post archive

Publishing


Not Writing

#bakingnotwriting

#bakingnotwriting

 

Soon after I signed the contract for my second novel, my agent at the time suggested that I start writing reviews. She explained, “First novels are easy. You get lots of reviews without much trying, but with a second novel, it’s much harder. The way to get reviews for your own book is to write them.” It sounded like a terrible idea—I would only want to write reviews for books that I loved. If the book were bad or even mediocre, I could only think of how much time would be wasted. And then I hated the idea of saying mean things in print about another writer’s work even if the book were abysmal. I had noticed in the New York Times Book Review that the editors seemed to assign titles in two ways—they either gave the book to someone who wrote similar work and would be likely to praise it, or to someone whose work was so dissimilar that they were likely to loathe it. I decided to ignore the advice, although I felt a pang when my second novel was published and it received only seven mainstream reviews (less than a quarter of what the first novel had garnered).

After declining to write reviews, about five years ago I decided that I would no longer write jacket blurbs for other writers. I thought that I either had to go the Gary Shteyngart route and offer praise to anyone who asked, or to quit writing blurbs altogether. I admired Shteyngart’s stamina and felt grateful to the people who offered advance praise for my novels—among them Chris Bohjalian, whose graciousness is legendary—but my Armenian Evangelical upbringing had made polite prevarication a painful exercise. Declining all was a way to avoid having to choose, which would hurt people’s feelings, or having to lie, endorsing something about which I felt little to no enthusiasm. Earlier this year when the editor of the American edition of Atef Abu Seif’s The Drone Eats with Me sent me an advanced reading copy (known in the business as an ARC) soliciting a quotation, I told her that while I wasn’t writing blurbs, I would read the book and if I liked it I would write a review. Happily, I loved it, and I wrote a review for In these Times.

As a counter to my literary parsimony, I will say that when I love a book, I loudly share my enthusiasm with friends and on social media platforms. If I adore a book, I will buy a dozen copies and give them as birthday and holiday gifts. Some titles that I have distributed in this way include Vasily Grossman’s An Armenian Sketchbook, Suad Amiry’s Sharon and My Mother-in-Law, and Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend. My current passion is Anne Boyer’s Garments Against Women, a dazzlingly smart series of prose poems about writing, work, love, parenting, sewing, shopping, literature, philosophy, late capitalism, and not writing. Boyer’s book, full of wry observations, artfully muted fury, as well as surprising humor and tenderness, reminds me of the work of poet Anne Carson and micro-story writer Lydia Davis, except with an explicit class analysis.

Boyer describes a shopping outing with her young daughter, where their meager budget results in sadness and weeping when mother tells the daughter they cannot afford the desired pair of shoes. When the mother is on the verge of tears herself, the daughter admonishes her, “ ‘I am still a child and am learning to control my impulses and emotions. you have had many years of dreams and realities to learn from so there is no excuse for you to cry.’” In “A Woman Shopping,” Boyer outlines a book she would like to write with the same title as the poem. It ends, “But who would publish this book and who, also, would shop for it? And how could it be literature if it is not coyly against literature, but sincerely against it, as it is also against ourselves?”

In an interview posted on the Poetry Foundation site, Boyer explains,

This is probably totally obvious to anyone who has read the book, but I’ll still say it: by “garments,” I mean “literature.” And literature is against us. And when I say “literature,” I mean something with historical specificity, seen with all of its brutality intact, with our own intact too, not as we might define it from its exceptions, despite how these exceptions are honorable and instructive and how much we might ground our work in them.

And this is going to get kind of long, so I apologize for that, but by “us” I actually mean a lot of people: against all but the wealthiest women and girls, all but the wealthiest queer people, against the poor, against the people who have to sell the hours of their lives to survive, against the ugly or infirm, against the colonized and the enslaved, against mothers and other people who do unpaid reproductive labor, against almost everyone who isn’t white—everyone who has been taken from, everyone who makes and maintains the world that the few then claim it is their right to own. And by “against,” many of us know this “literature” contains violent sentiments toward us, is full of painful exclusions, but that isn’t even the core of its opposition to us. How “literature” is also against us is that it is a magic circle drawn around the language games of a class of people—the rich and powerful and those who serve or have served them. It gives (or appears to give, like any mystification) these words a permission and a weight, dangles the ugliness in our faces and names it beauty, gleefully shows off stupidity and claims it as what is wise.

Part of what I admire and identify with here is Boyer’s refusal to bow down to literary gatekeepers while stubbornly continuing to write. In the pieces “Not Writing” and “What is ‘Not Writing,” Boyer describes the forces making writing difficult, if not impossible, for her as a working class woman, a single mother, and an outsider to high “culture.” But the production of these poems defies these obstacles—from illness to envy. She says, “There is envy which is also mixed with repulsion at those who do not have a long list of not writing to do.”

In closing, here is one of my favorite passages in Garments Against Women from “The Innocent Question.”

On the local radio show a man who won a Pulitzer prize in fiction explained that one must write every day because if a person does not write everyday a person forgets how to access the subconscious. If one did not write everyday then whenever a person comes back to writing she would have to learn to write from the beginning again. This has always been my plan. I would like to not know how to write, also to know no words. I believe this prize winning novelist believed that the mind had two places, the conscious and subconscious, and that literature could only come out of the subconscious mind, but that language preferred to live in the conscious one. This is wrong. Language prefers to live on the internet.

 

 

Nancy Kricorian


The Opposite of Coals to Newcastle

Mrs. Alice Kharibian (photo courtesy of Alexandra Kharibian)

Mrs. Alice Kharibian (photo courtesy of Alexandra Kharibian)

 

Last week as I was preparing to head downtown for breakfast with an acquaintance who runs a small press, I considered bringing him a copy of one of my novels. I had known him during my days running a literary scouting business, before having published a book, and hadn’t seen him in years. But wasn’t bringing a book to a publisher akin to carrying coals to Newcastle? In the years that I worked as a literary scout—reading dozens of books, bound galleys, and manuscripts each week—when someone gave me a book as a gift, I felt slightly queasy. It was like what you might experience at the end of a pie-eating contest if someone put another slice of pie in front of you.  

This train of thought reminded me of the time long ago when I went to visit Alice Kharibian, my grandmother’s lifelong friend who was the model for the Arsinee character in Zabelle, my first novel. Mrs. Kharibian had agreed to tell me the story of how she and my recently deceased grandmother had together survived the Deportations of 1915, also known as the Armenian Genocide.  My father and I drove to Jamaica Plain, where Mrs. Kharbian lived, and I brought her a bouquet of flowers.

When I handed her the flowers, Mrs. Kharibian, who was known to be frank, said, “Honey, why did you bring me those? My son’s a florist. You should have brought me some meat.” She put them in a vase nonetheless, and then we sat down for a long session of storytelling with the tape recorder rolling (as the tape did roll in those days).

It was then that she told me about how close to starvation she and my grandmother had been during their days as orphaned girls at Ras al Ain in the Syrian Desert. One of the stories, which I put to use in my novel, was about their finding a dead and rotting camel by the side of the road. The carcass was full of maggots, but they managed to use the ragged lid of a tin can to cut flesh from it and then roasted the meat over an open flame. “We couldn’t stand to eat it,” she told me, “but we sold it to others, and with the pennies we got, we were able to buy some bread.”

On the way home my meat cutter father told me that when he had given my grandmother a ride to her friend’s house, it was his habit to bring Mrs. Kharibian a good cut of meat—steak, sirloin tips, or some lamb chops. 

That afternoon, when Mrs. Kharibian explained to me how she and my grandmother had survived while tens of thousands around them had perished, she said, “Your grandmother was so wishy-washy. If it wasn’t for me telling her what to do, she would have been dead in the desert. I had to be jarbeeg for both of us.” (Jarbeeg is the Armenian word for clever.)

Mrs. Kharibian was clever, tough, and bossy, all of which served her and my grandmother well for survival.  At my grandmother’s funeral, she sat down beside me and said, “We were girls together in the desert. What will I do now without her?”

 

Nancy Kricorian

22 September 2016, New York City


Among The Hedgehogs

13202052

 

On January 12 at the Tenement Museum, I introduced a book launch event for my friend Dawn Anahid MacKeen. Below are my brief words of introduction.

 

“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” This fragment of verse by the Greek poet Archilochus was famously explored by Isaiah Berlin in his celebrated essay “The Hedgehog and the Fox: An Essay About Tolstoy’s View of History.” Berlin divided thinkers into two categories—the hedgehogs and the foxes—and attempted to argue that Tolstoy was a hedgehog with foxlike tendencies. Berlin later said, “I never meant it very seriously. I meant it as a kind of an enjoyable intellectual game, but it was taken seriously.” And so without taking too seriously either the Archilochus fragment or the Berlin essay, I would like to suggest to you that Dawn and I are hedgehogs. (I have a hunch that Raffi has hedgehog-like tendencies as well, but I don’t know his work broadly enough to make that claim.) When I say that Dawn and I are literary hedgehogs, this is because each of us spent ten years researching and writing our recent books. While the foxes of the writing world were happily producing books at regular, frequent intervals, we were digging into our respective very deep holes, burrowing so deeply, in fact, that at times we even doubted that we’d be able to find our way to the surface again.

In Dawn’s case, these efforts have resulted in the book we are here to celebrate tonight. The Hundred-Year Walk is a meticulously researched, beautifully written, and thoughtful work in which Dawn has woven together memoir, travel chronicle, family lore, and political history. It is a deeply personal story, but as the subtitle indicates—An Armenian Odyssey—it is also part of a community and a communal project.

One hundred years ago, Armenians in the Ottoman Empire were the victims of a horrific crime—the mass annihilation of hundreds of thousands of people, and the near complete erasure of Armenians from the lands where they had lived for many centuries, if not from the beginning of recorded history.  In the face of these devastating losses, most of those who survived were dispersed around the world where they fashioned new families and communities. These communities were bound together by religious institutions, by language, and by shared history. They were also knit together, I would argue, by the stories that they told—stories about the towns and villages that were lost, about the people who died and those who survived, and about their lives in these new lands. These stories were passed from parent to child, and more frequently from grandparent to grandchild.

But these narratives are also produced by the modern-day equivalent of the Armenian ashough or troubadours. In memoirs, novels, histories and poems, post-genocide Armenian writers—many in the Diaspora, and often using the languages of their adopted countries—have created new geographies of connection and belonging—geographies that are not simply stories of return, but stories with motion of their own, that take us to places both grounded in history and unmoored in imagination.

What Dawn has given us in The Hundred-Year Walk is a multi-generational story of resilience and survival. She and Raffi are going to talk to us now about the process of writing the book, as well as about the ways the past, the present, and the future inform and create each other. And after we hear more about Dawn’s and her grandfather’s journeys, I exhort you to buy at least two copies of her book—one for home and one for the road.

 

Nancy Kricorian

New York City


On Pandering and Whiteness

BG-Banner-Essay-by-Watkins

 

Critiques of the whiteness and manliness of mainstream American literary culture have again been winging around the Internet in the past few weeks. Witness Rebecca Solnit’s tongue-in-cheek response to Esquire’s “The 80 Best Books Every Man Should Read.” Solnit’s piece, entitled 80 Books No Woman Should Ever Read, is full of funny zingers. My favorite is, “Ernest Hemingway is also in my no-read zone, because if you get the model for your art from Gertrude Stein you shouldn’t be a homophobic antisemitic misogynist, and because shooting large animals should never be equated with masculinity.”

In response to Solnit, Sigal Samuel penned, “What Women Can Learn from Reading Sexist Male Writers.” Samuel argues, “If reading sexist male writers is recommended for women readers, it’s downright compulsory for women writers. We need to be intimately aware of that language, need to speak it backward and forward, so that we can make our own books relevant and, ideally, cleverly subversive to boot.”

An essay in Tin House that also made a huge splash was by acclaimed young fiction writer Claire Vaye Watkins. “On Pandering” starts off with a personal anecdote about an extremely entitled male writer who visited the campus where she was teaching and complained in a blog post that she had declined to let him share her bed. From there she discusses the way that her literary career has been shaped by watching and emulating “the boys.” She says:

I wanted to write something Cormac McCarthy would like, something Thomas Pynchon would come out of hiding to endorse, something David Foster Wallace would blurb from beyond the grave. I have been reenacting in my artmaking the undying pastime of my girlhood: watching boys, emulating them, trying to catch the attention of the ones who have no idea I exist.

The essay was well written and compelling, and I posted it to Twitter, writing,

“On Pandering” Every woman writer I know should read this essay. #feminism

My friend Randa Jarrar responded “Meh,” and I replied, “As a person who doesn’t pander but often feels marginal it was an affirmation of my choices.” We then had an interesting back and forth about the fact that as Randa put it, “Some white woman writer just realized what writers of color have known forever. And Tin White House published it.” A few other writers jumped into our conversation, which also included a discussion about whether Armenians and Arabs are white, and what “whiteness” is. It turns out that we weren’t the only ones having this kind of conversation, and Alison Herman on Flavorwire compiled some of the Tweets. And then this week a piece appeared on The Guardian in which Jamaican writer Marlon James is quoted as saying that writers of color are forced to pander to white women.

All of this made me think back on my last author newsletter in which I asked for suggestions about contemporary literary novels that deal with class inequality in America. The only recent work I could think of was Dan Woodrell’s WINTER’S BONE. I realized that my ideas about class were unconsciously restricted to “white” writers. For example, I didn’t think of Louise Erdrich’s bestselling THE ROUND HOUSE as a candidate because it was a “Native American novel” not a “class novel.” It appears that I’ve got to up my intersectionality game!

 

Nancy Kricorian

New York City

 


Ferrante Fever (2)

The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante

The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante

 

Coincident with the September 1st launch of the fourth and final installment of Elena Ferrante’s NEAPOLITAN NOVEL (if you haven’t read them yet, I recommend that you do so immediately), a flurry of reviews, articles and interviews were published. For those of you new to Ferrante, she is an Italian novelist who writes under a pen name and refuses to give in-person interviews or to do public readings, book signings or any other of the promotional work required of authors. (She is NOT on Facebook or Twitter either.)

There was an excellent interview in VANITY FAIR Magazine that started by describing the literary wars going on in Brooklyn: Karl Ove Knausgaard versus Elena Ferrante. Knausgaard is a Norwegian writer who produced a six-volume autobiographical novel entitled MY STRUGGLE. I asked a clerk at the cash register of Book Culture, our local independent bookseller, if there had been arguments among staff about the merits of the two authors—both of them having written recent much praised bestselling multi-volume autobiographical novels. Yes, she told me, each of the authors had passionate champions. I asked, “Does it break down along gender lines?” She said, “No.” But the woman behind the next register said, “Are you kidding? The women prefer Ferrante, and the men swear by Knausgaard.”

Having read all of Ferrante’s novels now available in English, and having made it through two and one half books of Knausgaard’s MY STRUGGLE, I know where my loyalties lie, although I do admire both works.

The London Review Bookshop posted on their blog a letter Ferrante wrote to her publisher before the launch of her first novel in 1991. Her words on book promotion were bracing and funny:

“I do not intend to do anything for TROUBLING LOVE, anything that might involve the public engagement of me personally. I’ve already done enough for this long story: I wrote it. If the book is worth anything, that should be sufficient. I won’t participate in discussions and conferences, if I’m invited. I won’t go and accept prizes, if any are awarded to me. I will never promote the book, especially on television, not in Italy or, as the case may be, abroad. I will be interviewed only in writing, but I would prefer to limit even that to the indispensable minimum.”

Slate published a short piece about the publisher’s decision to use “low-class” images on Ferrante’s novels, and the author’s acquiescence in this decision. The Economist ran a piece about how “a four-volume feminist novel has become an unlikely global hit.” The Atlantic published an interview with Ferrante’s American translator. And then cap it all off and prove how mainstream #FerranteFever had become, Entertainment Weekly ran an interview with the writer.

I won’t catalogue the many ecstatic reviews (you can look those up yourself), but after reading the novels, you might want to visit Ischia, an island off Naples where the novel’s narrator and heroine Elena spends time in the summer, and you might want to check out a travel piece about the place from The Guardian (with requisite quotations from the books). I’m dreaming of a trip to Naples, and hope by the time I get there an entrepreneurial guide will have a devised a walking tour of Ferrante’s City.

At this point, I have over a dozen friends and family members who have read and loved MY BRILLIANT FRIEND and the other books in the series. I’m thinking of hosting a #FerranteFever dinner in a few weeks after everyone has finished book four so we can discuss the puzzling, maddening and probably brilliant ending (don’t worry—no spoilers here!).

 

Nancy Kricorian

New York City


You too can receive this newsletter

Pie Chart by Nicola Griffith

Pie Chart by Nicola Griffith

 

Since a few months before the launch of All the Light There Was, I have been sending out a newsletter to friends, family, and interested readers. Below is my latest missive with instructions on how to sign up to receive the newsletter yourself.

5 Jun 2015

Dear Friends,

Well, I didn’t go to Book Expo America as planned. I was flattened by a virus and had to cancel pretty much everything for the week. I was sad to miss the event at the Republic of Armenia pavilion, and even sadder to miss a private dinner with Archipelago Books and translator Maureen Freely to celebrate the publication of Sait Fait’s A Useless Man: Selected Stories. While I was sick in bed, I read and loved the stories—the working class people, the scenes in and around Istanbul, and the humane, often melancholy, and yet sharp voice of the narrator.

For the past two months I have been enjoying Skype calls and email exchanges with a young Palestinian writer and translator in Gaza as part of a mentorship program called We Are Not Numbers. Please read the first harvest of our collaboration: Enas Fares Ghannam’s piece, FORCED: A Story from Gaza.

An article I wrote entitled “Choosing ‘Co-Resistance’ Rather Than ‘Turkish-Armenian Dialogue’” for the hard copy of Armenian Weekly’s April 2015 Armenian Genocide Magazine posted online last week.

And for those who are following the upcoming Turkish elections, you might find this amusing: Erdogan accused journalists, gays and Armenians as being ‘representatives of sedition’ through supporting the opposition, Kurdish-friendly HDP party. In The Nation, Maria Margaronis offers a good overview of the issues at stake in this election, along with some paragraphs about Armenian Genocide Centennial commemorative events in Istanbul.

At the end of May a novelist named Nicola Griffith wrote an essay about the fact that books about women tend not to win big awards and a second piece on the topic that offered solutions. Nothing in the data Griffith collected was surprising (disheartening yes, surprising no), but the pie charts were great. The inimitable Ursula Le Guin also wrote an excellent piece entitled Up The Amazon about Amazon, books and capitalism that I highly recommend.

Thanks, as always, for your support and interest. Please feel free to forward to a friend. Anyone can sign up to receive this newsletter by sending a note to nkbookgroup@gmail.com.

Best,

Nancy Kricorian

 


Things Literary and Armenian

Eric Bogosian, Ronald Suny, and Nancy Kricorian at PEN World Voices Armenian Genocide Panel, 6 May 2015

Eric Bogosian, Ronald Suny, and Nancy Kricorian at PEN World Voices Armenian Genocide Panel, 6 May 2015

 

On May 6, I participated in the PEN World Voices Festival Armenian Genocide: A Dark Paradigm panel along with Peter Balakian, Eric Bogosian, Maureen Freely, Robert Jay Lifton, Ron Suny, and Ragip Zarakoglu. The audio recording of the full session has been posted online.

If you live in New York, New Jersey or Boston you probably saw the super-obnoxious “happy butterfly” Armenian Genocide denial roadside billboards sponsored by a group calling itself “Fact Check Armenia.” This piece from Boston Magazine takes The Boston Globe to task for running the print ad on the same day that they called for genocide recognition in an editorial. There is also discussion of The New York Times’ refusal to run similar ads.

The Armenian Church has filed suit in Turkey for the return of church properties in historic Sis, now called Kozan, in Adana Province. In Istanbul, Nor Zartonk and human rights activists have been staging an occupation of the site of Kamp Armen, an Armenian orphanage and summer camp that was expropriated by the Turkish state, to save the buildings from demolition. The late Hrant Dink’s affiliation with the camp has aroused local sympathies and inspired Istanbul Armenians to take to the street in an unprecedented fashion.

Occupation of Kamp Armen

Occupation of Kamp Armen

Next week I’ll be attending Book Expo America for the first time since I closed my foreign literary scouting business in 2000. I’ll be doing a book presentation on Wednesday, May 27 at the “Armenian Pavilion,” and on Thursday, May 28 I’ll be helping to staff the She Writes Press booth.

I’m looking towards June as a time when my life will calm down and I’ll get back to work on my Beirut novel. As part of that project, I’ve signed up for an elementary Arabic language class. In a month-long summer course, I’m not expecting to learn the language as much as to be in its presence. There is an Armenian saying, “You are as many people as the languages you know.” The research I do for my novels and the creation of the characters and their worlds enrich my life in manifold ways.

 

Nancy Kricorian

NYC


The Nightmare of Publication and the Happy Afterlife of Books

novels

 

NIGHTMARE

Much has been made of the analogy between publishing a novel and giving birth to a child. Having given birth to two children and published three novels, I can say the two things have very little in common. One of traits they do share is that the pain involved is quickly forgotten, almost erased from memory, so that one is willing to undertake the process again. When I was in labor with my first child—a labor that lasted 24 hours—at the height of the agony, I insisted that my spouse repeat this sentence, “I promise I will never let you do this again.” Of course, several years later I was the one lobbying for another child, and when I went into labor a second time, the pain of the first rose up in my bodily memory like a hammer, and I thought, “Oh no! I didn’t want to do this again.” But by that point I had no choice.

About six months before the publication of my first novel, I had lunch with a writer friend who had already published three books. He kindly offered to pen a laudatory quotation for use on my novel’s back cover, and we talked shop about publishers, first print runs, foreign rights sales, and the like. I was working as a literary scout for international publishers at the time so I knew a fair amount about the business, but I was a neophyte as an author. When he said, “The three months around publication are a complete nightmare,” I was shocked. For years I had been longing to hold in my hands a copy of a book with my name printed on the cover. Wasn’t that the whole point of writing? Wasn’t that every unpublished writer’s dream? And here he was telling me that the achievement of my heart’s desire was going to make me miserable. I didn’t believe him, and even if I had believed him, it wouldn’t have made any difference because, as with childbirth, no amount of intellectual knowledge can prepare you for the lived experience.

Yet when the novel Zabelle was published in early 1998 I entered, as he had predicted, a dreadful realm where I couldn’t see the cover of a newspaper or magazine, including automotive trade rags, without wondering if my book were reviewed in its pages. I read all the reviews, getting a quick, temporary high from the good ones, and inadvertently memorizing the nasty bits from the bad ones. In the middle of the night the derisive comments would come echoing up in the voice of a wicked Disney Queen. The book tour had similar highs and lows—at one reading there were over a hundred people in the audience and for an hour I felt like a rock star; at the next gig only five souls showed up and I felt humiliated. I checked my Amazon.com sales rank on a daily, if not hourly, basis. I was still working in publishing then, and when I heard news about novels my editor had subsequently purchased, I was jealous if she had paid higher advances for them than she had for mine. I was, in fact, suffering from jealousy about what other “literary” (as opposed to commercial) writers that I knew had achieved: advances, print runs, foreign sales, film sales, starred reviews, twelve-city book tours, awards, honors, speaking gigs, and teaching positions.

But eventually the publication ordeal was in the past, the anxieties receded, and life got back to relative normal—until the aftershocks of the paperback launch a year later. It was difficult, if not impossible, to work on another novel during the months around publication of the hardcover and later the paperback. Then I was finally writing again—working on a second book. I went through a similar process when that one was published in 2003, except that it was a less successful book (fewer reviews, fewer copies sold, no translation sales). The Armenian community had avidly embraced Zabelle, which was a fictionalized account of my grandmother’s life as an Armenian genocide survivor and immigrant bride. The second book, Dreams of Bread and Fire, was a coming of age story about a half-Armenian young woman named Ani Silver who hops a freight train, has sex, experiments with drugs, and gets involved with a Marxist-Leninist revolutionary who sets off a bomb outside a Turkish airlines office. Two years after the 9/11 attacks was not a great moment for a book with a bomb in it, and if Zabelle was everyone’s beloved grandmother and mother, Ani was the daughter and granddaughter nobody wanted. If I had titled the book The Bad Armenian Girl it would have sold more copies. But my imagination resists commercial considerations.

I started my third novel not undaunted, but definitely unbowed. By the time the All the Light There Was, a novel about Maral Pegorian, a young Armenian girl growing to maturity in Paris during World War II, came out, the publishing world had undergone a sea change. While the book was a success in many regards—I earned out my advance, I sold over three times as many copies as I had of the previous book, and it was well reviewed—the process was fraught for all the old reasons and a few new ones. In addition to the mainstream reviewers and Amazon customer comments, there were now dozens if not hundreds of places people could vent their feelings about a book: Goodreads, Library Thing, and professional, literary and personal blogs. No matter how many four- and five-star reviews my book accrued, I had to train myself NOT to pay attention to the snarky one-star reviews. Then, in what seemed like an unimaginable setback, the publisher decided not to do a paperback. For a few weeks I was devastated, but rather than wallowing in despair, I followed my hero Grace Paley’s dictum, “The only recognizable feature of hope is action.” My agent was able to get the publisher to revert the paperback rights, and I approached my friends at She Writes Press about the possibility of doing the paperback with them. She Writes was in the business of producing paperback originals, but the publisher told me I was the third writer who had recently approached her with this kind of reprint saga and they would indeed be able to help me.

The paperback of All the Light There Was appeared in October 2014, and the sales have been good, far outstripping the low expectations of the hardcover publisher. Now I’m starting work on my next novel, the fourth in what my editor has labeled The Armenian Diaspora Quartet. I have been researching for over a year—the book will be focused on an Armenian family in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War. I haven’t started writing yet, and my psychotherapist asked me, “Are you sure, after how hard the publication process was on you, that you want to do another one?” I answered, “The writing is the good part, and the rest… I’ll deal with that when the time comes. I’m such a slow writer that it won’t be for another five years in any event.”

 

HAPPY AFTERLIFE

The other aspect to all this is that, despite my complaints and pains, all three of my novels are still in print. And when I reference the “happy afterlife of books,” I’m using the word happy in its original, archaic meaning. The word “hap” comes from Middle English for chance, luck, or fortune. I have the great good fortune that my books are available in paperback, in e-book versions, and in audio format. I have even recently signed a contract for a French edition of my second novel. I am lucky and grateful.

Each time after the promotional push around publication, I’ve had the feeling that my novel, which has the shelf life of yogurt in the brick-and-mortar bookstores, has been laid to rest. As far as the publisher is concerned, it’s done and they have moved on to the next season’s titles, but the funny thing is that my books are out in the world—in libraries, in people’s homes, available through online retailers, and in second-hand bookstores—and they continue to circulate and to have lives of their own, lives that I know nothing about except when I see a new customer comment on Goodreads, or when someone contacts me via Twitter or Facebook to express appreciation, or when I receive a fan letter through my agent. Another way that I’m fortunate is that I have a readership that cares about my work. I’m a minor celebrity in a minority community. At a recent Armenian fundraiser, a man seated at my table, when he found out that I was the author of Zabelle, told me that his mother has kept a copy of the book on her nightstand for many years. I love the idea that Zabelle Chahasbanian, Ani Silver, and Maral Pegorian are living in the hearts of unknown readers. It gives me the necessary drive to breathe life into my new heroine. Her name is Vera Serinossian.

 

Nancy Kricorian


My Favorite Books of 2014

It’s the time of year when everyone is putting out Top Ten lists and gift recommendations. Here is my minimalist response—three of my favorite books of the year: a graphic memoir by Roz Chast, a collection of poems by Najwan Darwish, and a new translation of a 1935 memoir by Zabel Yessayan. Happy reading and happy New Year!

 

Unknown-1

 

Roz Chast, Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant? Bloomsbury USA (May 2014)

In her first memoir, cartoonist Roz Chast brings her signature wit to the topic of aging parents. Spanning the last several years of their lives and told through four-color cartoons, family photos, and documents, Chast’s memoir is both comfort and comic relief for anyone experiencing the life-altering loss of elderly parents.

 

 

 

productimage-picture-nothing-more-to-lose-454

 

Najwan Darwish, Nothing More to Lose (translated from the Arabic by Kareen James Abu-Zeid), New York Review of Books Poets (April 2014)

Nothing More to Lose is the first collection of poems by Palestinian poet Najwan Darwish to appear in English. Hailed across the Arab world and beyond, Darwish’s poetry walks the razor’s edge between despair and resistance, between dark humor and harsh political realities. With incisive imagery and passionate lyricism, Darwish confronts themes of equality and justice while offering a radical, more inclusive, rewriting of what it means to be both Arab and Palestinian living in Jerusalem, his birthplace.

 

 

Unknown

 

 

Zabel Yessayan, The Gardens of Silidhar (translated from the Armenian by Jennifer Manoukian), AIWA Press (2014)

This memoir originally published in Armenian in 1935, is a beautiful, evocative narrative of Yessayan’s childhood and a vivid account of Armenian community life in Constantinople (Istanbul) at the end of the nineteenth century. Author, educator, and social activist, Zabel Yessayan (1878-1943) is recognized today as one of the greatest writers in Western Armenian literature.

 

Nancy Kricorian


Palestinian Fiction, National Book Awards, and Armenians to Istanbul

Marash Embroidery

Marash Embroidery

 

My article “That Country Beyond Our Reach: Palestinian Fiction Since 1967” is available for free download to the first 50 “colleagues” who click on this link. It is part of a special Palestine issue (edited by my friend Rachel Holmes) of the U.K. literary journal Wasifiri.

I wanted to share a few edifying links about book publishing from the National Book Awards Benefit Dinner in New York City on November 19. I was not there, but the proceedings attracted a great deal of media and social media attention because of a practically sublime speech from one writer and a shocking and appalling joke by another. Ursula K. LeGuin, who accepted a Lifetime Achievement Award, gave a beautiful and inspiring speech. You can read the transcript here and watch the video here. There is much to love in what she said, but this was my favorite paragraph:

Books aren’t just commodities; the profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Daniel Handler (a.k.a. Lemony Snicket) made a racist watermelon joke after Jacqueline Woodson was handed the National Book Award in the young adult category for her memoir Brown Girl Dreaming. Handler issued an apology via Twitter and, to his credit, donated money to the We Need Diverse Books campaign. Woodson penned an op-ed for the New York Times entitled, “The Pain of the Watermelon Joke.”

In terms of things Armenian, lavash bread was added to UNESCO’s list of “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.” Fethiye Cetin, Turkish human rights attorney and author of the memoir My Grandmother, was interviewed by Pinar Tremblay on AL Monitor: Turkish Woman’s Search Gives Voice to Islamized Armenians. And System of A Down announced they would be commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide with a “Wake Up The Souls Tour.” I’m continuing my work with Project 2015 to organize a mass fly in of Armenians to Istanbul for April 24, 2015. When the web site launches I will let you know, but for now you can LIKE the Facebook page or follow on Twitter.

And because I’m supposed to be pushing the paperback of ALL THE LIGHT THERE WAS, let me remind you that books make great holiday gifts. I will be happy to autograph and inscribe copies!

 

Nancy Kricorian