You’ve heard of the Atmosphere, a cult for toxic masculinity, now let’s get to know the mastermind behind it all. Welcome to another Date with a Debut Author! A Bookstr series where we sit down with a debut author and get to know them, their writing process, and their book.
This week we met with Alex McElroy to learn more about them and their book, The Atmospherians.
Date with a Debut Author gets you up close and personal with a new author you should be watching for, so are you ready to meet Alex? Let’s go!
Conversation Over Coffee
Since we’re just getting to know Alex.
Serena Knudson (SK): Which of your characters would you be best friends with?
Alex McElroy (AM): I would want to be best friends with María—she seems great. Though I’d likely end up friends with Cassandra Hanson.
SK: Do you play music while you write? If so, what’s your favorite?
AM: I often listened to “Heartbeats” by Tourist on repeat while editing. Otherwise, I tend to play something light and instrumental while writing.
SK: What other writers or books inspire you?
AM: Robert Walser, Helen DeWitt, Eileen Myles, Alexandra Kleeman, Catherine Lacey, Percival Everett, and so many others.
SK: If you could have any other profession in the world, what would it be and why?
AM: Dream profession: Small forward for the Toronto Raptors; they’ve been my favorite team since childhood. Realistic profession: I think I could make a decent life as an actor—I’m pretty good making silly voices.
SK: What is something you are passionate about?
AM: Biking! I bike everywhere—it’s my favorite pastime and way to move through the city.
Let’s Get Intimate!
Don’t you want to know more about this interesting author?
SK: The Atmospherians is a brilliantly unique story about toxic masculinity, what inspired you to write this novel?
AM: The idea for this novel came to me in 2015, shortly after Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me was published, and I was curious whether men could evolve beyond their lifetimes of conditioning. Sasha and Dyson set out to see whether they can.
SK: What was your biggest obstacle while writing The Atmospherians?
AM: The hardest part was finding the right tone for this book. I wanted it to be funny, but I didn’t want it to read as a frivolous farce absent of real characters. It was a prolonged effort to create that balance.
SK: What comes first for you, the plot or the characters? Why?
AM: For this book, characters came first. I had been writing about Sasha and Dyson for years before I decided on the plot for this book.
SK: What risks have you taken with your writing that have paid off?
AM: The greatest risk is returning to the page every day. There’s never any guarantee that someone will want to read your work, and it requires a real leap of faith to commit to the writing life. No risk I’ve ever taken on the page has been larger than the risk I took in becoming a writer.
SK: Has writing and publishing a book changed the way you see yourself?
AM: Absolutely. While writing this book, I came out as non-binary, and I never could have understood that part of myself if I weren’t thinking so deeply about masculinity and my self-presentation day in and day out through revision.
SK: What were you doing when you found out you were being published? How did you celebrate?
AM: I was at the library studying for my Ph.D. comprehensive exams—sooooooo boring. But I immediately drove home and had a celebratory cocktail with my family.
Fun and Games
Now that you’re well-acquainted with Alex, here are some fun questions and what they had to say.
SK: If you could write a spin-off about one of your side characters, who would you pick? Why?
AM: Oh, I would love to spend more time with Roger Handswerth. He’s the most fascinating character in the book, for me.
SK: If your book was chosen for a movie, who would you want to star in it?
AM: I’m too superstitious to name anyone!
SK: If you could meet your characters, what would you say to them?
AM: Honestly, I’d probably walk to the other side of the street if I saw them in public.
SK: What ridiculous thing has someone tricked you into doing or believing?
AM: I went to Europe in my early twenties and was repeatedly scammed—too many scams to include. I’m extremely trusting and gullible.
SK: Which time period would you travel to if you had a time machine?
AM: Summer 2019 to watch the Raptors win the NBA title again—as a friend once put it, that season is my “The Notebook.”
SK: If you had the day off, with no obligations, what would you do?
AM: Bike to the movies, see a matinee then sneak into a later show. Eat mountains of popcorn.
SK: What are some of your favorite book recommendations?
AM: Robert Walser’s The Walk, Deborah Eisenberg’s Collected Stories, Mavis Gallant’s Paris Stories, Patrick Ouředník’s Europeana, Gerald Murnane’s The Plains, Teju Cole’s Open City, Torrey Peters’ Detransition, Baby, Bryan Washington’s Memorial, Katie Kitamura’s A Separation, Casey Plett’s Little Fish, Conor Bracken’s The Enemy Of My Enemy is Me, Renee Gladman’s Calamities, and countless others.
The Atmospherians is a satirical novel about a discredited influencer and a struggling actor who form a cult called the Atmosphere. In the Atmosphere, they rid men of their toxic masculinity and heal them socially, emotionally, and physically.
Sasha was an internet sensation and creator of a high-profile wellness brand for women but was condemned to her apartment after a confrontation with an abusive troll. After confiding with her oldest friend and struggling actor, Dyson, Sasha can’t exactly turn down the offer to be the face of Dyson’s new business venture. The Atmosphere is a rehab for men set in an abandoned summer camp but sold as a workshop for job training. The program is to rid men of their toxic masculinity and heal them socially, emotionally, and physically. But what awaits Sasha as the resident female leader of desperate men?
Alex McElroy is a nonbinary writer in Brooklyn who loves to bike around the city. You can find more of their work on Buzzfeed, Vulture, The Cut, The Atlantic, Lit Hub, Vice, and Tin House. Their Chapbook, Daddy Issues, also won 2016 The Cupboard Pamphlet Editors’ Prize.