Baltimore-based author Michelle Junot will debut her second book, Notes from My Phone*, at a reading and launch on Dec. 6 at 7:30 p.m. at Bird in Hand. We sat down with her to discuss the new work and the process of transforming literal notes from her phone into an emotional, creative journey of a chapbook.
Tell me about this project. Why did it occur to you to turn your phone notes into a book?
The book was unintended at first. But one day I was on a plane, and I typically write on plances, but for whatever reason I didn’t have a journal. I opened up my Notes app and realized I’ve been taking all these notes—prayers after breakups, ideas for other stories—and in that moment, seeing it all together, I realized it was kind of like a time capsule of my life.
There are over 500 notes, spanning from fall 2011 to summer 2016. Some are dramatic, some are reflective. At first, I tried to turn some of the less embarrassing ones into a blog, which seemed to resonate with people, especially women. They would say “I didn’t even realize, but I think that way, too”—and they have no idea how much that meant to me, to prove I’m not crazy. After that, I was less embarrassed. And when a couple of friends ended up opening a press, I knew I could take the risk.
The format of Notes from My Phone* is unorthodox and, obviously, pretty modern. Do you consider it a millennial book?
I’m right on the edge of the millennial generation—I was born in ’88. I think the technology piece, the references to social media…those type of things speak to millennials, and the idea that people in their 20s and 30s are just trying to figure out why life isn’t working out quite like they thought it was. But I think the themes and questions that come up are really universal.
What was the hardest part about putting the book together?
One of the challenges was being too close to [the content]. This book is really recent and really personal, and the hardest part was looking at it objectively and trusting my fantastic editor to help me figure it out how to shape it—otherwise it’s just a diary. We played with the arc a bit, edited some notes for clarity and sentence structure, and cut down some of the really long ones that got too overdramatic. But we really tried to keep the integrity of it. I didn’t want it to be a nice idea that wasn’t really true—If I’m going to call it nonfiction, I want it to be as true as possible.
Are you still writing notes on your phone?
I am, but I’m super self-conscious about it. I’m not sure how genuine they are, it makes me nervous now. I don’t think it’ll ever be as natural as it was, but I still make lists for groceries that I never actually look at at the store.
See an excerpt from Notes from My Phone below, courtesy of Junot and Mason Jar Press:
The way water spills more heavily to one side than the other
How can so much happen between two Sundays
It’s strange that we should plant flowers purposefully
The idea of robots and missing something
We are missing something big
The quest for Atlantis
Age-old idea of taking things for granted. And yet it hits hard, with a force.
It rolls over like waves, with renewed gusto
Michelle Junot is the author of Notes from My Phone (Mason Jar Press) and and the floor was always lava (PralinePublishing). She was born and raised in Louisiana, but has been in Baltimore since completing her MFA at UB in 2014.