Q&A with Sarah Layden

Eliza Tudor
Eliza Tudor
March 28, 2023
15 min read
Q&A #006: Sarah Layden, Author


Fun times ahead.

First up, welcome to…

with Alex Mattingly, OIP Consulting Editor

One of the pleasures and perils of undertaking a creative endeavor is that, inevitably, someone else is going to do something that makes you leap from your seat and shout, “BY GOD, I WISH I’D THOUGHT OF THAT!"

Such was the case when I stumbled over the work of Beehive Books. In particular, their recent Kickstart in support of an illuminated edition of Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio, as illustrated by Mike Mignola and annotated by Lemony Snicket.

You see what I mean? How can you read that sentence and stay seated? Obviously I’m not alone — the project currently sits at $321,000 pledge of a $50,000 goal, with 31 days left to raise funds. I take this as tremendous encouragement. At Old Iron Press, where we share a delight in remixed and rediscovered classics, to see such an enormous response to the project is a reminder that we’re not alone.

Classics never die, of course. They are resurrected and reinvented, deconstructed and deranged into new forms that are not so entirely alien as they might seem at first glance. What I mean to say is that they are inexhaustible stories, and it is a delight to see the way people keep finding life in their pages.

Even if I wish I’d thought of it first.


This month we also have a Q&A with the spectacular Sarah Layden.

Sarah Layden

Sarah Layden’s textbook, The Invisible Art of Literary Editing, co-authored with Bryan Furuness, came out this month from Bloomsbury Academic, and her short story collection, Imagine Your Life Like This, comes out in April from University of Wisconsin Press.

Cover of The Invisible Art of Literary Editing by Bryan Furuness & Sarah Layden
Cover of Imagine Your Life Like This by Sarah Layden

Sarah is also the author of The Story I Tell Myself About Myself, winner of the 2017 Sonder Press Chapbook Competition, and Trip Through Your Wires (Engine Books, 2015), a novel.

Her short fiction can be found in Boston Review, Stone Canoe, Blackbird, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, the anthologies Best Microfiction 2020, Welcome to the Neighborhood, and Sudden Flash Youth, and elsewhere. Her recent nonfiction work has appeared in The Washington Post, Newsweek, Poets & Writers, Salon, River Teeth, The Millions, The Humanist, and Indianapolis Monthly.

She earned a B.S. in journalism from Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, and an MFA in fiction writing from Purdue University. She is an Assistant Professor of English at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

Without further ado, here’s Sarah!


At OIP, we love the fact that everyone has their own set of "classics" (i.e., books, songs, recipes, comics, food, objects, movies, shows, etc. that shaped you). What were some of your favorite childhood "classics"?


My classics include many books: Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, Encyclopedia Brown, and Sweet Valley High, to name a few. A lot of “Brady Bunch reruns.” The radio, tuned to the “oldies” station in the car, imprinted on my brain the lyrics from songs of the 1950s-60s, then the ‘70s-80s. Archie comics, which I dredged up from basement storage for my own kids. A sticker collection. Sassy Magazine. My mom’s Betty Crocker cookbook, particularly the picture of “Galaxy cookies” that I drooled over.

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Recipe for "Galaxy Cookies" from a Betty Crocker cookbook


Where would your adventure be set: underwater or in space?


Space. (See: Galaxy cookies.) Also, have you seen those images that the James Webb Telescope captured of the early universe? I can barely comprehend the vastness.


Favorite word / font / letter?


Hard to pick, but I do like the word “discombobulated” set in a crisp Times New Roman. (Would it be described as “crisp”? I don’t know much about fonts, but I do know there’s a movie called “Helvetica” that’s been on my to-watch list for several years.) My favorite letter is a handwritten one that I’m not expecting. Alphabet-wise, my favorite letter is “R,” same as the pirate.


What are some things you enjoy doing off-screen? (*your very own digital disruption):


Reading, music, hikes/walks, unorganized birdwatching, baking bread. I like making things with found or repurposed items, like wine corks and bottle caps and paper. I have a hot-glue gun and I’m not afraid to use it.


Snacks while you work–yes/no? If yes, what’s your go-to?


Always snacks. I have a lifetime love of Goldfish crackers. Same with candy corn—I know it’s a divisive subject, and I can’t pretend to defend my gross habit. Orange Tic Tacs. Anything orange, even actual oranges. I’m about to go purchase an orange scone. My writing group meets on Zoom and "Snacks" is in our name. Speaking of Zoom and snacks, I am still laughing over Michael Dahlie’s McSweeney’s piece.


What are some of your favorite tools-of-the-trade?


I swear by the Pilot Precise V5 Extra Fine in black. I mention this pen so often that it became a joke to my students, a group of whom once gave me a whole box. A great gift. I love notebooks and journals and pads of paper, all types and sizes, but find I need big spiral notebooks, folders, and binders for noveling: more room to spread out ideas.


You are hosting a party. Who’s coming? Where and when? What’s being served?(Fictional characters and locales are welcome.)  


A party! I sometimes think it would be fun to advertise an open house across social media and see who shows up. But not, like, at my house. Let’s have donuts and punch in the high school gym.


What mashups do you wish existed?


I wrote a short humor mashup, “Unsolved Mysteries: Who’s that Lady?” and now I imagine it actually happening. I wonder if Patti Labelle and Mitch Ryder would be open to filming? Question for you, Old Iron Press: who would you cast in the role of Shane McShane?

Eliza: The answer is always Chris Pine/Randall Park/Natasha Lyonne, but this performance may hinge on what bleach best channels Gary Busey.

Drake: I like the comedic irony of casting an acclaimed actor like Damon or DiCaprio—similar to how Damon played a small cameo as an Asgardian stage actor in Thor: Ragnarok.

Alex: I don’t know why, but I immediately pictured a young Tilda Swinton.


Any recommendations for the OIP community? What have you been enjoying lately? (Or, something you are working on that you would like to share?)


Last year, my family and I visited Ireland for the first time, and I have since been on an Irish culture bender. I’ve been reading Bono’s Surrender, Fintan O’Toole’s We Don’t Know Ourselves, and Edna O’Brien’s The Country Girls trilogy. I just finished Claire Keegan’s beautiful novellas, Small Things Like These and Foster, and will soon start Donal Ryan’s The Spinning Heart, recommended by a bookseller at The Gutter Bookshop in Dublin. Three seasons of “Derry Girls” and the films The Banshees of Inisherin and Belfast were also high on my list.


Congratulations on everything you have coming out in 2023! Would you tell us more about Imagine Your Life Like This (stories, forthcoming from University of Wisconsin Press) and The Invisible Art of Literary Editing (a textbook, co-authored with Bryan Furuness, forthcoming from Bloomsbury Academic)?


Thank you so much. Several of the stories in Imagine Your Life Like This began in my MFA workshop at Purdue. A few were written during the pandemic, one in my vehicle in what I liked to call the “Minivan Writing Residency.” The stories question longing in life: a human way to feel, to be sure, but what are you going to do about it? How do you imagine or reimagine the story of your life? They’re set in the Midwest and Upstate New York.

The Invisible Art of Literary Editing is both a textbook for students and a handbook for apprentice litmag editors. I’m so glad Bryan pulled me in to work on this project a few years ago. We both needed a college-level editing text we couldn’t find anywhere, so we made this one. It includes case studies that show editors’ marks on works of creative writing, and interviews with editors about their process.


I am such a fan of your site Late To This. What's the origin story of this project?


This phrase is often used online: “I’m late to this, but I loved such-and-such show/book/event.” And the thing in question was maybe released a week ago. This is art that took years to make. So I wanted to create a space online that celebrates so-called lateness, or more so celebrates the thing you’ve just now discovered and want to share or discuss. The speed of social media shouldn’t dictate our conversations. “Late to This” will probably be a blog-type thing with contributors. The website itself is a work in progress. I’m running a bit late on this one.


What are some of your favorite spots in Indy?


Fort Ben and Eagle Creek parks, Indy Reads Books, Irvington Vinyl & Books, the Fountain Square duckpin bowling alley, IUPUI University Library, Central Library, Hubbard & Cravens, LUNA Music. To name several.

Thank you so much, Sarah! Follow the delightful @sarah.layden for more. Look for The Invisible Art of Literary Editing, Bloomsbury Academic, in bookstores now, and preorder Imagine Your Life Like This, University of Wisconsin Press, out in April.


Issue #001 of THE GUTENBORG PROJECT is out now! And it includes an upcoming call-out during the month of May! All contributors included in THE GUTENBORG PROJECT will receive a special embroidered patch, created with our partners, United State Print Co.

Sign up today to receive TGP seasonally in the email account you love best.

Check out our Instagram for Trivia Tuesday, our monthly gameshow, hosted by Alyssa Preston. On the first Tuesday of every month, we host a series of questions in our IG Stories. The first person to answer the most questions correctly has the chance to win a variety of curiously curated collectibles.

We post regularly about books we love on our Instagram and have a site where you can discover even more. We champion retooled classics, underdogs, and disobedient forms.

We’re putting the final touches on our Merch page. (Here’s a sneak peak!) Drop coming soon. We’re incredibly excited to share these items with you. Every purchase supports our press and the writers/artists/makers we publish.

Merch page in development!
"The Reliable Mug"
"The Digital Manicule"

And continue to follow along on the road to publishing our first project, an anthology, Playing Authors, coming out fall 2023.

At OIP, we are dedicated to publishing the small, strange, and uncategorizable. And, having fun doing it.

Take gentle care. We’re cheering for you!

– Eliza & Everyone at OIP
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