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Looking for some good reading to keep you occupied through the rest of the winter? DEBUT LIT intern and NYU creative writing student Cassandra Rodriguez looks back a few years at Ed Park’s award-winning debut novel.
  
Personal Days is a debut novel by Ed Park. It begins as a comical, satirical outlook on the office workspace, slowly introducing characters that have each their own tics and perspectives on their nameless company. With a deceptively lighthearted start, it gradually introduces offbeat characters such as Laars, a frantic Googler who takes a vow of chastity, The Sprout, the boss whose strange sayings and eccentricity sets everyone with unease, and Maxine, a seemingly untouchable figure to all whose charm seems to hide something calculating within. The prose is written with a collective first-person perspective that encompasses all the characters, with no set hero or heroine within. Everyone is influenced and subjected to the rapidly failing company.

Ed Park

(more…)

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The reviews are in, the tour is done, the debut is on the backlist and now everyone is waiting for what a first-time author will do next. The pressure’s on to see if the follow up project will show what kind of staying power a new author might have. How does an author keep their writing momentum going without letting the expectations interfere with good work? DEBUT LIT asked author Wendy Lee (who read at a 2009 event)  how her next project is coming along and how writing the second book compares to the first.

I feel that writing a second book is, in many ways, harder than the first. With the first you really don’t know what’s going to happen or what’s expected of you. But with the second, there’s pressure–often self-inflicted–to write something bigger and better.

For me, I’m currently on my second second novel. (more…)

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DEBUT LIT’s interns are like busy elves this time of year! Well, mostly because of finals and dorm exodus, but Cassandra Rodriguez had time to sneak in an interview with debut author, Fiona Maazel, for our website.

Fiona Maazel, author of Last Last Chance, was able to share her own experiences in the publishing world as well give her outlook on writing. She is currently a creative writing professor at New York University.

CR: How was the publishing process for you with your debut novel? What was your experience?

FM: I was very lucky because the book found its way into the hands of a great editor at [Farrar, Straus & Giroux] who really believed in it. Throughout our work together, I could feel his enthusiasm and it kept me going. It’s sort of a slow process—almost anticlimactic, really—but there were many highlights along the way. I kept having to remind myself to enjoy it. You only get one first novel. There were page proofs and galleys and the cover and advanced reading copies and flap copy and my first blurbs and my first reviews, and each of these felt like a milestone or mini-death (depending), and each came at a bit of a price because I was scared and wanting, mostly, a) not to get slaughtered by the press and b) to start work on something new. Happily, both came to pass, and it all went just fine.

CR: What would you say you have learned from writing your novel?

FM: That writing is hard! (more…)

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Good writing is good writing no matter what form you work in. A well-turned surprising lyric is par for the course for my friend Rykarda Parasol, who is a singer songwriter performer painter artist, you name it! The process of producing, releasing and promoting an album isn’t entirely unlike publishing a book, in that both mean its creator spends time on the road, schlepps theirs stuff, makes appearances and prays someone likes it.  I asked Rykarda about two things that musicians share with debut authors: making fans and promotional tours. 

 

DL: What is life like on tour? 

RP: I love being on the road. I just get in a mode and go with it. Here in the west, it takes forever to get to one place to another so there’s never time to be social. Overseas, I love it most. You’re only on the road for 3-4 hours and one can have a lot of time to dine, discover towns, write, and take everything in. It’s not always as crazy and rock and roll as one would imagine… well, actually yes it can be. For a girl, meeting guys is sketchy so that part isn’t as fun for me as say the boys… I like having something to do and doing what I love and feeling the work is appreciated. I like the towns and the people. I think I like watching the cement roll underneath the wheels. 

DL: What’s the weirdest/coolest thing a fan has ever said to you? 

RP: A fan once (umm, actually twice), asked if he could have a pair of tights that  I’d worn in a photo.  The coolest thing was someone telling me they only took 3 albums with them when they moved overseas and mine was one of them. The others were a Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen album.

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Intern extraordinaire Shannon Mich asked debut author Shannan Rouss, whose short story collection Easy for You came out earlier this year, what her experience with rejection had been. She answered by way of  historical timeline.

It is the law of publishing that for every rejection, there’s another rejection. And even when you’re accepted–by an agent or a journal or a publisher–nothing changes. Not really. Life pretty much stays the same. And hopefully part of staying the same means you keep writing.

Here, in it’s simplest form, is my own journey from unpublished to published. Actually, it’s not so much a journey as stuff that happened.

May 2007: A mentor passes my work to an agent who signs me.

August 2007: My agent tells me if there’s a God I pray to, I should start praying and sends a story of mine to The New Yorker.

September 2007 – March 2008: The New Yorker says no. So too does The Paris Review, Tin House, Zoetrope and Playboy.

April 2008: My agent says he has done all he can. I wonder if I’ve been fired.

May 2008: I sleep a lot and drink a lot, until a friend says, “nobody is a writer because it’s easy,” and I think, “obviously,” and start working on a novel.

July 2008: I send the beginning of the novel to my agent. He likes it enough to send it out along with the collection of unpublishable stories.

August 2008: An editor at a big publishing house likes the collection but not the novel. Some people are just short story writers and that’s okay, she tells me.

September 2008: My book is bought, but I have to write three more stories. This takes a very long time.

January 2010: Publishers Weekly calls parts of my book tiresome, cliched and phoned-in.

January, later that same day, 2010: I finish a bottle of wine and decide to give up writing. Instead, I will become an interior designer, win Design Star and get my own show on HGTV.

February 2010: Booklist calls my stories refreshingly sincere, offbeat and sad.

February, minutes later, 2010: I Google the Booklist reviewer and wonder if I he will become my husband or just a lifelong friend.

April 2010: My book does not win any awards or make any bestseller lists. I get one fan email. Fan is a generous term. I write her back, and she never responds.

May 2010: I tell people I’m working on a new novel.

August 2010: I start working on a new novel.

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When author Laurie Frankel told me she wrote more than a dozen versions of the first chapter of her debut novel, The Atlas of Love, before she and her agent agreed on one, I had to find out how that went. Below is her guest blog about that experience.

Guest Blog: First Chapters
Laurie Frankel

            The beginning should be the easy part.  It’s the part you’ve probably been writing in your head and planning in your fantasies for months/years/decades before you sit down and start writing.  My agent’s point was that often debut authors write really good beginnings of novels which then peter out halfway through.  They spend so much time and thought and heart and effort planning the beginning, and so much emotional, financial, and temporal capital getting started, that then they don’t know what to do after their dynamite start.  Myself, I had the opposite problem.

            I did have most of the first chapter all set in my head for ages before I actually sat down at a computer to commit it to, well, screen.  But later, I cut every single word of that first first chapter.  And then the next one.  And the next one.  And the one after that.  All told, I wrote a dozen first chapters, not counting editing, not counting revisions, not counting attempts to change things from within to make them work.  Changes from within didn’t work.  Beginning again didn’t work.  Trial and error and error and error and error was what finally worked.  Twelfth time’s a charm.

            What’s puzzling to me is why all books, all authors, all narratives don’t have this problem.  You can’t get to the meaty bits without the backstory and groundwork.  You can’t get to your people going intriguingly out of character until you establish their character in the first place.  Even when the story’s not linear or chronological, you have to start at the beginning — that’s what beginning means — but if it’s a good story, the beginning is probably the boring part.  In desperation, I took to rereading the beginnings of all the books on my shelves.  That’s a lot of beginnings.  On my pessimistic days, I concluded that all my beloved authors were geniuses, and I was a talentless hack, so I was screwed.  On my optimistic days, I concluded that all my beloved authors had an easier time beginning their books than I did for mine was different in some ineffable way.  So I was screwed.

            Now I’m 100 pages into novel number two.  It’s better.  But I’m having the same troubles.  I want to jump right into the meat of the story, and I could, but it’s not meaty without the what-happened-first and roads-that-led-there bits.  I have to earn that meaty part.  Did I learn anything the first time that will help me fix the beginning more easily this time around?  We’ll see.  But I doubt it.

Check out the first chapter that made the cut:

http://www.lauriefrankel.net/Chapter_One.html

(or, you know, buy the book — it’s there too of course.)

I’d love to hear how other writers have solved this problem.  I’m also doing a Q&A over at Goodreads this month where I’d love to chat about opening chapters or anything else. http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/36795.Q_A_with_Laurie_Frankel

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I recently got a brand spankin new rejection email. Even though many other people say nice things about my writing, it still stung to get a ‘Meh’ response from someone. To make myself feel better, I asked trusty NYU intern for DEBUT LIT, Shannon Mich, to poll the recently published authors we work with for their experiences with rejection. Below is what she wrote with input from Brooke Berman and Tony DuShane.      

Rejection is a reality that most writers face throughout their careers. Even some of the best-selling works of all time, such as The Diary of Anne Frank, To Kill a Mockingbird, Gone with the Wind, and more recently, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone were rejected multiple times by now-embarrassed publishers.     

DEBUT LIT authors Brooke Berman and Tony DuShane talked about their own rejection experiences with me this week. Both writers point out that sometimes audiences do not understand or are not yet ready for new voices.     

Berman, who was a playwright and screenwriter before writing her memoir, recalls that her play SMASHING was rejected by “almost every theater in New York” before it got into the O’Neill. SMASHING eventually led to an Off-Broadway production with The Play Company and a film deal. When people talk about her play’s success, she often remembers, “Some of these fans were the very people who rejected it the first time around. People are fickle. And they don’t always understand a new voice. Or what a piece of work can be until it happens. And once you make money, they forgive you anything.”   

Brooke Berman

DuShane describes the challenges of finding a publisher or editor willing to work with him on Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk. Since the setting of Confessions—within the Jehovah’s Witnesses—was new territory for a coming-of-age story, publishers and editors were not sure whether there was an audience. Although DuShane had worked for years to “make the story transcend the Jehovah’s Witness setting,” he says that it still took a “leap of faith” for Soft Skull to publish it, especially because for Jehovah’s Witnesses, anything written about them but not by them is considered apostasy. DuShane knew that he had found the right publisher because Soft Skull understood the intention of the manuscript.   

Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk

Berman and DuShane agree that for writers, persistence through rejection is key. Berman believes, “The right things have a way of working out, and that the more one perseveres (and keeps working on the craft of writing), the better one’s chances get.” She recalls the advice of one of her teachers: “Eventually, they realize you’re not going away.” DuShane advises, “Keep your ego out of it and remember that the story is more important than the author…until they get to publicity of course :).”

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Author Matt Stewart famously Tweeted his entire first novel, The French Revolution, to the glee of journalists nationwide. I asked him where the idea came from, and below is what he had to say. 

Matt Stewart will read with DEBUT LIT at powerHouse Arena in Brooklyn on Sept. 10 as part of the Brooklyn Book Festival’s “Bookend” events.

Thirty-plus publishers turned down my debut novel, The French Revolution, the first time my agent sent it out. With the hardheaded optimism of a publishing newbie, I diligently reviewed editor feedback, spent three months overhauling the manuscript, and tried again with a new round of publishers. When the first rejections rolled in, it hit me like a slow-motion freeway crash between tractor-trailers carrying toxic sludge and fireworks: four years of working nights and weekends on a book I loved may have been a monumental waste of my life.

Quagmired, I went a talk by Peter Shankman, a PR/marketing guru who often talks about how self-promotion will save the world. He recounted how, when unemployed in the late 90s, he printed up a huge sandwich board with his resume and stood at 50th and Broadway in Manhattan all day handing out paper resumes to executives walking by. One day of his stunt led to several dozen job offers; he wound up landing a dream gig with the NHL.

I needed something to happen, to get unstuck, to stand out. Hoping for motion wasnt going to change anything; I had to DO something.

Thats when it hit me: why not release my novel on Twitter?

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DEBUT LIT hosted release parties in New York and San Francisco last year for debut novelist, Sung J. Woo. His book Everything Asian has since been released in paperback. When I saw the new cover, I was surprised. It was radically different in style than the hardcover, so I asked him how that came about.

Everybody knows the saying — you can’t judge a book by its cover.  Which is true.  But at the same time, it is the first thing that people see, and you want it to be original, relevant, and eye-catching.  I didn’t think my hardcover jacket was any of those things, but I didn’t have much choice in the matter.  Unless your last name happens to end in Grisham or Patterson or King, I don’t think you have much input when it comes to your cover.  For a little while, it seemed possible that we were going to go with the “shoe cover,” which had three shoes — Japanese wooden thongs, Chinese slippers, and Converse Chuck Taylors — but ultimately, we ended up with the “kid cover,” with the boy holding the sandwich (it’s not a hamburger — it’s some sort of a breaded chicken or fish!).  By the way, those aren’t even his hands — I’m fairly certain the boy’s head was Photoshopped on top of a grown man’s body; look at the back flap and you’ll see two separate credits for the composite.

Anyway, my publisher was well aware of my non-love for the jacket cover, so they were gracious enough to design a new one for the paperback.  I believe Noah Dempewolf had a lot to do with the finished product.  Noah’s the artist behind Menacing Panda (http://www.menacingpanda.com/), and last year, I’d hired him to come up with two drawings for a broadsheet of the first chapter I wanted to create, as a way to promote the book.  So the two cool headshots that are on the paperback are Noah’s creations, his stylized interpretation of the two main characters, David and Sue.  With those illustrations, Elsie Lyons came up with a brilliant design that encompasses so much of the book: its time period (early 80’s), its feelings of adolescent uncertainty (hold the book at an arm’s length, and you’ll see the question mark), and a pizza pie reminiscent of Pac-Man, both of which are featured prominently in chapters.  And I just totally dig the deep blue/yellow combination; those are some real eye-catching colors!

 

As you can see, I’m thrilled with the new cover.  And having reading group questions written by Stewart O’Nan is the proverbial icing on the cake.  It’s perfect.
 

Sung J. Woo will read with DEBUT LIT at powerHouse Arena in Brooklyn on Sept. 10 as part of the Brooklyn Book Festival’s “Bookend” events.

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Famous debuts

Our trusty interns have been researching some well-known titles that coincidentally are debut books. You may be surprised by which ones were a first shot for some authors.

From Hillary:
Did you know that The Kite Runner was Afghani author Khaled Hosseini’s first novel?

This novel follows the story of Amir, the privileged son of a wealthy businessman in Kabul, Afghanistan, and the son of his father’s servant, Hassan. These best friends spend their days running kites and telling stories until an event changes the nature of their friendship forever. Even after the Soviet Union invades Afghanistan and forces Amir and his father flee to the San Francisco Bay Area, Amir remains haunted by his disloyalty. This quest for forgiveness brings him back to his native land after it comes under Taliban rule.

The Kite Runner was the third bestseller in the US in 2005.

Khaled Hosseini has now published his second novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007). This book has also been made into an Oscar-nominated movie directed by Marc Foster (Stranger Than Fiction, Finding Neverland).”

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