I love featuring debut authors on my blog. This interview is with 2013 debut novelist Brian Kimberling for his novel, SNAPPER.
SNAPPER details the brief but romantic career of a backwater birdwatcher. It won the 1st Annual Janklow & Nesbit Prize, and will appear from Pantheon (April 2013) and from Tinder Press (UK, May 2013). In a starred review, Booklist said of the book: “Told with precise and memorable prose in beautifully rendered, time-shifted vignettes, Snapper richly evokes the emotions of coming to adulthood … Kimberling writes gracefully about absurdity, showing a rich feeling for the whole range of human tragicomedy. A delightful debut.”
What is the book’s genre/category?
Please describe what the story/book is about.
Memoirs of a bird researcher in Southern Indiana, or “a story of one man’s disastrous love affair with the place that made him.” (the quote is UK dust jacket copy).
Where do you write from?
A kitchen table in Bath, England.
Briefly, what led up to this book?
I had published some newspaper and magazine articles, and I had written and produced several plays before SNAPPER. That was good training: I began to enjoy writing dialogue, for example, and developed a better sense of scene and comic timing. I have had the usual heaps of rejection letters from little magazines for short stories, stretching over two decades.
What was the time frame for writing this book?
I wrote SNAPPER in about 18 months total, I think, though the bulk of it came within about 6 months. There was an intense SNAPPER summer. I did an MA at Bath Spa University in England, working closely with Tessa Hadley, and for almost the whole time I was working on something entirely different. But eventually it became clear that what I wrote about Indiana was better than anything else I wrote. Write what you know, et cetera.
How did you find your agent?
My agent is Will Francis in the London office of Janklow & Nesbit. They run an annual contest for the best MS to come out of the Bath Spa University Master’s in Creative Writing programme. The winner receives a cash prize and an offer of representation. I won. The contestants are limited to 30 or 40 people — it’s the ideal sort of contest to enter, if you can find one.
What were your 1-2 biggest learning experience(s) or surprise(s) throughout the publishing process?
The agent and editors and so on who took on my book turned out to be the kind of people I’d hang out with if we lived in the same town. If I were trying to pitch a book now I’d look for people I personally like, and let things like track record and reputable agency sit in the background somewhere. I would look for someone in a Clash T-shirt, basically. Despite the publishing’s glamorous sheen, it is an industry full of — surprise! — people. It’s important to remember that.
Looking back, what did you do right that helped you break in?
I wrote an unusual book. To some extent I had to suppress my inner businessman, who thought that “birds in Indiana” was the least viable commercial proposition ever. I think that as the rejections mount, it’s easy or inevitable to start calculating your way in, and yet this calculation is antithetical to just following your instincts and writing the best story or book that you can.
On that note, what would you have done differently if you could do it again?
I’d like to have written SNAPPER when I was about 22, but I don’t think that was possible.
Did you have a platform in place? On this topic, what are you doing the build a platform and gain readership?
My US & UK publishers both encouraged me to start blogging, tweeting, set up a pinterest thing, make a Facebook page for the book, and so forth. I do all those things to some degree. I started the blog when the MS was doing the rounds, containing promotional materials from my plays and some published nonfiction and so on. The main reason I did that was so I could obsess over web stats and try to determine when someone somewhere was taking notice.
Something personal about you readers may be surprised to know?
I’m 6’7″, which puts me in the company of very tall authors Michael Crichton, Garrison Keillor, and Jane Smiley.
Another book set in Indiana, for Pantheon.
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