A quick chat with novelist Ann Napolitano -- author of A GOOD HARD LOOK: A Novel of Flannery O'Connor and WITHIN ARMS REACH. She's here to talk writing tips, Groff, English rock stars, Cholula hot sauce, and one truly bizarre publishing-world request.
Current obsessions -- literary or otherwise.
Cholula hot sauce, kale chips, and how to structure a novel.
Writing Tip #17 for Aspiring Writers – or #47 or #2. Your pick.
17) Be nice. Out in the publishing industry (and in life), don’t be an asshole. Whether you’re famous, non-famous, struggling or not struggling, remember to write thank you notes when people help you. And help others, when you’re able to.
Pep talk (or bootie-kicking) for the downhearted writer. Let fly.
I read a quote somewhere that said the first twelve years of a writing career are the hardest. This made me laugh, but it has the sharp jab of truth. It took about ten years of writing seriously before I was published (and that period was laden with rejection). Tenacity and persistence are the key to a writing career. Keep writing (regularly and seriously), and you will be published. You will get better. You will go deeper. That’s it.
What’s your reading life like? Do you have any current favorites or sleepers that may have flown under our radar?
I recently fell in love with a young writer named Lauren Groff. It’s such a huge, rare, book-nerd pleasure to stumble upon a writer who thrills, entertains and inspires me this much. I read her two novels back to back—Monsters of Templeton and Arcadia—and then a beautiful short story called “L. Debard and Aliette”. When I was done I knew I’d added another writer to my list of absolute favorites.
What other jobs have you had -- other than writing or teaching writing? Did one of these help shape you as a writer?
I was a personal assistant for an English rock musician and his family for eight years. It was a great job for an aspiring writer. I met legitimately fascinating people on a regular basis. In fact, they were not only fascinating, but often brasher, bolder and more poorly behaved than the people one normally comes across, so they made for awesome character research. The other big plus, for me, was that I spent relatively little time writing/typing during that job. Every day was different, but it involved a lot of phone calls and logistical planning with nannies and drivers and tour managers and running errands and attending photo shoots, which meant that when I went home, my computer screen felt fresh to me, instead of painfully familiar. I think I would have found it difficult to sit at a desk all day, typing, and then go home to type my stories.
Tell us a tale from the publishing world – something, ANYthing about that process from your perspective.
When my first novel was published, the editor for the English edition wanted me to change my name. Not the name of one of the characters in the book, but my actual name. Why? Because the novel was about an Irish-Catholic family, and my last name happens to be Italian. My editor asked me to publish under my mother’s maiden name, which was McNamara. She thought readers would have a stronger connection to the book if they knew the author had based it on her own history.
This request, quite simply, shocked me. In part because this was my name, and my first book to go out into the world, so I didn’t want to publish under a pseudonym. But I also didn’t believe that readers would care what my last name was. I was a reader, after all—I knew that we were smart and in it for the writing and the storytelling. Changing my name wasn’t going to make a difference. They would love or hate or feel ‘meh’ about the book based solely on its merits.
Up until this point I’d had an attitude of complete reverence for the publishing industry; my stance was that they knew what they were doing, and I didn’t. But with this request I realized the obvious: no one knows everything. I had to advocate for my book, and my readers, going forward.
Ann Napolitano is the author of the novels A Good Hard Look and Within Arm’s Reach. She received an MFA from New York University; she teaches fiction writing for Brooklyn College’s MFA program, New York University’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies and for Gotham Writers’ Workshop. She lives in New York City with her husband and two children.
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