Scaachi Koul’s debut essay collection, One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter, has the best title I’ve encountered in a long time. It’s also a fantastic book, encompassing everything from questions of family and mortality to an exploration of the way that online communities can turn horrifically toxic. I talked with Koul about the origins of the book, the way the collection came together, and how she comes up with memorable first sentences, among other topics.
The first sentence of “Fair and Lovely” does a fantastic job of setting up both the tone and the subject matter of the essay that follows. Do you generally need to begin with a sentence like this, or does that come later in the process for you?
First sentences tend to come easy; it’s the rest that’s work. I tried to start most of the essays with something that gives you a sense of the tone, but also something easy going and hopefully funny so that it pulls you in before I, inevitably, bum you out.
Many of the essays in the book focus on the people closest to you. Do you find that writing about the people in your life ends up affecting the way you interact with them?
I think it gives me more empathy for them and more understanding for their motivations or their frustrations. For my parents in particular, I resented them a lot as a kid because I didn’t understand what they wanted. Taking the time to write about someone else forces you to consider everything from their perspective and rethink your own interactions with them. (This is, I know, a good thing but being self-aware is secretly terrible. I liked being selfish and unthinking!!!)
Some of the essays in One Day… first appeared for the likes of BuzzFeed and Hazlitt. You’ve also written plenty more that didn’t end up in this collection; what was it like to put this book together? Did you always have the idea that it would be these ten essays?
The essays that previously appeared in BuzzFeed and Hazlitt felt like anchors for the book, so I kind of knew that I wanted the collection to gravitate around those themes and those ideas. I often think about mortality, or race, or the idea of home, or victimization, and the narratives of my life tend to fold into those things too. It came together pretty organically.
How early in the process did you decide on this title?
I was initially calling it The Pursuit of Misery — a title that my editor at Hazlitt, Jordan Ginsberg, came up with. But back then, the book was a lot lighter in tone, I think it was funnier, it was more like a collection of misery and miserable experiences. And as we started working on it more and more, the tone was shifting and there were sections that were more serious or difficult to deal with and the title just didn’t make sense anymore. That said, the subtitle was always One Day We’ll All Be Dead And None Of This Will Matter, which is something I say…alarmingly frequently. So, from there, it was an easy change.
The cover of your book has one of, to my mind, the best uses of design I’ve seen in a while, in that it offers a couple of different interpretations of the title. Where in the process of getting the book out did that idea come up?
The cover was designed by Scott Richardson at Penguin Random House Canada, I love it so much. I never looked at the title that way, I always had it in my head as this darkly funny thing I say all the time. But seeing it crossed out gives it another dimension, another level of sincerity, a completely different meaning altogether.
Do you have a sense of what you’d like to write about in your next book?
Nothing, I would like to sit in a poorly lit room and watch Teen Mom.
Scaachi Koul will be taking part in the Red Ink Series at powerHouse Arena tonight at 7.
Photo: Barbara Simkova