Introducing Our Debutantes: Arlaina Tibensky

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!

Introducing Our Debutantes: Anna Solomon

Our next literary debutante is Anna Solomon, author of the novel The Little Bride, which Bookpage called: “A fascinating debut… riveting… Solomon’s prose is bold and often gritty, and she creates complicated, surprising characters that completely defy expectations, displaying the depths of the author’s careful research and rich imagination.” Before Anna walks down the aisle at the One Story Literary Debutante Ball, we sent her a few questions about her debut author experience:

1) Where were you when you found out your first book was going to be published? How did you celebrate?

I was in a used kids’ clothing store with a friend and our toddler daughters. It was Friday afternoon and I’d been waiting all week for news from my agent. I was beginning to despair that I’d have to get through another weekend on pins-and-needles, and then the call came. I felt dizzy, ecstatic, relieved, then totally exhausted. On the way home my friend bought a bottle of champagne and we toasted while the girls drank juice.

2) One Story published your story “What is Alaska Like?” in April, 2006. What has happened to you since then? Did anything interesting transpire between your appearance in One Story and the publication of The Little Bride?

Gosh, I hope so. Six years without anything interesting happening? Writing-wise, I started playing around more with my stories, taking new risks in terms of structure and point-of-view. I actually wrote one story, called “The Long Net,” that’s kind of a retake of “What Is Alaska Like?” Of course, I didn’t realize this until after I’d written it. And it’s not the same story. But in a lot of ways I was revisiting and refining the themes from the earlier one. I guess we do this throughout our writing lives. Anyway, that story won The Missouri Review Editor’s Prize last year – hopefully some day they’ll both be in a collection and people can compare and accuse me of plagiarizing myself.

On a personal level, I had my first child, and now I’m expecting my second. So that’s been interesting, too – to say the least.

3) What was the revision process like for you? What advice would you give to writers currently working on a book-length manuscript?

I think it’s accurate to say that revising The Little Bride took longer than writing it. By revising I mean rewriting, on every level – from starting individual sentences anew to creating whole new backstories for characters. I’m lucky to have a few very smart, honest readers, and I went through many drafts before the book was submitted to publishers. Then I was lucky enough to have an editor, Sarah Stein, who really edited my book in what I guess is now the old-fashioned sense of the word. We worked through two full revisions and then there were copyedits. So it was thorough, and the book is much better for that. I think I was prepared for this because I’d been working on – and revising – my short stories for years. Most of my stories are many years old before they see the light of day. I guess I’d urge patience. And I’d remind writers that much of what they’re writing in their first drafts won’t wind up in the final – so don’t get too attached or precious. Just go for it.

4) On your website, you write that The Little Bride is a love story “set against the real historical backdrop of the Am Olam movement, a little known Jewish-American experiment in the 1880s and 90s.” What did you find challenging and/or rewarding about turning your research on the Am Olam movement and its era into fiction?

First off, I still have a hard time calling The Little Bride a “love story.” But that’s for another conversation. As far as Am Olam goes, I’d never written fiction set in the past before I wrote The Little Bride. (That’s what I called it, by the way, “this book I’m writing that happens to be set in the past,” not “historical fiction.”) I found the research came pretty naturally – in general I let the story come first and tell me what it was I needed to know, so I didn’t spend a lot of time researching things I wasn’t interested in, or that weren’t important to the book. When I teach “historical fiction” now, I find this is where writers get hung up the most. They can’t stop researching. Then they wind up with libraries of material that don’t actually belong in their story. And they have to struggle with letting it go. I like to work the other way around: discover my story, then learn what I need to know to tell it. Of course, there are different types of historical fiction. The next book I’m writing is much more tied to the social and political movements of the time period (it’s set in the 20s, against Prohibition and strong anti-immigrant sentiment) so that’s presenting new challenges.

5) What are you most looking forward to about the One Story Literary Debutante Ball on April 20th?

The people! I went to the first ball, a couple years ago, and just loved the celebratory, joyous, generous mood in the room. It’s an amazing event for an amazing magazine that’s become an important literary institution. I felt honored when One Story published my story six years ago, and I’ve continued to feel supported by Hannah and Maribeth and the entire One Story team. You do more than publish one story every three weeks (though that would be enough) – you also create a strong, vital community, and as any writer can attest, we need that.

Introducing our MC, Jonathan Coulton!

One Story is happy to announce that singer-songwriter and all-around internet sensation Jonathan Coulton will be our host for this year’s Literary Debutante Ball! Coulton has been a part of the One Story family since the very beginning; he was one of the 150 people at our launch party ten years ago. Since then, Jonathan has become wildly famous for, among other things, his folk songs about geek culture, such at “Code Monkey” and his hilarious cover of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.” His most recent album, Artificial Heart, was released this past September, and on June 2, 2012, he will perform at New York’s Gramercy Theater as part of his upcoming U.S. tour. Find out more at Jonathan Coulton’s website.

Tickets for The Ball are going fast so don’t forget to buy yours!

Introducing Our Debutantes: Caitlin Horrocks

On April 20th, at our 3rd Annual Literary Debutante Ball, One Story will celebrate seven One Story authors who have published their debut books over the past year. As a lead up to the event, we thought it would be a fun idea to introduce our Debs through a series of interviews on their debut book experiences.

This week, in our second installment, we had the pleasure of speaking with Caitlin Horrocks, author of This is Not Your City, a mesmerizing collection of short stories published by Sarabande in June 2011.

1) Where were you when you found out your first book was going to be published? How did you celebrate?

Sarah Gorham, the editor at Sarabande, called me. I was living with friends for a few months while I guest-taught for a semester at Arizona State University. I ran out to the living room to tell them and we went out to dinner. As we ate, they were saying, “This isn’t the actual celebration, right? This is just dinner. We have to do something more exciting later.” But dinner was fine by me—much of what I was feeling was just relief, along with elation. The book had been accepted for publication once before, and then that publisher shut down. This time around, there was excitement, but also the feeling of a weight being lifted.

2) In January, 2011, your story “Life Among the Terranauts” was published in One Story. What happened to you between then and the debut of This Is Not Your City?

I’d actually just started writing “Life Among the Terranauts” when my book manuscript was accepted, and the copyediting was nearly complete when the story came out. So it didn’t make it into the book. That’s resulted in some Goodreads reviews about how my book is good, but would have been even better if it included “her awesome Terranaut story from One Story.”

To echo something I know many other One Story authors have commented on, the magazine’s format means that people actually read your one story. I loved hearing from people who enjoyed the piece and took the time to tell me so.

3) What was the revision process like for you? What advice would you give to writers about turning a group of individual stories into a book-length manuscript?

This will sound disingenuous, but my advice is to not worry too much about it. I wasted a lot of time and mental energy worrying over whether my book-length group of stories was really a book: were the stories cohesive enough? How could I make them more cohesive? Why would I even want to attempt that when much of what I love about short stories is reading and writing really disparate voices and places?

I shouldn’t have worried so much. Editors and readers have found plenty of connective tissue in this book, even things I hadn’t thought of as themes or obsessions. My book was a book all along.

4) The stories in This Is Not Your City are remarkably diverse in terms of setting and subject matter – one is written in the voice of a Russian mail-order bride on her way into Finland, for example, and another takes place in the Gulf of Aden, where Somali pirates hijack a cruise ship. What kind of research went into this collection, and how do your own experiences play into the fiction you write?

I’ve spent time in Finland, but I haven’t spent time on a cruise ship, or with pirates. There’s a blend of personal and researched experience throughout the book, and hopefully I’ve made them both seem real. The autobiographical material in my fiction is almost always some hacked up potato pieces in a much larger stew. They float alongside pieces of research that I perhaps shouldn’t admit are Googled, but often are. Even when the research is casual, I love the hunt for the exact right fact, or just the useless fact I find so interesting that I file it away in hopes of using it later. I have a lot of those.

5) What are you most looking forward to about the One Story Literary Debutante Ball on April 20th?

I’m most looking forward to the second hour or so, when I look around and see that I didn’t wear the entirely wrong thing, and can relax. Other than that, I’m very excited to meet the other debutantes.