This past winter was a wild one, but in the midst of it all I was lucky enough interview my accidental neighbor Julia Fine about her sophomore novel The Upstairs House; immediately after I dove into Gloria Chao’s third YA book Rent A Boyfriend, to then incidentally interview her first day of the Chinese New Year.
Both critically-acclaimed authors are East Coast transplants who have fully embraced Chicago to build writing community and career. But something else struck me about them as similar. While marketed rather differently–Fine’s neo-gothic psychological thrillers would be shelved nowhere near Chao’s meetcute romcoms–both write deeply personal works about women attempting to self-actualize in a world that has unachievable expectations for them, often enforced by the people closest to them. Both Rent A Boyfriend and The Upstairs House feature lonely female protagonists persevering through challenges that might be considered mundane if not for the authors’ skill in realistically painting the anxiety, tension, and stakes felt by a woman committing to her first boyfriend (Chao) and caring for her newborn (Fine). As Fine says, “For a very long time, the focus of great literature has been the minutia of men’s experiences. It’s well past time we look at things like breastfeeding and make it ‘literary.'”
A major motivation for writing these stories, both authors told me separately, was to reach other would-be lonely protagonists in real life navigating these same issues. Both authors draw on personal experience and experienced eureka moments in realizing they were not alone. Chao says, “I hear from people of all different ages and backgrounds about how they related to certain pieces of my books. Everything from relating to the fairly universal experience of not wanting to disappoint your loved ones or struggling to communicate.”
What I’m getting at is, don’t let “market type” or “genre” define your reading tastes. Chicago authors are producing relatable content in ways previously unimagined or underexplored, whether it’s overly philosophical ghosts or a boyfriend rental service.
Check out The Upstairs House here
And of course, many thanks to the authors and their publishing teams for spending creating these incredible books and spending this time with me.