That time Nell Zink slid into my DMs

Since I began drafting this post, @NellZink on Twitter is no more. These DMs, screen-shots taken just before they went poof, are even more precious now. For those not in the know, Nell Zink wrote breakout novel The Wallcreeper (2014), National Book Award longlisted Mislaid (2015), and has a new novel, Nicotine, due out this fall. 

I’ve had a couple of exciting Twitter moments. The first was figuring out how Twitter actually works in 2010. In 2011, I coined a hashtag that’s still in use. In 2012, a celebrity replied to me for the first time (J to the Roc). Since then, I’ve chatted with many authors, of course. But none of these moments compare to receiving an unexpected DM from Nell Zink.

Nell Zink Twitter

@NellZink’s profile pic. Who needs a blue check mark when you’ve got a blue bird on your head?

@NellZink doesn’t have the blue check mark, but her profile is pretty on-brand: Goethe quoted in her bio, sparkly-blue-bird-fascinator in her profile pic, and the best part, her background pic, in which she gazes adoringly at a statue of Charles Dickens, side by side with Little Nell.

I don’t have a handle on her Twitter M.O. She deletes many of her tweets and pretty much all of her @ replies, only follows a handful of German accounts, and she likes, but never retweets, praise for her novels. But she’s out there, searching. If you tweet about her or Jonathan Franzen, as I am wont to do, you might just hear from her. I caught her eye with a silly tweet about JFranz sex scenes.

I won’t reveal the content of the DMs we exchanged, not because there was anything racy or controversial, but because that would be rude. I will reveal that it was I who stopped replying, and I feel awful about it, but the pressure was getting to me. Each morning of that magical week in August, I had to think of something intelligent to say to Nell Zink. I couldn’t hack it. Forgive me.

Okay, one thing: she taught me the phrase “O tempora, o mores!” which is a fancy way to say “kids these days.” This was in reference to Fifty Shades of Grey. Also, she read my review of The Wallcreeper and said it was “cute.”

When I worked up the nerve to get back in touch, Nell was kind enough to answer a few questions in honour of Franzen in February. She asked me to stress that this interview was conducted in Twitter DMs, as she is known for disliking email interviews and would like to keep it that way.

@LauraTFrey: You and Mr. Franzen are champions of each other’s work, but do you influence each other? Do you think you influenced Purity, and did he influence Nicotine?

@NellZink: He’s the hero of NICOTINE (in code), but I don’t think I influenced PURITY because he doesn’t pay that much attention.

@LauraTFrey: Will he blurb Nicotine? I’d love to see your blurb on one of his books…

@NellZink: He didn’t blurb any of my books; he blurbed me as a writer (as a way of getting around his refusal to write blurbs). MISLAID didn’t have blurbs – it had quotes from rave reviews of THE WALLCREEPER. Which is different and better.

@LauraTFrey: You said in your n+1 review of Purity that you hate most novels. Do you mean modern novels? Do you keep trying/reading or have you given up?

@NellZink: I’m picky, but I find good things to read fairly often. The odds that any given galley will float my boat are apparently so poor that I’ve started telling editors not to bother. Either that or people have a strange idea of what I might like.

Nell Zink DMs

Farewell, @NellZink, and thanks for sliding into my DMs


  1. Naomi

    If I ever decide to join Twitter, I’ll be coming back to that link on how to use it. 🙂
    (My husband went to school with Torrens.)
    What does the blue check mean??

    • Grab the Lapels

      A blue check means a Twitter account has been verified. The person tweeting is who she says she is. Otherwise, people make up parody accounts, fan accounts, etc. My best/most famous retweet so far was by Guillermo del Toro. I reviewed a graphic novel, and I guess he is friends with the graphic novelist, Joann Sfar (who also retweeted me). Yay! Sfar was in the news recently for refusing to have his name on the list of possible winners for the lifetime achievement award from Angoulême because the committee didn’t pick a single woman to be in the running. He also works for Charlie Hebdo. Twitter can be fun!

      • Grab the Lapels

        You’re welcome! I got into Twitter not terribly long ago myself. I HATE Facebook and much prefer the little blips people write on Twitter. They have to be more conscious of what they want to say and say it in a smarter way. Also, if you unfollow someone, they don’t tend to notice like they do on Facebook, which is nice. I’ve had real-life arguments about not being someone’s friend on Facebook. I also make sure that I ONLY talk about books or writers on Twitter. I don’t do any personal posts, and I find it very helpful to have these boundaries and to not cross them. You can even use the name of your blog as your handle.

      • Naomi

        Thanks, this has been helpful. Being able to unfollow without them noticing is huge for me – I wouldn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings! And, I can see it working well and keeping it simple by having a focus. Hmm. I’m getting there…

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  3. tanya

    That’s pretty awesome. I love it when a twitter conversation happens with an author.
    I just got back from Paris and was devastated to learn that Zink will be speaking at Shakespeare and Company next week. I missed her by one week! How awful is that? I still haven’t read Wallcreeper and I can’t wait for Nicotine.

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