Writer Round-Up: A Collective Interview Wherein Writers We Like Discuss Topics Related to the Craft
Dzanc Books Authors : Nathan Deuel, Jac Jemc, George Singleton
Interview by Cynthia Reeser
For Prick of the Spindle, Vol. 8.2, June 2014
In this issue, the publisher spotlight is on Dzanc Books. Some of their authors answer a handful of questions.
Tell us about your publication with Dzanc Books, and what it is that makes this book stand apart from your other work.
Nathan Deuel: Dzanc has been a dream. I’d worked with a big-time agent on another book project for years and the idea for an essay collection [Friday Was the Bomb: Five Years in the Middle East] kind of came out of nowhere one night. I was sitting there drinking wine, when I began to do some copy/paste. Lo! The document I created—with the fifty or so essays I’d written in the Middle East over five years—looked a lot like a book. I sent a proposal and some samples around and Dzanc offered a contract, along with fabulous editor Jeff Parker, who runs their Disquiet imprint. He pushed me hard, holding my hand through three major revisions. We lost a bunch of essays, worked hard on what remained, and wrote two or three basically from scratch. Now people are calling the book a memoir, which I suppose it is. Each piece could stand on its own—looking like much of my other work: personal essays—but I’ve been shocked and thrilled to see how it seems to function as a larger narrative, with the grand sweep, focus, and purpose of a book.
George Singleton: Between Wrecks is a collection of stories that are linked together loosely, and additionally with the previous collection of mine put out by Dzanc called Stray Decorum. Between Wrecks, I hope, captures characters right when they think they’re in the clear from past digressions, but the reader should see trouble on the horizon. I think these stories may be less comical, overall, except for the novella at the end, “I Would Be Remiss,” which is the fictional acknowledgements page for a scholarly tome about an African-American sushi chef in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
Jac Jemc: A Different Bed Every Time is a collection of stories. There’s a lot packed in there—over forty stories. It’s not all of the stories I’ve written in the past ten years, but it’s the majority of them. I had a good time looking back at the mass of them and figuring out what shape they take as a whole. Because there are a lot of stories that have been published in magazines or read at events, I don’t know that this book will necessarily “stand apart” from the way people view my work, but I hope that the collection will provide the opportunity for a brand of reading experience that’s different from encountering them one at a time in a magazine.
What is most challenging to you as a writer?
ND: I’m impatient. I love the thrill of laying down three or four thousand words, feeling that heat and electricity, but then I’m pretty much ready for it to be published, to move on to the next thing that excites me. It’s taken years to slow down, to stick with a piece for the days, weeks, and in some cases—as with “The little things my father would never do again”—years that might be required to make it truly excellent. A twin problem is the game of pitching editors, and developing the language and instincts to convince them to take a piece on. At first, I’d send these full, crazy drafts and be like, “It’s awesome, publish it!” Maybe some of them were, but editors are busy, and it’s a good skill to be able to sell your piece in the subject of the e-mail, in a short pitch, and to have some idea of what it is you’ve written and why it should be published. Well, with nonfiction at least. Too often, we writers serve up this hot mess—which can be great! Don’t get me wrong—but it’s also a helpful exercise to be forced to articulate in a paragraph just what exactly you are trying to say.
GS: I’m so old and have written so many stories that my biggest challenge is finding names I haven’t used 100 times.
JJ: Sitting down and balance. I’ve gone through periods where I have a regular schedule down, but then it falls apart rather quickly. Once I sit down and start working, I tend to be able to stay there and continue, but I have real trouble convincing myself to begin. I try to write in the mornings before work, but inevitably a day or two a week, I give in to sleeping a little longer. In those instances, I try to make up for it by writing in the evening or giving a weekend day to writing, but I get distracted and tempted by other offers to socialize or relax. I also have trouble balancing all of the pieces of the writing life. I know that should prioritize the actual writing most of the time, but then there’s doing the everyday business-type stuff: answering e-mails, social media, promotion, reading events, reading submissions for one of the magazines I edit for, helping out other writers when I can. All of that can take up so much time, and it’s not as if there isn’t value in those activities, but if I’m not actually writing, what am I doing all of the rest of it for?
What are you working on now?
ND: I’m in the middle of selling this book, so I’m doing many interviews (like this one!), selling excerpts, and writing companion pieces. All that outreach, plus setting up a fairly substantial book tour, has been a tremendous amount of work—nearly as much as writing the damn book!—but it’s been rewarding and exciting to see people who care about my book. That period ended last summer, when I started my next big project: to write about America. I have a handful of pieces so far that I’m proud of: a little hit for Harper’s about a county fair and an upcoming piece for Guernica about Silicon Valley and the Bay Area. With luck, I’ll keep busy, and maybe my early years back in America will look on paper to be more than the scribblings of an excited madman.
GS: Right now I have a new collection called Calloustown coming out. I’m working on stories that all take place on holidays—like on Confederate War Memorial Day, Arbor Day, not just Easter and Christmas.
JJ: I’m working on a few things. I’ve just finished a new draft of a different novel that’s the story of a haunting. I expect I’ll need to do another draft or two of that, but, for now, I’m focusing on shorter work again: stories and essays. I love all the amazing essays I seem to be happening upon lately, and I’ve never put serious effort into trying to figure out that form and finding my own voice within it, but I have a handful of projects started and I’m adding to them slowly, letting them take me where they like.
Nathan Deuel is the author of Friday Was the Bomb: Five Years in the Middle East, an Amazon Best Book of the Month. He has contributed essays, fiction, and criticism to print and digital versions of The New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, GQ, and The Paris Review, among others. Previously, he was an editor at Rolling Stone and The Village Voice. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter.
Jac Jemc’s first collection of stories, A Different Bed Every Time, is forthcoming from Dzanc Books in October 2014. Her novel, My Only Wife (Dzanc Books), was named a finalist for the 2013 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction and winner of the Paula Anderson Book Award. She is also the author of a chapbook of stories, These Strangers She’d Invited In (Greying Ghost Press). She is the poetry editor at decomP and web nonfiction editor for Hobart.
George Singleton has published six collections of stories, two novels, and one book of writing advice. His stories have appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, Playboy, Georgia Review, Zoetrope, Kenyon Review, and elsewhere. He holds the John C. Cobb Endowed Chair in the Humanities at Wofford College in Spartanburg, SC.