Emily Wolf is an ardent feminist, U2 fan, and native Chicagoan. A graduate of Harvard Law School, Emily now lives in Houston with her husband, children, and dogs. She volunteers with Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast and with her synagogue’s Board of Trustees and Social Justice Core Team. Emily has published several essays in the Houston Chronicle and regularly shares new writing at emilyvwolf.medium.com.
Thanks for this interview, Emily. Congratulations on your new book! Would you say it’s been a rocky road for you in regards to getting your book written and published or pretty much smooth sailing? Can you tell us about your journey?
- Welp, writing the book ended up being the easy part! Which is really saying something, because writing is hard. Although I was fortunate to find a fabulous literary agent pretty quickly, we learned together that shopping a novel in which the protagonist has an abortion (and in the opening scene, no less) is no picnic. It was important enough to me that women see their lived experiences represented in fiction that I forged ahead with an independent, feminist publisher. The process took much longer than I’d hoped, but I wonder if it’s kismet in my novel drops right after the Dobbs decision. Never in a million years did I imagine that this book would be an act of civil disobedience for me. I don’t know when or if I’ll process what SCOTUS has done to women.
When not writing, what do you like to do for relaxation and/or fun?
- Swimming in Lake Michigan is my most relaxing thing. Yoga at home in my pajamas, where I can fall and sweat buckets in private, comes next. I also love to travel, eat, drink good whiskey (preferably with my family and friends), watch TV with my hubby (Shrill, Better Things, Ted Lasso, Schitt’s Creek, and, although bad for my blood pressure, Stranger Things are some of our favorites), and, of course, read.
What makes your book stand out from the rest?
- It honestly examines all the messy stuff of young womanhood—dating, toxic relationships, work/life balance, bad sex, motherhood versus child-freedom, societal expectations—but with a healthy dose of humor. I love women’s fiction, but so much of the funny women’s fiction out there depicts a young woman’s life like an outdated fairy tale, while the more honest women’s fiction can be humorless. I aimed to combine serious subjects with laughter and joy.
Can you give us the very first page of your book so that we can get a glimpse inside?
“Zoe. You need new dating panties.”
I blinked, still foggy from the anesthesia, and tried to focus on the ancient pair of Jockeys my mom was holding at the foot of my gurney. I couldn’t help but smile before giving in to the temptation to close my eyes. Only she could make me laugh maybe ten minutes after I’d had an abortion.
“Sure,” I whispered hoarsely. “I appreciate your optimism.”
I heard her sigh and drop the undies back into the hospital-issue plastic bag. Dating panties. Although I was, at that moment, minutes removed from being pregnant with my husband’s baby, Mom and I both knew that my marriage couldn’t be salvaged. But living any kind of normal life after this moment, much less one that involved dating, seemed impossible.
My nerves began to fire too fast. The moment was surreal and ridiculous. Crazy! Because none of this was supposed to be happening. I tried to arrest the physical manifestations of panic that were already taking hold: I slowed my breath. Released my jaw. I attempted to be present in the tiny, curtained recovery cubicle. To concentrate on the blood pressure cuff on my bicep—its squeeze and release. On the plastic pulse thingy affixed to my pointer finger that lit up blood red. I forced my breath in and out, even though it kept getting stuck in my chest.
“Well,” Mom said with a decisive nod. “I’ll take you shopping when you’re ready. For the panties.”
I studied her. She was working so hard not to lose it. But as usual, her huge green eyes betrayed her. In them swam sympathy, concern about how (if?) I’d manage to put my life back together after this radically un-Zoe-like shitstorm of a disaster, and rage at Rob, all at once.
If your book was put in the holiday section of the store, what holiday would that be and why?
- I love this question! I think it would make a great gift at winter holiday time, for International Women’s Day, Mother’s Day, Daughter’s Day, Valentine’s/
Galentine’s Day, and, I’m sure, other holidays I’m forgetting. Gifting this book to a woman tells her that you love and appreciate her strength and recognize all the shit she has gone or is going through, and hopefully empowers her to do the same.
Would you consider turning your book into a series or has that already been done?
- It hasn’t been done but is something I think about regularly. If my readers want a sequel, I promise three things: (1) I’ll write it! (2) I’ll examine whatever part of Zoe’s life the sequel jumps to next with the same honesty and humor I use in My Thirty-First Year. (3) U2 will play an integral part of the sequel because, as Emma Thompson’s character says about Joni Mitchell in Love Actually, “true love lasts a lifetime.”
When you were young, did you ever see writing as a career or full-time profession?
- I sure did…but tried to push it out of my mind for over a decade. I was too risk-averse to commit myself to a professional writing career right out of college (I went to law school and practiced law instead), but I likely needed time to have certain life experiences and muster the courage to use my voice. So, as with most things, the timing probably worked out the way it was meant to.
What’s next for you?
- First, I’m hoping to connect with and enjoy meaty conversations with My Thirty-First Year (And Other Calamities) readers. I also hope to finish my second novel—which is about the power of female friendship and the transformative value of summer camp—in Q1 2023. Its working title is Pines and Darkest Woods.