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Married to Mr. Clean

A conversation with Sally Koslow, author of the Life Lessons essay.

By Sally Koslow
Rubber gloves with scrub brush and spongeJames Baigrie
Real Simple’s Noelle Howey spoke with Sally Koslow about writing, marriage, and how her husband really felt about her honest, humorous take on his dirt-phobic ways. Her essay can be found at the end of the interview.
 RS: What inspired you to write this essay?
 Sally Koslow: I got the idea after he had the dream I mentioned in the first paragraph of the essay [in which she forgot to properly sanitize a sponge]. My husband and I both work at home now, and as a result we’ve become hyperaware of each other’s habits.
 RS: How did your husband react after reading the essay?
 Koslow: He thinks I should be burned at the stake. I believe he knows the correct method for building the fire, igniting the match, extinguishing the flames, and disposing of my sad, charred remains. Kidding! I wrote this essay out of self-defense after he criticized me once too often, but it was done with love. Obviously I’m not all that perfect myself.
 RS: What’s your writing process?
 Koslow: For an essay, I start with an observation and try to get to the place where humor collides with tenderness. I write the first draft fast, then rewrite about 200 times. I also write novels, and that’s different. (Writing fiction is fairly new for me. I spent decades writing for and editing nonfiction for magazines and became editor-in-chief of McCall’s and Lifetime.) I start with a sense of where I hope to end, invent characters, and let them tell me what they will do next. As I write, my characters feel increasingly real. I try to see, hear, and record what’s going on, almost as if I were watching a puppet show.
 RS: What are you reading these days?
 Koslow: In the past year, I’ve discovered some writers whose books I’ve enjoyed so much that I’ve read them rather slowly, to savor the style. Charlotte Mendelson’s When We Were Bad; The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows; The Space Between Us, by Thrity Umrigar; and Jenna Blum’s Those Who Save Us were all favorites.
 RS: Tell us about your forthcoming book and any other writing projects you have under way.
 Koslow: This month my second novel, The Late, Lamented Molly Marx, is being published. It’s about love, loss, and relationships―marriage, sisterhood, motherhood, friendship―built on the infrastructure of a mystery, since, as you can deduce from the title, our heroine, Molly Marx, is dead.
I’m also madly working on a third novel. It’s about the complexities of women’s friendships, where self-interest trumps and conflicts with what’s best for another person. Schadenfreude is an important part of the book, along with reflections about changing attitudes and values relating to money, status, and priorities in American culture. See, here’s another essential part of my writing process: I like to announce a project so that I can embarrass myself into actually doing it.
 The Late, Lamented Molly Marx is available on
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