An Interview with Chachi Hauser, author of It’s fun to be a person I don’t know
Being a Disney enthusiast and once a Cast Member at Walt Disney World, Campbell Sullivan (MFA ’24) was overjoyed to learn that this book existed. A book of personal creative nonfiction essays that interweave stories of love, loss, “disneyfication,” familial history, legacy, gender identity, place, and a personal tie to one of the founders of the Disney Corporation, It’s fun to be a person I don’t know sits with the reader long after the book is closed. She recently had the opportunity to talk with Chachi Hauser about her writing and editing process, inspiration, the idea of legacy, craft, and love of place.
Chachi Hauser returned to New Orleans after three and half years in Paris, leaving abruptly due to issues with her visa. “…a move is too planned of a word to describe it,” she says. Her book, It’s fun to be a person I don’t know, draws to a close with her leaving for Europe.
Hauser: Yeah, the story stops there. It’s funny when you said, “were there parts of the book that I didn’t include?” I was thinking about that, and nothing was coming to mind at first, because I felt like everything in the book organically presented itself. But actually, I did make a pretty conscious decision to end it where it ended, which was right before the pandemic. After that, everything in the world and my life was so shifted that I could write this book forever.
Sullivan: I really liked when you said in your author’s note, that you were thinking about this with your filmmaker’s brain and that you left some things on the cutting room floor. I think collections are really cool and with this collection of a personal narrative and essays, I am always interested to see which ones make the cut.
Hauser: Yeah, I guess there definitely were other essays, but there were certain topics, like Disney related stuff, and stuff about my family, that I considered going more deeply into, but I was worried that it could become like a Disney memoir.
Sullivan: I thought the way you wrote each piece of your different stories was just like a piece within the piece. You know what I mean? It was just one puzzle, so I thought. I even write that in my little notes. I was like, how do you become this amazing weaver-puzzle-wizard?
Hauser: That’s definitely where the documentary editing thing comes in, it was less what I was taking out, it was [more] how do we work with the pieces? I had written all these different essays for a master’s program.
Sullivan: Yeah, the low residency one you mention in the book? Okay.
Hauser: Yeah, exactly. When I was going to graduate, I had to do a creative thesis and I was like, I have a bunch of random essays that have nothing to do with each other. But as soon as I started to put them next to each other, I started seeing all the thematic overlaps and how they were all speaking to each other. Because the Disney essays were the ones that I [originally] wrote for this collection and then when I put them together, I decided with my advisor to do these interstitial essays that are more of a love story, to create more of this overarching narrative, from start to finish. It is like a balancing act of where each one should go, and I did some flipping with multiple drafts of the whole book with different orders of the essays until they seemed to click.
Sullivan: With the editorial process, would your advisor and then editor help you make those decisions? Or were those decisions more on you and they supported it? Or did they nudge you in a certain direction?
Hauser: In the end, it was on me to make the final decision, but I couldn’t have done that without the advisors who I wrote these essays with. I had a very first early draft of this when I graduated, so I was on my own with it [after] and that was terrifying. For a year I didn’t have the editor either, so I was like, ahhhh [*sound of overwhelm*], like maybe this—I didn’t even know if it was really a book, I was like, this a bunch of stuff I wrote, you know?
Sullivan: You start out with the open relationship dialogue and then it goes to the younger you, and then weaves back. I was wondering what your decision was for starting it out in that avenue and then going back and forth?
Hauser: That was just the thing that interested me in that moment the most. And I wanted to talk about. And I wanted to explore. A part of me felt like I had to write—because I write nonfiction, and I have this weird relation to this family—I felt like I almost had to get [the Disney thing] out of the way for this first book. I enjoy writing about it, but I also think that other people like when I write about it. It’s like I wanted to write my Disney book so that I could write whatever else. If anyone asked me about it, well then, it’s here.
Sullivan: I love the way you wrote about place. I can tell how much you love New Orleans. I want to hear about your process of writing about place. You left, and you just came back, how do you feel now? Did you fall in love with Paris? And now that you are back, did you see it with anything new? Nostalgia even?
Hauser: Yeah, it’s tricky to know what’s real and what’s nostalgia, but every time I come back here, I feel completely at home. I was in Paris. Paris is Paris, and everybody loves it. You know, it’s kind of like Disney World honestly.
Paris is beautiful but there’s something not challenging about it. There are grittier aspects you wouldn’t know or see, like if you were just going to the Eiffel tower versus if you were living there on a day-to-day basis. It does miss something for me that I love about being here in New Orleans. [Here], you can never live in this fantasy that humans are in control. You know the environment is creeping through every crack in the cement. I’ve only been back for a few weeks, and already we’ve had flooding from just summer rainstorms. You know this threat is always present. It’s weird but that’s something I’m attracted to. It’s almost like instead of living in a fantasy world, where it’s like we are all going to be fine, climate change, even if you say that it is real, it’s not like a day-to-day problem you face, whereas here it is. And there is something about living with that reality that I like. New Orleans has always been sort of at odds with the environment and it makes people celebrate life with everything. Every day they are alive they are like, let’s have a party. I’ve never known another place like that. I moved here and I just immediately fell in love with it.
I think it will always call me back to it. Most people I know who live here have this love/hate relationship with it. They have this thing that they love and are called back to it, but it has all these problems, like the potholes in the streets. It’s to a point you could mess your car up if you aren’t careful and it’s not an easy place to live. There’re not a lot of opportunities for people.
Sullivan: When you do a lot of creative nonfiction, are there any parts where you are a little drawn to add some fictive elements, or do you try to keep it to your personal truth or the truth of the event? Is there a line for you as a writer?
Hauser: When this book came out, I did have a moment where I wondered, am I crazy that I put all this personal information about my life [out there]. There was a brief moment where I thought, could I have written some of this as fiction, and could I have protected people by doing that? But at the same time, it’s like a documentary too. We know that this is not what happened in a journalistic sense. I was clear about that in the author’s note. I write the stuff sometimes as it is happening but sometimes, I’m remembering. I’m remembering something that happened years before and I’m just trying to make it as visual as possible. I’ll take, for example, when my sister read the book, there’s like a brief mention of her running into my ex-boyfriend in Mexico, and she’s in front of this taco cart. I just described it the way I imagined it could have happened and she read it and she said, “It’s funny, that’s not at all what happened.”
Sometimes, I definitely take liberties in terms of wanting to make it as visual as possible without straying from what I think the truth of the situation was. It’s not like it’s going to be used in a record. It’s not a court document.
Sullivan: I love the way you incorporated other voices and facts in your pieces. Again, you weave things so well. When do you feel like you want to bring in that element? For example, I really liked it in the “ashes” piece and “the boys who wouldn’t grow up” piece, especially about the history of the Peter Pan performers. I understand this significance of what it brought to your pieces, but I just want to know what drew you to want to include it?
Hauser: I guess it’s what almost allows me to write the piece [in the first place]. I have this thing I’m interested in writing about, like the ashes and my grandfather—like his memory and all this—but it probably wasn’t until someone sent me that article. I think it was reading that [article] that really was the energy that helped me write it. Cause once I made that connection, I was like, oh wow. [Disney] is a place where people want to celebrate. Like rites of passage. Why wouldn’t some people want to live there for eternity?
I found that concept interesting and then how we remember people and how my memory of all my ancestors also lives in Disney World in a way. Sometimes, finding those little clues help put the whole thing together. The discovery of the Peter Pan stuff started when I was writing some of the personal parts of that piece. I was doing research about Peter Pan and trying to find [out], why does a woman play this character in the stage version? There were all these questions living from my childhood self. It was like, why don’t I just google it now? Once you discover those clues and make those connections, that’s where the energy comes from in the piece, I think.
Sullivan: I loved how you wrote the rides. I thought it was like I was already there, and I could really see the visuals. You even say it in the piece when you rode it later in your life, you saw it kind of like film with your filmmaker’s mind, like different stills. I was wondering, you also said you were a visual artist too, a drawer, so weaving in all your different artistic tendencies, how do you think that impacts your writing? Especially, like you said, with the documentarian lens. You kind of want to get to that truth?
Hauser: I think it helps me see the things in a visual way, to write visually, and show that ride like I really did when I rode those. I went on a trip to Disney World for the book.
It was the last time I’ve been and the first time I had gone in a really long time. I went and I took notes. I went on all the rides I loved and then when I went back home, there’s YouTube videos of all the rides, so that helped me really try to be as visual as possible. As I have mentioned, I think the editing part allowed me freedom in a way. I’ve taken editing courses with documentarians, where I had to watch a lot of rough cuts and see how you can take any two pieces of footage or any two scenes and then you put them together and it creates something fully different. That was exciting. I can take a scene from when I’m eleven and put it right next to me being on this ride years later. Taking those different pieces and fitting the puzzle together has definitely been influenced by my filmmaking.
Sullivan: Did you do this mainly digitally? You would move things around or print it out? Did you ever take some scissors, like get all manual with it?
Hauser: Mainly in [the] computer but also, at some point, index cards. I think other writers do that too. It is also a way in film. When you are editing you can have all the sequences on index cards and put them on the wall, and it really helped getting that visual.
Sullivan: Any advice for a budding artist or writer?
Hauser: I guess the biggest thing is the relationships you make in a program or any writing space that you’re in. Hold on to the people that you meet, the professors and the students, because when I graduated, the pandemic happened right after I graduated, so I was like, I’m alone, again, with this writing thing. The worst part of it is to feel alone in it, so if you have other people or peers you can send your work to, that just makes it so that you are having a dialogue with other people and not just with yourself. I think that’s really important as writers to keep it going and not to lose faith—you are also getting rejections from journals or whatever—[but] you have people rooting for you.
Sullivan: Is there anything you are working on right now? Or otherwise?
Hauser: I’m working on a few essays. I had been trying to work on something longer, right after I heard my first book was going to be published, and I was like, okay, I’ll write another book, and I put all this pressure on myself, on my second book. I realized that was not the best way to go about it. I should start one essay at a time, like I did the first time.
Chachi D. Hauser (she/they) is a filmmaker and writer. Her debut book It’s fun to be a person I don’t know was published by the University of Nebraska Press in March 2023. Her essays have appeared in Lit Hub, Prairie Schooner, Swamp Pink, Third Coast, Hobart, The Writer’s Chronicle, among others, and she is the new nonfiction editor of the literary journal Hunger Mountain.