A conversation with Zan Romanoff


    Brenna Ehrlich spoke with Zan Romanoff about pounding Guinness with One Direction, the ever-shifting nature of fame, the complication of meeting your idols, why anxiety is multitudinous rather than singular and the first piece of fan-fiction she ever wrote.

    I am aware that not everyone reading what I tweet or whatever is a friend who understands my tone or will give me the benefit of the doubt.


    Brenna Ehrlich

    Given that Grace and the Fever is about boy band fandom, I have to ask: were you previously (or currently) obsessed with any bands? I, myself, was enamored of David Bowie when I was a child. Like, I felt like if we just met, we’d be best friends. Even though I was eight and he was my parents’ age.

    Zan Romanoff

    From where I’m sitting, I can see the Hanson poster hanging above my bed. I got it at a concert in 2011. I have seen them live 10 times. They were my first concert, at the Hollywood Bowl in 1996, and they were my most recent, at the Wiltern in December. We’re in a long-term relationship. We’ve never met. It’s fine.

    Grace actually sprang from my love for a different boy band, though: the beautiful dweebs of One Direction. I wish never to meet Harry Styles, because there’s no way it would go right. I do, however, very much want to go to an Irish pub and pound Guinness with Niall, and, once properly inebriated and anesthetized, share a single cigarette with my brother Capricorn Louis Tomlinson. Liam can come too, if he wants.


    Have you ever had a run-in with one of your idols? Who was it, what happened and what did you learn from the experience?

    I met Hanson very briefly at that Hollywood Bowl concert in ’96. I knew someone who knew someone at their record company, and she’d gotten me meet-and-greet passes. It was the most underwhelming experience of my life: we waited in line, took a photo with them, and then… that was it! They didn’t even ask our names! I didn’t get to see if (as I suspected) Zac and I were soulmates! It taught me what became the tag line for Grace and the Fever: never meet your idols.


    Tell me a little bit about how you define fame. Obviously, boy bands are famous, but as a writer, you do have a certain degree of fame yourself — you are in the public eye. What has that meant for your life and how you live it? Has it changed the way you act at all?

    I really, really, really don’t feel famous, but it’s true that there are people who don’t know me who know who I am. It’s really interesting, actually, how no amount of people saying “I’d heard of you before I met you,” or “I’m a fan of your writing,” changes this feeling — like, I think I imagine fame as an internal experience, even though obviously it’s just an external condition. And so I think not “feeling famous” makes me not famous, even though that’s not how it works. Truly, though, I’m not remotely famous. I am at best well-known, and that still feels like a stretch.

    Anyway, also, I think fame is a really subjective thing! I listen to the podcast called Who? Weekly that’s about, like, Z-list celebrities, and it’s fascinating to realize that there are lots of people who are very famous to me, but total nobodies to lots of other people. The hosts can’t keep the members of One Direction straight, for instance, which offends me to my core. It’s also very true that because I write YA, there are names that are huge to me, but like, even my friends who work in publishing have no idea who Jenny Han is.

    I don’t think any of this has changed the way I act in real life, but I am aware of it online — that not everyone reading what I tweet or whatever is a friend who understands my tone, or will give me the benefit of the doubt.


    You’ve written about anxiety in your freelance work. How do you feel about the way anxiety is portrayed in media today? It almost seems like a club people want to belong to. Like… it’s trendy or something. That strikes me as weird, as someone who grapples with anxiety daily and frequently has to turn around halfway to the subway to make sure my hair straightener is not plugged in.

    Ugh. Yeah. The meme-ification of anxiety is really fucking frustrating. I get the desire to align yourself, to feel explained, and seen — to feel, as you say, a sense of belonging. And I’m happy that we’re de-stigmatizing mental health, and talking more openly about unhappiness.

    But there is a real difference between stress, anxiety and an anxiety disorder, which is a debilitating mental illness. That’s one of the reasons I try to write about it: to explain that what looks from the outside like a thing that’s relatable and common is actually really personally ruinous. It’s a way of being crazy — seeing and believing things that are not at all true.

    It was the dream of adulthood I’d had as a kid, perfectly realized: to be able to buy all of the Hanson concert tickets I wanted.


    Please take a photo of your most treasured piece of music memorabilia and tell us where it came from.

    I mean! This is a limited edition poster from a tour the band did where they played one of their albums through in its entirety each night — fans voted on which one. I went to this show with one of my best friends, who loved Hanson with me when we were kids, and they played their first album, the one we fell in love with together: Middle of Nowhere. We had so much fun that we went home and impulse-bought ourselves tickets to the show they were playing the following night — she was visiting me in Connecticut; for night two, we went back to where she lives in NYC.

    It was the dream of adulthood I’d had as a kid, perfectly realized: to be able to buy all of the Hanson concert tickets I wanted, to still be so perfectly close with this friend.


    If you were on your deathbed and could only choose to read one book before you said your goodbyes, what book would you choose?

    It would truly totally depend on the mood I was in, but Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem or Francesca Lia Block’s Weetzie Bat seem like likely choices. I’ve never regretted rereading Slouching, but I think but I think Weetzie is the book that most accurately reflects the things I love about being alive, and I think it would be nice to revisit them one last time, to be like, hey, that was actually a pretty fun deal.


    Finally, please tell us about the first thing that you ever wrote. If you happen to have it handy, please scan it and send it along.

    Oh god, I have no idea! I started writing stories as soon as I could, and there’s a lot of juvenilia that’s lost to the ages. I can, however, provide you with an excerpt from the first Hanson fan fiction I ever wrote, extremely extremely [sic]:

    Megan had never seen it before, but she loved horror movies anyhow. At one point, though, she had to turn away. Tay turned away at the same time, and she couldn’t help bringing her lips to his. The movie was of no importance, their kiss was intimate and passionate. Megan smiled to herself as his tounge came in to her mouth, they played tounge hockey for a few minutes. Zac decided to move to a chair on one side of the bed. He glanced at his usually shy brother. He had known her for barley 24 hours, and there he was, making out with her during one of the better horror movies he’d ever seen.

    “Tay, geez, cut it out, would ya? I mean, this movie is kinda gory but that really takes the cake. Please!” he sighed, and Tay sighed to. Man, he wished, I want to be with her without them constantly interuppting. All the same, he pulled away. She snuggled up to him, and he sighed again, this time to himself. She was beautiful, a terfiffic kisser, in love with him… He saw Ike slumped in the chair. He felt sorry for his brother, since he was obviously upset and him and Megan weren’t helping any. Taylor racked his brains for a way to make Ike feel better, but couldn’t think of anything.

    About an hour later, the movie ended and Ike turned on the lights. The phone rang, and Megan left Tay’s arm and dove for it. “Hello?” she said. “Hey it’s Britt calling from L.A. Guess what. Since grandma has cancer and all, were coming out to Hicksville for a week.” Megan gasped. Her only living grandmother, her mom’s mom, was her soulmate. They understood each other perfectlty, but Megan had forgotten her with the exitment of Hanson. Brittany, known to the world as Britt was her mom’s sister’s daughter, and one of Megan’s best friends. She lived in Los Angeles, and jokingly reffered to Tulsa as Hicksville. “She has cancer?”

    “Yeah. They say she’s got a few weeks. Can you believe it? Also, my mom’s talking about moving us to Tulsa after she dies, so the family can be there for grandpa, poor guy.” She sounded really sad. “Any boyfriends?” she asked.

    Thank you.


    Conversation: 108
    Curated by: Brenna Ehrlich
    Conducted by: Email
    Edited by: Morgan Enos
    Published: January 17, 2018
    Total questions: 7
    Word count: 2505
    Reading time: Six minutes
    Hyperlinks: 6
    Imagery: 1


    Cigarette: 1
    Fame: Internal
    1D: Tough hang
    Idols: Unmet
    Adulthood: Dream
    Fame: Subjective
    Tone: Understood


    About the subject

    Zan Romanoff is a writer of essays and fiction living in Los Angeles, California.

    About the guest curator

    Brenna Ehrlich aspires to write a novel that’s a classic album. She enjoys taking solitary trips to distant locations and scoring the whole experience with the perfect book, record and restaurant. She often dreams (literally, while sleeping) of getting lost in unforgiving locales sans shoes or socks.

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