23. The Turner House: a Conversation with Debut Novelist Angela Flournoy

Angela_Flournoy

ANGELA FLOURNOY is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she received a Dean’s Fellowship, and the University of Southern California. She has taught writing at the University of Iowa and Trinity Washington University, and has worked for the District of Columbia Public Library. She was raised in Southern California by a mother from Los Angeles and a father from Detroit. The Turner House is her first novel [23.33].

 

Highlights

On writing about Detroit…

“For me, I think of Detroit as a place of warmth. My experiences are obviously colored by the fact that it’s like a reunion when I got there…I don’t necessarily think of Detroit as a city of blight.”

“I had people immediately saying: this book needs to be grittier. It’s so light. It’s so happy. It’s so funny. This book needs to be darker. You know, basically like–kill some dogs in this book.”

On the paranormal…

“I think people incorporate all sorts of beliefs in the paranormal or supernatural. But for some reason in the fictional world, if you mention a ghost and you give it some sort of seriousness, all of a sudden it puts you in some kind of other sort of category. I don’t necessarily think it pulls your book out of the realm of realism.”

On first pitching her novel to agent Ellen Levine…

“I was going to meet with her even if I had nothing. So I wrote the first scene…and told her: ‘Oh, I have 100 pages of this thing.'”

On her experience at Iowa…

“A writing program is not the best proving ground for everyone, but for me, it helped me be able to explain to myself why I [make the decisions I make in my writing].”

“One of the things I learned in Iowa…is that you cannot hang your hat on criticism.”

Who’s Who

Marilynne Robinson, Edward Carey, & Paul Harding — Authors and Angela’s teachers at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop

Ellen Levine — Literary Agent with Trident Media

Ayana Mathis — Author of The Twelve Tribes of Hattie

Closing Quote

Mouths don’t empty themselves unless the ears are sympathetic and knowing. — Zora Neale Hurston, from Mules and Men

12. The Replacement Life: A Dialogue with Author Boris Fishman

boris_fishman

If you’re wondering what to read this summer, you’ve tuned into the right podcast. We’re excited to have Boris Fishman joining us today to talk about his debut novel, The Replacement Life, out from HarperCollins on June 3rd. It’s a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers pick for the summer, and having recently finished the book myself, I heartily agree with that choice!

Boris was born in Minsk, in the former Soviet Union, in 1979, and emigrated to the United States in 1988. He received a degree in Russian Literature from Princeton University, and an MFA in Fiction from New York University, where he was a New York Times Foundation Fellow. The list of residences and fellowships he’s received includes the New York Foundation of the Arts, Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Mass., and the Djerassi Resident Artist Program in Northern California. Boris’s journalism, essays, and criticism have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine and Book Review, Harper’s, Vogue, The London Review of Books, and The Wall Street Journal, among other publications. He worked on the editorial staff of The New Yorker, but has also supported his writing by working as a hiking guide, a farm laborer, a market researcher, and the editorial director of a tech start-up. But today he’s here to talk about writing fiction. (29:39)

 

Website: borisfishman.com

Highlights

“None of it happened, but it’s all true.” — Novelist Arthur Phillips

“You work alone in a room, day in and day out, for three years, and then your agent calls you one day and says that HarperCollins wants to issue a preempt offer for this novel… It’s meant to reflect the enthusiasm of the house for the book. To get any offer at all would have been incredibly affirming after three years of uphill climbing. Years that, I want to point out, were filled with no after no.”

“Even when I was getting said no to… it was still kind of amazing that the answer wasn’t, I don’t think this could sell. The answer was, I need to be on fire about this, and because I’m not, I regretfully have to turn it away… So, even though the answer was no, it’s wonderful to be part of a business where the heart is deciding along with the mind and the wallet.”

“You’re calling me on a very significant day. Just this very morning I finished revising my second novel. So, I will be having a drink later.”

“I’m just about fully secular, however, I feel profoundly Jewish… I grew up in a very secular country. So, where I connect to Jewishness is the literature, the culture, the history, the humor, the language, the inflection, the grammar, the way of speaking.”

“Everyone agrees that money can’t restitute suffering, and yet the slate is expected to be wiped clean after [restitution is made]. One of the amazing things about Germany, at least for me as a Jew, and as the grandson of a survivor, is that this country has continued to remember its responsibility and to commemorate long after it satisfied its monetary obligations, such as they are.”

“I’m the child of immigrants; it would be so awesome if I were interested in something more stable and lucrative than writing fiction. So, even as there’s [one eye on] MFA world, the other eye is swiveling around looking for other opportunities. It’s a blessing that they came along relatively rarely.”

“I’m the one-man MFA-defense army. It’s so fashionable to knock MFAs these days. In my case, it was essential. It provided structure that I didn’t have, deadlines… It made me interested in discipline in a way I hadn’t been previously. I did not start writing every day until I started my MFA. Like a job, every morning, Monday through Friday.”

Who’s Who & Books

Bernard Malamud — An American novelist and short story writer whose “gorgeously mangled syntax” inspired Boris in his writing of The Replacement Life.

Jonathan Lethem — Author of Dissident Gardens

Darin Strauss — Author of Half a Life

Wild East: Stories from the Last Frontier by Boris Fishman

This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff

Other Stuff

Ringleader of $57 million Holocaust survivor fraud found guilty (2013)

The Case for Reparations (by Ta-Nehisi Coates for The Atlantic)

Closing Quote

This month, we have four!

I carry a window in order to look at what I wish. ~ Jim Harrison

Some people have to burn up or become smudge. ~ Jim Harrison

In writing, I had to say what had happened to me, yet present it as though it had been magically revealed. ~ Bernard Malamud

Beware, o wanderer, the road is walking, too. ~ Rilke