How did you become a writer?
Ever since I can remember, I've negotiated the world through writing. From a very early age, it was how I made sense of my feelings, my experiences, and the world around me. As for how I became a person who makes a living as a writer, though -- I studied writing in college, got my MFA in fiction, and promptly stopped writing fiction and started writing essays. Slowly, I began incorporating more and more reporting into my essays because I discovered I really enjoyed it. Nowadays, I most enjoy writing what I think of as "reported essays" -- pieces that allow space for reflection or analysis or rhetorical flourishes, but that also incorporate information I've gathered through reporting.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).
There are so many! This week, I'm feeling particularly grateful to a number of women who also write perceptively and humanely about crime and related subjects: Rachel Aviv, Alice Bolin, Janet Malcolm, Debbie Nathan, Sarah Marshall, and Sarah Weinman come immediately to mind. The past few non-crime books that I read and loved were by Jamel Brinkley and Renee Gladman.
When and where do you write?
I try to get to it shortly after I wake up, when my brain is not yet clogged by the day. But I'm not one of those writers who gets up at 5AM or anything like that. Usually I'm at my desk in my office by around 9AM. Then I procrastinate with the crossword puzzle as long as I can before getting down to writing.
What are you working on now?
Since my book just got published, I'm allowing myself a bit of a break before I plan my next big project. In the meantime, I'm working on a number of magazine features that are really fun and intriguing to think about -- and, fortunately for my peace of mind, they have nothing to do with crime.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
I've had periods when it's hard to get started, or when everything I write feels like it comes out stilted and ugly. But one of the nice things about writing non-fiction is that when I'm feeling slow or stuck, I can do other parts of the work -- research, say, or transcribing interviews. Generally approaching the subject from a different angle is enough to inspire me to get going again.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
My college writing teacher used to spend an hour of our three-hour seminar on grammar. We'd pick apart bad sentences from last week's assignments and he'd help us identify the grammatical problems. At the time, I remember rolling my eyes, thinking this was excessive and boring -- but looking back at it, I'm really grateful for that education. Solid, clear, elegant sentences are so fundamental to good writing. I'm grateful he encouraged me to slow down, be deliberate, and aim for clarity.
What’s your advice to new writers?
Don't pay too much attention to anyone else's path. Discover what fascinates and compels you, and dig down into it. And then keep going.
Rachel Monroe is the author of Savage Appetites, a book about women, crime, and obsession that the New York Times called "enthralling" and NPR described as "necessary and brilliant." She was a 2016 finalist for a Livingston Award for Young Journalists and was named one of the "queens of nonfiction," along with Susan Orlean, Rebecca Solnit, and Joan Didion, by New York Magazine in 2016. Her essay about murder fandom and adolescence, "Outside the Manson Pinkberry," originally published in The Believer, is anthologized in The Best American Travel Writing 2018, and she regularly writes for the New Yorker, The Atlantic, Esquire, New York Magazine, Texas Monthly, The Guardian, and others. She lives in Marfa, Texas.