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5 Debut Novelists Share Thoughts on Writing & Publishing

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Five debut novelists gathered for a panel at the Brooklyn Book Festival yesterday, all sharing strong ties to New York City.

Writer and actress Tanya Wright (Butterflies Rising) hails from the Bronx and has recently appeared as Deputy Kenya Jones on True Blood. UK-born Helen Simonson (Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand) calls her current Washington DC address a “temporary sabbatical” and considers herself a real Brooklynite. Teddy Wayne currently lives in New York City and also sets his novel (Kapitoil) in New York City. Sean Ferrell (Numb) and Ivy Pochoda (The Art of Disappearing) both live in Brooklyn. Each author gave a brief reading from their respective novels and the readings were followed by a Q&A.

Q: For Simonson, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand has really been embraced by the independent booksellers versus the major chains; what is your opinion on that?

A: Well, I was amazed being a debut novelist how important independent booksellers are. You hear horror stories all the time. But, the independent booksellers have become the curators of book publishing and what they say goes. And then I think the chains picked up on that. So, I think one of the reasons why my book was successful is that independent booksellers seemed to get behind it before it was out. And their voices have been terrific.


Q: For Wright, what are the similarities and differences between acting and writing?

A: I think they both come from the same muscle. Often times, you’ll find a lot of creative people can do many things like write and sing and dance and whatever. That’s a similarity. The difference? Writing for me is very introverted. Obviously, acting is very extroverted. Writing, I don’t need anybody–it’s my world to create as I will. And acting, I need lots of people to create. So, I’m more dependent on others for acting.

Q: For Wayne, what inspired you to write this novel [Kapitoil], how did you make your book so funny, and what is next? Note: He answered sarcastically the whole time, much to this correspondent’s giggling amusement.

A: [About inspiration], just total tedium and boredom with my own life. [On the funny factor], they were pumping nitrous oxide into the room. I find it’s actually a very serious novel. I felt sad that people were laughing. [On what's next], just unemployment, those benefits, stuff like that.

One audience member asked a question of all five authors, “Is this the first book you all wrote or the first one you all published?” The first three said that this was their first foray into book writing period. Two authors gave funny responses. Simonson, “I have fourteen chapters about a woman in a coma.” Wayne, “This is my second novel, we don’t talk about the first one.”

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