We were thrilled to speak with Emily Gould, the author of the essay collection And the Heart Says Whatever, the novel Friendship, and, as of this month, the new novel Perfect Tunes. A sharp yet tenderhearted story of a songwriter whose dreams get deferred after an unexpected pregnancy, Perfect Tunes is filled with insights about ambition, love, and parenthood. As Emma Straub puts it, “I gulped it down, as will all mothers, New Yorkers, music fans, and lovers of quick-moving novels that are both funny and deep.”
We played a game with Emily called “First Lines and First Times,” in which we asked Emily to share stories of her first times hitting memorable milestones, and then quizzed her on the first lines in famous novels. (Spoiler: She did VERY well at guessing the first lines.) We’ve collected a few of our favorite quotes from the #ScribdChat below, and you can watch the whole thing on our IG TV.
First Lines and First Times Highlights:
SCRIBD: Tell us about the first time you knew you wanted to be a writer.
GOULD: My class did a writing anthology when I was 8 years old and I won an award that provided a taste of the glamour of publication. This is the only award I won, aside from one for being most improved on my swim team.
SCRIBD: Tell us about the first time you got paid to write something.
GOULD: It was when I was in my early 20s working in book publishing at a pub house through an awesome friend who also worked in publishing (at Harlequin). I got a side gig writing the back cover copy of serial romance novels. These books come out so quickly. I remember getting the check and being like “I got paid to write words!” It was really fun. I have a ton of respect for people who write intense genre fiction.
SCRIBD: Tell us about the first time you fell in love with New York.
GOULD: I moved to NY when I was 19 and I moved here the same time the protag of Perfect Tunes did — May 2001. I was trying to do a junior year abroad but in NY. I realized pretty quickly I wasn’t going back to the college I was going to and was going to try to figure out a way to finish college in NYC.
I had been going to Kenyon College — nobody who I was hanging out there, save for a few very treasured friends, no one ever got my jokes and I had to apologize for my humor. I felt that I could exist a lot more easily in New York than in the middle of Ohio.
SCRIBD: You’re also known for championing women writers, as noted by your work with Emily Books — any lessons from running your own business for the first time?
GOULD: The big one is that we should’ve started with more start-up capital. I thought “oh, we’ll be in business and make money and put that back into the business.” In retrospect, if I start another business I would shake every tree before starting. We would’ve been able to publish way faster if we had each gone to the 10 richest people we knew to get $500 each.
SCRIBD: What’s one first you haven’t had yet, that you’d like to have?
GOULD: I’ve never had a book on a bestseller list. It would be cool to do that at some point. Now would be a great time for that to happen! Just putting it out there to the universe.
Perfect Tunes Questions:
SCRIBD: How are you doing and what has it been like to promote the book virtually?
GOULD: It's been really weird and bad but also good. I had a launch event on Tuesday. People came via Zoom, which included people who wouldn’t have been able to come otherwise if they don’t live in NYC. There was a question about circumcision, so it was really awkward to have many family members of mine to hear that but it wouldn’t have happened with an in-person event.
I was looking forward to traveling and seeing friends so that’s a bummer, but it’s very small potatoes compared to everything else people are experiencing right now and I’m really lucky that my family is healthy for the moment and the worst thing we have to experience is being stuck inside together.
SCRIBD: Music is a really prevalent theme in the novel. What songs or albums were you listening to while you wrote it?
GOULD: My friend who made this amazing playlist just put it on Spotify, if you search for Matthew Perpetua. He does these amazing mixes that are all for specific years. I was listening to 2003 and 2004 but he’s done them for every year of the aughts and some of the ’80s and ’70s. The ’70s ones are incredible.
It’s an amazing kaleidoscopic way to get back into the feeling of a time period. They really bring back memories in a visceral way that only music can have.
SCRIBD: Did you have a specific song in mind for the description of the perfect song?
GOULD: I was thinking about some experiences I’ve had interviewing musicians. Just thinking about what the moment of creation is — when you know you’re onto something good.
I interviewed Liz Phair for a profile — I’ve always loved her music and she’s a huge influence to me and has this rare thing that happens when you meet someone you admire and you’re not disappointed at all by the person they are.
[Note: these answers have been edited for length. Watch the full interview on Scribd’s Instagram.]
Curious to know more? You can read Perfect Tunes on Scribd now.