Author Archives

Zan Romanoff

‘I’m Incredulous That People Do This Repeatedly. The Second Book Thing Is So Real.’

Panic Attack / iStock / Getty, and Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Zan Romanoff  | Longreads | September 2019 | 15 minutes (4,099 words)


Mary H.K. Choi has been writing on the internet basically forever, covering everything from music to fashion to the best in snacks for publications like The New York Times, Vice and GQ. So it should be no surprise that her writing about the internet is so good: thoughtful and funny, antic and empathetic, and deeply and consistently searching.

Her debut novel, 2018’s Emergency Contact, traces a relationship that develops over text message between a hipster coffee shop barista, Sam, and hyper-anxious college freshman named Penny; it’s a refreshingly chilled out look at the way the digital can actually help create intimacy, instead of just impeding it.

Choi’s follow up, Permanent Record, is oriented in the opposite direction: it looks out at the selves social media allow us to project into the world. When pop star Leanna Smart stumbles into the bodega where college dropout Pablo Neruda Rind works, they hit it off instantly. Leanna — or Lee, as Pablo calls her — makes Pab’s life exciting, but hanging out with her also allows him to avoid the very unglamorous problems — debt, stasis, and uncertainty — that will be familiar to anyone who’s lived through their twenties in the twenty-first century. Read more…

A Manson Murder Investigation 20 Years In the Making: ‘There Are Still Secrets’

Leslie Van Houten, Susan Atkins, and Patricia Krenwinkel, defendants in the Tate-LaBianca murder trial, walk from the jail to the courtroom. August 7, 1970. (Bettmann / Getty)

Zan Romanoff | Longreads | June 2019 | 13 minutes (3,591 words)

The story of how Tom O’Neill’s CHAOS: Charles Manson, The CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties came to be is almost as crazy as the story of the book tells in its pages. Twenty years ago, an editor at Premiere magazine asked O’Neill to write something about the 30th anniversary of the Manson murders — whatever he thought would be interesting. Now, on the 50th anniversary, that magazine story is finally being released in the form of a 400+ page book.

The intervening years take O’Neill from the backyards of LA drug dealers to the offices of CIA agents doing research on the drugged out hippies in San Francisco’s Haight District. At one point, he gets four haircuts from a barber who intimates that Manson might have been involved with the mob. And as the story spins wildly out of O’Neill’s control, defying reduction to a single, simple narrative, only one thing seems certain: that the settled story of what happened in Los Angeles in the summer of 1969 might not be as straightforward as we’ve all been lead to believe. Read more…

‘Every Woman Writer Feels Like She’s Starting Over Without Any Guides’

Vizerskaya / Getty

Zan Romanoff | Longreads | February 2019 | 11 minutes (2,920 words)


“Stories can be risky for someone like me,” the narrator observes early in The Raven Tower, which marks highly decorated science fiction author Ann Leckie’s first novel-length foray into fantasy. The speaker is an ancient god named The Strength and Patience of the Hill, who goes on to explain a cardinal rule for gods in the world of The Raven Tower: “what I say must be true, and if it cannot safely be made true — if I don’t have the power, or if what I have said is an impossibility — then I will pay the price.” That price is the god’s own life.

It makes sense that four novels, two Locus Awards, one Hugo, one Nebula, and an Arthur C. Clarke Award in, Leckie is grappling with the power and potential of narrative and language; after all, one of the hallmarks of her writing has been the way she interrogates social and political power structures. Her first three books, which comprised the Imperial Radch trilogy, are narrated by an artificial intelligence system, Breq, designed to oversee a warship and the human bodies — called ancillaries — that have been retrofitted to serve it. Breq is therefore a single consciousness who has lived a multiplicitous existence; her native language has no words for gender, and she herself (Leckie chose to use “she” as a gender-neutral pronoun in the series) has no experience of it. The reader is thus immersed into a speculative critique of gendered language and storytelling; as is often the case with Leckie’s work, the trilogy is so thoroughly and thoughtfully original that it feels one step ahead of most of the rest of the genre (or the rest of the world).

The Raven Tower’s narrator also falls somewhere complicated on the continuum between single and multiple consciousness: The Strength and Patience of the Hill is a god, whose experience of self is markedly different than the humans its second-person narration is addressed towards. This set of unusual choices around perspective and point-of-view give the narrative a kaleidoscopic, sometimes almost hallucinatory quality that is uniquely and addictively immersive. Read more…