On June 6th, at our 4th Annual Literary Debutante Ball, One Story will be celebrating seven One Story authors who have published their debut books over the past year. As a lead up to the event, we’ll be introducing our Debs through a series of interviews about their debut book experiences.
This week, in our first installment, we had the pleasure of speaking with L. Annette Binder, author of Rise (Sarabande Books), a stunning collection, published in August 2012, that includes the story she published with One Story—“Nephilim”—which won a 2012 Pushcart Prize, and was later performed live on stage and later broadcast on the Public Radio Program, Selected Shorts.
The stories in Rise are fairy tales, except that the witch, lucky Hans, and the frog prince are all characters at the fringes of everyday life. There are rockets, swells of starlings, and children who disappear into thin air. These are stories where a man can be blind and still see the stars. L. Annette Binder writes magical tales with authority and restraint, and we believe her stories, every one.
1) How did you celebrate when you found out your first book was going to be published?
I got a voicemail on a Friday in May from Sarah Gorham at Sarabande Books saying she had a very important message for me but she was travelling and wouldn’t be able to get back in touch with me until Monday. That was a long, long weekend. I hoped it meant I’d won the Mary McCarthy Prize but I’m a little superstitious and didn’t want to jinx myself. When Monday finally came and I found out the good news, I celebrated over dinner with my husband and some L.A. Burdick chocolate mice. I have a wicked sweet tooth, and chocolate always plays a major role in every happy moment.
2) Your collection includes, “Nephilim,” which you published with us in One Story. What happened from when you published in One Story to when your first book was accepted?
It was only five months between “Nephilim” coming out and my collection getting accepted, but so much happened in those months. I found my agent Claudia Ballard, who had read the story and reached out to me. The same weekend I found out about the book I also found out “Nephilim” won a Pushcart. I credit One Story with so many of the good things that have happened with my writing over the last few years. One Story reaches a huge number of readers who are passionate about the form, and I still get kind notes from people who have read the story in a back issue or online.
3) During the editing of Rise was there any single piece of advice you received or perhaps remembered from earlier in your career that helped ease the process?
The folks at Sarabande were great during the editing process. They helped me winnow the collection while being receptive to what I was trying to do on a sentence level. In general, the writing advice that helps me during the revision stage is—be open to criticism, but trust your own instincts.
4) I’ve read that you are you are currently working on a novel that grew out of one of the stories in your collection, “Dead Languages,” which I loved. In general, how do you know when you are done with writing a story, or when you need to keep working on it? Would you say that revision is an overwhelming part of the process? Which story in your collection was the hardest to revise?
I usually know when a story is done by the feeling of relief that I have when I write the final scene. Revision is something I really enjoy, though I’m a slow writer—glacially slow—and I revise each sentence multiple times as I’m working on the first draft. By the time I have a completed draft and start revising, I’m usually looking less at prose rhythm and more at structural issues and adding beats where they’re needed.
Some stories, like “Nephilim,” went very fast and required little revision. Others were much more challenging. “Lay My Head” was the hardest to revise by far. I added beats and took some away, and the ending flipped several times—between the fairy tale beat and the current scene where Angela’s mother carries her to the car.
5) What are you looking forward to the most about the One Story Literary Debutante Ball on June 6th, 2013?
Everything! Meeting writers I admire, spending time with Michelle Latiolais, who has been a wonderful mentor to me, visiting New York, which always makes me saucer-eyed, and wearing a fancy dress.