Friday, October 19, 2007

GCC Presents: Renee Rosen and Every Crooked Pot

Nina Goldman is the youngest of three growing up in Akron, Ohio in the 1970s. She and her siblings must cope with their eccentric, larger-than-life father Artie, a dreamer and schemer who commands constant attention with his outrageous antics and mortifying behavior.

As if growing up with Artie as a father isn’t difficult enough, Nina also faces another issue. Born with a hemangioma, a disfiguring birthmark covering her right eye, Nina constantly tries to look “normal,” and spends hours experimenting with makeup and Veronica Lake hairstyles designed to hide her bad eye. When none of those things do the trick, Nina finds herself riding in laundry dryers, appearing on TV, and navigating a host of other hilarious escapades, all in the name of fitting in.

Nina’s spirit never falters in this endearing story about a captivating misfit, her peculiar family, and the lengths to which a girl will go to feel loved by her family, friends, and ultimately herself. In this autobiographical novel, Rosen conveys a message of hope and belonging to all people who feel “different” in a world where everyone else belongs. With a profound message and a cast of irresistible characters, EVERY CROOKED POT is sure to become a classic in the hearts and minds of readers everywhere.

The Chicago Tribune calls ECP "heartfelt," and Publishers Weekly declares it "aborbing." Buy it here.

And, as always, we're lucky to have Renee here to answer a few pointed questions. Here ya go:

1) What’s the backstory behind your book?

Even though Every Crooked Pot is based in part on my childhood. I never thought to write about growing up with a strawberry birthmark over my eye until I enrolled in a week-long writing workshop with Michael Cunningham. This was long before he won the Pulitzer for The Hours. Anyway, Michael gave us an exercise about childhood memories and I jotted something down about how my father once used my eye to get out of a speeding ticket. Unbeknownst to me, I was writing what would later inspire the opening scene of Every Crooked Pot.

2) It seems that a lot of readers confuse fiction with real life, assuming that a novel must be an autobiography of the author as well. How many elements of your real life are reflected in your book?

Nina (my narrator) and I are similar in some very obvious ways. For example, we were both born with a disfiguring strawberry birthmark over our right eye--though her condition was much more severe than mine ever was. I also grew up in Akron, Ohio which is where the novel is set and a few other aspects of the story were taken from my life, but the rest is fictional. It's funny but so many people assume I'm Nina and several reviewers said the book reads like a memoir but I assure you, it's definitely a novel.

3) A lot of my blog readers are aspiring or new authors. How did you land your first book deal?

I found an agent who believed in me and most importantly believed in this book. She continued to work with me to polish the manuscript and then she searched until she found the right editor and publisher.

4) I have a serious procrastination problem when it comes to tackling my fiction. What’s your routine? How do you dive it? Do you have any rituals or necessary to-dos before or while you write?

You know, I used to have all kinds of things that had to be in place before I could write. But now that my writing time is so limited that I just grab the time when whenever and however I can--I've written in airports, hotel room, friend's couches, office building lobbies, while waiting in line at the post office--you name it. My laptop and I are now attached at the hip.

5) Clearly, your book will be optioned for a multi-million dollar film deal! Who would you cast as the leads, if you were given creative control?

Well, now if it were up to me, I'd just cast Patrick Dempsey in all roles. But seriously, I think Sandra could be Reese Witherspoon or Hilary Swank and I think Adrien Brody would make a fine Artie. Nina--is really tricky--what I need is a young Natalie Portman, ala Beautiful Girls.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

So How Do You Know?

In the comments section of the previous post, some wise readers (hiya Marijke and Carleen!) noted that yes, you absolutely should aim to send out the best version of your work but that some writers are unable to stop tinkering, paralyzed with the thought that they could always improve their writing, and thus they never submit or send anything out.

And they're absolutely right. So this raises the very good question of how you toe the line between being overly neurotic and exercising enough caution that you produce a polished manuscript. I'm not sure that I have a good answer because this is something that I've learned on the job by having the very good fortune of having a wonderful agent and wise editors, all of whom have taught me how to pinpoint weak spots and really crappy writing. But, if I'm going to make my experience more universal, maybe one good gauge is to have a writing partner whom you trust, and if he or she deems it worthy, then indeed, you have to trust him or her and send that baby out the door.

The thing is, is that there will always be ways and places to improve your work. If you think that I don't spot sentences in The Department that make me cringe, you'd be dead-wrong. Hell, there are entire passages that I can't believe I actually wrote, but I have to let that go. Because I could spend my life fine-tuning and there would still be new places to's sort of like tweezing: tug out one stray eyebrow hair, and you'll find another just as quickly. So for me, as long as my figurative eyebrows are in place, I know that I have to step away and let others work their magic...which in my case, means turning it over to more objective readers who will help me tweak the areas that need to be tweaked.

But what about you guys? How do you know when you're good to go? And how do you step back and gain perspective?

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Best of the Best

Question of the week: Is it better to send out something you're not quite happy with because maybe you're too close to it, etc, or to just let it go and wait until you've got something you think is really good?

I know how easy it is to want to dive into the query pool. I do. I know that you want to GET. YOUR. WORK. OUT. THERE, and start garnering rave reviews and frothing agents who are dying to sign you.


Don't do it until you are 120% sure that your manuscript is ready for the big time. Getting published is ridiculously hard - seriously - it's about as hard a professional goal as you can set for yourself, and to go out with anything less than the best version of yourself and your work just isn't advisable, in my opinion. You not only waste the time of agents, you also run the risk of having them remember you - and quickly cast you off - should you requery them in the future. (I know, I know, it's not likely that they'll remember you, but you never know.) Additionally, let's say that by some chance, an agent says, "Sure, I'll take this on," even though you suspect that it's not your best effort. Then what? Your agent shops it around and publishers say no. Guess what? You're back at square one, and even though you may now have an agent, he or she might have lost faith or enthusiasm for you because your work ceased to sell. OR, let's take this one step further, let's say that a publisher DOES buy your work...philosophically, do you really want an only semi-decent example of your talent out there? Enough people won't like your best effort, don't give them a chance to pan your half-best.

My gut feeling is that if you know that your work isn't quite ready for prime time, then it isn't. It's hard to swallow when you so desperately want to move ahead in the process, but try to reign it in, and instead, focus on creating the best possible representation of your skills.

But that's just me...anyone else out there agree or not?