Earlier this week the Women’s National Book Association (WNBA) sponsored an event at Brooklyn’s Greenlight Bookstore as part of the National Reading Group Month.
A panel of authors that included Rick Moody and Sheri Holman came to share their unique insights into the writing, editorial, and publishing process. It was a wonderful event in a great location (the 7 line is right around the corner) and a free smorgasbord of cheese and wine was available both before and after the panel discussion that, of course, served only to enhance the pleasure of the evening’s festivities. The polished wood paneling and walls of books that surrounded both authors and guests alike made for a more intimate atmosphere.
Valerie Tomaselli, vice-president of “the original WNBA,” began by introducing herself and talking about both her organization and her appreciation for co-owner Jessica Bagnulo’s indie Greenlight Bookstore for continuing to host these events.
The actual discussion between the moderator, Rosalind Reisner, and the authors began with a look at their most current novels and an elucidation of the various processes of how they came to fruition. Jackson Taylor, author of The Blue Orchard, looked to his grandmother’s inspirational and difficult life to form the basis of his novel. Her work as an abortionist had been something of a family secret before Jackson slowly pried pieces of information from family members, some of whom subsequently found the novel so distasteful and revealing that they still spite him for publishing it. Other authors, like Rick Moody, drew from their childhood. Rick grew up watching B horror movies, and one in particular, The Crawling Hand, was so poorly done that he knew he had to write a book around it.
When asked about how research factors into the creative process, Rick says that he “does a lot of making stuff up,” and that rather than researching about a particular subject for which there’s no end of information (his new novel, The Four Fingers of Death features NASA rocket launches and space travel), “you have to know widely.” Writing artfully and with imagination will always take precedence over historical or factual accuracy.
The author’s comments on the publishing and marketing process were particularly interesting to me, as this eclectic group of people are the very type I plan to work with in the future as an editor. When his book was still in the publishing process, Jackson was pleased to hear that his publisher, Simon & Schuster, had made a tremendous advanced sale to Wal-Mart. Of course S&S; pitched the book as a “woman’s indomitable struggle against all odds,” etc. but of course failed to mention her work as an abortionist which Wal-Mart then discovered just prior to the release date. All advanced sales were cancelled and Wal-Mart refused to carry the book.
Mr. Moody says it’s the “worst market [he’s] ever seen” for trying to get your work published, but that “people are going to read, and writers are going to write.” Another author at the event, Susan Henderson, seconded those sentiments, pointing out that there is “nothing smart about being a writer in the first place,” and that authors are simply obeying “an urgent voice inside of you saying, ‘tell this story!’”
In regards to editing, Susan remarked that the editorial process was like having a finished knitted sweater, then being asked to change some of the stitching around the shoulder. An author will say, “aha!” and appreciate the good advice, but one must “unravel the whole sweater” to get operate on the problem. Emily St. John Mandel, author of The Singer’s Gun, agreed, and adds that “the book was better for all the painful revisions” and that the process was definitely worthwhile. Both were thankful for editors who never pushed them to make changes, but simply suggested ideas. Because no one mentioned bad editors or books that came out the worse for the editorial process, I feel a bit more confident that I won’t mangle some poor author’s manuscript.
Greenlight Bookstore celebrated its one-year anniversary last week, and is now launching three book clubs beginning in January for adult fiction, mothers, and young adults aged 8 – 14. Go there, sign up, shop, and be on the lookout for their next event!