Bustle Book Club

Ottessa Moshfegh Is Writing Out Loud

As a screenwriting duo, the author and her husband have developed a “high intensity” way of working.

The cover of Ottessa Moshfegh's novel 'Eileen.'

When Ottessa Moshfegh first met her now-husband, author Luke Goebel, there was no question the two would collaborate. But although they’d both published novels — Moshfegh is most well-known for My Year of Rest and Relaxation, while Goebel wrote Fourteen Stories, None of Them Are Yours — it wasn’t a book they were interested in working on. “We met in my apartment in East Hollywood, which, as a fiction writer is such a cinematic place to live,” Moshfegh tells Bustle. “So when we would be talking about a story on a walk or over dinner it was always a film that we would be imagining together.”

Their first project was the 2022 Jennifer Lawrence film, Causeway. They enjoyed the work so much that when the opportunity arose to adapt Moshfegh’s own novel, the Pen/Hemingway Award-winning Eileen, they jumped at it. “When I was writing the book I could see it as a Hitchcock-esque, modern noir film. One with a very contemporary point of view,” she says. Set in 1960s Boston, Eileen follows its titular protagonist (Thomasin McKenzie) as her mundane life working in a corrections facility for teenage boys is upended by the arrival of the glamorous new psychologist Rebecca (Anne Hathaway). Now in theaters, the film adaptation is every bit the noir Moshfegh envisioned.

“When we would be talking about a story on a walk or over dinner it was always a film that we would be imagining together.”

The writing process, on the other hand, was more of a dramedy. “The way that we like to work together is at high speed and high intensity, sitting across from one another arguing for 14 hours a day. And that's basically what happened when we decided we wanted to do Eileen,” she says. Arguments aside, Moshfegh and Goebel — who are now working on the script for Rest and Relaxation — manage to find fun in all the intensity. “Luke and I act out every scene. We would get up, do it, and see what we were feeling or what surprised us by the other person,” she adds. “I feel like I’m using my heart and mind more dynamically, and out loud, when I’m writing screenplays.”

Below, Moshfegh reflects on Depop, scouring YouTube for certain frequencies, and her husband’s popcorn talents.

On the book she read three times:

The best book I read recently is a work of nonfiction called Contradiction Days by JoAnna Novak, who's a friend of mine. It's a memoir about [being pregnant] while in a residency in Taos, New Mexico, to write about the painter, Agnes Martin. It is so honest, disturbing, and gorgeous. It upset me, moved me, and made me laugh. I had to read it three times to be able to walk away from it.

On her husband’s culinary talents:

I eat really simply during the day; I love toast. Dinner is always my big, exciting meal so that I can sort of sit back and reward myself after I’ve “written a lot.” But my night snack is popcorn. I’m married to the current best popcorn-popper in North America. So we eat a lot of popcorn.

On procrastinating on Depop:

I’m a hoarder. I’ve been hoarding vintage jewelry and clothing since high school, and I’m constantly going through these bins full of jewelry and unearthing things and letting them go on Depop. That's probably the weirdest thing [in my writing process] — my vintage hoarding and attempt to declutter via Depop.

On her unusual writing soundtrack:

Occasionally, I’ll put on one of those YouTube recordings of a certain frequency. I have chronic back pain, so sometimes I’ll listen to a frequency that is supposed to alleviate pain. I can't really say if it works or not. I’m a very sound-sensitive person, the kind where if I don’t see you walking into the room and you're like, “Hey, Ottessa,” I will literally jump out of my seat and scream. So I like silence.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.