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Author Q & A with West University Resident Emily Wolf

Cindy Burnett
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My 31st Year

Emily Wolf's timely new book covers issues about being a woman in today's world.

Houstonian Emily Wolf’s debut novel, My Thirty-First Year (And Other Calamities), was published in early August. Per the publisher, on her 30th birthday, Yale-educated Zoe Greene was supposed to be married to her high-school sweetheart, pregnant with their first baby, and practicing law in Chicago. Instead, she’s filing for divorce. Zoe wants to understand why her plans failed – and to move on while there’s still time. As she navigates a paucity of grammatically sound online dating profiles and her paralyzing fear of aging alone, she also grapples with the pressure women feel to put others first. Ultimately, Zoe’s family, friends, incomparable therapist, and diary of never-to-be-sent letters to her first loves, the rock band U2, help her learn to let go – of society’s constructs of female happiness, and of her own.

Mimi Swartz, Executive Editor of Texas Monthly says about the book: "Emily Wolf's My Thirty-First Year serves as a real life road map for women's lives today. Through Zoe Greene, she shows the rest of us that rules are made to be broken – but you have to learn which ones. Most important, the novel is a thoroughly modern romance, proving that true love is only possible through self love.”

Emily is an ardent feminist, U2 fan, and native Chicagoan. A graduate of Harvard Law School, Emily now lives in Houston with her husband, children, and dogs. She volunteers with Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast and with her synagogue’s Board of Trustees and Social Justice Core Team. Emily has published several essays in the Houston Chronicle.

Emily Wolf

West University resident Emily Wolf's debut novel released earlier this month. (Photo: Alvaro Montagna)

Emily answers some questions that I posed to her about My Thirty-First Year (And Other Calamities):

What inspired you to start writing it?

When I was in my mid-20s, I thought that, by the time I turned 30, my life would fall into place…and stay there. This was not my experience, nor was it many of my friends’. I wanted to be a little more real and include all the messy stuff of young womanhood – the expectations, challenges, awkwardness, hilarity – in my novel, because I think women deserve this.

What do you hope your readers take away from your book?

It is a complicated time to be a woman. So I hope that my women readers in particular will realize that they’re not alone in wrestling with these complexities and feel proud that they have survived or are surviving them. I hope they will feel community with other women and empowered to appreciate their own strength and the lives they have built, whether they conform to society’s expectations or not.

What were the key challenges you faced when writing this book?

Life! Like so many other women writers, I wrote this book “in my free time,” which means it took forever. Pregnancy, childbirth, parenting, caring for sick pets, overseeing a busy home, being a partner/daughter/sister/friend, keeping up with my paid work…it all made getting the book finished and to print slower and more challenging. But I think the book dropped exactly when it was meant to. (My Thirty-First Year opens with the protagonist’s safe and legal abortion and dropped just a few weeks after SCOTUS overturned Roe.)

How do you come up with the title for this one?

In the shower! Water has always been a meditative element for me; I think this is why swimming in fresh water is one of my favorite things to do. When I can’t swim, it seems like lots of my “aha!” moments happen in the shower. The entire title landed in my head while I was shampooing it.

Do you have any say in what your book cover looks like?

Happily, I did! The brilliant designer/illustrator, Rebecca Lown, took the most important elements of the book and captured them in beautiful, potent flames. To me, the cover – the flames, the vibrant color palette, the strong font – all represent Zoe’s journey from dumpster-fire to building up her own strength. When I saw the version we went with, I knew it was the right one.

What are you reading now?

I’ve finally discovered Samantha Irby and cannot get enough. She breaks your heart open while making you gasp for breath from laughing so hard, all at the same time. I just finished We Are Never Meeting In Real Life and am diving into Wow, No Thank You. I enthusiastically recommend her work to anyone who appreciates unadulterated real talk plus wicked humor.

For more book recommendations and bookish thoughts, see Cindy’s monthly Buzz Reads column, her Thoughts from a Page Podcast or follow @ThoughtsFromaPage on Instagram. Find upcoming Conversations from a Page events here.

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