To accompany the publication of I Was Told There’d be Cake, I made a series of do-it-yourself dioramas to post on this website. My apartment floor was covered in an explosion of fake moss, ribbon, plastic straws, origami paper and miniature toilet seat covers. Like so many of us that have been awake crafting wee kitchen appliances in the wee hours, I questioned my sanity. I take great pride in those dioramas but after bending 20 paperclips just get two that looked like wire clothing hangers I thought: never again.
Plus between the last book and this one, I had run out of Plexiglas panels and paperclips and glue. So for How Did You Get This Number, I decided it was time to call in a professional.
I have been a fan of Sloane Tanen and her darkly comic world of miniature poultry for years. Both of her books published for adults – Bitter With Baggage Seeks Same and Going For The Bronze – have made me laugh time and again. Her specific combination of whimsy and dark humor is totally unique and it’s a vibe I wouldn’t mind achieving in essay form. So I approached Sloane about creating a few of her original chicken scenes based on scenes from my new book of essays, How Did You Get This Number. They are posted here for the first time. And as if she hasn’t already done enough for me creating these amazing dioramas to go with my essays, I asked her some questions about them for this website:
1) I gave you a few of the essays I felt would be the most chicken-friendly. Beyond that, how did you decide which scenes you would use?
Because I think humor usually stems from misery or discomfort, I looked for the core pathos in your essays and thought about various ways I could distill that moment into a single image. After that I had to think about what props I either had or that could be easily made. Stefan, the amazing photographer, kindly agreed to the shoot the images, so I was determined to have the images be fairly simple and not crazily labor intensive on his end.
2) Was it easier or more difficult to have the source material come from a different Sloane and in a different format? What were some of the challenges?
It was much harder. I don’t think of myself as an illustrator per say so it was hard to take a back seat, especially to another Sloane. Then the challenge was in my trying to create something funny out of something that was already funny. As if I were trying to trump you on your own memoirs…with chickens. If that makes sense?
3) I would think one of the most challenging aspects of the dioramas would be to get the chicken facial expressions just right. Given that you’re dealing with tiny toys, you must have to work against making the finished product childlike. Is that difficult?
Not really. The chickens are ripe for projection. I find they really absorb whatever I throw at them. If the caption says “Giorgio was sad,” Giorgio looks sad. If it says, “Aviva was furious,” she tends to look furious. They’re very cooperative that way.
4) Are you really finished with the chickens after this? If so, I am honored to team up with you for the coop’s final coup. What’s next for you?
I never set out to be the chicken lady but it’s been such a fun and rewarding chapter of my life. I would never say I was “finished” with them, but I think they had their moment and it’s good to know when to pack up the poultry. I just sold my first young adult novel so we’ll see how that goes.
5) When we had breakfast (it should be noted you ordered eggs), we discovered we were each other’s first Sloane – that neither of us had met another in person. Was it the revelatory experience you’d always hoped it would be?
It was weird. I’ve always been suspicious of other Sloanes…as if they’re somehow ripping me off or they’re impostors or something. Ridiculous, I know. So, it was weird to meet somebody named Sloane who it was all but impossible not to like.