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Author Interview: Asher Price, Author of the Memoir YEAR OF THE DUNK

It's time for another debut author interview. I love debut author interviews because it gives people an opportunity to see what successful writers did right on their journeys.

This interview is with Asher Price, who, in his mid-30s, decided to test the limits of his own potential and attempt to dunk a basketball. This led to his memoir/science book, YEAR OF THE DUNK (May 12; Crown). Publishers Weekly called it "informative and entertaining."

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Please describe what the story/book is about.

Year of the Dunk is about the frontiers of human potential, following my efforts, in my mid-thirties, to dunk a basketball for the very first time.

 Where do you write from? 

I live in Austin, TX and write at home, a hundred year-old Craftsman bungalow.

Briefly, what led up to this book? 

I had always wanted to dunk a basketball but had never really tried. In my mid-thirties, on a journalism fellowship up in New York City, I finally had the time to start training to do it – but biology being biology, this would be my last realistic chance. The more I thought about the dunk – the special place it plays in American culture, the beauty of it – the more I thought my idea could make a book. I had never embarked on a project like this before. The closest thing was co-authoring a book called the The Great Texas Wind Rush, about energy pioneers in Texas, where I’m a newspaper reporter at the Austin American-Statesman.

(Do you need different agents if you write multiple genres?)

What was the time frame for writing this book? 

I worked hard pretty consistently on this book over about two years, between reporting and writing and editing. The tough thing was that most of that time I was working as a newspaper reporter, so I had to do the writing and reporting very early in the morning or in the evening or on weekends. It was exhausting, when you fold in all the jumping I was doing, too.

How did you find your agent?

I found my agent [David Halpern of The Robbins Office] through a journalism professor of mine at Columbia. I had the moxie, I guess, to ask my professor, who is a Pulitzer prize winning author, if he could recommend his agent. He very sweetly did, and so I sent that agent my pitch – and told him my prof had sent me along. I’m sure that helped. So my professor forever has my gratitude for that simple favor.

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What were your 1-2 biggest learning experience(s) or surprise(s) throughout the publishing process?

The biggest lesson is how much the proposal can change: My agent patiently worked with me to really improve my proposal before he sent it off to publishing houses. I think the author has to be a bit like an actor trusting a director: Take your agent’s editing suggestions with an open mind. I had never written a book for a trade publication before; he knew the lay of the land a lot better than I.

Looking back, what did you do right that helped you break in?

Taking the whole project seriously. It’s one thing to talk around a breakfast table about how such-and-such would make a great book. It’s another to go about drawing up a proposal. And then keep your pitch to agents punchy: I had good luck with agents because my initial e-mail was to the point. Actually, I think working at a great newspaper like the Statesman helped me in this regard: On a daily basis I have to pitch stories to my editor, so I was in good practice, as it were, for pitching a much larger project.

On that note, what would you have done differently if you could do it again?

Honestly, I was incredibly lucky throughout – I don’t think there’s anything I would have done differently. One piece of really good advice I got: When trying to find an agent, go to the bookstore and look at the acknowledgements of books similar to the one you have in mind. You’re likely to find the name of a suitable agent there.

(Literary terms defined -- the uncommon and common.)

Best piece(s) of advice for writers trying to break in?

Don’t be afraid to ask for advice: if you know someone who has successful written a proposal, ask him or her if you could take a look at it; if you know someone who knows an agent, ditto.

Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?

I worked as a low-level roustabout in the oil fields of northern Alaska the summer after my freshman year of college.

Favorite movie?

Breaking Away.


What’s next?

I’m tooling around with science-y book ideas, but for now my chief focus is on my daily work at the Statesman newspaper.


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