As any emerging writer knows, while the road to publication is tough and the obstacles many, there is no emotion to compare with holding your book in your hand for the first time--after the galleys have been gone over with a fine-tooth comb, the tiniest details of the cover settled on, the many who helped in the making of the book thanked and acknowledged, and the anxious but sweet wait for the reception of the book has begun.
In what we hope will be a continuing series spotlighting promising fiction writers and poets ahead of the publication of their books, we asked three young fiction writers to record a short introduction to their book, followed by a brief reading--so you can be the first to experience the book up-close, and get a personal, informal, intimate sense of the book, the writer, their work habits, and the marketplace and readership they're hoping to address.
Rebecca Rasmussen tells us about her debut novel, The Bird Sisters (Crown, April 12):
The idea for The Bird Sisters came out of two things: my curiosity about my grandmother and her family history, and my devotion to exploring the answer to what seems like a simple question: what does it mean to be home (which, for me, is the hilly farmland surrounding Spring Green, Wisconsin)? In my fiction, I pay very close attention to place. My stories tend to come out of the swollen look of a river, or an iced over fishing hole, or a bird on a winter branch. When I first began to write, I would look to the land for inspiration and still do today. One of my first workshop instructors in college cautioned me that, "people don't care about trees." I forged on with my descriptions of the land despite this instructor, and I'm glad I did back then, when my vision outweighed my abilities, because today the land is what drives my characters to love and to hate, to learn and let go, to sacrifice incredibly. The trees, the hills, and the river are at the heart of my heart when I sit down to write each morning with my cup of tea (coffee when my daughter hasn't slept well) and my laptop in St. Louis. Some days, I write a lot. Some days, only a few paragraphs. But each time I start click clacking the white keys on my Macbook, I am home again, for which I am grateful, even if I have to delete the words and try new ones. Even if people don't care about trees anymore. Even if they never did. Writing, for me, is pleasure in its most potent form.
Valerie Laken tells us about her first story collection, Separate Kingdoms (Harper Perennial, March 29):
The title, Separate Kingdoms, refers to the separate countries represented in the book, but also to the idea that each individual, each body, is a kingdom unto itself, with its own borders, customs, assets and vulnerabilities. In some way, we are always foreign to those around us, and always trying to decipher the language of our neighbors. It's not really present in this story, "Map of the City," but in this collection as a whole there's a lot of emphasis on disability and physical difference. This wasn't really a political or intellectual choice but a personal one. During the years when I was writing these stories, several of my family members were diagnosed with disabilities, and that made me view the human body and the human mind in very particular ways. I came to think more and more about the ways our bodies can betray us, even though they are, on a fundamental level, all we have. They are simultaneously our prisons and our only means of expression. In "Map of the City," this idea is played out on the level of language. Anyone who has tried to live full-time in a foreign language well understands the difference between what goes on in our minds and what comes out of our mouths. This collection is filled with characters who are acutely aware of the tension between the expanses of their minds and the limitations of their bodies. Americans consume stories constantly and fairly blindly--in TV shows and commercials and songs and billboards--yet people exhibit so few skills to tell stories of their own. There are a lot of important stories that aren't getting told or heard in our country. I wouldn't presume to say I have found a way to tell all those stories, but I definitely feel that it's worth something to try.
Alan Heathcock tells us about his debut story collection, Volt: Stories (Graywolf, March 1):
I've always loved stories, grew up in a family of storytellers, but came late, and not very easily, to writing. At first I wanted to be a writer because I loved books and movies. But then I found writing to be a means to face the things that confounded and scared me, in a way that was bearable, a way to try and make order when so much felt out of control. Some have called my work dark, and I guess maybe that's true though I don't see it that way. I see my writing, forcing myself to peer into the darker corners of the human experience, at grief, lawlessness, violence, at the tenuous nature of peace, as an act of hope. I grew up in a working class town in the Southland area of south Chicago, where work ethic is a point of pride. I go about my life as a writer as if it were a job, and sometimes, when I have my feet up on the desk too long, I imagine friends back home who are police officers or pipe fitters telling me I've gone soft. I work at my desk all day, Monday through Friday, though writing for me isn't just creating new words. The process of writing may mean I read a book, or watch a movie, or just sit and think, but always at my desk, and always with purpose, always looking for a nice turn of phrase, an interesting image or line of dialog, a particular human truth or insight well expressed. Really, I'm never not a writer. I'm always open, searching the world for something I haven't yet noticed, indulging my every curiosity. It generally takes me a long time to finish a story, the longest duration, from start to finish, being seven years, the shortest being three months. But, to me, the process is the product, and I write not to have a book finished, but to pass my days fulfilled and engaged and inspired.