Thursday, October 31, 2013

Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! I'm going Beyond the Margins

While the elves continue to toil away behind the scenes here at The Quivering Pen, industriously writing fresh content for the blog while I sleep (ha!), I thought I'd let you know about some things which have appeared in other places in recent days.  I interviewed Jennifer Spiegel, novelist and short story writer extraordinaire, for Mayday magazine--in an issue which also includes interviews with George Saunders and Alexis M. Smith.  And over at Beyond the Margins, novelist Ann Bauer (also extraordinaire) was kind enough to include me in an article about internet etiquette.  I'm excerpting the start of each article below, with links to read ALL THE WORDS at their respective sites.

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Sybil Weatherfield is a 30-year-old hot mess.  A temp worker in New York City flitting from job to job, Sybil is the riveting main character of Jennifer Spiegel’s debut novel Love Slave (Unbridled Books).  She has a boyfriend and is in love with another guy (the lead singer in the band Glass Half Empty), has issues with food, and writes a column called “Abscess” for the alternative weekly New York Shock.  Early in the novel, Sybil says, “I’d like something really, truly, completely unique to happen to me—something utterly unexpected.”  The same can be said of Love Slave.  Firmly planted in space and time (New York City in 1995), it’s funny, off-beat, 100-percent entrancing and unlike anything I’ve read in years.

Jennifer earned a BA in Creative Writing and Political Science from the University of Arizona, an MA in Politics (International Relations) from New York University, and an MFA in Creative Writing from Arizona State University.  In her long and varied career, she has worked as a movie theater concessionaire, resident assistant in a dorm, admin assistant, and a university professor.  According to her website, she also once set a microwave on fire with fish crackers.

I first “met” Jennifer online about a year ago.  We bonded as two kindred spirits whose first novels were being published in September and who were riddled with anxiety over this Big Event which was about to swallow our lives.  At least I was riddled—maybe Jennifer was only peppered.  She actually one-upped me (and a gabillion other writers) by having two books published in 2012: Love Slave and a collection of short stories, The Freak Chronicles (Dzanc Books).  Somehow, she has maintained her sanity and her sense of humor throughout the whole experience.  Jennifer and I recently had the following exchange over email.

David Abrams:  First of all, why 1995?  What's significant about that year for you?

Jennifer Spiegel:  I think I’m guilty of writing what I know.  I lived in Manhattan then, and the milieu was so very present for me when I was writing.  Love Slave is a novel about a moment in time, you know?  Sybil, a definite Gen X girl, will—we all know it—grow up soon, very soon, and begin worrying about other, maybe more important, things.  But in Love Slave, she’s in 1995, when things like the inundation of pop culture, the slap of feet on sidewalks, the sounds of city, the approach of bums, and the temptation of pigging out are in her face.  I chose 1995, because I knew 1995—and it’s after 1994, but before 1996.  I wanted to write about a woman of a particular generation whose post-childhood angst had not yet transformed into full-fledged adult anxiety.

DA:  There are also those very significant historical markers of 1995: the OJ Simpson trial, the Oklahoma City bombing, Superman (Christopher Reeve) falls off a horse and is paralyzed.  It was also the year Yahoo! was founded (I learned this while doing a Google search).  So, there is all this historical scenery in the background of your novel.  I imagine these events are as much a part of your life as they are Sybil’s, right?  Was there ever a point where you felt that too many historical events or pop culture figures would take over the book?  Was there anything which you cut so it wouldn’t be too distracting, this intersection between true history and imagined characters?

JS:  Not necessarily take over, per se, but distract.  I’ve heard all the rules for writing that require one to avoid references that date one’s work—and, in truth, I ignored these rules, opting for the belief that such details add to the novel’s authenticity.  My hope is that, like other novels, there’s something universal within the specifics, and the specifics make it richer.  Plus, I just really like cultural details in other people’s work.  That said, I did cut many, many, many rock ’n’ roll facts I originally sprinkled throughout the book at the start of every chapter.  I had used trivia to demarcate chapters, and I finally, thankfully, realized I was intruding upon the flow of my narrative, ultimately robbing my characters of their story.

Click here to read the rest of the interview

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Online Etiquette (Or The Case Against Literary Spam)
By Ann Bauer

Before my second novel came out, I received a Facebook request from a woman I’d never heard of or met.  We had several mutual friends and she looked like an interesting, likeminded person.  I had no idea how she’d found me or why, but I clicked “confirm.”

The following day I was carpet-bombed with messages, posts to my wall, links and invitations.  She wanted me to like her author page, buy her book, give her five stars on Amazon (oh, and Goodreads, too, if I wouldn’t mind), attend her reading 40 miles from my home and share her glorious NYT review.

Here’s the truth: She’s probably a spectacular writer I might like to know.  The review, which I skimmed, was glowing.  But I was so turned off by her methods, I defriended her immediately and never read her book.

Add to this the well-known writer who “reached out” to me because we had a hometown in common then assigned me a series of marketing tasks.  The midlist writer who asked me to blurb her book and sent me a three-sentence outline of exactly what to say.  The journalist I sent a friend request—because I admired her work—only to have her write back and say she would accept IF I would like her husband’s author page and buy his book.

By the time my novel came out I was sick of the writing chatter and jaded, which definitely showed.  I had a Facebook page, a Twitter presence and blog but I used each inconsistently, more afraid of offending than I was of low sales.  The results were pretty much what you’d expect.

I wished there were a way to market effectively online without being solipsistic.  Then I started reading David Abrams and discovered there is.

Abrams started his blog The Quivering Pen in 2010, two years before his novel Fobbit came out.

“In the beginning, this was my way of being there online in hopes that one day my novel would be published,” he says.  “I was making a home on the Internet.  But the other reason I started it rose out of my love for books and writing.”

When Fobbit appeared in ‘12 to critical acclaim, Abrams had to decide how to weave his own good publishing, award and review news into what had been, for two years, a blog mostly about other people’s books.

Abrams spoke to me from his home in Butte, Montana, where in addition to working on a new novel and hosting The Quivering Pen, he is a public affairs specialist with the Bureau of Land Management.  Here’s what he said:

You strike such balance on The Quivering Pen.  It feels more like valuable content than personal marketing.  How do you achieve that?

Thanks.  I do struggle with wondering sometimes if I’m shouting into a void.  A lot of the people I know on Facebook, for instance, are old friends from high school or people from Butte, so I don’t throw out too many insider-y publishing industry terms.  I try to use plain language.  And even the vast majority of my audience who are writers and editors, I figure they’re tired of being bombarded by news from a particular author.  I think we’ve all been on the receiving end of what I call “literary spam.”  Like you, I get really turned off by that.

Click here to read the rest of the interview

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