Polly Shulman’s first novel Enthusiasm came out in 2006. She has written about edible jellyfish, brains, Egyptian tombs, and centenarians. She’s very quirky; she puts cayenne pepper on her chocolate chip cookies. I might try that someday. She’s here on Look Books today for a short interview.

Are you an “Enthusiast”? If so, what have been your enthusiasms?
I think I’m more a Julie than an Ashleigh, but some of my friends insist I’m an Ashleigh. Of course, they’re Ashleigh’s themselves, so what do they know?I’m passionately fond of birds, poetry, Victorian novels, math, spoons, chocolate, design from the 1870s-80s, and lots more. So my friends who think I’m an enthusiast might not be so far wrong after all.

What are your favorite books?
Oh, there are so many of them! I love all of Jane Austen, including the juvenilia; lots and lots of poetry (some of my favorite poets are: Marianne Moore, Andrew Marvell, Walter Raleigh, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Louise Bogan, Langston Hughes, Herman Melville–but that’s that’s just a random and tiny selection); Shakespeare; Diana Wynne Jones; George Eliot; Charlotte Bronte; Walter Mosley; Muriel Spark; Sarah Waters; Jasper Fford; Paula Fox; Sara Orne Jewett; William Gibson; Alice Munro; Charles Darwin (On the Origin of Species is not only fascinating but beautifully written). Again, this is just a randomish selection of a very few of my many, many favorite writers.

Was Julie or Ashleigh harder to write?
They were both fun in different ways. I identify more with Julie, but Ashleigh’s her own person and kept asserting herself as I was writing.

If you were a character in one of Jane Austen’s books, who would you be?

Oh, I would never presume to claim to be an Austen character! Can I answer “who would you LIKE to be?” instead? Elizabeth Bennet, of course, though I greatly admire Henry Tilney’s sister, Eleanor.

What inspired you to write Enthusiasm?
All my life I wanted to write novels for teenagers, but for years I could only manage to write first chapters. The first chapter of Enthusiasm was one of those; it popped into my head one day, who knows why. Then, years later, my favorite job–writing a book review every Sunday for Newsday–drew to an end, and I told myself I either had to go get a real job in an office, which I really, really didn’t want to do, or finish one of the novels. My best friend remembered the first chapter of what turned out to be Enthusiasm and told me to write that one. So I did.

What are you currently writing?
I’m working on a novel called “The Grimm Collection,” about four high school students–two girls and two boys–who work in a library. Instead of a library of books, though, it’s a library of objects: teapots and musical instruments and woodworking tools and so forth. In the basement is a group of magical items that the brothers Grimm collected when they traveled around recording their fairy tales. For example, the library has a pair of seven-league boots, a flying carpet, and Snow White’s stepmother’s mirror. When magical objects start disappearing, my characters set out to catch the thief. Adventures ensue; also some romance.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?


How did Enthusiasm change from when you first wrote it? Was there a different ending?
No, I always knew it would end the way it does. It’s essentially how I imagined it from the start, though my editor did a great job helping me make it better. The first version went way too slowly at the beginning; I ended up cutting about two chapters’ worth in the first third of the book.

Do you plan on writing a sequel to Enthusiasm?
No. If I did, to make it exciting I would have to make the couples break up, and that would be too sad.

How long does it take you to write a book?

I wrote Enthusiasm in exactly a year. The new book is taking a lot longer–I’ve been working on it on and off for almost two years now. I hope to finish soon, though.

What’s your writing process?

I walk around and think. Then I sit down and write. Then I walk around and think some more. In between, I edit and do other stuff to make a living.

What is your favorite book by Jane Austen?

I love them all. Sometimes I like Pride & Prejudice best; sometimes Persuasion. Sometimes Sense & Sensibility.
Favorite movie adaptation?
The BBC P&P with Colin Firth. I also love Clueless.

What is the best part of being a writer?
The moments when you think of something really good, and the even rarer moments when what you write lives up to your idea of what it should be like.