Vol. 113 (2022) 

Five Questions for Novelist
Caitlin Barasch




Caitlin Barasch earned her BA from Colorado College and her MFA from New York University. Her writing has appeared in more than a dozen publications, including CatapultDay OneThe Forge, and Hobart. A former bookseller, she currently teaches creative writing at The Writers Circle. Born and raised in New York, Barash lives in Brooklyn where Stay Thirsty Magazine caught up with her to discuss her debut novel, A Novel Obsession; a psychological thriller that has been praised as "...smart, jarring and funny" with an "irresistible narrator."

STAY THIRSTY: The protagonist of your novel, A Novel Obsession, is twenty-four years old. She appears to be on the leading edge of Gen Z or the trailing edge of the Millennials. What role did social media play in how your story unfolds? Is it representative of how those two generations have deeply integrated social media into their daily lives?


CAITLIN BARASCH: Social media plays a huge role—the machinations of plot hinge on it! My protagonist, Naomi, gains access to Rosemary’s social media accounts and collects enough personal information to orchestrate a faux-coincidental meeting in the flesh. And yes, for better and for worse, social media has become a crutch for many social interactions these days—while it can allow people to keep in touch with far-flung friends and consume bite-size updates about their lives, it can also unfortunately serve as open season for toxic behavior.


Of course, there are people who simply opt out—Caleb, Naomi’s boyfriend, being one of them—but somehow this makes Naomi more anxious, not less; for her it feels almost suspect to be a non-participant in the ubiquitous culture. (Though she also admires him for it!)

STAY THIRSTY: Obsession with another person can lead to aberrant behavior. Is Naomi Ackerman, the voice of your novel, who stalks her boyfriend's ex-girlfriend, normal for her generation or does she cross the line into mental illness?


CAITLIN BARASCH: Naomi’s impulse to Instagram-stalk her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend is an unproductive slippery slope, but it’s also common among anyone who uses the Internet, regardless of one’s generation. With so much information at one’s fingertips, why wouldn’t they indulge their harmless curiosities? But of course, Naomi’s decision to escalate her obsession—to literally stalk Rosemary in real life—isn’t normal at all. She’s quite a troubled character, as readers will learn, but does that suggest mental illness? No, I would never contribute to the stigmatization of mental illness by suggesting a legitimate diagnosis. She’s just an extreme example of what might happen if someone let their darkest, most base impulses drive their actions. That’s why I write fiction—to imagine and inhabit, on the page, complex and morally-compromised characters who flout social convention.



STAY THIRSTY: Are the relationships of your characters, male-female, female-female, representative of how Gen Z/Millennials think about relationships? Are internet trolling and personal stalking considered just part of courtship/friendship today?


CAITLIN BARASCH: While some people might communicate primarily via social media at the start of a relationship—be it romantic or platonic—I believe our societal reliance speaks instead to how many people seek to construct and present ideal versions of themselves online. It’s a potentially damaging desire, capable of warping one’s sense of self-worth, which can certainly manifest as a roadblock to true intimacy. But, again, my novel presents an extreme example—I know many healthy relationships, and healthy people, that flourish online and offline!


While my novel is populated by millennial characters, I think their fears, insecurities, and desires are shared by people of every generation. Social media distorts our perceptions, of course—but at the end of the day, we’re all human! I hoped to convey this universality in my novel.

Caitlin Barasch

STAY THIRSTY: Your main character struggles to write a book – even to find a story to write about. Did you have the same difficulty when writing A Novel Obsession? What roadblocks did you encounter in crafting this story?


CAITLIN BARASCH: I worked on two novels simultaneously from 2018-2020 and definitely had trouble choosing which one to prioritize, ironically hampering my progress on both. Ultimately, I had to ask myself what novel scared me the most to write—and then I leaned into that fear, embracing the vulnerabilities, and wrote like hell.



STAY THIRSTY: As a debut novelist, what was the path you followed to publication? How challenging was your journey and what did you learn along the way that could be helpful to other debut novelists?


CAITLIN BARASCH: I studied creative writing as an undergraduate and then again as a postgraduate student, earning my MFA from New York University, where I wrote what would become my debut novel. (This might seem like a conventional path, but writers don’t need MFAs to succeed.) I queried a few agents in 2019 who all gave me similarly constructive feedback, so I revised on my own for six months before signing with my now-agent in 2020. She actually discovered me via a short story I published in an online literary magazine—after reading it, she contacted me to ask if I was working on a novel. (I was!) It was serendipitous, but it also wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t initially put myself out there by submitting my work. Keep writing, keep submitting—rejections are part of the game, of course, but don’t let it faze you. Keep improving your craft, keep reading and learning from other writers, and then try again.


(Caitlin Barasch photo credit: Sylvie Rosokoff)



Caitlin Barasch   


All opinions expressed are solely those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.