INTELLECTUAL POISE and emotional acuity strike a seductive balance in the work of Mary Gaitskill, who's currently touring for the paperback release of story collection Don't Cry. We caught up with Gaitskill to chat about "female writers," book covers, and her future plans (hint: they involve horses!).

MERCURY: In the New York Times review of Don't Cry, the reviewer notes that your writing "falls outside the domestic realism readers have come to expect from female writers."

MARY GAITSKILL: I don't know what she means by that. There are male writers that write in a domestic frame as well, and there are many female writers who do not. It also depends on how the domestic frame is treated. I'm reading a book right now called Agaat, by a South African writer named Marlene van Niekerk. It's a domestic situation, all right, but it encompasses everything from the most primal, basic impulses that people have to the most refined social dynamics. You can do a lot in the domestic sphere, so to speak of it as though it's somehow minor or inferior is wrong to begin with. And then to say "that's what you can expect from women" is also wrong.

In hardcover, Don't Cry has a misleadingly chick-lit-y cover.

I actually liked that cover. I've had book jackets I've really hated, but that wasn't one of them. The original hardcover of Because They Wanted To had a giant screw on it, so it read "Because they wanted to...." I threw a fit, I tried to get them not to do it, but they gave me even worse covers—pictures of cannibalistic-looking women stripping the clothes off of a screaming man, or a girl in a wet dress leaning over with her hands on her butt. So, I picked the screw. It was tasteful in comparison.

What are you working on now?

I'm almost afraid to talk about it because I don't know if I can do it or not, but I'm trying to write a young-adult novel about a girl and a horse. Which is absurd, because I don't ride, I don't know anything about horses, and the girl is from a social milieu that I also don't know very much about. I'm taking riding lessons to try to learn about horses—I'm actually scared of them, so that's a challenge.