And now, for our final debutante: Arlaina Tibensky! Arlaina was one of our very first authors (Issue #3, “Buying the Farm”). Now she has published her first book, And Then Things Fall Apart, and will be escorted by Tara Altebrando on April 20th, as she takes her bow at the One Story Literary Debutante Ball. Recently, we had a chat with Arlaina to see what it’s like to be a 2012 Literary Debutante.
1) Where were you when you found out your first book was going to be published? How did you celebrate?
On my mom’s birthday—isn’t that weird? The agent I had queried to death took it on and called to tell me on my birthday and a month later it was acquired by Simon and Schuster on my mom’s birthday. I had a nursing 3 month-old baby and was all hormone cuckoo but drank a whole bottle of cava with my husband and then 3 year-old at the living room table. Did we order in Indian food? Maybe. It’s all a blur.
2) One Story published “Buying the Farm” in May, 2002. What has happened to you since then? And how did your writing change between your story’s appearance in One Story and the publication of And Then Things Fall Apart?
What HASN’T happened to me since then? That was 10 years ago! I got married, had not one but TWO kids. Moved 3 times. Started curating the Pen Parentis Literary Salon, a reading series dedicated to celebrating and promoting the work of writers who are parents. “Buying the Farm” is a story about a teenaged girl on an ostrich farm. The success of that story really helped me discover my strengths as a writer and realize the power of teen protagonists. It took me a while to figure out how to take the momentum of this voice and turn it into a YA novel but once I did, I felt a whole world open up for me as an artist.
3) What was the revision process like for you? What advice would you give to writers currently working on their first books?
My revision process was a PROCESS. My MS was rather short but the voice and the bones of the novel were there. The MS that sold was 125 pages so I had to churn out pages and pages on an insane deadline, working with my editor to get it to 250. My advice for writers working on a book-length manuscript is to make sure it is book length. For real. Finish your book as completely as you can before taking it for a stroll in the publishing world. I’d heard that advice a lot but until I lived it I thought it was annoying, like something fancy published writers told you to depress and discourage your meteoric rise. But they were just telling it like it is.
4) On your blog, you describe And Then Things Fall Apart as a “young adult novel.” What drew you to young adult fiction, as a genre? What is it like writing serious fiction geared towards a younger audience?
All my most successful stories had first person teen protagonists. My voice is eternally 17 and being in that brain and writing from that place is where my strongest writing seems to come from. The teen age is so evocative and boundary-free. Sometimes I feel that contemporary adult fiction has too many rules, belief cannot be suspended, a lot of those books are all about the dissatisfaction with modern life. I’m not really interested in that. My favorite books have always been about the teenaged, the bizarre, and unusual, The Master and Margarita, Feed, Swamplandia, Geek Love, The Diary of Adrian Mole age 13 ¾. I like to think that my books appeal to readers who love literary fiction. Of any age. Writing serious fiction geared toward a younger audience isn’t different from writing for full-on adults, except maybe I have more confidence writing it.
5) What are you most looking forward to about the One Story Literary Debutante Ball on April 20th?
Meeting all these amazing writers! It’s such a weird lonely world, this writing. I mean, I love it and all but really, it’s me in my apartment, hacking away with headphones on, taking breaks to tweet and read dumb blogs about nail polish and then eating lunch, then doing business-y crap and then making dinner before getting the kids from school. It’s a weird narcissistic lonely life and seeing other writers out in the wild is always fun and exciting. And the drinks. And the art. And this year, I want to really talk about, what else, One Teen Story!