Melissa Febos’ writing perfectly captures the web of connections that can empower us, haunt us, or leave us emotionally exhausted. Her first book, the memoir Whip Smart, chronicled her experiences working as a dominatrix during a self-destructive period of her life. Released in 2010 to abundant acclaim—Elle called it “shrewdly penetrating,” while Kirkus Reviews proclaimed, “Febos’s electrifying prose and unremitting honesty continually challenge the reader”—Whip Smart gave readers a look into a rarely-glimpsed subculture of New York.

The Monmouth University professor’s second book, the essay collection Abandon Me, released in early 2017, delves more fully into human complexities. It juxtaposes scenes from across the author’s life—from isolated moments in her childhood to conversations with those closest to her following the publication of Whip Smart. Febos doesn’t shy away from big themes in the book, dealing with questions of depression, addiction, relationships, and the bonds of family. Here, too, Febos ventures into complex territory, dealing with her connection to both her biological father and the man who raised her. 

The two books are “definitely related” in that they touch upon some of the same material, says Febos. But their form, and her approach to writing each, were vastly different, she adds. 

 “Whip Smart, I needed to tell in a very direct, transparent way because it was my first experience of being that honest with myself.” With Abandon Me, Febos says she could remain true to her interest in pursuing “a deeper truth” while also playing “with language and form and the art of it in a more sophisticated way.

“My capacity for understanding my own experience is so much greater, seven years later,” says Febos. The result, she adds, is “a more complex, more vulnerable book.

“I didn’t set out to be a personal writer,” admits Febos. “I honestly never realize how personal my work is until I publish it, and then I have conversations about the most personal aspects, the most vulnerable aspects. I often get reactions from other writers who say, ‘Whoa, I could never do that.’ People call it brave, but it feels wrong to take credit for that. To me, it is a very private process that I then send out like a letter to the world.”

—Adapted from an interview with Tobias Carroll