Remember when summer TV meant reruns? For book nerds, our version of reruns is paperbacks. There’s something deliciously satisfying about scooping up a bunch of books you haven’t read before — and maybe even a few you have — in lightweight, less expensive paperback versions. As they used to say on TV, “If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s new to you.”
And even if you have, isn’t it fun to find out what the authors of your favorite books are up to? We checked in with three authors of 2014 blockbusters to find out how things are going now that those books are coming out in paperback. All three of their most recent releases became New York Times bestsellers, racked up stacks of prizes, and ranked among several Parnassus staff members’ personal favorites of last year. What’s next for these writers?
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What are you working on right now?
Emily: A secret novel.
Matthew: I’m writing another novel about a family. (What an evasion. It’s hard to name a book that isn’t about families. Even Ulysses is about families.) This new novel is blessedly free of autobiography, which is exciting for me. It’s the free play of the imagination. I got to that point eventually with my first book, which grew less autobiographical as time passed (improving as it did). This time around, I’m making everything up from the first sentence on.
Lily: I’m researching a new novel and writing a short story.
Could you tell our readers a bit about what it’s like to be out promoting one book when you’re in the midst of writing or researching another? Does that get mentally exhausting? (Or confusing?)
Emily: It swings between “mentally exhausting” and “physically impossible,” depending on how many deadlines and emails and book-related administrative tasks I have to deal with in a given week. But a surplus of action around a book is a great problem to have, and I’m deeply grateful. As road-weary writers are constantly reminding one another at book festivals, the only thing worse than touring is not touring. (You can spot the writers who’ve only ever been hugely successful, incidentally, when they express skepticism at this statement.) I’m trying to get better at writing on airplanes and in hotel rooms and when I’m exhausted, and also I recently started drinking coffee again, which helps. I will have more time to write in 2016.
Matthew: I love routine, so it’s hard for me to be away from home. It’s harder to get work done. I suppose what’s confusing about promoting any book, at any time, is the fact that a book is an artifact of the work that went into writing it. A novel, once published, is not like the dynamic work a stage actor delivers every night. The performance for a book happens in a little room, hunched over a desk. The book is the ghostly remainder of that effort.
Lily: I’m not very good at it. Book promotion demands extroversion, which for me consumes a lot of energy. I enjoy it, but it’s taxing. Writing requires you to go inward, deep into the self. I’m not very good at juggling those two things on the same day or even during the same week. It’s a big struggle for me. Researching and short story writing is easier while I’m on tour. A novel needs months of uninterrupted home time.
What new opportunities have come your way because of the acclaim your last novel earned?
Emily: I’ve started reviewing books in my favourite newspapers, and I have some really lovely unexpected invitations to write other things, which I’m being very vague about until contracts have been signed.
Matthew: I’ve been asked to write more non-fiction pieces than the zero pieces I was asked to write before I published my novel. I recently reviewed a book for the Times. I had plenty of opinions before, but no one was asking for them.
Lily: In the past year I’ve been invited to read at a number of bookstores that are legendary to me, Parnassus being one of them. I cannot wait! I’ve loved seeing these stores in person, meeting the booksellers and the amazing people in the audience. I’ve also gone to a few parties and award ceremonies where I’ve gotten to meet other writers whose work has meant so much to me. To be able to tell them that in person has been really important to me.
Is there a sense of pressure — that the stakes or higher or that more people are watching — when you go to work on another book after publishing one that has been so well received?
Emily: Yes, but I like to think that it’s counterbalanced by the confidence that comes with the acclaim. Obviously one’s confidence as a writer should never be tied to external things like awards shortlists, but on the other hand one’s only human.
Matthew: There’s pressure, certainly, but no pressure can top what I felt when, eight years into writing a book I had no guarantee was going to get published, I became the father of twins. I was a high school teacher and already strapped for time to write. I either had to get it done, or…I don’t want to think about the “or.”
Lily: One of the things that has shocked me the most about publishing books is that you are not in competition with other writers as much as you are in competition with yourself. When the reviews of my second book came out, I was really startled by how often reviewers compared it to the first, how much the first novel was part of the dialogue about the second. So I am used to that and am already bracing myself. I think I feel more pressure before I start the next book. Once I’m in I’m just trying to write the best book I can for myself, not for anyone else.
In each of your novels there are characters who come from one place and set up lives in another. Belonging is an issue that comes up in all three. I’m curious as to your experience with that: Geographically, socially, or culturally — do you live now in a place where you feel like you belong? How so?
Emily: Those parts of my books are largely autobiographical. I grew up on the island from the book — in Station Eleven it’s Delano Island; in real life it’s Denman Island, British Columbia, pop. 1,000 — and now I live in New York City, which is the third city I’ve tried since I left the island at eighteen, and the place I’ll most likely stay. I do feel that I belong here. I love this place. If I ever leave, it will be because of the weather. The winter’s fine — seriously, after you’ve lived in Montreal the winters almost everywhere else are really no big deal — but I wilt like a lettuce in the summertime.
Matthew: I live in a town that has a couple of bookstores and a library, some restaurants and cultural life, so I’m at ease. Knowing those things are there makes a difference, even if most of the time I stay home. I take my kids to tee ball a couple of times a week. Watching kids run the bases in tee ball can make even a permanent exile from regular existence feel at home on the planet.
Lily: I think for the most part a writer always feels like an outsider, whether or not it’s true. It’s sort of a job requirement. When I was reading about anthropology, I learned that the best informant in the field is a person who feels separate from the group in some way, is from somewhere else, or is different in some way that sets him/her apart. That is the person who can give you a wider perspective on the culture. So I think we need to feel that way. That said, after traveling and living in different parts of this country and abroad for several years, I have returned to New England, where I grew up, to raise my own family in a small town not all that unlike the one I left when I was eighteen. So I do have a sense of belonging and of home here. And I like it. But I also feel that itch to uproot and plunk down someplace unfamiliar for a while. It’s essential to me.
Name a song with a title that would also work as the title of your autobiography.
Emily: Came So Far For Beauty
Matthew: There Is A Light That Never Goes Out — because all my life I’ve stayed up as late as I could
Lily: Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.
Honestly: When traveling for book tour, would you rather,
a) Wander around and explore the city on your own
b) Go out after your event and socialize with the locals
c) Hole up in your hotel room and enjoy some peace and quiet
Emily: A or C, depending on where I am on the tour calendar and how long I’ve been conscious on the day of the event (i.e. are we talking about week one or week six, and have I been up since 4 a.m.?) Unless by “locals” you mean “booksellers,” in which case B.
Matthew: I’ve had a family member or old friend in most cities I’ve visited, so my days have been long. When I can, I like to hole up in my hotel room, but I always feel like a schmuck for not walking around and taking everything in.
Lily: A bit of all 3.
In 10 words or less: What’s your favorite thing about the indie bookstore experience?
Emily: The pleasure of meeting people who are passionate about books.
Matthew: Seeing how hearteningly much booksellers know—and care—about books.
Lily: It’s where and how I discover the books I love.
Last book you recommended to a friend?
Emily: Atticus Lish’s debut novel, Preparation for the Next Life. I’ve been recommending it to everybody. I think it’s extraordinary.
Matthew: Jim Shepard’s heart-stopping The Book of Aron. Line after line, Shepard is as good as anybody.
Lily: Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill.
What coming up in your to-read stack?
Emily: Well, two books that I’m reviewing, but let’s just pretend this is an ideal to-read stack comprised only of books that I’m reading for fun: the second two books in Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy. (I read the first last month and loved it.) Also Lily King’s Euphoria, Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life, and Garth Risk Hallberg’s City on Fire.
Matthew: Hermann Broch’s The Sleepwalkers. I’ve been meaning to read it for about 20 years.
Lily: A galley of Tessa Hadley’s new novel The Past.
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All three of these phenomenal writers will be here in Nashville soon, and their events are FREE and open to all!
Matthew Thomas – Friday June 5 – 6:30 p.m. – Wine with the Author (with the Wine Shoppe at Green Hills)
We Are Not Ourselves (Paperback)
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Grove Press, 4/2015