Gays Reading

Upcoming/Up & Coming feat. Lottie Hazell, Ursula Villarreal-Moura, and Alexandra Tanner

February 27, 2024 Brett Benner, Jason Blitman, Lottie Hazell, Ursula Villarreal-Moura, Alexandra Tanner Season 2 Episode 41
Upcoming/Up & Coming feat. Lottie Hazell, Ursula Villarreal-Moura, and Alexandra Tanner
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Gays Reading
Upcoming/Up & Coming feat. Lottie Hazell, Ursula Villarreal-Moura, and Alexandra Tanner
Feb 27, 2024 Season 2 Episode 41
Brett Benner, Jason Blitman, Lottie Hazell, Ursula Villarreal-Moura, Alexandra Tanner

In the second installment of their debut novelists series UPCOMING / UP & COMING, Jason and Brett talk to three new writers about their soon-to-be released books. Lottie Hazell (Piglet, Feb 27) talks about working as a board game designer; Ursula Villarreal-Moura (Like Happiness, Mar 26) shares her stories writing fan letters; and Alexandra Tanner (Worry, Mar 26) tells real-life stories that inspired her book.

Lottie Hazell is a writer, contemporary literature scholar, and board game designer living in Warwickshire, England. She holds a PhD in Creative Writing from Loughborough University, where she studied food writing in twenty-first century fiction. Piglet is her first novel.

Ursula Villarreal-Moura was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. She is the author of Math for the Self-Crippling, a flash fiction collection. Like Happiness is her first novel.

Alexandra Tanner is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor. She is a graduate of the MFA program at The New School and the recipient of fellowships from MacDowell and The Center for Fiction. Her writing appears in The New York Times Book Review, Gawker, and Jewish Currents, among other outlets. Worry is her first novel.

**BOOKS!**
Check out the list of books discussed on each episode on our Bookshop page:
https://bookshop.org/shop/gaysreading | By purchasing books through this Bookshop link, you can support both Gays Reading and an independent bookstore of your choice!

Join our Patreon for exclusive bonus content!

Purchase your Gays Reading podcast Merch!

Follow us on Instagram
@gaysreading | @bretts.book.stack | @jasonblitman

What are you reading?
Send us an email or a voice memo at gaysreading@gmail.com

Show Notes Transcript

In the second installment of their debut novelists series UPCOMING / UP & COMING, Jason and Brett talk to three new writers about their soon-to-be released books. Lottie Hazell (Piglet, Feb 27) talks about working as a board game designer; Ursula Villarreal-Moura (Like Happiness, Mar 26) shares her stories writing fan letters; and Alexandra Tanner (Worry, Mar 26) tells real-life stories that inspired her book.

Lottie Hazell is a writer, contemporary literature scholar, and board game designer living in Warwickshire, England. She holds a PhD in Creative Writing from Loughborough University, where she studied food writing in twenty-first century fiction. Piglet is her first novel.

Ursula Villarreal-Moura was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. She is the author of Math for the Self-Crippling, a flash fiction collection. Like Happiness is her first novel.

Alexandra Tanner is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor. She is a graduate of the MFA program at The New School and the recipient of fellowships from MacDowell and The Center for Fiction. Her writing appears in The New York Times Book Review, Gawker, and Jewish Currents, among other outlets. Worry is her first novel.

**BOOKS!**
Check out the list of books discussed on each episode on our Bookshop page:
https://bookshop.org/shop/gaysreading | By purchasing books through this Bookshop link, you can support both Gays Reading and an independent bookstore of your choice!

Join our Patreon for exclusive bonus content!

Purchase your Gays Reading podcast Merch!

Follow us on Instagram
@gaysreading | @bretts.book.stack | @jasonblitman

What are you reading?
Send us an email or a voice memo at gaysreading@gmail.com

Brett Benner:

It's my daughter's birthday today. Not when this is airing, but today when we're recording this, it's my daughter's birthday.

Jason Blitman:

Happy belated birthday, Maddie.

Brett Benner:

Yeah, big one seven. Crazy. going so fast. It's going so fast. Little cliche. So true. So true.

Jason Blitman:

You doing? What's going on? Other than celebrating Maddie?

Brett Benner:

nothing. I'm actually again, this will be in the past, but I'm seeing the whiz today, the pre Broadway production, which I'm kind of actually excited about to ease on down the road.

Jason Blitman:

can't wait to hear about it. I love the Wiz

Brett Benner:

I do too, but I can't remember the last time I've seen it like probably as a child. So yeah yeah, other than that, trying to catch up on all the Oscar films before the Oscars, we watched Oppenheimer last night.

Jason Blitman:

and

Brett Benner:

It's really good and incredible cast. It's really long and it's not necessarily boring, three hours is a, is an investment. So, it's a lot.

Jason Blitman:

Huh.

Brett Benner:

So I think there were definitely times when both of us had nodded off.

Jason Blitman:

It's nice to watch it at home.

Brett Benner:

Yeah. Although I do have to say for something of that grand, that kind of, that film that it's beautifully shot and I kept thinking, I bet this looks so incredible and on a big screen,

Jason Blitman:

I'm sure it did. But you know what you couldn't do? Pause it and go to the bathroom.

Brett Benner:

that's exactly right. I would have started to say is, but I would have missed at least 15 minutes going to the bathroom multiple times. Although I probably missed 15 minutes nodding off at points too, because I'd had two drinks with dinner beforehand. Anyway, how are you? How are things?

Jason Blitman:

I'm good. Things are good. I'm excited for today's episode.

Brett Benner:

Our second in our series of upcoming and up and coming. I love the chance for listeners and for us to just get a taste of these authors and and their books and all their books are so different and so wonderful. It's really cool.

Jason Blitman:

Yeah. And, we've talked about this. I can't remember if we've talked about it whilst recording, just learning about an author, whether you talk about the book or not, it makes you want to read their stuff. That's, what's part of the thing that's fun about upcoming and up and coming.

Brett Benner:

Okay, I do want to say, I do want to give a shout out to two, we have two books that are coming out today.

Jason Blitman:

shout em out,

Brett Benner:

Shout out, the first is A Grief is for People by Sloane Crosley, which is her, it's such a fantastic memoir that actually Jenny Jackson, when she was on the show, had brought up to us as one of her favorite books of the year so far. I read it immediately based on her recommendation and she was, no surprise Jenny Jackson was right, but it is a fantastic book. So that's out today. As well as Tommy Orange's new book, Wandering Stars,

Jason Blitman:

Wandering Stars!

Brett Benner:

Which is in a way a prequel and a sequel to There There.

Jason Blitman:

Yes, and uh,

Brett Benner:

Dun dun Dun!

Jason Blitman:

insider info for those who are listening to this episode, we will have a conversation with Tommy that will air in mid March. So you can keep an eye out for that.

Brett Benner:

I'm really excited. And I was really excited yesterday to see when I got Kirkus Reviews that he is on the cover of Kirkus This month. So yeah, really excited. Anyway,

Jason Blitman:

I know, he's on the cover of a bunch of stuff,

Brett Benner:

He is, he's, he is the moment.

Jason Blitman:

If you like what you're hearing, share us with your friends, follow us on social media, at Gay's Reading,

Brett Benner:

check out our Instagram page. We are regularly doing giveaways. We're going to have some interesting giveaways coming up,

Jason Blitman:

I know we have such an exciting giveaway coming up. I can't wait. if you can like, subscribe, wherever you get your podcasts, that is super helpful for us. have three very different authors on today, and I am so excited. Their vibes are so different. We're starting with Lottie Hazel, author of Piglets. Piglet is out today Lottie Hazel is a writer, contemporary literature scholar, and board game designer living in Warwickshire, England. She holds a PhD in creative writing from Loughborough University, where she studied food writing in 21st century fiction. Piglet is her first novel.

Brett Benner:

Next up, we have Ursula Villarreal Mora and her book, Like Happiness. Ursula was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. She is the author of Math for the Self Crippling, a flash fiction collection. Like Happiness is her first novel.

Jason Blitman:

And then we have Alexandra Tanner. talking about her book, Worry. Alexandra Tanner is a Brooklyn based writer and editor. She is a graduate of the MFA program New School the recipient of fellowships from MacDowell and the Center for Fiction. Her writing appears in the New York Times Book Review, Gawker, and Jewish Currents, among other outlets. Worry is her first novel. And so now we're going to start off with Lottie Hazel talking to us about her book, Piglet. And on that note, I'm Jason,

Brett Benner:

I'm Brett. He's

Jason Blitman:

upcoming and up and coming episode of

Brett Benner:

are we

Jason Blitman:

ding. We

Brett Benner:

Hello.

Lottie Hazell:

How are you both?

Jason Blitman:

Pretty good, how are you?

Brett Benner:

I'm

Lottie Hazell:

you.

Jason Blitman:

I'm obsessed with the space that you're in. Is that where you do your work?

Lottie Hazell:

I do my writing work and then I also run a board game designer as well, so that's what you can see. The paraphernalia behind, behind me.

Jason Blitman:

You're a board game designer?

Lottie Hazell:

I am, yeah.

Jason Blitman:

Did you, can you tell that I didn't read your bio before we started? How embarrassing of me.

Lottie Hazell:

Bias is very dull, I don't judge you.

Jason Blitman:

Also, wait a minute, your bio Oh, it does say board game designer. Yeah, it does. I have read it. It's literally sitting in front of me. What kind of board games? How did that come to be?

Lottie Hazell:

Do you know board games? Are you familiar with the world?

Brett Benner:

the classic,

Jason Blitman:

What do you mean?

Lottie Hazell:

There's a kind of I would call it, I would call it niche board games. If you know something like Wingspan, for example, do you?

Jason Blitman:

Wingspan. I feel like I've heard of it, but I've never actually

Lottie Hazell:

Yes, it's like my barometer of if

Jason Blitman:

board game y I am? Oh, so if I say Monopoly, you're like, oh, you don't know board games?

Lottie Hazell:

No, not that you don't know, A level of depth,

Jason Blitman:

got it. Okay, that's fair.

Lottie Hazell:

Yes, but it's those kind of board games. I didn't design Wingspan, that's just a very well known

Jason Blitman:

No, of course,

Lottie Hazell:

Yeah,

Jason Blitman:

what a beautiful game.

Lottie Hazell:

It is very beautiful and good fun.

Jason Blitman:

When I was a kid. I was an indoor kid, enough. And I was like, Oh, my parents are always telling me like, go outside, go exercise, go whatever, which like, I should talk about in therapy more. But I created a board game that I called ship shape. And it was like a monopoly. But every you like, did. Five jumping jacks and then something else and it was just this way to move your body while also playing a game inside. When I was like 10, I did that. And so you saying you're a

Lottie Hazell:

That's so lovely. Did you have siblings that you were like playing now? Come

Jason Blitman:

I had, I have two younger sisters. I made them put on plays. I

Lottie Hazell:

Oh, excellent. Yeah.

Jason Blitman:

That was, and that's the trajectory of my life, how it actually went. I did not become a board game designer like you

Brett Benner:

but Jason, you were like, you were the original Peloton designer.

Jason Blitman:

Okay, wait, how did you go from board game designer to author?

Lottie Hazell:

So they're kind of running concurrently at the moment. I do both.

Jason Blitman:

Yes, I'm sorry. That was did you always want to be a writer?

Lottie Hazell:

I suppose in an abstract sense, but I was, I have ever such practical parents who are like, you don't make any money from writing and I'm like, oh dear. And so I trained in marketing, and it was just something that my now husband and I were interested in doing we enjoyed playing board games together. He has a very business y, project manager y background, which complements my let's make pretty things mind. And so we launched the business together. And so we just ran it along. So I was freelancing, so I was my time was flexible and yeah, we went from there. And then writing came along, just happily nestled alongside that. I kind of umbrella it as storytelling, but that sounds ever so pretentious, I think.

Brett Benner:

No, I don't think so at all.

Jason Blitman:

I love that because I have a degree in theater, which my parents while I appreciated that they were like, go do whatever your heart desires, was not very practical. I should have gotten a degree in marketing. But no, I call myself a storyteller too, I think sometime, like it's. Sort of an all encompassing,

Lottie Hazell:

I'm among friends then, yes, yeah.

Jason Blitman:

Wait, is there a game that you designed that we can go buy?

Lottie Hazell:

Yes I've designed a couple, so one's called Dog Park, about dogs, so you may like Jason.

Brett Benner:

I love that.

Lottie Hazell:

yeah, and another's called Forever Home, which is about rehoming dogs, and I'm now working on something that isn't about dogs. To mix it up.

Brett Benner:

Do you

Jason Blitman:

So are you like, you're a cat person?

Lottie Hazell:

No, I'm a dog person. Thank God.

Jason Blitman:

I'm kidding.

Lottie Hazell:

Gosh, the sarcasm just whooshed straight over my head, didn't it? No.

Jason Blitman:

So it's first thing in the morning for us and it's The after late in the afternoon for you. So I'm like, I'm

Brett Benner:

we're on coffee and you're on tea probably right now you're having

Lottie Hazell:

I'm literally on chamomile tea, but I'm on the

Brett Benner:

your afternoon tea, and we're trying to get it up with a cup of coffee So what kind of dogs do you have?

Lottie Hazell:

I have an English Springer Spaniel who's mostly insane, but lovely.

Brett Benner:

yeah. I have two dogs as well I have a golden retriever who is completely insane and we believe is either has ADHD or he's on some spectrum of something and an Australian Labradoodle

Lottie Hazell:

Wow. These are high energy dogs. They keep

Brett Benner:

the Labradoodle is great now. He's amazing. He barks too much, but he's truly, if I could clone him, I would. We've had Retrievers before and he is definitely the most, most challenging dog we've ever had. He's

Lottie Hazell:

Yeah.

Brett Benner:

a lot.

Jason Blitman:

I already know about Brett's dog, so I wasn't paying attention to anything he was just saying. And instead I was Googling your dog park game. The box is so adorable. And I discovered that your company, it looks like your company is called Birdwood games,

Lottie Hazell:

It is.

Jason Blitman:

We'll stick a link to your website or something in

Brett Benner:

Oh, I love the cover of the book of the box

Jason Blitman:

I know, it's so cute. And the little pieces are so cute.

Lottie Hazell:

I

Brett Benner:

that's your dog, isn't it? That's yours in the

Lottie Hazell:

It's not, I had to make, I was like, no, let's do a dog that's more popular, has more appeal. So

Jason Blitman:

Marketing, marketing.

Lottie Hazell:

I know, yeah. Can never turn the brain off. Yeah.

Brett Benner:

the book and certainly we want to have you get your kind of a pitch line about the book. And then I just, but I do have to say, we're talking about your bio. this line is that her research consists subversive femininity and 21st century fiction with a particular interest in the domestic food writing and trauma narratives, which basically could be the description of your book.

Lottie Hazell:

I was interested in how those strands came together and specifically my thesis is about satisfaction and food writing and disclosure. And I was looking at specifically whether narratives of disclosure can still be satisfying if confessional content is withheld. And I was looking at offering different satisfactions. Specifically with food and whether that is interesting to a reader if it's gratifying and if it's not gratifying does that make it a bad read and, an experience that is unfulfilling, or can it still be interesting in some other way is the nutshell of what I was up to.

Brett Benner:

Interesting. So everything you just explained ties so on to the book. So now can you just give a kind of log line about piglet?

Lottie Hazell:

Yes, yeah. So I describe Piglet as a story of appetite and aspiration and it follows Piglet in the a few days before her wedding and her fiancé confesses this terrible truth that threatens to destroy the life she has very carefully curated for her and for him. And everything is falling apart for her, and we experience that as the reader mostly through the lens of food, which is integral to Piglet's personhood and how she sees herself.

Brett Benner:

That was an excellent summation, by the way.

Lottie Hazell:

Thank you.

Jason Blitman:

And how did that general idea come to be?

Lottie Hazell:

the first scene that I wrote was the one where, after Kit confesses Piglet's fiance, she makes him a carbonara. And we see their life continue, and at the time of writing I didn't know who she was, or who he was, or what had happened between them, but I was just engrossed and fascinated by this image of continuing to cook dinner when life is really starting to fracture, and a commitment to a domesticity and to a routine and to a supposed safety that has been compromised and I felt that was very truthful and I could imagine these people and I just wanted to write that out to discover what happened between them and why putting away the vegetables was still so important to that person at that time. I just, I was very compelled by that image.

Jason Blitman:

So then the story just built itself around there.

Lottie Hazell:

So I worked out, I didn't really work out, but I I had an idea of what happened between them and I started to work out who they were because I think their characters are very important to the way that Piglet unfolds. I think their class differences their different aspirations and appetites are integral to the way the plot continues and also the stage of life that they're both at. So yes, from that point I was trying to work out who they were. And Piglet very quickly revealed herself to me, but then the kind of cast of supporting characters were. That felt like more of my decision as to who came to the table, whereas Piglet was like, she's there, she's ready to go.

Brett Benner:

I love that you said, come to the table.

Jason Blitman:

was just gonna say, all of these illusions that you're giving come to the table. Even appetite can mean so many different things.

Lottie Hazell:

Yeah. Yes. And I'm part, that was part of my research as well. I'm interested in appetite in its various forms. So not just the physical appetite, but satisfaction, all of our satisfactions and the kind of satisfaction cycle and how they can be interlinked. So yes, absolutely.

Jason Blitman:

I think as humans, we all have our own specific relationships to food, our own specific relationships to our wants and needs, which can all fall under that appetite umbrella. It's very A very interesting tie in.

Brett Benner:

Do you cook?

Lottie Hazell:

Yes, I love to cook, yeah.

Brett Benner:

And are you more of a cook or a baker? Or is it both thing?

Lottie Hazell:

I'm more of a cook because I feel like there's I like the meditative practice of it and the dailiness of the rituals, whereas baking I find to be, I'm all, like I, I did briefly, I think, as everyone did, bake sourdough during the years of 2020 to 2022. But I've stopped doing it because it's just I don't have the schedule, I don't have the internal clock of a baker, but I do have that I'm going to knock together something from the fridge and then, enjoy, which doesn't feel that it needs so much scheduling. I can't really plan things.

Jason Blitman:

On Brett's behalf I have to say we're very sad that we don't have donuts on the cover. Brett is like the donut king.

Brett Benner:

Am. I meant,

Lottie Hazell:

cover is quite

Brett Benner:

it's

Jason Blitman:

it really

Brett Benner:

I I like, I almost ordered it just to have that cover. Cause I love me a burger, but oh my God I literally will go to the ends of the earth to find a good donut.

Lottie Hazell:

Yeah. Also I'm going to, sorry, just to rub it in, but they've spot UV. Can you see the icing? They've like

Brett Benner:

oh my God, yeah, it's beautiful. Oh,

Lottie Hazell:

let me just show, let me show you, Brett, let me show you, look at this jacket.

Brett Benner:

that's gorgeous. I might have to get one. I might have to get one anyway.

Jason Blitman:

that's

Lottie Hazell:

isn't it lovely? I love the American cover, I really do. I think it's like a different, like two so different and look like they had dessert and dinner. We're hungry in both markets.

Brett Benner:

That's exactly right.

Jason Blitman:

Brett's, our resident snacker.

Lottie Hazell:

What would you choose, Brett? If you're going into Trader Joe's, what are you beelining

Brett Benner:

well, you know, here in PrinterJuice, it's always the baked goods are always first. So

Lottie Hazell:

Making eye contact.

Brett Benner:

at hours, I'm saying at the one I go to, cause I know it's arranged differently at different ones, they have a really good vanilla cake at Trader Joe's that reminds me, I don't know, there used to be in like the early 90s Entenmann's had a whole line, Entenmann's Cakes they were called, and there was a cake that was so amazing, and it was a chocolate cake with a marshmallow frosting, and, do you remember

Lottie Hazell:

sounds delicious.

Jason Blitman:

Lot of your face was so funny.

Lottie Hazell:

I just wasn't expecting marshmallow frosting. That, what, what a plot twist.

Jason Blitman:

Baked goods at Trader Joe's. Interesting. I'm not a fan of baked goods unless it's, they're from a bakery. I'm a bit of a snob. I need them to be like, freshly made.

Brett Benner:

they usually come in frozen still there. They're fresh ish.

Jason Blitman:

Lottie, what about you? What's your go to treat?

Lottie Hazell:

I have to say, I don't mind a supermarket, what is a supermarket, would that be the term? Bakery good. I think there's something nostalgic about it and I actually was thinking, Brett, you give me like a Proust Madeline vibe with that I had the chocolate cake once and it was but I have a similar one. My sister and I used to get a terrible, like a marble cake from a supermarket here called Lidl. Do you know Lidl? It's like a budget supermarket, it's not glam at all, it's really not, but there's something about I don't know, it's having a cake from a wrapper that you have a picnic, and my sister and I are slicing it with the edge of a paper plate to, but can you tell I'm not fussy? I like a little bit about anything. I love, um. Proper bakeries. Actually, I really like bread. Bread is a nice a sweet bread. Chelsea buns or brioche or anything like that. Yeah.

Jason Blitman:

Yeah.

Lottie Hazell:

I just I like substance, I like the substance of bread. It makes me sound very odd.

Jason Blitman:

There's a bakery near me that makes a fig and anise bread, and it is so good.

Lottie Hazell:

You really took it to a more sophisticated level than I. We just went to hollow out white bread and squish it

Brett Benner:

know. And Jason's talking about fig

Jason Blitman:

I'm sorry friends, you lost me.

Brett Benner:

is and then a nice croon with a little, bla and I'm like, give me the wonder with the squish

Jason Blitman:

I'm a sucker for a really good chocolate chip cookie. I'm fine with simple, but it needs to be like,

Lottie Hazell:

We're elevating it, yeah,

Jason Blitman:

like,

Brett Benner:

I mean, that's the one thing, you know People should know about the book is don't read it hungry. Honestly

Lottie Hazell:

Yeah, I'm always like, don't be like too far away from a fridge

Brett Benner:

Yes, have your crisps,

Lottie Hazell:

Advice, yeah.

Brett Benner:

exactly.

Jason Blitman:

You should also come out with a little cookbook, or like a little something to go along with it, for

Brett Benner:

Oh my god, that would be

Lottie Hazell:

I don't know, I don't know if if in the US edition if they did that, but in the UK one, certainly the puttanesca recipes at the back. But I'm not sure if

Jason Blitman:

Not in the galley

Brett Benner:

Not in the galley maybe the final copies, but not in the galley, No,

Jason Blitman:

Is there a book that you're excited about that's coming out in this year?

Lottie Hazell:

Yes, I'm looking forward to Hag Zone by Is it Sinead Gleeson? I feel like it is which I'm looking forward to. The other ones I was thinking about, I realized that they've just come out, so Green Dot by Madeleine Gray, I've just come out. I'm already reading and loving that, so that's a rubbishy answer for something that's up and coming, isn't

Jason Blitman:

That's okay. This is still, it's maybe not on someone's radar. So

Lottie Hazell:

yeah. So that I'm excited about getting into Greta and Valden. I think this was also released last week as well. I saw that she was on the podcast recently. I'm going to go back and have a listen.

Jason Blitman:

Lottie, this has been so fun. We could sit here and talk to you all day, but you probably have work to go do.

Lottie Hazell:

Thank you both. This has genuinely been such a pleasure. I could natter on for

Brett Benner:

So could we.

Jason Blitman:

I know, we should, we'll start a group chat and just share dessert pictures. That's all it will be.

Lottie Hazell:

Yeah. Essential. Thank you so much, both. That was lovely.

Jason Blitman:

What a pleasure. Such a delight. I can't wait to check out her board games. And now we have Ursula Villarreal-Moura talking to us about her book, Like Happiness. Here's Ursula.

Ursula Villarreal-Moura:

Hi, Brett. Hi, Jason.

Jason Blitman:

Hi, Ursula. How's it going?

Ursula Villarreal-Moura:

It's going

Brett Benner:

So nice to meet you.

Ursula Villarreal-Moura:

very nice to meet you, too. Thank you for having me. This is such an honor.

Brett Benner:

We both have talked about it, but I loved your book so much. I, it's just, it's really, it's fantastic.

Ursula Villarreal-Moura:

Thank you. That means the world to me. Truly. Truly. I had a really long journey with this book. I had an, an agent in 2019 and we went out on some mission with it and nobody wanted it. And. I had spent 10 years or something writing it and and then I was writing another book. I gave that to my agent and she wasn't feeling that book, and and so I took this gigantic leap during 2020, during that pandemic, found another agent and went back to happiness. And this second agent who I love is I was like, yeah, we can sell this. And I was like, I don't know if we can sell this. Like a lot of people have already rejected it. So your work is going to be really hard to convince people. To want this book that's, that hasn't, found that much success yet, and she did. And it feels like a little bit of a Lazarus project. Sure,

Brett Benner:

Yeah.

Jason Blitman:

For our listeners who are unfamiliar, can you give us like a log line or a two or three sentences about what the book is about?

Ursula Villarreal-Moura:

so, like, Happiness is about a young Chicana college student who writes a fan letter to her favorite author. He replies, and then the novel traces their decade long relationship through the ups and downs, and, her, Thinking that this is the life that she wants and, it actually happens. But is it the life she wants?

Jason Blitman:

Yeah. How did it come to be for you? Did you ever write someone a fan letter like that?

Ursula Villarreal-Moura:

So I write a lot of fan letters. I wrote one last night, actually, to to some podcasters that also so I always

Jason Blitman:

I haven't checked my mail yet today. It hasn't arrived yet.

Ursula Villarreal-Moura:

It's forthcoming or check your junk. Yeah, no I write a lot of fan letters. But this is not obviously autobiography. If it were and I had some juicy info, I would have sold it as memoir and be like super rich right now. But no

Jason Blitman:

but just like the concept of writing a fan

Ursula Villarreal-Moura:

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I have written so many little notes to people. I really believe that if, that art is a very isolating or can be a very isolating process to create and to, put something out that's really, Full of someone's soul. And so I do like to tell people that I enjoyed their book, or that their film, or, anything that's also, particularly if it's an indie project that, maybe has a really limited audience. I want someone to know they're not just like shouting into the void, and that somebody's there receiving their art and feeling it.

Brett Benner:

Love that. I don't think enough people do that or if they do it, it skirts a line between you have the people like what you just said, and then the people who are like obsessive and maybe it crosses the line.

Jason Blitman:

Brett, did you ever write fan letters

Brett Benner:

You know what? No I had a moment. This is just a weird thing. I there was a play that was on Broadway. This is almost 30 years ago, over 30 years ago now called Precious Sons with Judith Ivey and Ed Harris. And so I went to see that. And I remember waiting by the stage door, and Judith Ivey, I was just so enamored and just blown away by it, and anyway she was going to sign, Autographs and she didn't how she was looking for a pen and I gave her my pen and I said here you can have this and it had my high school on the pen so when I got home I wrote to her and I just said I just want to tell you that it was the most amazing experience and you were so like incredible on stage and I gave you my pen and she wrote me back and it was like on I still have it was on like this Judith Ivey stationary and she was like the mean so much to hear from someone and blah blah and then she wrote at the end and thanks for the pen again and I just

Jason Blitman:

I'm writing this with your pen?

Brett Benner:

That's exactly right. And like I want to, it was like one of those moments of it was so genuine and so just beautiful. It just meant so much to me as probably like this 15, 16 year old kid who like, yeah, that was my biggest thing. Other than that, it's just longing.

Jason Blitman:

When I was in middle school, an assignment that we had was to write a fan letter to a celebrity, and the teacher had this book of celebrity addresses. It was basically like, to their agents, right? Or to whatever, the publishing company, or whatever it was. And I had never even realized that was a thing. And then started writing my own fan letters. But, it was very easy to do it for folks that were in Broadway shows. And you'd write a fan letter, and then I would also include like a self addressed stamped envelope to get a signed headshot back. And I would write to them about how much I enjoyed them in the show, and could I get a signed headshot. And I still have in a folder a handful of headshots and little notes that I got back from some of these people, and it was very special that the book brought back some of these very random memories for me.

Ursula Villarreal-Moura:

I think that there's kind of life can be mundane, like we have to routines and whatever. And there's these little sparks of joy to interact with someone who's creating something. And then if they write you back to, that's like definitely a highlight of the day, if not the week.

Brett Benner:

Just being a book person and being a reader. love the world of your book All the references and all the immersion into that world was I felt was so rich. There is a mystique that surrounds a writer and certainly some of those walls have come down more recently because of social media, because of the way that people interact now and the accessibility of people that didn't used to be what it is today. And I loved that you captured that thing so distinctly of the mystique about it, but also the kind of for lack of a better word, romanticism around it and around the craft of writers and writing. Really

Ursula Villarreal-Moura:

Thank you. Thank you.

Jason Blitman:

you are a fan letter writer, or a support letter writer. I think that's really important, important. How else did the book sort of shape itself?

Ursula Villarreal-Moura:

Sure, so I was in my MFA, I was in my last year, I was putting together my thesis, and I felt like I had a lot of stories that kind of gelled together, and then I thought, I have this idea for kind of a story, a novella. I'm not sure if it's really in conversation with what I've been writing so far, but. I'm going to give it a shot and see what happens. And so go to I think it was called Think Coffee, like near Union Square.

Jason Blitman:

Yeah. Oh, I don't think that's there anymore.

Ursula Villarreal-Moura:

Yeah, I think it was like the setting from Mr. Robot too. But

Brett Benner:

Oh, wow.

Ursula Villarreal-Moura:

it. Yeah, because when I was watching Mr. Robot, I'm like, that's where I started like happiness.

Jason Blitman:

Wow.

Ursula Villarreal-Moura:

yeah, so I would go sometimes to the, sit there and just write among people. And I had this idea and I was like, I'm going to flesh it out and see where it goes. And maybe it's going to be part of my thesis or maybe it's not. And so it developed into this, like I had all these stories that were cute and tight and 14 pages and Oh, that's so nice. And then I had this thing that kept growing and I had 23 pages and I was like, I don't think it's done yet. And I was like, I can't put it in my thesis now because it's just doesn't work, but I'm going to just play with it on the side and see what happens. And so it grew into something that was like 37 pages and then 43 pages. And then, I gave it to a friend eventually and was like. I don't think anyone publishes novellas anymore, but I really am invested in this at this point. What do you think of this? And my friend who was part of my MFA cohort this was years after we graduated, read it and she was like here's my feedback. And it was basically like an email that was like 200 questions. She was like, this is all I wanted to know. What happened between this and this? What did she say when he did this? And I thought, oh yeah, these are the kind of questions I have too, and I think people would read this if I answered all these questions, and so I decided I'm just going to answer all these questions in narrative form, built scenes around them, and before I knew it, I had a 300 page novel and so that's how it came about.

Jason Blitman:

Wow. That's such a cool story.

Brett Benner:

That's amazing.

Ursula Villarreal-Moura:

It all came out of my imagination because I didn't know these scenes didn't exist. I didn't have anything. It wasn't my real life. It was like, what would happen if, he said this to her or what would happen if she moved here to do this? And in a sense, it was really fulfilling to figure that out, both for my friend so that she would have an answer, and then for myself, and then, constantly revising oh that wouldn't happen, oh yeah it would, or it would happen if this happened too, so now I have to create this scene.

Jason Blitman:

Sure you were like getting to know them as you were answering the questions. And so you were able to answer new questions based on how you were answering other questions too.

Ursula Villarreal-Moura:

Definitely.

Jason Blitman:

Do you have books that are coming out this year that you're looking forward to?

Ursula Villarreal-Moura:

Oh, so many. So I already read Alphabetical Diaries by Sheila Hedy. Which I'm obsessed with her brain and everything that she writes. I'm looking forward to a book that already came out. You dream of empires by Alvaro Enrique. I haven't read it yet, but definitely his kind of like historical fiction. I heard it's humorous too. I love books that are funny and then. My friend Justine Champagne has a book a queer mystery suspense novel called Knife River that's coming out. And I love mystery and suspense and I make it queer, please. Thank you. So really looking forward to that.

Jason Blitman:

cool. I that has not been the other two have been on my radar. This one has not

Brett Benner:

yeah. I haven't heard that one either.

Jason Blitman:

that's exciting.

Ursula Villarreal-Moura:

Yeah.

Jason Blitman:

Cool. Ursula, this has been so lovely.

Brett Benner:

delightful.

Ursula Villarreal-Moura:

Thank you so much. I can't wait to hear all the other interviews with all the debuts and everyone else. So thank you so much for your time.

Jason Blitman:

Oh, thank you. Have a great rest of your day.

Ursula Villarreal-Moura:

too.

Jason Blitman:

And now we have Alexandra Tanner, and what we do not include in this episode is Alexandra and I gushing about growing up in the same part of South Florida roughly around the same time. And you're welcome to all of our listeners for cutting out us playing Six Degrees of Separation.

Brett Benner:

not every day you hear people say gushing about South Florida,

Jason Blitman:

No no, we were not, we certainly weren't gushing about it, but we were we loved that we each other.

Brett Benner:

you did and you had a lot of mutual places and

Jason Blitman:

did, and people, Florida expats is what we were, is who we are, and so here is Alexandra Tanner talking about her book, Worry.

Alexandra Tanner (Worry):

Hi, good morning.

Jason Blitman:

how's it going?

Alexandra Tanner (Worry):

Good. How are you guys?

Jason Blitman:

Good. I'm Not going to lie, Alexandra. I had anxiety. A hundred percent of the time reading at,

Alexandra Tanner (Worry):

it was supposed to.

Jason Blitman:

Or our listeners. Can you tell us do you have a log line or like a one or three sentences that you'd say the book is about

Alexandra Tanner (Worry):

you know that I do. It's so funny how much you have to talk about a book when you're promoting a book and it's whatever you imagine you're going to end up doing. There's no way to prepare yourself for it, but Worry is an existentialist, tragic comic novel about two sisters in their 20s, Jules and Poppy, who move in together in Brooklyn in 2019 and spend a really deranged year living together trying to take care of each other, fighting with each other navigating work, navigating their family. chronic illness, mental illness, and eventually they adopted a really badly behaved rescue dog whose name is Amy Kovachar.

Jason Blitman:

and

Alexandra Tanner (Worry):

So nothing really happens. Yeah, nothing really happens. It's this sort of vibey, plotless book about just the texture of life over a weird year.

Jason Blitman:

And how did that come to be for you? got a

Alexandra Tanner (Worry):

my sibling, my younger sibling, for six months in 2016. I was living in the West Village and this like 200 square foot studio and they were taking like leave from college to do an internship in New York. And they were supposed to live in student housing in Brooklyn. There was black mold in the student housing. They were breaking out in hives. They came to stay with me like for a weekend. And then, of course, we just wound up living together sleeping. I had a trundle bed because the studio couldn't fit. regular sized bed. And we were, we, yeah, we were like on top of each other way too long. And in 2019 I like wanted to start a new project. I wanted it to be something where I could talk about all these disparate parts of life. And I just was looking back on that time period and thinking about how we loved it and we hated it and we were together every second. And it just seemed like a really good anchor. For exploring all these different things.

Jason Blitman:

Totally it's like coming of age, slice of life. Not much happens. So much happens,

Alexandra Tanner (Worry):

Yes.

Jason Blitman:

And I think I have two younger siblings and Also lived in small apartments in New York City. And so it was just like so visceral for me. Just like thinking back to what my apartments look like. I'm thinking about what would happen if they needed to move in for, a chunk of time, or, indefinitely. And I know, I think I was nauseous the whole time.

Alexandra Tanner (Worry):

I'm so glad. So I like, I had a funny interaction recently. I was like doing this sort of work, like how do I talk about the book, maybe I can talk about that apartment, and it had to have been 300 square feet. But I couldn't find the square footage anywhere online. So I called my old The old company, the management company for this building. And I was like, what's the square footage on this department? I live there from whatever, 2014 to 2017. And it's my landlady on the other end. And she's like, why do you need to know? It couldn't have been more than 200, 200 200 is pushing it.

Brett Benner:

Wow. Did you also break out the second you heard her voice?

Alexandra Tanner (Worry):

Yeah.

Brett Benner:

Did it bring it all back?

Alexandra Tanner (Worry):

Exactly. And I guess like that having back then, of course, I was like, I'm writing a book. And she was like, I hate everything I read these days. So interactions like that, just, I feel like they saturate my life so much. And I'm always like, why me? And that was the kind of stuff I just suddenly like anything that happened to me, I could put into the book and talk about through that lens.

Jason Blitman:

yeah. I think, it's definitely people that have lived in New York City for any amount of time, but I also think in general, we all have these random life things, right? No matter who you are, no matter where you are, and Stuff to worry about and stuff that stresses us out and stuff that, whether we have, if we have siblings or we have chosen family or we have there's always someone to give us strife. My roof came in, in my Washington Heights apartment and we had a giant hole in our ceiling for six months with a garbage bag covering it. And, when we lived in Astoria, there was a night where a car alarm just went off literally the entire night and we had to call 3 1 1 and 9 1 1 and they were like, we, there has to be like a certain percentage of people on the block that call in for them to tow the car.

Alexandra Tanner (Worry):

You start thinking like I have to be living in a computer game, there's no way that this is how that there's a percentage threshold for the amount of people who call in for them to be like okay we'll go do something.

Brett Benner:

Wait, we need one more. Can't go yet. We've only had, we've only had 72. We need 73.

Jason Blitman:

I know.

Brett Benner:

And then you just say to your roommate, can you call now?

Jason Blitman:

anytime I hear a car alarm now from my apartment, no matter where I am, I like

Alexandra Tanner (Worry):

You're like it's gonna go

Jason Blitman:

I get anxious. I'm like, how long is it going to go on? Yeah.

Brett Benner:

You, you also wonder too, you look back at, cause like you could, you went through that experience with your sister and then you think, how the hell, like in the time when you're doing it. It's your reality, right? But then when you look back at certain things, I even think about that, like working retail. I used to work book retail and I loved it. And I worked at a borders books and all of the stuff that went with that. And I would always say for me, as I was going along I could always go back and do that. And then there comes a point when you're like, Okay. No, I can't. I can't. And like, how did I do that?

Alexandra Tanner (Worry):

I can't take it.

Jason Blitman:

When you were writing this, did you think back on your time with them fondly or did it stress you out? Were you like, remember when

Alexandra Tanner (Worry):

would it was both. It was both. And I would call them and they would be like, that was the worst. What are you talking about? But we, but then we would be like, remembering oh, remember the night we Yeah. Went to Magnolia Bakery and got all the end of day cake and sat up eating it. Like all the, like little funny things that

Brett Benner:

are you a worrier?

Alexandra Tanner (Worry):

Oh, yeah.

Brett Benner:

I'm a

Alexandra Tanner (Worry):

Yeah in it. I'm a huge were everything and if I don't have something to worry about I find something I make

Jason Blitman:

a professional finding something to worry about person.

Alexandra Tanner (Worry):

Yeah, it's. it's. Olympic level for me. I probably like, I'm not on any anti anxiety stuff. I'm just like white knuckling my way through it because it's,

Brett Benner:

you're one of the few

Alexandra Tanner (Worry):

feels like I'm one of the few.

Brett Benner:

who are not.

Alexandra Tanner (Worry):

part of me and I feel like it's when you have that kind of brain where I don't know it like shows me things about the world somehow or about myself like there's something very telling and like what it is you choose to focus on and where your anxiety and your attention is.

Jason Blitman:

My, my Jewish mother is a huge worrier. My Jewish grandmother is a huger worrier. It is in the blood very deeply. Our last few minutes with you, any books that you are excited coming out this year? I

Alexandra Tanner (Worry):

are so many amazing books coming out this year. It's it's a true bounty. Morgan Parker has a new book of essays coming out. You get what you pay for. Hallie Butler has a new book out. Anna Dorn. Marilynne Robinson has a book coming out. Finally. I'm so excited. I think the one I'm most looking forward to The Coin by Yasmin Zahar. It's about a Palestinian woman living in New York who I think gets involved in like a Birkenbeg pyramid scheme. So that's my like number one for the year, but it's every week there's something incredible coming out. Yeah, it's,

Jason Blitman:

year, the, every galley I've read, I'm like, wait, this is really good. have been very few stinkers, and even none of them are even stinkers, they're just like, not quite as good, right? I've still enjoyed them.

Alexandra Tanner (Worry):

It's funny how I feel like I pay attention every year to what's coming out. For some reason, this year does feel different. I think it's. Because it's an election year, they're like getting everything good out while

Brett Benner:

Because no

Alexandra Tanner (Worry):

before the discourse begins.

Brett Benner:

No one's going to be. It really is. The distraction is going to be so enough to worry about. Yes.

Alexandra Tanner (Worry):

Yes.

Jason Blitman:

And what about you? For your debut, what are you most looking forward to?

Alexandra Tanner (Worry):

Oh, I don't know. Of course, I'm like, unable to enjoy any part of the process

Jason Blitman:

Huh. Hashtag worry.

Alexandra Tanner (Worry):

hashtag worry. But it's like you spend so long anticipating like what it will feel like when you get to start your career and when you get to talk to people about your work and, have cool conversations like this. And then of course it's you, so it doesn't feel like it's materially changing anything or there's any one thing. I guess it's just an exciting time. I'm just excited. I feel like I have momentum. I'm like working on a new project. I'm just buoyed by getting ready to, I don't know, have people read the book.

Jason Blitman:

Had you always wanted to be a writer?

Alexandra Tanner (Worry):

Yeah, always. I did. I got into theater in high school because I was doing playwriting and I studied theater in college, thinking, and I went to grad school for playwriting for a year. Like I was

Jason Blitman:

Really?

Alexandra Tanner (Worry):

Yeah. At the new school, I started at the new school. I did a year there. And then it, I realized I had thought I wanted to write for theater specifically and then I think going from like college in Florida to like you're in a repertory theater program in New York, and you're with actors and directors and it just felt. way too real and I felt like I had no writing time because it was time or it was fighting with an actor time and that's when I started writing prose. So it's a circuitous way to it, but I always knew it was what I wanted to do.

Jason Blitman:

It's really interesting that you say that because I've been in theater my entire life. And it wasn't until I and I also talk about this a lot. I'm a late in life reader it really wasn't until covid where I was like, Oh, I think books do it more for me than theater does. There is absolutely something about being in the space and the magic of theater. And I still cried my face off at merrily. We roll along a few weeks ago, the idea of creating the world in your own mind, in your imagination, reading a book, and the amount of access that one, the fact that you can get a book from a library

Alexandra Tanner (Worry):

and

Jason Blitman:

not ephemeral in the way that theater is. It's hard to see it, it can be expensive. If you miss the six week run of your off Broadway play you're never experiencing it again. Whereas. 15 years after a book gets published, someone can discover it in a dollar bin at a used bookstore and get inspired and adapt it into a movie and then, it's just shocking the transformative power of a novel and so it's just interesting to hear you talk about your

Alexandra Tanner (Worry):

Even when you're reading a play and that was obviously like how I accessed plays when I was 16 years old in South Florida is like you're inventing it in your head but there's something about it that feels like You're picturing yourself watching it,

Brett Benner:

there's a remove.

Alexandra Tanner (Worry):

a book, you're so inside of it. You're so close to it.

Jason Blitman:

In a book you're almost, you're a voyeur.

Alexandra Tanner (Worry):

Yeah.

Jason Blitman:

Versus you're like a voyeur in the room, right? There isn't a fourth wall. You're just like in the

Alexandra Tanner (Worry):

You're not separated.

Jason Blitman:

Yeah, and that's a very interesting thing to think about, I think, as folks just read in general and consume different, pieces of art.

Alexandra Tanner (Worry):

Yeah.

Brett Benner:

This was such a delight.

Alexandra Tanner (Worry):

this is great.

Jason Blitman:

a delight!

Alexandra Tanner (Worry):

My favorite interview I've done.

Brett Benner:

Oh, and your first. Exactly. Exactly.

Jason Blitman:

is very sweet when people are like, this was my first for this book and I, It can, I hope it's uphill from here.

Alexandra Tanner (Worry):

No, I've done. I've done a bunch and I'm really, I've, this week I was starting to feel really zonked out and like I'm saying the same thing over and over again and I'm fucking up and losing my mind. And we had a real conversation and that's so rare and so fun and

Jason Blitman:

Oh, good. Yay!

Brett Benner:

We had an author once. and she finished and she said, as far as these goes, this wasn't that bad. Or what did she say?

Jason Blitman:

No, she said this was above average.

Brett Benner:

above average. That was what it was. And we

Jason Blitman:

But wait, Alexandra, that was Amy Schneider, Jeopardy champion, Amy Schneider. And so to hear above average, like when you're a Jeopardy champ, that means something to, to her. And I was like, Oh, that actually is like a legit

Alexandra Tanner (Worry):

took the Jeopardy quiz last week because I saw Emma Stone talking about it and I was like, if Emma Stone can do it, I can do it.

Brett Benner:

How did you do?

Alexandra Tanner (Worry):

Don't think well.

Jason Blitman:

Oh that's so funny. This has been such a treat.

Alexandra Tanner (Worry):

To meet both of you.

Brett Benner:

congrats on the release, the upcoming release. It's all amazing.

Jason Blitman:

and we'll talk soon.

Alexandra Tanner (Worry):

We will Oh the best

Jason Blitman:

Have a great rest of your

Brett Benner:

Have a great rest of your

Alexandra Tanner (Worry):

have great days guys. Thank you so much

Brett Benner:

Thank you to all three of our guests we really appreciate you coming on check out all of their books. Piglet is out today. Worry by Alexander Tanner and Like Happiness by Ursula will both be out March 26th. So make sure to check them out or pre order all of these books will be listed on our bookshop. org page, which is the easiest one stop shopping to find them all.

Jason Blitman:

I know you could go pre order them right now while you're listening. You can

Brett Benner:

exactly right. Yes.

Jason Blitman:

in the show notes. We have gaze reading merch. We have all sorts of things you could check out in our show notes. give a little look see. anyway, thank you all for listening and for being here and for supporting us.

Brett Benner:

And we'll see you all soon.

Jason Blitman:

See you next week.

Brett Benner:

bye.

Jason Blitman:

Bye