By Stephanie Schaefer
Finding an affordable, livable apartment in New York City is like finding a picture where North West is smiling: Nearly impossible. I’ve personally lived through the Manhattan apartment hunt on more than one occasion, and let’s just say there’s a reason people post #thestruggleisreal on social media. What do you do when the real estate market gives you lemons (or dingy one-bedrooms with shady landlords)? If you’re author Lindsey Palmer, you use your struggle as the basis for a witty novel.
Palmer’s second novel If We Lived Here (available March 31) follows young professionals Emma Feit and Nick O’Hare during their journey to cohabitate. However, they soon find that happily-ever-after, and keys to their dream apartment in Brooklyn, don’t come so easily. In addition to facing pesky city landlords, the couple also deals with stuck-up Yuppies, lawsuits, natural disasters, and more. Anyone who has been through a quarter-life crisis, stepped inside of an Ikea, or has Netflixed episodes of HGTV’s "House Hunters" will certainly find the characters’ experiences relatable and entertaining.
I recently had the chance to talk to Palmer about the inspiration for her new characters, real-life apartment hunt horror stories, and her favorite part of writing fiction.
Stephanie Schaefer: How much fun was it going on tour in the Northeast to promote your first novel, Pretty In Ink? What’s one memory that will stick in your mind?
Lindsey Palmer: It was tons of fun! I teach high school, so I spent my spring break doing readings in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. Each event was like a mini-reunion, as I got to visit with friends and families whom I don't always see, and who were generous to come out support me. A family friend traveled all the way from Michigan, and my first-grade teacher showed up! I also got to meet some new fans, which meant a lot to me. When I visited my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, I had the opportunity to sit in on my favorite professor, Max Apple's fiction writing workshop. It was thrilling to speak to the students enrolled in the class that I'd taken every semester back when I was in college. You didn't ask this, but my least favorite memory was when I showed up to a reading and the bookstore didn't have any of my books!
SS: Was your writing process any different for your second novel than your first?
LP: Well, I was working a full-time job while writing my first novel, which made it easier to create a regular schedule of writing a couple of nights a week and on weekend mornings. Whereas for the second one, I was in grad school, student teaching during the day, taking classes at night, and cramming in all my schoolwork on the weekends, which meant that I had to grab every spare hour I had to write, plus spend a few marathon sessions over school breaks. So yes, my writing was a lot more sporadic and irregular this time around, but I also had a deadline, which helped to light a fire under my butt.
SS: Do you have any personal horror stories dealing with New York real estate that inspired this story, or did you borrow from other people you know in New York City?
LP: I personally don't know anyone who's searched for an apartment in New York and had an easy time of it, so yes, I definitely culled others' experiences. I also have my own share of horror stories. The most terrible landlord whom Emma and Nick encounter in the book is based on an even worse landlord whom my fiancé and I encountered during an apartment hunt. Ironically, I had to tone down that character since some of the real-life details felt too extreme to be believable. We battled that guy for two years in housing court (we won!). Searching for a new place to call home, no matter where you live, is such a fraught, difficult experience because your home is supposed to be a source of security and comfort, key human needs. For this reason, I felt like a particularly tough home-hunt would be interesting to explore in fiction.
SS: I loved the comedic, and at times sarcastic, dialogue between your characters. How did you develop Nick and Emma, and did their personalities change at all during the writing process?
LP: Thank you! Dialogue is my favorite part of writing fiction because I find that using the characters' own words is the best way to bring them to life. My goal was to create a couple that loves each other very much but are struggling, too. I also wanted to expose some of the tough stuff that can come up in any imperfect relationship, particularly during that serious-but-not-yet-married phase and during a very stressful time. In later drafts I definitely amped up the couple's conflicts so as to heighten the story's stakes.
SS: If your book was turned into a rom-com, who would you cast as the two leads?
LP: Hmm, I've never thought about that! For Emma, maybe Krysten Ritter, Alison Brie, Ellie Kemper, or someone else that’s down-to-earth who can also play funny. For Nick, perhaps John Krasinski, Jason Sudekis, or Ryan Reynolds. If you hear of a film studio interested in making the book into a movie, please do let me know!
SS: Now that you have two novels under your belt, do you have any plans for a third?
LP: Sure, I'm kicking around some ideas. I'll likely stick with the same approach of a character-driven story, and try to zero in on a different arena of contemporary life.
SS: As you know, we ask all of interviewees share a random fact about themselves. Last time we spoke you told us about your childhood baton twirling competitions. Care to share another interesting anecdote?
LP: Let's see...last year was my first year of teaching, and among many major lifestyle adjustments, one of the hardest was going from having daily access to Conde Nast's luxe cafeteria (think sushi and made-to-order stir-fry) to working far from any decent lunch spots. So I made a project of preparing a different lunch for myself each week for the whole year. I'd cook up a big batch each Sunday. I documented each week's result on Instagram, tagged #schoollunch. My favorite was a tasty 12-bean soup.