How well can you know a writer by reading their fiction? Is it expected or inadvisable to linger over scenes that seem to tiptoe up to lived experience? In Keziah Weir’s intricately braided first novel, The Mythmakers, Salale Cannon is a twenty-something magazine journalist who has skidded into a professional black hole, her recent profile of an elusive—and, it turns out, flagrantly deceptive—playwright having blown apart in the public eye. (Weir offers sly side lighting on the publishing power dynamic, by way of an anticipated “What the Fuck call” to Sal’s phone: “‘I’ll cut right to the chase,’ said my editor, for whom I had once purchased Imodium.” The job is no more.) In need of distraction, Sal fixates on a short story by an older writer of middling renown, the details of which (the ingenue’s rose hair clip, banter about literary muses) seem drawn from their chance meeting years earlier. It’s a posthumously published story, part of a larger novel, Sal learns. In a stumbling escape from her Brooklyn life, she heads upstate to track down Martin’s widow and the manuscript. From there, Weir hopscotches across time and space, threading together flame-out careers and wildfires, astrophysics and the inexact metaphors that novelists filch from science.
Weir, a senior editor at Vanity Fair who relocated to Maine during the pandemic, is back in Manhattan when we speak, hours before a book event on the Lower East Side. (The cusp-of-summer weather recalls a line from The Mythmakers, framing an early ’70s infidelity: “The city lost its blossoms, its inhabitants shed their clothes.”) If it’s a role reversal for Weir to be on the receiving end of interviews, it’s also new for us, as colleagues, to talk with a tape recorder on. A buzzy novel would be enough to land someone in this wellness column, but glimpses into Weir’s strategies for living have intrigued over the years. She keeps a Phone Pot, useful for entombing an intrusive device during off hours. Her guide to the nonalcoholic beverage landscape is a bright counterpoint to Sal’s fogged-out nights. “For a lot of people, drinking doesn’t derail them the way that it did for me,” says Weir, who decided to stop at 24, back when it was easier to wave away a beer by saying she was on antibiotics. Now, with chicly designed cans of Ghia floating around at seemingly every party, “it’s so easy to just not.”
And, of course, there is the move to Portland, which Weir describes as a spiritual cross between San Francisco (her hometown and the setting for a follow-up novel in progress) and Manhattan. “I do miss it, but I think it is also probably a little bit of a mental rest to be in a place where people literally move slower than they do in New York City,” Weir says. She brings up something she once read but can’t place where— “that people often talk about an information overload, but what they’re really experiencing is a communication overload.” Forests are full of information of the visual sort, which is easier to process, as broth is to a sensitive stomach. “When you are in a big city, you are just getting numbers and words and voices and signs all the time, which can be overstimulating,” she says. Hence Maine, hence the Phone Pot. “I am always reminded that if I’m reading, I feel good. If I’m scrolling on Instagram, I feel bad.”
Such practical wisdom runs throughout this wellness diary, which falls—high stakes—over pub day. “I just really tried to reset and take a breath and enjoy the week. Everyone always says you only have a first book once,” Weir tells me. The Mythmakers glances at the years-long labor of a novel, as Martin toils on his debut: “…he tried to make himself write, but nobody talked about the physicality of writing, the way it felt like dragging one’s feverish body through deep sand.” At the same time, the very act of diary-keeping here has an upside. Weir brings up the observer phenomenon. “It’s a physics principle I will not be able to explain properly, but the idea is if you are observing the thing, the thing is being acted upon and changed by the observer,” she says. The morning her book came out, Portland was glum and gray. “All kinds of big emotions were coming to the surface. I don’t know if I would have gone on a run if I hadn’t been needing to chronicle it.”
Monday, June 12
6:23 a.m.: I wake up before my alarm, which is always more pleasant than waking up to it. There’s a whole morning routine with my dog, who spends the night shut in my office on the sofa bed because he is not respectful of human sleep needs. He’s bleary when I open the door, but then he stretches into a paint-me-like-one-of-your-French-girls pose, and scoots over so I can lie down to read. This morning’s book is David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews With Hideous Men. (A companion read: Claire Dederer’s Monsters.)
Half an hour later, still lying down, I switch from reading to working on my novel manuscript in progress, in an attempt to stave off existential dread about the book coming out this week. I’m rewarded by accidentally tipping the laptop onto my face. Hoping not to get a fat lip, I ice my mouth with the cold roller I keep in the freezer for facial-depuffing purposes. Seems to have worked!
8 a.m.: The dog and I walk to the beach, where it is overcast and moody. It takes me about nine minutes to walk there alone, and close to twenty with the dog because of all his morning sniffing. When I’m pressed for time this can drive me a little batty, but today I mosey agreeably along, glad to observe a living creature so sensually dialed into his surroundings.
9:15 a.m.: Usually I would be starting VF work around this time, but I’ve taken the week off to
better indulge in my anxiety be fully present during this personally momentous time. Instead of working, I deep-clean the house. Last year I interviewed Marina Abramović, a documented obsessive cleaner, and now I think about her whenever I scrub the countertops. Today it feels like a good way to exert control during a week in which control is lacking. Something I can’t control: book sales. Something I can: mixing vinegar, water, lemon rinds, and eucalyptus essential oil in a spray bottle and going ham on every surface in sight.
I listen to a couple podcasts while cleaning. First up, A Thing or Two, hosted by Claire Mazur and Erica Cerulo with today’s special guest, Mattie Kahn—my former colleague at Elle whose excellent book, Young and Restless: The Girls Who Sparked America’s Revolutions, comes out the same day as mine! The episode has a smart discussion of why teen girls are particularly well-suited to activism, and also a convincing recommendation for Saie Glowy Super Gel. Next, Ashley C. Ford’s Going Through It, in which she talks to Roxane Gay about deciding whether to have children. This is something I’m thinking about a lot these days, and I love hearing from artists and writers about their paths to parenthood, or not. (Sheila Heti’s Motherhood is a great exploration of the subject.)
11:20 a.m.: Play with fire by DIY-tinting my eyebrows with Just For Men Mustache and Beard, neglecting to spot-test, just two days before an event. But today the eyebrow gods smile upon me, and all is well in eyebrow land.
3:30 p.m.: After doing some book promotion stuff—sending emails; looking over edits on an essay—I head to the basement to work out, i.e., jump rope while watching The Idol. (Hari Nef continues to be fun as a Vanity Fair writer.)
5 p.m.: I drive into Portland to visit Washington Baths. There are saunas, an outdoor cold plunge and hot tub, and snacks. After my first visit last year, I bought a ten-session pass. Phones and pictures aren’t allowed, and it’s incredibly refreshing to be in a beautiful space that everyone is just enjoying, not capturing. After doing three rounds in the hot and cold pools, plus two stints in the sauna, I order a plate of dates and tahini and one of beet-pickled eggs, both of which are flaked with salt, and eat them in the relaxation room. There’s a library of books to choose from, ranging from Aristotle’s Poetics to The Tassajara Bread Book to Bathing Culture’s Hamam Magazine. I end up reading Jenny Odell’s How To Do Nothing, which serves as a perfect reminder to recenter attention and expectations this week.
8:15 p.m.: I pick lettuce from our raised beds, plus some mint and basil from pots on the deck, and make a salad. Greens, avocado, salted pepitas, and walnuts tossed in a dressing of California Olive Ranch olive oil, whole grain mustard, honey, apple cider vinegar, and salt, with cracked pepper over top. Delightful.
10 p.m.: Make a Teeccino with almond milk, tuck the dog in, read for about an hour, off to dreamland.
Tuesday, June 13
6:30 a.m.: I open my eyes—pub day!—to a gray drizzle and indulge in a luxurious 30-minute snooze, which ends with my hearing the garbage truck and vaulting out of bed to get the bins out before it rounds our corner, a huge success.
8:30 a.m.: I planned to take a celebratory ocean dip, but because of the weather the dog and I instead jog/walk to Fort Williams, a cliffside park one town over. It’s brimming with lupines and is home to the Portland Head Light, Maine’s oldest lighthouse. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, famously, used to hang out there; less famously, it’s where I celebrated my wedding.
9:45 a.m.: Take a shower using Trader Joes’ Oatmeal and Honey bar soap, which smells delicious, sort of like horchata? I follow that up with Skin Trip lotion, which my mom used when I was quite little and always swathes me in feelings of comfort and home.
11 a.m.: Brilliantly, I scheduled a therapy session for release day, so I drive into Portland and exorcise some book-related demons.
12 p.m.: Nothing feels quite as luxurious as wandering around to bookstores on a Tuesday afternoon, which is what I do next. I stop by Print and see The Mythmakers in the wild for the first time, a thrill! I buy a copy of Odell’s How To Do Nothing so that I can pick up where I left off at the Baths, and then visit Longfellow and grab Louise Glück’s The Wild Iris, on a recommendation by my poet friend Noah, and Phuc Tran’s Sigh, Gone, which has long been on my to-read list. Three cheers for bookstore browsing, a better discovery process than any algorithm.
1:45 p.m.: My brother arrives, followed shortly by my parents, plus his beautiful and rambunctious Border Collie puppy and their pensive little mutt. All three dogs get along great, and have a rollicking game of chase at a field in our neighborhood—a nice way for the pups to let off steam following their drive down from Canada, and quite entertaining for me.
7 p.m.: My dad makes salmon and pesto pasta, which is always my special meal request. My husband’s parents, who have driven up from Connecticut and are staying with our friends nearby, come over, too, and we end the evening eating blueberry and apple pies from The Maine Pie Co. Despite being gluten free, they are delicious.
Wednesday, June 14
1:45 a.m.: I wake up full of panic and anxiety. After an hour of trying various go-back-to-sleep techniques—counting breaths, EFT tapping—I make the exciting decision to take a bath. My husband did a big overhaul on our house when we moved in (I also helped, though my contributions were mostly cosmetic: painting, sanding the texture off the stomp ceilings), and one of my favorite additions is our soaking tub. I make the water very hot, dump in a package of Flewd bath salts from my friend Emma, and read about utopian communes in Odell’s book. And it works! The anxiety dissipates. By around 4 a.m. I am back in bed, and by 4:30 I am asleep.
8 a.m.: All the dogs on the beach!
11 a.m.: Similar to yesterday’s therapy session, I specifically scheduled a horseback riding lesson today—though this was to have something to take my mind off the book. In high school I lived on a little Canadian island off the coast of British Columbia, and rode horses there; because I never competed, I was too shy to join the school team in college and assumed I probably wouldn’t ride again. Enter: Maine. I started taking lessons with my trainer Lindsay at Cape Ledge Farm about a year and a half ago, and ride three or four times a month. Today I am riding with Silvio, a Flea-Bitten Grey with a penchant for big horsey kisses. It very much feels like a form of therapy, too.
12:15 p.m.: I start doing a Kirsty Godso core and glutes workout on YouTube but am too tired and instead switch to a few squats and lunges holding a 25-pound kettlebell. I only recently began doing strength training exercises, but have found them to be quite helpful in my ongoing battle against insomnia.
1 p.m.: Drive back into Portland for a gimbap lunch at Onggi, a really well-curated fermentation-centric shop on Washington Avenue. After mentioning to my parents that I like to go there with my friend Gracie, she appears, as though I manifested her! We all share the shop’s last piece of matcha butter mochi, one of the world’s more perfect desserts.
After lunch, we pick up some snacks from the Portland Cheese Shop for my book launch.
4:30 p.m.: After a 30-minute disco nap I get ready for the reading and then leave for an early dinner with the fam at Green Elephant, a vegan place downtown. Veggies, peanut sauce, brown rice, perfection.
6:10 p.m.: Arrive at Mechanic’s Hall (the country’s eighth-oldest member supported library!) which is hosting the reading. It’s a beautiful space that I discovered after attending Lily King’s reading for Five Tuesdays in Winter. Working there is a lovely break from the monotony of work-from-home life. Josh from Print arrives to sell books, and the games begin.
Tonight I am in conversation with Lynn Steger-Strong—the author of three novels, Hold Still, Want, and Flight—whose work I have loved for years. To be read so thoughtfully, by someone I so admire, is profound. And fun! I don’t love public speaking, but being in a room full of supportive friends, family, and a few lovely strangers, makes the whole thing pretty great. At the end of the night I have to press my fingers into my cheeks to relax my muscles, I was smiling that hard.