Monday, July 30, 2012

Bryant Park Blog Q&A with Debut Authors

Each year, we showcase the work of several debut authors at one of our Word for Word Author events. This Wednesday, four new novelists will join us in the Bryant Park Reading Room sponsored by HSBC for a discussion of their works, new author growing pains, and the literary scene. Wednesday will feature Cristina Alger with The Darlings, Karl Taro Greenfeld with Triburbia: A Novel, Karen Thompson Walker with The Age of Miracles, and Jean Zimmerman with The Orphanmaster.

Jean Zimmerman (JZ) and Cristina Alger (CA) were kind enough to fill out our Blog Q&A to give you an inside look. Read on to find out their preferred writing atmospheres and dream 7th grade English teachers.

What was your inspiration for this book?
JZ: A real person, Margaret Hardenbroeck, a 17th century fur trader on Manhattan, who made me want to develop my heroine Blandine Van Couvering in a novel.
CA: I began writing The Darlings during the fall of 2008.  The financial crisis was in full swing, and the press was filled with headlines about massive financial crimes: the Madoffs, Samuel Israel, Allen Stanford to name just a few.  I become fascinated with the people behind the headlines: what would drive men – particularly men who were in many cases already wealthy and successful - to commit such acts?  Did their families know what they were doing? Could someone be a financial criminal but still have a likable, human side to their character?  It was these questions that originally inspired  The Darlings.

Where do you do your best writing?
JZ: At a desk with a window overlooking the reed marsh in front of the 1800 log cabin where I reside with my husband.
CA: At home, in my pajamas, surrounded with snacks. 

Did you have an “a-ha!” moment that made you want to be a writer?
JZ: I recall being around 8 and scrawling my signature over and over, absolutely filling a lined notebook – wanting to see my name in print or practicing to sign autographs in books, not sure which.
CA: I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer.  Before I was able to write myself, I used to dictate stories to my mom while I was in the bathtub.  She wrote them down into a spiral-ring notebook and I would illustrate them once I was dry.  That’s probably the best writing set-up I will ever have.  

Which author do you wish had been your 7th grade English teacher?
JZ: Henry James. He wouldn’t have patience, but I’d love to hear him speak.
CA: Sara Houghteling, who is both a dear friend and a brilliant author (her first novel, Picture at an Exhibition is tremendous).  Sara has taught me more about writing than anyone.  She teaches high school English in San Francisco, and I’ve always been so envious of her students!  They are so lucky to have her.

What is your secret talent?
JZ: The best fried chicken in New York.
CA: My husband’s response to this question was: “You come up with a lot of seven-letter words in Scrabble.”   I’m actually quite proud of that.

What is your favorite book?
JZ: Two: Tristram Shandy, by Lawrence Sterne. Hilarity, poignancy, and a rollicking pace, all in a luxurious 520 pages. And Domestic Manners of the Americans by Fanny Trollope, same attributes, with ascerbic observation of 1830s America to boot.
CA: Oh, my.  That’s tough.  If I really only get one, I’d have to say F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

Who reads your first draft?
JZ: Gil Reavill, my husband, a superb writer.
CA: My mom read the first draft of  The Darlings.  She’s a terrific editor.

Do you read your books after they’ve been published?
JZ: Only to go back and check on things: did I really say that?
CA: Well, I’ve only written one, but I haven’t read it since again since publication.  I think if I did, I’d probably be tempted to pull out a pen and start editing again, and really, no good can come of that. 

Do you prefer writing on a computer or longhand?
JZ: I take notes longhand – and that’s notebooks and notebooks of notes on history – and do the writing on my Mac.
CA: Computer.  My handwriting is illegible.

What book are you currently reading? (Old school or e-Reader?)
JZ: The End of the Wasp Season, by Denise Mina. Plus the Seashell Anthology of Great Poetry on my e-reader, great to dip into on long plane trips (most recently my heart was pierced by Eliot’s “Prufrock” for the 100th time).
CA: I’m reading The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson, which is absolutely terrific. I always bring my Kindle on trips, but at home I’m an old-school book kind of gal.

What word or punctuation mark are you most guilty of overusing?
JZ: The em dash – it always comes along to ambush me.
CA: I recently instated a “no exclamation point” policy after re-reading an email where I used one after every sentence (!).  I think I was highly caffeinated at the time I wrote it.  There’s really almost never a need for an exclamation point, I don’t think.  v

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
JZ: Cultivator of heritage roses, each strain of which carries mystery and history in its color, texture, scent and name.
CA: I imagine I’d still be practicing law.

Word for Word Author
Wednesdays, 12:30pm - 2:30pm
May 16 - August 22
Bryant Park Reading Room sponsored by HSBC

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