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Hot Chick Rachel Shukert on Why Everything Is Going to be Great

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Part of our definition of a Hot Chick reads, "She isn't perfect, but she doesn't care ... " and nobody we know embodies that imperfect perfection like our friend and fellow author Rachel Shukert. In Shukert's new book, "Everything is Going to be Great," she not only explores the time she spent as a twentysomething traveling around Europe, but also delves without hesitation into all of her flaws and foibles, leaving her readers shocked and possibly uncomfortable at times, but in awe nonetheless of her honesty and candor.

We, too, were impressed by the confidence it took to set out on these adventures in the first place, and to then publish a book that details everything from her sexual exploits to severe episodes of drunken clumsiness, and we recently asked Rachel a few questions about how and why she managed both.

1. First of all, what inspired you to write this particular book?

As far back as 2007, when I was writing my first book, "Have You No Shame?," I had a feeling that I wanted to write about my experiences in Europe, but I felt like I wasn't ready just yet; they were still too recent and I didn't yet have the perspective I needed to make it meaningful. But I purposefully left kind of a hole in the first book: there is a gap of a few years between the second to last essay and the last essay, because those years became "Everything Is Going To Be Great."

I felt like I could really add something new to the expat/travel memoir genre. It seemed like the ones that were out there either came from this incredibly idealized place, or this sort of contrived--and not necessarily in a bad way!--place, where the author makes a conscious decision to go on a journey in a really sort of choreographed way, with specific goals. And my experience was very different. I had this idea that I would run away, but it wasn't for the purpose of writing a book, you know? And I hadn't really read much that dealt with the truth of my experience, which is that living abroad can be exhilarating, but it can also be lonely, tragic, or even mundane. It's like that saying: "Wherever you go, there you are." I always think of it like "Wherever you go, there you are." You bring yourself, and your problems, wherever you go.

2. You have an uncanny way of taking the reader on your journey with you. How did you capture these details when writing about your experiences years later? Did you look back at journals or letters or did you rely solely on memory?

I've honestly never been much of a journal keeper--I'm a little too meticulous about the things I write. A single journal entry could easily take me an entire day, and then I would have nothing to write about in my journal except writing in my journal, which would obviously be excruciatingly dull--there's a reason no one has made a reality competition show about writers (I'm simultaneously falling asleep and having a panic attack just thinking about it.)

I did look at a few emails here and there, although most of them are no longer extant, for reasons I get into "Everything Is Going to be Great." (I'm not going to tell you here, I don't want to spoil anything!) But I actually don't always like to write too many things down or make too many notes, because I think selective memory is actual a very powerful tool for a writer. People tend to remember their most vivid experiences best, the ones that are still really visceral--you know, those memories where you still remember what everyone was wearing and how the room smelled. The things you don't remember as well probably aren't honestly that interesting to write about. Memory can do a lot of the editorial work for you, if let it. There something I say at the end of the book, "Correction is the opposite of memory." I think there's a lot of truth in that. It's the difference between literature and journalism.

3. As we said above, we admire how open you are about your mistakes. Was it hard for you to open up like that, knowing that readers would be free to judge you and form their own opinions about you as a person? Tell us what that experience was like for you and what sort of reactions you've gotten so far.

You know, the thing to remember is that you actually have far less control over how people perceive you as a person in everyday life than you do through writing a confessional memoir. While the reader certainly processes the story through their own filter (and is obviously free to form their own judgments), they're still getting what I've chosen to present in the way I've chosen to present it.

That said, if I were a person who was really deeply circumspect about my personal life, or really deeply concerned with what people might think of me, I wouldn't do this. Strangers making assumptions about you is just part of being a writer. It doesn't just happen to memoir writers either. People assume that fiction writers must be somehow like the characters they write about as well; they think that Philip Roth is Portnoy, or Helen Fielding must be just like Bridget Jones, for example, and then bring their personal prejudices to bear on those authors through the characters they've created. To me, it's not really that different. It's just that the character I've created is myself.

Ultimately, I think that the only thing people get really judgmental about in memoir is hypocrisy. Most people have pretty good bullshit detectors in that regard. If they sense that you're hiding something, or passing harsh judgment on others while excusing yourself, then they feel cheated, and rightly so. If you trust your readers to "get you," so to speak, then they usually will. The people that don't are probably not your audience anyway. And that's fine. That's something every Hot Chick should know--you can't please everybody!

4. This is a personal question (but, hey, it's a personal book). How does your husband feel about the fact that you write so openly about your sexual history? He also appears in the book (spoiler alert!); how does he feel about the way he's portrayed?

Someone asked this question at a reading I gave the other day. My husband was in the audience, and I said, "Why don't we ask him?" And he said something like: "Well, I was shocked, shocked to learn that my wife was not a virgin when I met her!" and everybody laughed. That pretty much sums up his attitude, I think. I don't think my sexual history is his absolute favorite thing to read about, but he's a pretty secure guy, and we're both adults. Whatever happened to me before I met him is in the past, and I don't think he sees it as having much to do with him or our relationship.

When I do write about him, which honestly I don't do very often, I try to be as respectful to him as possible. I'll let him read the bits he's in ahead of time and listen to what he has to say, and I try to pick my battles, so to speak. If he's got a problem with something that's ultimately pretty inconsequential, I'll change it. If it's something I feel is really essential to the integrity of piece, I'll make a case for it, and he's usually pretty receptive. After all, I get final cut. But there are a few things that are off limits: his career, for example, or the mechanics of our sex life. Those are things I don't feel that I have sole jurisdiction over, and that's fine.

5. Our favorite line in the book is, "Why wait until you're dead to take a vacation from yourself? Why not try to get out sometimes while you're still alive?" Now that you're married and living an (assumedly) more stable life than you did while in Europe, how do you manage to take a vacation from yourself these days?

Travel. There is nothing I love more than getting on a plane or a train and going somewhere I've never been, especially if someone else is paying. And I still go out a lot, often without my husband. I think a lot of people get married and become totally disengaged from their friends and from the world at large, and to me that seems really unnecessary and lonely. It's important to still feel like an individual and live your own life. It's good to go out, meet new people, flirt and have fun and remember that you're more than the sum of your marital unit. You've got to keep a hand in, you know? I also like to keep little secrets from people. Nothing huge or disloyal or illegal, but sometimes I'll go somewhere unusual for a day and not tell anyone where I've been. I could never do FourSquare or anything like that. It's a delight to feel unaccounted for.

6. This is your second memoir and you're still quite young, so what's next for you? Are you planning some more adventures to write about, or is there even more material buried in your past?

Regretfully (or not so regretfully) I think this is the last of the memoirs for a while, unless someone offers me an obscene amount of money I can't refuse. The closest thing I could imagine is delving into some other topic from a first person perspective, but honestly, I'm tired of myself. I'm actually planning to do a novel next, which will be a nice change. The challenge of memoir is telling a compelling story using only things that actually happened. It's exhausting. I want to make things up! I'm 30 now, so that's one memoir every 15 years. We'll see how I feel when I'm 45!

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