Monday, November 24, 2014

My First Time: Elizabeth Rosner

My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands.  Today’s guest is Elizabeth Rosner, a bestselling novelist, poet, and essayist living in Berkeley, California.  Her third novel, Electric City, and her full-length poetry collection, Gravity, were both published last month.  Her first novel, The Speed of Light, was translated into nine languages.  Short-listed for the Prix Femina, the book won several literary prizes in both the U.S. and Europe, including the Prix France Bleu Gironde; the Great Lakes Colleges Award for New Fiction; and Hadassah Magazine's Ribalow Prize, judged by Elie Wiesel.  The Speed of Light was optioned by actress Gillian Anderson, who will be making the film her directorial debut.  Blue Nude, Rosner's second novel, was named one of the best books of the year by the San Francisco Chronicle. Her essays have appeared in the NY Times Magazine, Elle, Hadassah Magazine, and several anthologies.  You can find Elizabeth on Facebook, Twitter, and at her own website.

My First Editor

I want to talk about the relationship I have with my current editor who was also my first editor and also my second editor.  In other words, he is My Editor.  Otherwise known as The Person Who Makes Me a Better Writer.

The story begins like this....

Executive Editor Daniel Smetanka bought my novel The Speed of Light for Ballantine Books (Random House) in the spring of 2000, and the contract included my yet-to-be-written second novel too, the one that would eventually be published in 2006, entitled Blue Nude.  I still have the yellow legal pad on which I scribbled the words “two book deal,” while gripping the telephone with my agent on the line and trying to keep from falling out of my chair.  At the time, I had no coherent idea what any of it really meant, only that a very large publisher in New York City was about to pay an astonishing sum of money so that they could launch my first novel, my career, my future.  The Speed of Light was scheduled for publication in September 2001, and all the way up until September 10, 2001, I was caught up in one of the most ecstatic periods of my life.

Meanwhile, back in April 2000, I flew to NYC to meet Dan in person.  I’ll never forget sitting together at a conference table on some double-digit floor of a Midtown Manhattan high-rise, discussing our collaborative plans for the summer.  During our very first phone conversation in late March, it had become immediately clear to me that I could trust Dan’s impressions about what was already succeeding in the novel and what still needed to be improved upon.  Though I’d nervously imagined work with an editor to be intimidating and even discouraging at times, my experience with Dan turned out to be respectful, insightful, generous and inspiring.  We laughed a lot, too.  I felt as though I’d been granted a wish I didn’t even know how to ask for.

During the many months of back-and-forth by phone and email, Dan and I traded ideas about the novel in its largest sense--themes and structure, character arcs and storylines.  And by the time we achieved a completed final draft, I could have sworn we had considered each word of the manuscript at least once; the same goes for each phrase, sentence, paragraph.  The experience was exhausting and exhilarating, a challenge and a privilege.  I had spent ten years writing the manuscript before it ever reached Dan’s desk, but now I knew the novel was closer to my ideal vision than I could have managed on my own.

Fast forward to now, October 2014, and the publication of my third novel, Electric City.  My editor?  Dan Smetanka, of course, now with Counterpoint Press in my very own town of Berkeley, California.  Coincidence?  Not on your life.

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