buntin wrote in the Atlantic. Holt says the book follows “a year in an electric friendship between two girls whose dangerous behaviors will cost one her life” and is a “shimmering exploration of the sharpest edges of adolescence”.

I’m hoping to get some sense of what’s it like to be a writer on the eve of the eve of the eve of publication, but who the hell cares what I want? 

Where are you two? What do you see?

Julie: ah! hi lynn

are you scared? 

Lynn: Hi Julie!


Andrew: about this interview or publication?

Lynn: well, both.

but publication mostly.

you, julie?

Julie: yeah me too a little, re: both

well no


ALL THE FEAR re: publication

and a little re this conversation

Lynn: also, this space is just so strange. like writing without writing is new to me. i don't know what to DO. i need to DO or i freak out. 

Julie: haha

i know that feeling

Lynn: i clearly also overshare right from the start.

Julie: wait something fun about this conversation and a weird coincidence

is that i just met your agent yesterday

molly from icm

Lynn: ha! molly is the best, no?

i mean, i'm sure you love your agent, but molly is special, i think.

Julie: i work for a publisher and i had coffee with her--partly because i read about YOUR deal and was like ohhh i love self-destructive teenagers

Lynn: and your editor is sarah bowlin?

Julie: i think my agent is the most special human but molly rocks i had the best time with her


Lynn: i have a serious crush on sarah bowlin.

Julie: god me too im a little scared of her

Lynn: everything she puts out is GREAT.

Julie: because she's so smart and so cool and so, like, i don't know

she's what i want to be when i grow up

Lynn: the beautiful bureaucrat knocked me out. 


Julie: yeah i love helen phillips did you read her first book

Lynn: i didn't. actually just ordered it.

Julie: something so weird and completely her about all her writing

like she couldn't copy someone else if she tried

i really admire that

Lynn: YES. so completely her, but then also so completely everybody else.

i just. right in the gut, you know?

Julie: yeah totally

how many people have read your book so far

is that a weird question

Lynn: it is weird now that i don't know the answer.

Julie: haha

i guess that's a good point

because we don't know who read it when it's out on sub not really

Lynn: the other day someone on goodreads reviewed it and i emailed molly a little frantic, like, wait, how did this happen? 

Julie: and once it was just like me and my husband

and my agent


that's a special kind of writer horror movie

Lynn: i know for sure my husband has NOT read it.

Julie: just really early goodreads reviews before book is out



Lynn: yeah

he's waiting for the hardcover (he says)

Julie: haha what does he do

not a writer, i presume?

Lynn: i used to make him read early versions and he would just say, i don't know, good? 

no not a writer.

Julie: that's kind of nice though

Lynn: is yours?

Julie: just unconditional support

yeah he is

and he's tough

Lynn: oh wow. what's THAT like?

Julie: i showed him a bit of a new book

and he was like

this is bad what are you doing

and i was like

Lynn: hahaha

Julie: :0

Lynn: i would take so much advantage of that situation.

i love tough.

so, you excited?

Julie: i think i do

but then the reality of it sometimes makes me turtle

i am excited but it doesn't feel real

you want something really bad your whole life

or i did

and then it happens and it's like

Lynn: yes. exactly turtle. sometimes. when you just need it to be good for just a second.

Julie: yeah precisely

how long did you work on hold still?

Lynn: yes, exactly. 

and people keep asking if i'm excited and i feel like i'm not performing excited well enough?

Julie: ME TOO

i had to keep apologizing to people

Lynn: 3 years? but then it took a while to sell.


Julie: because they're like are you happy

and im like im so happy

i AM

but it's complicated and scary and like

Lynn: YES, but..

Julie: not an emotional dance party

but that feels ungrateful

Lynn: YES!

Julie: or it is an emotional dance party but like, a kind of intense one where you're a little too fucked up for your own good

Lynn: and it is this amazing thing. A BOOK I A STORE.

Julie: I KNOW

Lynn: that is really more than i could have ever hoped for.

Julie: i remember when my agent asked me what i wanted

and i was like


a book in a store?

Lynn: my daughter held the galley the other day and told my friend it was the book i'd written for her and her sister. 

Julie: for my book to be a BOOK

Lynn: YES. 

but now. 

Julie: like i couldnt think in terms of publishers or whatever

Lynn: i spent all these years thinking i was a fraud for thinking i might one day be a writer. 

Julie: i want to go back to what you said before about how it took you three years to write hold still

because that's probably about how long it took me

and that's actually not THAT long

Lynn: no, not that long. but, i wrote some other bad novels before that that were obsessed with the same things.

did you write consistently over those years?

Julie: i still feel like a fraud. 

i did that too! 

well .75% of one bad novel

no i didnt

i think that's why i stll feel like a fraud sometimes

i rarely write every single day

unless im really firing

do you?

Lynn: ha. yes, so the trick now is, now i might just be a fraud that gets found out

Julie:...so... scary.

Lynn: i have a 1 1/2 yr old and a 3 yr old and my husband travels a lot, so, no


oh that emoj is scary.

Julie: ooooooooo

Lynn: i didn't do that on purpose.

Julie: haha

it is like the rock after it takes zoloft

Lynn: haha. yes.

Julie: do you have daughters

Lynn: yes, both.

Julie: oh shit

Lynn: whom i did not have when i started this book.

which was...interesting.

Julie: having written about a self-destructive teenager

are you afraid for their teenage yeras


Lynn: i mean, of course, but also not. 

parenting is so day to day. i'm afraid tonight the 1 yr old won't sleep, or the three year old will forget she's wearing underwear.

Julie: haha

Lynn: i'm afraid i'm working too much.

Julie: like writing too much?

like not being there enough? 

Lynn: there's so much to worry about today. it's hard to also worry about ten years from now

Julie: i am so curious about this

i recently got married

like a month ago

Lynn: well, right now i have like six jobs.

Julie: and i totally want to have kids

Lynn: plus them. plus writing.

have kids.

Julie: yeah damn

Lynn: it is the best thing.

i know that's been said.

Julie: well not exactly

Lynn: but i have learned more about being a human from my kids than any other thing

Julie: i think there's this trend to not want kids

Lynn: it is an extraordinary thing

Julie: at least in my peer group in nyc

Lynn: yeah.

and i really want to support it.

because i totally support choice

Julie: but i've always wanted them, i just dont know how i will do it all

Lynn: but i never wanted kids until i met my husband.

Julie: awww

Lynn: and i am so much better for having done it. 

Julie: are you worried you wont write as much having had them? like that you only have a limited amount of self to parcel out

Lynn: and other better people could probably experience that growth without kids, but, i just...

Julie: ^that's what i am worried about

Lynn: no. i write more i think. i mean less time, but more efficient.

Julie: interesting

i have heard that

Lynn: and it feels more urgently imperative to make the work matter.

Julie: right

Lynn: because if this time could be spent with my babies, i better write the shit out of this shit.

Julie: yes that makes sense to me

Lynn: what're you doing right now besides writing?

Julie: i have a job that i love

and feel so lucky and grateful to have

Lynn: wow! that's so rare and wonderful

Julie: but it is in publishing, for a new publishing startup

i know! 

Lynn: what is it?

Julie: and i am not from the kind of background where people have jobs that they love

so it feels SO SPECIAL

it's called catapult

we just launched a month or so ago

Lynn: yes! my husband asked me the other day if i have something against jobs.

oh yes!

Julie: but i have to say it's definitely a challenge

Lynn: i've heard of this.

Julie: trying to find space to write my own work

and edit other people's books

Lynn: you guys are doing the workshops? 

Julie: and do our programming and events

i feel spread too thin

Lynn: yes. always the conversation about this. 

Julie: but it sounds like you know that feeling very well

Lynn: i do. and i guess there is no answer. but to find the urgency when you can. i feel like when i'm excited about something, i figure it out. 

which isn't helpful when i'm trying to get into something new.

Julie: right

because it takes time for that click to happen

or it can...

Lynn: but when i'm in something--for a while i wrote between 11pm and 2, bc our older daughter would get up at 11 and come into bed with us. so i'd write on my phone as she lay on top of me.

it really can.

Julie: that's commitment

Lynn: haha. probably none of it was very good.

Julie: but the routine, or the doing of it

Lynn: but i needed to feel like i was working.

Julie: can like pave the way for the good stuff

Lynn: exactly.

Julie: in the year before i sold my book

Lynn: i think that helps in those times when the urgency isn't there.

Julie: i was getting up at about 6am and working in the morning

and then working after dinner until i went to sleep

so like bookending my sleep with writing

that was the best its ever been

Lynn: that's impressive.

Julie: but it's SO HARD to get back into the mode of getting up early

once you've stepped out of that routine.

Lynn: i have a really hard time with the night writing.

Julie: i feel embarrassed saying that to you

since you probably are up at dawn like every day

Lynn: haha. don't.

my friends (none of whom have kids) went through this weird phase when they wouldn't complain to me about fatigue or time bc they didn't want to seem whiney or something. 

but other people's tired isn't less tired bc of the extremity of our tired. 

Julie: yeah

that reminds me of this beautiful thing that emily rapp said

the scale is WAY different

Lynn: and my tired is all wrapped up in squishy joy. 

Julie: but about how pain can't be compared on an even scale

Lynn: part of the reason i couldn't sleep was bc our daughter used to hold my face when she slept. 

Julie: haha well no wonder

if you could sleep while your face was being held that would be a superpower

Lynn: which, you know, hindered sleep, but was nice.

Julie: that is also so sweet and touches my heart

wait lynn

where do you live

like where are you in the world right


Lynn: yes. that's parenting: exhausting and physically intrusive, but touches your heart. 

new york

park slope


Julie: oh no kidding! 

carroll gardens

Lynn: ha!

Julie: derp derp derp

Lynn: we should hang out!

Julie: we should! 

Andrew: i feel like in the book world that's the opposite side of the country

Julie: also if you ever need a babysitter

Lynn: you guys can take our babies for a test drive.

Julie: haha

i was just going to say

Lynn: ha. yes.

Julie: we are baby-curious

Andrew: park slope is the east coast, boerum hill is the midwest, carroll gardens is the southwest

Julie: it's true i never go to park slope

Lynn: haha. but i run a lot, so they all feel close to me.

Julie: i bought a table from a couple in park slope

Lynn: i was in carroll gardens this morning.

Julie: and my husband and i were like what is this strange land

Lynn: hahaha

it is a strange land. 

but the park. 

the schools.

Julie: have you always lived here?

do you feel energized as a writer by the city

Lynn: no and yes

we actually tried to leave last year

we did leave.

we'd just had our second kid and felt so overwhelmed by the city, but we came back. we decided the energy is worth the expense and all the rest.

are you from here?

Julie: no im from northern michigan

Lynn: oh wow!

Julie: i always feel i have to make the distinction

Lynn: how long have you been here?

Julie: because northern michigan is different from the rest of the state

almost ten years now

i am not sure about this place

Lynn: yes, very rural, yes? 

Julie: yes

Lynn: yeah. it's a tricky place.

how'd you end up here?

Julie: kind of like a weird beach town that's only a beach town three months of the year

and the rest of the time is sunk in winter

Lynn: oh michigan!

Julie: i wanted to leave SO BAD when i was a teenager

but now im physically homesick constantly

like it's a pain

Lynn: i've been to one of those towns.


Julie: ha! 

twenty minutes away from charlevoix

is where i grew up

Lynn: my friend was one of the summer people growing up.

Julie: oh the summer people

Lynn: amazingly beautiful

Julie: yes definitely

Lynn: yeah. 

Julie: i wanted to BE a summer person

Lynn: i'm from florida. we have winter people.

Julie: i think if we were all MI summer people we'd be happier

oh florida is such a weirdo place

Lynn: of course. but then also, feel superior. 

SUCH a weirdo place.

Julie: haha yes

Lynn: insane. but i feel that physical yearning for water all year long.

Julie: yes! that is what i feel too

it's that

you grew up on the ocean then

Lynn: and not water you have to ride a train for or drive na hour for. 


Julie: yes exactly

like just daily water

like part of your life water

is your book set in florida

Lynn: yeah. salt always in your hair, sand always in the bed. 

half of it.

it goes back and forth.

where's yours set?

Julie: michigan

ive never written anything set anywhere else

Lynn: wow. that's really amazing and exciting.

Julie: it's weird how that is

like how your imagination lives in a different place than the rest of you

Lynn: yeah. those places we hate that are a part of us. and then later we are old enough also to love them. 

Julie: yeah exactly

i wonder if i would still write about michigan if i didnt miss it so much

probably not

and by miss it i think i mean like

Lynn: i also have a hard time writing about whatever place i'm living. 

Julie: miss being a kid, etc

right! i do too! 

the details are too close

Lynn: yeah. i don't miss being a kid, actually. 

i was awful at being a kid. 


Julie: haha

Lynn: and then the details change.

i think i came out best suited to being thirty-ish.

Julie: im definitely happier now

but i miss being able to completely fuck up

i had no sense of the future

Lynn: yes. have you read "mermaids" by deborah eisenberg.

Julie: no but i will do it immediately

Lynn: yes. but i just got too good at completely fucking up.

oh you MUST!

and on the second full paragraph of the fifth page call me

Julie: haha okay i will

Lynn: or chat me or whatever

Julie: i love that you know

exactly where in the story

like spatially

Lynn: i have weird places in my brain for some of this stuff. but yes, i can see it. it's placed beautifully in the middle of the page

it's declaring itself in all these perfect subtle ways.

who is your favorite writer?

Julie: ooohhhhh

Lynn: i'm sorry. i know that's so hard.

Julie: i love that impossible question though

i dont know! i truly cannot say

it's such a cliche, which annoys me because i genuinely feel, like most people who love something, that it was mine first

but the ferrante quartet

Lynn: wow. that's amazing. 

Julie: destroyed me

i love lorrie moore

Lynn: haha. YES. ME TOO

Julie: i love big novels you can disappear into

Lynn: i love old lorrie moore

who will run the frog hospital.

Julie: ha

i have to tell you

Lynn: and, yes, to the disappearing.

Julie: i think i accidentally rewrote who will run the frog hospital

sorry lorrie

Lynn: hahaha. PERFECT.

Julie: i just copied it so hard

Lynn: i'm dying to reread it.

Julie: it's such a beautiful perfect book

Lynn: brilliant.

oh it so is.

Julie: it was weirdly taught in my grad program

(by a man)

as like a flawed book

Lynn: oh, cool man

oh, nevermind

Julie: like, if only it had just been a short story about paris! 

Lynn: ew

Julie: and i was like WTF ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT

Lynn: yes.  i hope you said that?

Julie: not really i didnt have any confidence

but inside i was seething

Lynn: i would probably have said that.

Julie: do you have a favorite writer

Lynn: i was pregnant for most of grad school and it gave me a weird confidence.

like noone's going to mess with the knocked up girl, so i'm just going to say what i think.

virginia woolf?

and then a thousand million others

but woolf was first.

Julie: i love virginia woolf

i remember when i first read to the lighthouse

Lynn: where were you? 

Julie: and you knwo when you have one of those primal, defining reading experiences

Lynn: how old?

Julie: haha

i was just going to say

my freshman year of college

in my very cold dorm room

in manhattan

and when the book falls asleep

Lynn: yes!

Julie: i remember feeling this intense urge to make everyone around me, like the entire world

stop what they were doing

so we could all just like feel awe together

about what woolf had done

Lynn: i love everything about this.



Julie: what's your favorite woolf?

Lynn: oh tell me another one

Julie: haha

Lynn: what else did that to you?

Julie: hmmm

Lynn: to the lighthouse and mrs dalloway are tied. 

Julie: quick and the dead by joy williams

yeah mrs dalloway fuck

Lynn: YES

Julie: what a good ass book


Julie: hahah YES

Lynn: Septimus making the hat with rezia

having an eye for colors, but not being able to make his brilliance manifest to communicate with the world


Julie: also i love ghosts in fiction

Lynn: like that's all any of us wants, right? to be heard.

which ones? 

do you have ghosts in your book?

Julie: in my next book i want to have a ghost as like real character

Lynn: did you read that adam johnson story in harper's?

Julie: did you read a lot when you were younger?

like growing up

haha oh no! our internet connections

are like flickering

so your chat is on delay


Andrew: well—i hate to do this, but we're nearly out of time, so i'm going to have to ask for final thoughts

Lynn: yeah. but sort of bad stuff. my parents weren't super intellectual but i wanted to be bookish, so i was the 7 year old reading james patterson and mary higgins clark.

not that james patterson is bad.

Julie: oh i read PLENTY of JP

Lynn: oh, final thoughts!

Julie: i dont know do you have final thoughts lynn?

Lynn: i LOVED IT.

Julie: let's get an IRL coffee/drink????

Lynn: umm, books in stores are cool.  and let's hang out?


and congrats

Julie: hahaha


congrats to you too

Lynn: i cannot wait to read your book

Julie: i cannot wait to read yours! 

Lynn: and i'm going to review it so well on goodreads

Julie: as soon as i heard the description i was like gimme that please

Lynn: and compare you to lorrie moore


female friendship is sort of everything to me.

and thank you

i'm so scared

Andrew: thanks guys!

Lynn: thanks andrew!