Author Spotlight: Laura Blackett and Eve Gleichman, ‘Trust & Safety’

    Everything is perfect on Instagram, or so Rosie believes. She’s just married Jordan, a handsome if uninteresting start-up bro, and raises money with Rainbow Futures, an LGBT organization. But something’s nagging at her, and it arrives in the form of square photos on her phone. Eventually, when she sees an ad for a folksy, earthy vegetable peeler she can imagine herself using upstate, she bites the bullet and upends her life with Jordan for a more DIY approach to living, purchasing an expensive, historic home in the Hudson Valley.

    The house takes a lot of work, but fortunately, the handy queer couple Dylan and Lark rent the outhouse while they fix the place up. Rosie becomes enchanted with their easygoing lifestyle in a polycule and chill demeanor, but Jordan takes this as a hit to his manhood and disapproves of their relationship. Rosie’s desires can’t be controlled, though, and as her life merges with the pair, she finds out things about herself Jordan might not have the solution for.

    Our Culture talked with Laura Blackett and Eve Gleichman about writing as a duo, formation of queer characters, and Instagram fantasies.

    Congratulations on your second book! Has the writing process gotten easier as a duo from your debut? 

    Eve Gleichman: Thank you, and no! Writing this book was as difficult as the first, because it’s a different book with its own set of unique problems that we created for ourselves. The key, in other words, that fits the lock for the first book doesn’t fit the lock for this one. But I do think we did have a better idea, going into Trust & Safety, how to work together; who’d be driving the plot forward (Laura) and who would be obsessing over sentence details (me). As with the first book, there was a lot of joy in generating these characters and the various traps we set for them. Writing is usually such a solitary act — that I get to share the experience with Laura makes the whole experience so much better. 

    Laura Blackett: One of the new challenges we faced when writing Trust & Safety was figuring out how to write about a group of people, instead of a single, central relationship. It was difficult and exciting to create the social tensions that live between the many characters of our book. They talk about one another, do things in secret, and exclude one another. There’s love and connection between them, and also yearning and jealousy and real questions of belonging. 

    I loved that the main tenet of the book is that Instagram fantasies will almost never match up to their real-life counterparts. Did you have particular inspiration for Rosie’s story and desires?

    EG: I wish I had learned this lesson myself, but I continue to buy things from Instagram. Yesterday I was served an ad for a shirt with the blue Corning Ware cornflower design on it, and immediately bought it. 

    LB: Instagram is a great place to go if you want to imagine that other people are experiencing more pleasure and connection than you are, and to buy something to soothe that anxiety. Rosie buys sourdough starter, expensive vegetable peeler, and a house in upstate New York. I think Rosie believes that with a little peace and quiet — and the right stuff from Instagram — she can self actualize, or at least become someone she likes. And that raises the stakes of her move. She finally has everything she wants, but can she be happy? 

    Rosie and Jordan’s attitudes towards Dylan, Lark, and their polycule are interesting because they’re two subsets of allyship. Rosie is really drawn towards Dylan and her handiwork because she’s never seen anyone like her, and Jordan, while still tolerant and respectful, maintains a careful distance. Did you consciously craft their responses to the couple?

    EG: We knew that Dylan would emasculate Jordan, and we knew Jordan wouldn’t like being emasculated. I’m not sure he is so tolerant or respectful of Dylan; she really gets under his skin, and he spends a lot of time complaining about her! 

    LB: Right, similarly, we knew that Rosie would develop a crush on Dylan, and that she would become in some ways Jordan’s rival. I think we liked the idea of an asymmetrical rivalry — one where Jordan is more fixated on Dylan than Dylan is on Jordan. In the novel, Rosie straddles two worlds, straight and queer, and takes from each what she wants. 

    Why do you think Rosie takes such a liking to Dylan and her new lifestyle? Is it that she was just never exposed to something like it in Brooklyn? 

    EG: For Rosie, Dylan represents the path not chosen; she appears to have a strong sense of self, cool passions, a chosen family, and very little anxiety. Rosie, on the other hand, twists herself into knots wondering “what if?” What if she hadn’t married Jordan, and had instead lived a life off the grid? What if, instead of following a template for marriage and family, she’d lived a queer life? 

    LB: Part of her fascination with Dylan and the others in the polycule is that she is a consumer and they are makers. They build things from scratch, including their own family structures and identities. Rosie wants some of that for herself, but doesn’t really know how to get it without buying it. 

    On the other side, what threatens Jordan so much? Can he not stand that Rosie might want something different than what he provides? 

    EG: American life was made for Jordan, and the template works for him, because it puts him on top. When Jordan turns on the TV, he sees himself reflected: a straight, white, cis guy with a wife, a home, and maybe a baby on the way. This is the life he’s purchased, and he wants the lifetime warranty too: security, stability. So when the allegedly stable structure of his marriage is threatened by a queer polycule that’s cooler, more creative, and more seductive than his own marriage, he freaks out. 

    LB: I couldn’t have put it better!

    The queer polycule is so interesting, funny, and is mixed with so many gender identities. What was it like coming up with these characters?

    LB: It was very fun! Many of the queer characters’ names and gender identities shifted over the course of writing the book, which feels reminiscent of the particular queer culture that surrounds me. It was nice to approach the identities of our characters with openness and curiosity, which is how I would want to treat my friends and myself. 

    Continuing from The Very Nice Box, your social satire skills are sharp as ever — Rosie’s Instagram obsession, her canvassing with Rainbow Futures, and Dylan and Lark’s constant lax, earthy lifestyle were some of the best parts. What do you pull from in real life for these bits? 

    EG: I know we’re writing satire, but to me, it never feels that way when we’re writing it. We’re simply including details that are true to the world around us, which includes smart technology, Instagram reels, Union Square canvassers, etc. It turns out that when you put those details plainly on the page, it reads like satire. 

    LB: I think Eve and I do tend to keep an eye out for the banal absurdities of everyday life. Writing these details into the book didn’t feel like an act of imagination. More like making a collage from the stuff surrounding us. 

    This book made me so worried about money, and these characters aren’t even real. Rosie and Jordan sink their costs into this huge renovation, and while Jordan makes a living with ludicrous tech startups, Dylan and Lark live comfortably in their own ways. Was finance a big part of the book in the planning process? 

    EG: We were certainly thinking about money. Rosie moves through life thirsting after better things: a better vegetable peeler, a better house, a better husband. Lots of these upgrades require only one thing, money, which Rosie has access to, now that she has access to Jordan’s family money. 

    LB: I think so. I think this book is about what happens when you have the resources to live out your escapist fantasies and then have to answer to them. I think it also played into the satire and the social tension to have Rosie and Jordan have more money than talent. 

    I’m wondering if, by centering the story around Rosie, the readers seeing the queer characters here from an outsider’s point of view was a deliberate choice. Did it also help in Rosie dredging up some undiscovered feelings within herself? 

    EG: Good question — we could have told the story from the queer polycule’s point of view, but that would have been (in my view) less inherently funny and interesting. What I like about being in Rosie’s perspective is that we begin with a familiar pillar — a straight marriage — and then take a hammer to it.

    LB: Right, we also wanted to see what would happen when straight people end up surrounded by queer people. Everyone Rosie and Jordan meet when they move upstate is queer. This is not usually how it goes for them, and I think this reversal is a big source of humor and tension in the novel. 

    Finally, what’s next? Are you working on any other fiction projects at the moment? 

    LB: I feel like we are in a familiar place as collaborators and friends– we notice things, tell each other stories, and talk about ideas. This was the fertile ground from which both of our novels grew, so we’ll just have to wait and see what happens next.

    Trust & Safety is out now.

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