I’m always curious to know how or why writers choose their subjects (some writers I’ve spoken with over the years have told me their subjects choose them), and so we’ve started running original Q&As with Discover authors and posting them to the individual book pages under the Interviews & Essays header.
(Growing Up Muslim in the Midwest, an original essay by Ayad Akhtar, the author of American Dervish, will be available as a More in Store feature on Nook e-readers on January 29th.)
Alex Gilvarry (From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant): “. . . The American experience is very much about being the outsider, or fearing the outsider. I think that’s why this type of storytelling continues to be told and retold . . . Fiction is the only thing I’m good at, and so when I was feeling really disturbed about what was happening in Guantanamo Bay, and when I realized that innocent men mistakenly imprisoned there was not just a rare anomaly, I was compelled to write this novel because it was the only outlet for my grievances at the time. . . . I have to believe that fiction, particularly the novel, still has the power to influence the way people think, or at least introduce a strand of thought that did not occur to them. I know novels have certainly affected me this way over the years. That’s why I read them.”
Alexis M. Smith (Glaciers): “It began as a series of prose poems about my childhood in Alaska. I was in my second or third semester of the MFA in Writing program at Goddard College. During the winter residencies I would fly out to Vermont from Portland for a week of true winter. Walking through the snowy woods to the library, listening to the creaking trees and feeling the cold on my face, really brought me back to being a kid on my grandparents’ homestead outside Kenai. . . . The story has evolved a lot. When I started writing I was a footloose twenty-something bookseller, and now I’m a homebody thirty-something single mom. In the early days of writing, there was so much more angst–mine and Isabel’s. The first year as a mother knocked the impulse to navel-gaze right out of me. My focus, and Isabel’s, turned outward, to other people’s stories.”
Naomi Benaron (Running the Rift): “When I talk to survivors of the Rwandan genocide, I am immediately struck by the parallels to the stories I have heard about my mother’s family in Eastern Europe during the 1930s. . . . My vision of Rwanda is absolutely based on my experience there. I initially went to the country in 2002, as a tourist, and I fell in love the moment I saw those beautiful green hills rising up below the wing of the airplane. . . . Of course, to some extent, my vision must be imagined, because I see the culture as an outsider. I am only beginning to learn the language (an impossible task!), and without the complexities of the language, I cannot understand the culture from which it springs. I also do not want to minimize the long shadow that the genocide continues to cast over the country. Healing will be a long and difficult process; I cannot begin to imagine the depth of the scars it has left. But every time I go back, I see new signs of the journey forward, new life sprouting from the ashes of the old.”
Suzzy Roche (Wayward Saints): “Maybe because I was trained as an actress, I’ve always loved working with characters and realized how, through them, you can express ideas. Even when I perform music onstage, I think of myself as a character. I had been writing stories for years, but didn’t really have the nerve to try to write a novel. I took a short story I had written and set about expanding it. I spent the summer in my pajamas working on the book every day as if it were my job. I kept it to myself because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do it. But I figured if I put in the hours, something would happen. It turned out to be a magical experience. I started to live and dream the book, and once I finished a first draft, it was a joy to spend the next year revising. I probably could have worked on it forever.”
Miwa Messer is the Director of the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers program, which was established in 1990 to highlight works of exceptional literary quality that might otherwise be overlooked in a crowded book marketplace. Titles chosen for the program are handpicked by a select group of our booksellers four times a year. Click here for submission guidelines.