SOMEBODY FUCKED UP, maybe it was me. Between Galaxy Craze, her publicist, my liaison, and me, the interview I imagined to have been arranged was never scheduled. I was given the date of the reading as a day later than it was, and at the wrong bookstore. When I heard the author was already in town, I called her directly at her hotel. All I knew was that I was calling one of the nation's top 100 most beautiful people, according to Paper magazine. I knew she'd been in the films of Woody Allen and David Lynch, and that she'd acted alongside Peter Fonda. I also knew that at 27 she'd written the gorgeous first novel, By the Shore.

From her book jacket photo, I imagined she'd be tall (actresses are always larger than life) and beautiful in a robust, Nordic way. When she answered the phone, saying, "This is Galaxy," at first she was wary, asking me which magazine I was writing for -- then saying cautiously that yes, perhaps she'd heard of The Stranger. As soon as she agreed to meet with me, she was more enthusiastic. She said, "Can we go out to dinner? I hate to eat alone -- I've been living on candy!"

She asked, "Do you think anyone'll come to the reading? I don't think anyone will be there. I don't have any friends in this town."

As though a national book tour was expected to be supported by friends alone.

We met in the hotel lobby. I was surprised to see that her beauty is a quiet, dreamy, and ethereal sort. Galaxy Craze is small, unpretentious, and unassuming. In her quietness she seemed much more in keeping with her novel than the Hollywood/New York image conjured up through publicity material. By the Shore is a carefully handled story about subtle emotions and the strength behind emotions -- familial love as well as romantic and sexual love, the longing to be part of something, to understand the world, and coming to terms with an everyday sort of fear of the unknown.

We sat on a bench in a park and talked about writing. My goal was to interview Galaxy, but she continually asked me questions about my own writing and my day job. She asked about the city, the hotel where she was staying, and where we might go for dinner. I asked her if she worked on short stories as well as novels.

She said, "I've written some short stories, but I'm not very good at stories. Stories have to be so concise, so perfect. My stories had a beginning and a middle, but no end."

I suspected she was being modest. Although short stories are a form unto themselves, her novel is full of carefully chosen language, well crafted scenes. I imagine that if she turned her talent and focus to short stories, she could make them work.

She said she was between writing projects, involved in publicity.

When I asked her how she spent her time, she said, "I wanted a normal job, so I got one. It's part-time and I can make my own hours. It's organizing this woman's family photographs. She's rented a whole second apartment for the photographs. Organizing them clears my brain, and no one can contact me.... It's like a stuffing-envelopes type job, 10 dollars an hour." She said, "When I start writing my next novel, I'm not going to be in New York, but for the meantime the job is perfect."

Galaxy Craze is her real name, not adopted as a pen name or for the movies. I asked her what it was like to grow up with this name. She said, "Really not very fun, until I got older, and then people thought it was cool. But even now, when I say it's my real name, some people don't believe me. Once I wanted to write a letter to Amtrak to persuade them to let dogs on the trains, but then I thought, if I sign my name Galaxy Craze, they'll just think I'm crazy. When my agent first talked to me about this book, she said, 'Your name doesn't sound like this book,' and she wanted me to change my name. I considered using my middle name, Elizabeth; but then I thought, I'm proud of this book, and I've hated my name my whole life, so now I'll use it and have to learn to like it."

Toward the end of By the Shore the narrator, a young girl, reaches a calm moment, sitting on the sand at the beach, and asks herself, "How could I have ever been afraid of this world, which has given me everything I need?" I asked Galaxy about this line.

She said, "I got optimistic toward the end because I was reading Mary Oliver poems. Later, someone read the novel and said it might be more serious if it had a sad ending, but I didn't want to do that. This way, it was fun. And I like happy endings."

I asked if she planned to act in more films. Galaxy said only, "I'd like to write another novel." As a reader, left with that faint sense of loss coupled with contentment when a good novel ends, I certainly hope that she does.

Between Fame and Stuffing Envelopes