Nada Alic's forthcoming novel is currently living on the wall of her Los Angeles apartment, handwritten on yellow sticky notes stuck neatly in rows and columns lining the space. She shows me from her Zoom screen, in case I'm curious. It's like a peek inside her head, a visual of her writing process: "I have the whole thing planned out here," she says.
The novel, set for publication in 2023, is part of a two-book deal with Knopf. It follows Bad Thoughts, a collection of drily witty and sometimes unsettling short stories that depict the inner lives of (mostly) women in Los Angeles and their obsessions and compulsions, their often strange friendships and the illicit places their minds tend to wander, which was released in July. Each story feels different—some leave the reader with an eerie, hollow feeling; others are sharply funny. And some are tender, heartwarming, a little sad. "I think what I'm trying to do is stay curious and to lead an interesting life and seek out interesting people," Alic says of her process. "With writing, you can live in such an isolated way that you actually lose touch with the human drama. So it's an effort to connect with something beyond myself."
As she works through her next book, Alic finds inspiration in ways that reflect this search. "I've been in this endless internet rabbit hole of hypnotherapists," she laughs. "I'd done a couple sessions of hypnotherapy just before Covid, and now I'm obsessed with the idea of getting to the root of things." She says she spends hours at night reading through site after site, then emailing the hypnotherapists who run them. Part of it she does out of mere curiosity, and part of her compulsion stems from a half-conscious fantasy that one of these characters might actually be able to help, might become a kind of mentor in her life. "I like the idea of working with someone who's not at all in my world," she says. "I just want someone who has no sense of technology—like they’re a little closer to the divine maybe," she laughs.
Alic had been working as the editorial director for Society6, a startup e-commerce site for independent artists, when she quit her full-time job and decided to go for it, to write a book. This was 2018. "I thought, if I just have time, I can write it," she recalls. She had been saving up for a year, so she had enough to live on for at least a few months, a span of time she now admits was "kind of naïve, looking back—it took a lot longer.” But she did it, diving headfirst into her writing.
With a background in advertising and after years in the corporate world, Alic says the adjustment to her newly open schedule was surprisingly painful. "There was this kind of neglected emotional component," she explains. "I had to confront it—once I took away all the other obstacles or excuses I had as to why I wasn’t writing." She was also navigating the shift in her day-to-day schedule, spending hours each day on writing without any kind of reassurance that what she was working on would sell. "It's an act of faith," she says, "showing up every day." But it was one that paid off. At the beginning of 2021, she sold the book and landed her publishing deal. "That was hugely validating for me," she recalls. "I feel like I was holding my breath for two years, in a way."
Now, with her first true deadline to work toward, Alic feels she's back at square one. "I find myself kind of having that beginner's mind again that you never really shake as a writer. I do feel like it's the one practice or medium that really doesn't get easier," she laughs. "It's just always hard." However, she says the general idea for her novel, originally intended for a film, is already there. She describes it as a fiction about performance and intergenerational trauma, and says she is pulling inspiration from her upbringing. "My approach to writing is sort of similar to employing humor with painful experiences. I can only do it when I have enough distance to see the humor in it," she explains.
And now she just has to write it. "I've read a lot of artist interviews where people would be very clear-cut like, 'This is how I do it,'" she says. "That's a really seductive narrative, but I also think it's kind of bullshit—everybody is different." Her approach is simple and decidedly non-linear: She starts by creating an environment she can work in—a clean desk in her well-lit living room—staying mindful, avoiding self-punishment, and following sustainable rituals that keep her grounded. "If I allowed myself, maybe I would just daydream and research all day," she admits. "Maybe I just need to get words on a page."
Bad Thoughts is out now. Read Alic's short story "Earth to Lydia" in print by preordering our fifth issue here.
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