In Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing (Vintage, Apr.), Hough comes to terms with her identity after leaving the cult in which she was raised.
What prompted you to write this book?
I was always writing. I have probably about five half-finished novels that sound exactly like someone else. And it wasn’t until I started writing this that I started sounding like myself.
In “Cable Guy,” you write about the 10 years you spent as a cable tech and really capture the uncomfortable parts of the job: the smell of ammonia on your uniform, but also dealing with harassment at work. How and why did you balance details like that with lightness and humor?
I wrote most of “Cable Guy” sitting outside a bar when I was at work, randomly checking IDs and then going back to writing. I think the essay form freed me up a bit—I could say what I felt, I could add humor to it, I could joke about some probably horrific stuff, but that’s how I got through it. I realized I had some things to say.
The essay “Cell Block” recounts how you heard voices in your head while in a jail cell. Was that a difficult experience to revisit?
Opening doors in my brain that I really wanted to keep sealed off was not enjoyable. It was hard to explain which parts were voices in my head and which parts weren’t, because I’m sort of an unreliable narrator. My memories of that experience are a complete jumble, so putting it on paper and making it sound like something someone could understand was not fun or easy.
Why do you consider yourself an unreliable narrator?
Nobody knows their entire history—anyone who has siblings knows that you can all take the same trip and nobody agrees on what happened or who was even there.
And yet you can still have your version.
That’s kind of the thing. Your version, no matter how untrue your sisters think it is, is the truth to you. It doesn’t matter if I saw a snake eating a rabbit—which I totally did!—but how that affected me is still true.
What do you think is the theme uniting these essays?
I think it’s about being an outsider, being one of those people that kind of watches everyone else navigate the world and not knowing how to navigate it myself.