“Online dating can work,” insists Kelly Brixi, heroine of Kim Masson’s debut novel, Craig’s List Chronicles: byte-size tales. “I know a girl who met her husband that way. When they got married, they gave out little chocolate computers as gifts.” The year is 2000, and Kelly is heading off to a blind date at the Met. She runs through the safety precautions with her best friend and hopes for the best, at least when it comes to looks, because she’s never seen her date before.
“Back then, Craigslist did not have pictures,” explains Masson (because I was born in the late ’80s and have no memory of those times), “blind dates were true blind dates.”
We’re sitting outside at Baoburg, where a few diners are bent determinedly over their phones, and I turn my microphone app on, slide it across the table, and begin asking Masson the hard questions about writing your first novel, indie publishing, and meeting the love of your life online.
In conversation, Masson is terrifically affable, the kind of person who embodies the ‘open book metaphor’ and laughs loudly and often. Her accent places her squarely in this city from birth—her speech is distinct, native New Yorker—although it’s hard to put your finger on it: what about Masson (and Kelly Brixi, for that matter) makes her seem so rooted in these streets? Her grit? Her can-do spirit? Her mouth?
Both Masson and Kelly say exactly what they’re thinking—even when standing their ground against a murderer at BQE Billards in Jackson Heights (where Masson grew up). Although, Kelly admits,
“I didn’t sleep a wink that night,” nor the few days afterwards. Sometimes, Carlos’s haunted memory creeps into my thoughts an rattles my dreams. When that happens, I like to pretend that night wasn’t real.”
And, for her part, Masson admits that this was one of the craziest nights of her life. But, she makes clear that while “between eighty and ninety percent” of her novel is autobiographical, “which is odd because these stories are odd, I purposely chose to do it as fiction because I did not want to write a memoir.”
The impetus for the novel came from a publisher friend who had heard Masson recounting some of her stranger experiences. “He was the one who motivated me to write this book,” she says. “He was so excited about it, and I wasn’t even pitching him the idea.”
Masson had been looking for an opportunity to expand beyond her screenwriting niche (four screenplays to date), so this seemed like a good move. Fiction would allow her to flex some bigger muscles, which meant having the “freedom to take my character and throw her in scenarios and see what would happen” in a way that wasn’t necessarily as linear as screenwriting.
“If I did things so linearly,” she explains, “it wouldn’t allow for ‘the muse.’ The muse doesn’t come every day. You have to sit and write, and you’re lucky when it comes. When it comes, you have to run with it.”
She adds, “It’s tremendous and having to keep track of everything—the amount of words and pages and all of these stories—so I think starting off, it’s good to be organized about it. But not so much to the extent that you’re too rigid in your thinking that you don’t allow the magic to happen.”
With Craig’s List Chronicles, the magic did happen and, consequently, I spent some time this summer with my phone glued to my hand, swiping through Kelly’s adventures in the city—from awful real estate scams to bad dates to run-ins with creepy pet owners and the mob—while Masson had me laughing so hard that strangers would give me side eye (Case in point: I challenge you to read the whole “Free Bedbug Mattress Giveaway” listing silently).
Yet, what still stands out for me about this book, even a few weeks after I’ve initially read it, is how deliciously unpredictable each story was. Yes, Kelly is smart and brave and, (un) fortunately, like a siren-call for the weird. But she doesn’t always make the obvious decisions. She goes with the flow; she dishes it out; she is kaleidoscope of New York City living.
Masson, in turn, gave each of her stories time to develop so that neither the chapters themselves nor the book as a whole feels harried. This may be in part because “the original idea for the book came about ten years ago,” Masson remembers, “and I had been kicking it around all that time, gathering stories.”
One of the stories happened in 2004, when Masson responded to a Craiglist ad placed by artist Teo Gonzalez. He was based in Greenpoint (then and now), and looking for a studio assistant. Masson just happened to be wrapping up her gig as a gold-leafer for a metal shop located a few blocks away.
When Masson showed up for the interview, she remembers with a laugh that Gonzalez “was so jacked up on coffee—He must have had like five espressos before I got there.” They spent the first few minutes going over her qualifications, which included knowing how to use the circular saw and the nail gun, and then their conversation meandered. “At one point, I remember looking at him and thinking, ‘I’m supposed to know this person but I don’t know why,'” she says. Sure enough, he called her back a few days later to offer her the job.
Their relationship was strictly business for a few months until (spoiler alert) a massive New York City snowstorm played its hand. Masson remembers watching the hail come crashing down into the streets and thinking of Gonzalez, “I don’t know what I’m waiting around for, I don’t want to be afraid, and I’ll take that leap of faith.” Twelve years later, Kelly would agree.
Tonight (08/03), join Kim Masson at Word Bookstore in Greenpoint for an exciting hour of story-telling from her new novel ‘Craig’s List Chronicles: byte-size tales.’ Masson will be joined by fellow author (of Brooklyn Spaces) Oriana Leckert. You can buy ‘Craig’s List Chronicles’ at Word, online at Amazon, or via Masson’s website.