Friday, June 26, 2009

Closer to Fine, One Year Anniversary

On June 25, 2009, my debut novel CLOSER TO FINE turned one. It’s been one full year since the publication of a book I spent two years writing, one year editing, and four years waiting to be published. Although I am an Assistant Professor of English at the College of New Rochelle and carry a full load of teaching, advising and committee work, I spent as much time as my schedule would allow in 2008 publicizing CLOSER TO FINE. All of it was exciting, and I learned a lot, not only about the book publishing world but also myself and people in general. While I love reading my work to an audience, my favorite part of a Reading & Signing is the Q&A. Whether I had just read to an audience of college students, the general public or aspiring writers, the questions were terrific. Here are some paraphrased highlights, in case you weren’t able to attend a Reading & Signing:

Most Frequently Asked Question: How long did it take you to write your novel? [See above.]

Second Most Frequently Asked Question (also Silliest Question): Are those your legs on the cover? [No.]

Most Challenging Question: When Alex finally talks with her mother, on the grass, at a family gathering, what is it that she wants? In what way does she need the relationship to shift? [Too long and complicated for this blog, but we had an interesting dialogue about the answer.]

Least Challenging Question: Are all the characters based on people you know? [No. Only a few are vaguely modeled on real people.]

Most Mystifying Question: Why does Alex conduct so many internal dialogues? [Because she dissects every aspect of her life, for better or worse, and tries to make sense of the enormous pain she’s experienced.] Yes, but she continues to probe, internally, when most people would turn outward for answers. It’s almost as if she makes connections, isn’t satisfied with them, and searches for further connections. [Um, ah, because Jax can’t always pick up his phone. I guess. I’m not sure what you mean.] (NOTE: these questions came from a neuroscientist, with whom I had a lovely chat after the Q&A. He dumbed his questions down so I, the right-brained writer, could understand and answer them without sounding quite so idiotic.)

Most Dreaded Question Asked at Every Q&A: Are you working on another novel? [3 answers, depending on when the question was asked: No; I’m currently in the research phase; Yes. I hated this question for two reasons. One, saying “No” was painful for me, as a writer should write on a regular basis, but it took me six months to come to terms with my own idea, as it includes some back story I was uncomfortable with for a variety of reasons. Two, the subsequent question was always: What is your new book about? I don’t discuss my current work; most writers won’t discuss whatever it is they’re currently writing. Writers understand this, but others tended to be insulted when I wouldn’t answer, so I began repeating a statement by Ernest Hemingway directly related to the discourse of a writer’s current work, which I live and write by: “If you talk about it you lose it.”]

Question Asked Only Once: Are you happy with your novel, i.e., Would You Change Anything if You Could? [Yes, I am extremely happy with my novel, though I would change three small errors, all of which were my fault. There is a grammatical mistake, I am ashamed to say (I am an English professor, after all, and consider my grammatical skills beyond reproach); there is a mistake in regard to a NYC subway connection; and there is a musical reference mistake (“Bruce Springsteen is wailing about the Badlands” but BADLANDS is a Terence Malick film; I was thinking of Springsteen’s song “Jungleland.”).]

Easiest Questions to Answer:

Which part of your novel was easiest to write? [Chapter One, which was originally, in a slightly altered version, an award-winning short story I wrote. I thought of most of it, including dialogue, while sitting in traffic on the LIE. The rest flowed out of me more smoothly and quickly than anything I have ever written.]

Which part of your novel was hardest to write? [The dinner scene in which Jax confronts his father’s homophobia was extraordinarily difficult to write, and took me quite a few attempts to get right. The last paragraph of the novel was also hard to write; I revised it about twenty times. The cemetery scene with Tucker and Alex was stylistically challenging, due to the present tense flashback (flashbacks are usually past tense).]

What is your favorite part of your novel? [As is often the case in life, that which is hardest is most rewarding; my favorite part is the dinner scene in which Jax confronts his father’s homophobia. I also really like the scene in which Alex tells Jax she’s found “the missing piece;” it’s nearly all fast-paced dialogue and the affection between the best friends is palpable (if I don’t say so myself!).]

If you have a question about CLOSER TO FINE or my writing process or the publication process in general, feel free to email me at And if you haven’t yet bought and read CLOSER TO FINE, you’re missing out! Pick one up at any bookstore and enjoy over a summer weekend!