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.