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Right away, it’s easy to see why Wilson, who’s also known for her work in Mrs. Doubtfire and Matilda, is a successful and endearing child actor. She wears a red-checked gingham shirt underneath a wooly red cardigan, and her feet stick straight off the armchair on which she sits, too short to reach the ground. Wilson is missing teeth, and despite lisping, her diction is perfect and she’s polite and sincere with Couric, who mispronounces Wilson’s first name. Couric asks Wilson if she’d like to be like Natalie Wood someday—Wood played Wilson’s role in the original 1947 version of Miracle on 34th Street. Wood started acting as a child, and in Couric’s words, grew up to be “a very famous, well-known, talented actress.”
Wilson hesitates, and you can see her thinking as she wrinkles her nose. “I don’t know,” she shrugs. “I might not want to be an actress all of my life.” Wilson says she wants to be a “script writer” and that while she hasn’t yet written down any of her stories, “I have a lot of them in my head.”
By the time Simon Rich graduated from Harvard, where he served as president of the Harvard Lampoon, he had a two-book deal from Random House. Less than a decade later, the humorist has written four short story collections and two comic novels. He also spent four years writing for Saturday Night Live (he was the youngest writer SNL ever hired) and about two years at Pixar, and is now at work on a film and a television series.
Rich’s level of productivity, impressive as it is, takes a backseat to the quality of his humor writing. His stories are crystalline, eccentric, and universally hilarious. Many of the stories in his new collection, Spoiled Brats are built on an unusual premise, or told from a surprising angle. In “Animals,” a hamster narrates his wretched existence as a class pet at an elementary school. In “Gifted,” a mother insists that her son—born as a monster, with horns and a tail—is exceptional. And in “Distractions,” a writer believes the whole world is out to get him, and they really are.
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How old were you when you started actively, seriously writing?
Well, I always loved to write. As early as kindergarten, I plagiarized Roald Dahl stories that I would try to pass off as my own. But I think it sort of shifted around when I was 17. That’s when I started writing every single day, whether or not I had an idea. Until then, I would only sit down and write a story if one occurred to me, and then I started to wake up every single day and write for a few hours whether or not I had anything worthwhile to say.
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Caitlin Moran has worked as a journalist, critic, and essayist in the U.K. for over two decades, since she was 16. In her 2011 memoir/manifesto, How to Be a Woman, she argued women should keep their vaginas hairy, said she has no regret over her own abortion, and advocated for the term “strident feminist.” Moran brings the same gallivanting, taboo-crushing spirit to her debut novel, How to Build a Girl, which follows Johanna Morrigan, a working class teenager, as she navigates her way toward adulthood. Morrigan shares a few traits with Moran, from her background and career path to her obsession with music and masturbation.
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As I read How to Build a Girl, I pictured you laughing uproariously to yourself as you were writing it. But in the acknowledgments, you say, “Writing a book is literally worse than giving birth to a baby—in hell.”
I wrote the acknowledgments in a welter of self-pity. I love writing—it’s the easiest thing in the world for me to do. But all through that summer, my children and husband would disappear and come back all covered in sand, having been to the beach while I sat at the table I’m at now, in the garden, chain smoking roll-up cigarettes, chain-drinking coffee. I was working so hard that I genuinely thought I’d have to go to the psychiatrist and get some valium prescribed to me. I’ve always been incredibly cheerful and laid-back, and that summer I was incredibly anxious and depressed, like my head was going to explode. There was one morning where I was putting the coffee pot on, and I noticed it said that it made 12 cups of espresso. I’d been drinking that, diluted with milk, before lunchtime. I stopped drinking the coffee, and it all got a bit easier after that. Do not drink 12 espressos before midday. It’s enormously bad for your mind.