We Speak the Same Language: Julie Sarkissian & Haley Tanner

When Laura MacDougall of Hodder & Stoughton contacted us about the friendship between one of her authors, Julie Sarkissian, and fellow US novelist, Haley Tanner, we were keen to learn more. So, we interviewed them for this month’s guest post.

Julie (left) with Haley (right)
Julie (left) with Haley (right)

Something Rhymed: What were your first impressions of each other and how did you become friends?

Haley: The first time I saw Julie I wanted to become her friend instantly.  It was the first week of the MFA program we did together and during these awful get-to-know you exercises where everyone tried as hard as possible to impress everyone else with their apathy and pretension – in the middle of all that she was a shining beacon of honesty and ease and genuine enthusiasm.  Then we had our first workshop together and the story she brought to the table was just beautiful and strange and so impressive – I still remember lines from that first story – and I thought she’d never be my friend – she just seemed so brilliant – and way too cool for me.  I think she must have done the first inviting-out-to-drinks – I don’t remember – but I’m pretty shy about those things so I bet it was her.  The first time we went out together I could not believe that this gorgeous intense-genius person was so down-to-earth, so real and wonderful and so human.

Julie: A few of us students were standing around after some kind of orientation and I remember thinking Haley was very hip, was totally beautiful and very charming and engaging. We later found ourselves in class together but we didn’t talk outside class until the day her writing was workshopped for the first time. I was blown away by her talent. I went up to her after class and said, your writing is amazing, I have this feeling we speak the same language, let’s go get a drink. So we went to a bar that us MFA kids would go to after class and we stayed up talking long into the night. After that, we took all our classes together and, after we graduated, we saw each other almost as much as we had in school.

Something Rhymed: What qualities or interests do you share and in what ways do you differ?

Julie: Haley’s an adventurer and I’m a creature of habit. I’ve worked in the same restaurant for ten years, had the same therapist for seven years, had the same boyfriend/now husband for nine years. In that amount of time Haley has travelled the world many times over. We are both pretty extroverted, we both love a good in-depth, no holds barred heart-to-heart. Needless to say we both love to read and love to talk about books.

Haley: Oh my goodness! There isn’t anything I wouldn’t like to do with Julie by my side. We both procrastinate by baking or cooking or cleaning when we should be writing. Julie was the first writer I met who would admit that there were many times that we’d rather do anything – anything AT ALL, than write. What ways do we differ? Julie is far more social than I am. She’s a real girl’s girl – she has this incredible ability to create an amazing space where women can be supportive of each other and let go and have real fun.  I remember Julie throwing an all-girls holiday party, cranking Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas’ and getting everyone to dance around the room. I think Julie should be held up as an example that being an incredible literary genius does not mean that you cannot throw a great dinner party, kick off your heels, and dance around the room.

Julie is an amazing friend, and she’s an amazing friend to a long list of very lucky people. I’m sort of a homebody – Julie has always drawn me out of my shell, and taught me, by example, how to be a better friend.

Julie (left) & Haley (right)
Julie (left) & Haley (right)

Something Rhymed: Can you tell us about the role of writing in your friendship?

Haley: Julie is the only person on the planet with whom I can share some of my darkest writing troubles – she’s so unguarded, I can tell her anything. Julie helped me write my first query letter to an agent – and she forced me to send it. I wouldn’t have a career without her encouragement.  I still have all of Julie’s handwritten edits on the early versions of the manuscript for my first novel – those pages are the only edited rough-draft relics I’ve saved – if only for her handwriting and genius.

Recently we’ve been talking about motherhood – it’s an entirely new world we’re both entering.  It’s essential to survival to have someone by your side who knows who you were before you were a mom.  For me, writing has taken on an entirely new importance – it’s a way to spend time in my mind – to reclaim some of the territory lost to the baby and the breastfeeding and the sleep struggles.  I think that having a friend who is also exploring this alien land can keep you from losing your mind.

Julie: Haley is one of the only people whom I am very, very close with that I feel can empathize with the struggles of writing, publishing, the disappointments, the jealousies, the confusion. I rely on her to validate many of my ambivalent, painful feelings about writing and being a writer that are hard to express to other friends. Our friendship is so much more than just about writing, but we first connected over writing and confiding in each other about writing was the basis of a deep intimacy.

Something Rhymed: Have the two of you ever experienced any feelings of literary rivalry and, if so, how did you find a way to manage them?

Julie: When Haley sold her novel and I was still editing mine with my agent I was definitely jealous. I wanted so badly to have what she had. But I think the word rivalry implies one person desiring to be superior and that I have not necessarily experienced. Haley was the first person to read my novel and vice versa, so we were invested in each other’s novels from the very beginning.

Haley: I have never, never, felt any sort of rivalry with Julie – and no envy.  I truly love her, and I’ve only felt true happiness at her success.   I think there’s a very pervasive and damaging idea floating out in the universe that writing – or any art – is a zero-sum game – that someone else’s success is your loss. That’s ridiculous and harmful – and it sabotages real, supportive, loving relationships.  Throughout all of the early struggles I always believed that one day Julie and I would be lucky enough to do interviews like this – to talk about our books and our lives together.

Julie Sarkissian’s novel, Dear Lucy, is published by Hodder & Stoughton

Haley Tanner’s novel, The Adventures Of Vaclav The Magnificent And His Lovely Assistant Lena, is published by Cornerstone.

3 thoughts on “We Speak the Same Language: Julie Sarkissian & Haley Tanner

  1. Inspiring. I try not to focus on gender but I can’t help notice that women are so much better at these kinds of friendships. Ah, but perhaps that’s just my imagination though.

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