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Lindsay Hunter

Lindsay Hunter is the author of the story collection Daddy’s. She lives in Chicago, where she is the cofounder and cohost of the flash-fiction reading series Quickies!.


“Hunter’s magical prose is the sort of thing that might happen if George Saunders and Gertrude Stein co-edited Raymond Carver. The stories vary wildly in pace and procedure, but each has its own visceral language that goes straight to the gut.”

– Ashley Baker, Nylon

“The collection creates a genuine sense of discomfort, forcing us to contemplate the presence of beauty in the ugliest of phenomena.”

– Angela Sundstrom, Time Out New York

“The cover alone is great, but what’s inside will make you laugh and scream and cringe and cry—in the best of ways, of course.”

– Jen Doll, “25 Books to Beach-Read This Summer,” New York Magazine

“Lindsay Hunter is one hell of a writer who takes risks and leaves it all on the page in the very best ways. She makes the ugly beautiful and the raw elegant. Don’t Kiss Me, tell truths with a fierce, percussive voice that is not only wholly original but so powerful, it steals into your body, your bones.”

– Roxane Gay, author of Ayiti

“Lindsay Hunter is electrifying at the word level, sentence level, line level, idea level. Say hello to your new favorite.”

– Amelia Gray, author of THREATS



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Don't Kiss Me

Say Yes: An Interview with Lindsay Hunter


Don’t Kiss Me, Lindsay Hunter’s stunning second story collection, is a negative imperative: at once a warning and a challenge. With its title and vaguely menacing cover (a tube of red lipstick nestled between glimmering, dagger-sharp letters), the book lures readers in and then dares them to resist.

Similarly, the twenty-six stories inside Don’t Kiss Me attract and repel. Hunter’s characters are women who kiss their much older teachers and lust inappropriately after nine-year-olds. They take terrible advice, they stay with abusive men, they overeat, and they accumulate far, far too many cats. Hunter presents her readers with humiliating, demoralizing, hopeless-seeming situations, and challenges us, in the midst of it all, to laugh at the jokes, connect with her characters, and appreciate every little glimmer of hope.

As with her stories, there is, refreshingly, no pretense with Lindsay Hunter. Her twitter feed is a dizzying, hilarious string of self-deprecating jokes and confessions. Her blog is a mix of meaningful ruminations on writing and gender roles, pictures of her beautiful baby, and fart videos. She is every bit as eccentric, entertaining, and irresistible as her writing. I was delighted to have the opportunity to chat with Lindsay over email, and to hear her thoughts on reading aloud in public, keeping friends at the dog park, and being grateful for the writing life, even when it keeps her up at night with a pounding heart.

* * *

Liz Wyckoff: First, Don’t Kiss Me is a killer book title. And the cover design is such a nice complement: there’s a toughness, a sharpness to the book, but also something kind of inviting. Was it hard to choose the title, or did this one speak to you right from the get-go?

Lindsay Hunter: It was very hard! I went around and around. Initially it was going to be called Trash/Treasure. As in, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” But my husband was like, “That’s real easy fodder for the critics.” Ha! Then I wanted to call it All Them Skies because the sky is in basically every story, and I’ve gotten shit for using the sky so much, and I kind of wanted to be in your face about it. But that didn’t seem to fit either. I always really loved the threat and challenge of Don’t Kiss Me, which was the title of the final story in the book, and I realized it was the perfect title for the book as a whole, which to me is like you said—tough and sharp but desperately, desperately inviting.

Liz Wyckoff: In what ways does this collection feel different to you, as compared to your first collection, Daddy’s?

Lindsay Hunter: It feels more sure of itself. Maybe because it’s my second book, and not my first, and so I’m projecting those feelings onto it? But there was a special kind of self-torture in putting my first book out; I remember being convinced that everyone would hate it, and then I had to ask myself why I’d put something I was convinced would be hated out there. I had to come to terms with it being mine, and trust that even if it was hated, I loved it, and that was enough. So I had all of those battle scars in me when Don’t Kiss Me became a thing, and I had become more sure of the stories I wanted to tell, of the “mineness” of them. And it was like a maturing for me, much in the way that the stories in Don’t Kiss Me feel more set in adulthood, while those in Daddy’s feel set in adolescence.

Liz Wyckoff: Many of the stories in Don’t Kiss Me are written in the first person, narrated by women who are really struggling—to overcome fears and loneliness, to make sense of awful things they have done or awful things that have happened to them, to pull themselves up out of some pretty mucky situations. These women are unquestionably unique, but they occasionally share a similar outlook or sense of the world. How do you go about inhabiting these characters?

Lindsay Hunter: I usually hear a sentence they’re saying, and I’ll write that down, and their voice kind of reveals itself to me as I go. Like it’s already there and I’m just kind of brushing away the debris hiding it. I just learned that Elmore Leonard said something like “if it sounds like writing, I rewrite” and YES to that. I want it to feel like life. Ha! As if that’s some kind of revelatory statement for a writer to make. But it’s nonetheless true.

Liz Wyckoff: I’m interested in the rules that govern your stories—what I’ve heard Kevin Brockmeier describe as “ground rules.” For example, “Three Things You Should Know About Peggy Paula” is arranged into three long paragraphs describing the three things we should know. And the narrator of “Like” inserts the word like into almost every one of her sentences. Do you consciously set constraints like this when writing?

Lindsay Hunter: I do, sometimes! Not always before I sit down to write. But as I’m going these constraints I’m suddenly following become clear. With “Like,” I wanted to show how the way these girls were talking simultaneously removed them from reality while also revealing it to observers. Like, like, like. Instead of “is” or what have you. With “Three Things You Should Know About Peggy Paula,” I think I originally set out to just write a series of random facts about Peggy Paula, and it became three essential things.

I will say that, as the former co-host of a reading series where everything had to be under four minutes, I’m very used to writing stories that fit within that time constraint, so that might be one I set unconsciously for myself.

Liz Wyckoff: I just read a really rollicking conversation between you and Alissa Nutting on the FSG Originals website in which you two talk about “gross stuff.” You (and Alissa, too) seem to be really comfortable with the grossness in your work—the barf, snot, turds, and farts that make an appearance in almost all of your stories. Was there ever a time when you were less comfortable with it, or anxious about what readers might think?

Lindsay Hunter: I think, actually, I kind of blindly assumed people wouldn’t be so shocked by it. I remember writing “The Fence” in an afternoon and reading it to my class the next day, very excitedly, and looking up to see people looking kind of choked by their collars. I’ve always been the type of person to want to just get past politeness or artifice, and the way I do that in my personal life is to immediately start talking about all that “gross stuff,” which, to me, is an essential part of life. But yes. Now I’m anxious about people’s reactions, now that I fully understand how shocking some of this stuff is to people. Like when my dog park friends wanted to read Don’t Kiss Me, I felt sad, like, “Well, there go our evenings at the dog park.” (But happily I was wrong!)

Liz Wyckoff: Has your relationship to readers, or that vague idea of “audience,” changed over time?

Lindsay Hunter: Definitely. Well, maybe it’s more that I go back and forth between kind of nervously hoping what I’m writing will land well and writing toward an audience that’s cheering me on. It depends how strong I’m feeling on that particular day.

Liz Wyckoff: Speaking of writing for an audience, as you mentioned earlier, you’re a co-founder of Quickies!—a bi-monthly reading series in Chicago. What does reading (specifically your own work, aloud, in public) mean to you as a writer?

Lindsay Hunter: It means everything! I encourage all writers to read their finished stories aloud to themselves, a partner, an audience at a reading, whatever you can get. It reveals so much. Forming the words in your mouth is a different thing than typing them onto a page. For me, it helped me take ownership of both my physical voice and my writing voice. I needed reading practice badly, and Quickies! gave me that, and it gave me a slightly buzzed audience who were all mostly listening.

Liz Wyckoff: Interacting with other writers seems to be a pretty big part of your life. Do you find that there are good and bad things about surrounding yourself with writer friends?

Lindsay Hunter: A professor once told us we should say “Yes” to everything, because it would open up so many other opportunities for us. I took that to heart and began saying “Yes” to reading at my friends’ reading series, writing stories for their journals, going on tour, doing interviews, etc. Before I knew it I was part of something. That professor was so right! Being a part of a writing community keeps me involved, challenged, aware, all of which, if you want to forge any kind of writing career, is so important, and so easily lost.

The bad part about being part of this community is all the envy and self-doubt and constant comparing. It’s a very dangerous place to find yourself, but I think every writer goes through it. “Shit, this guy wrote two novels in a year AND publishes a story like every week. I watched Breaking Bad all weekend and wrote a single tweet. Therefore I am worthless!” You have to live the life you want to live, and celebrate that. Part of that life is being surrounded by incredibly talented people, so let yourself celebrate them, too.

Liz Wyckoff: I was really moved by one of your recent blog posts called Real Talk. In it, you discuss your decision to become a writer, the importance of showing gratitude, and the recurring theme of trying. You describe the decade between your initial decision to start writing and the publication of your first book as a decade “full of love and travel and fear and doubt and tries and tries and tries.” It sounds so simple, but I think trying can be really terrifying! Do you feel terrified, too, sometimes?

Lindsay Hunter: Always! Just last night I laid in bed, wide awake, even though I have a cold and I’m exhausted and there’s no telling when my son will wake up, so I should have been sleeping, but I couldn’t. I was filled with terror about my novel, and what comes after, which I in no way can see clearly. But if someone had said to me in January 2000, when I decided to focus on writing, “Hey, guess what, it’s going to be an entire decade before you get a book published,” I would have been paralyzed. So you just keep pushing through. You keep living your life, loving the people in it, being grateful for all of it, all of it, instead of worrying about what you don’t have or what you don’t know. Sometimes it’s easier said than done and you find yourself listening to your husband and child and dog snore the night away while your heart pounds itself to a pulp. But you try.

Liz Wyckoff: You’re writing a novel! Other than keeping you awake with a pounding heart, how’s it going?

Lindsay Hunter: It’s going! But there is that issue of having time, which I don’t have enough of these days. So I fear my novel will suffer because of it. Like a neglected child. Still a child, but something is off. I just keep telling myself, Well, it HAS TO BE FINISHED AT SOME POINT. And on that day I shall drink the largest goblet of Sauvignon Blanc the world has ever seen.

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