Nothing to See Here has caused quite a stir. A New York Times bestseller, reviews call it one of the most original books in years. Can you tell us a bit more about the book?
The story takes place over a single summer, when Lillian Breaker, living with her mum and working two low-paying jobs, reunites with her best friend from high school, Madison. Madison’s husband, a US senator, has two children from a previous marriage and they’re coming to live with them. And Madison needs Lillian to serve as their nanny. But there’s one small problem. The children burst into flames when they get upset.
What inspired the idea behind this novel?
My wife and I have two kids, and I realised how raising them oftentimes felt like handling children who really could burst into flames at any moment, their emotions were always so heightened, right on the surface. The conceit became a way for me to explore the danger of caring for anyone, of hoping that you might protect them from the world when you feel incapable of protecting even yourself.
What is something that has influenced you as a writer?
Being a parent, being a husband, being a son. All the ways that I’m connected to these other people. I’m a fairly anxious person and for a good part of my life, I imagined that I would be alone, that I needed isolation in order to be safe. But my parents and sister kept me connected to the world. And then I met my wife and we had kids, and they opened me up to the world, forced me to take part in it and, by extension, understand and notice more details about the world around me. I’d still be a writer if I didn’t have kids, but I think I wouldn’t be writing the same books.
What’s your daily writing routine like and what are you working on at the moment?
I have two boys and I teach full-time, so I don’t have a daily writing routine. If my kids want me to play basketball or read a book with them, I do it. I’ve never had a routine where I wrote every day and there were times when that made me feel like I wasn’t a real writer. But I find these little pockets of times, and I’ve been holding those stories in my head for months and months, so when I finally sit down to actually write, I’m a really fast writer. And I like the way that works, how writing for me becomes this kind of reward, not a chore that I do every day.
Your Time article, I Was Worried My Anxiety Would Prevent Me From Being a Good Father is excellent and inspiring. So many people suffer from anxiety. What advice would you give to someone reading this now, who is struggling with anxiety?
I think it’s so important to understand that you’re not alone. So many people have written to me to say they have the same issues, the same difficulties, and they thought they were the only one. I certainly have felt that way, and my response was to dig deeper into myself, to hide from the world—and I really think that sometimes hurt me more. Even though it’s scary, when I opened myself up and admitted that I was vulnerable, it became more manageable. Talking to someone, anyone, helps. A therapist, a friend, a family member.