Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Interview with Barbara Rogan, and a Neil Gaiman Pep Talk, before Saint David's Day

Interview! With the amazing Barbara Rogan!

I first met Barbara through the Compuserve Books and Writers Community (thank you, Diana Gabaldon), and recently participated in her Revising Fiction Workshop, which helped me no end when I was trying to finalise the edits for Out of the Water (also, thanks to Matthew, I'm going to revise my query again!). And now, here's Barbara, first as an author, and then as an editor:

As an author...
Which is the most embarrassing song, book, movie or TV show that you love?

I watch those high-end real-estate reality shows, "Selling New York" and the like, which is pure voyeurism: seeing how the 1% live and imagining myself in those houses.


Which of your characters is most like you?

There's some of me in all of them, including (or especially) the villains. I do feel a great affinity with one character from my second book, Café Nevo: Emmanuel Yehoshua Sternholz a 72-year-old waiter in a Tel Aviv café. Sternholz is always there, sweeping up, eavesdropping, and interfering in his customers' lives... sort of like me with my characters.


Favourite literary character not your own?

Huck Finn, of course. And Elizabeth Bennet, for her attitude.


Would you like to be one of your characters, or do you the writer torture them too much?

No. I prefer at least the illusion of free choice.


What's the weirdest thing you've researched?

How to make Shaker-style furniture, which isn't so weird, except that I have zero affinity for any activity requiring tools. And of course the various methods of killing people, their advantages and disadvantages.

[Oh! I know what book that was for - Rowing in Eden. I loved it!]


As an agent and editor...

Just a note: I'm no longer an agent.

Do you go out looking for new writers, or wait for writers to come to you?

They come to me, as a teacher and editor.


If you don't like a book, how destructive can you be with your criticism? Do you change your approach depending on the author?

I like to think that I am never destructive. I don't only address flaws; I also recognize good writing or story-telling when I see it. But I do ask tough questions, and occasionally they reveal fault lines in a project. If I know a writer is super-sensitive, I'll wrap an extra layer of tact around my notes, or try to, anyway, but the substance doesn't change.


Day-to-day, what is the most challenging aspect of your work?

I started out on the publishing end of things. Being a writer is a lot harder and lonelier. It's a long wait between paydays, too. But I really have no complaints. I love what I do, and I get to make my living doing what I love. I'm very fortunate.


Which author would you most have loved to represent? Which authors did you love and represent?

I was an agent in Israel, where I represented many great writers for Hebrew rights on behalf of their primary agents. I was lucky enough to meet quite a few. Among my favorites were Isaac Bashevis Singer (who took me to lunch in a Jewish deli on the lower East Side), Madeleine L'Engle, and Nadine Gordimer.

[Madeleine L'Engle! I'm jealous!]


Is rejection a personal issue for agents? Is it harder to submit queries as an author or as an agent?

For agents, rejection goes with the territory. For writers, too, but writers take it more personally.


And now a longish question: I recently read an article about the editor Robert Gottlieb. At one point, author Michael Crichton describes working with Gottlieb:

"When I sent Bob a draft of The Andromeda Strain - the first book I did for him - in 1968 he said he would publish it if I would agree to completely rewrite it. I gulped and said OK. He gave me his feelings about what had to happen on the phone, in about twenty minutes. He was very quick. Anyway, I rewrote it completely. He called me up and said, Well, this is good, now you only have to rewrite half of it. Again, he told me what needed to happen - for the book to begin in what was then the middle, and fill in the material from the beginning sometime later on.

Finally we had the manuscript in some kind of shape. I was just completely exhausted. He said to me, Dear boy, you've got this ending backwards. (He's married to an actress, and he has a very theatrical manner. He calls me "dear boy," like an English actor might do.) I don't remember exactly the way it was, but I had it so that one of the characters was supposed to turn on a nuclear device, and there was suspense about whether or not that would happen. Bob said, No, no, the switch has to turn itself on automatically, and the character has to turn it off. He was absolutely right. That was the first time I understood that when there is something wrong in writing, the chances are that there is either too much of it, too little of it, or that it is in some way backwards."

I've always wondered about editors who take on authors and then expect them to rewrite everything – do they see something in that author that makes the process worthwhile? Would that not work with everyone? How do you feel about that level of editing? Do the lines between author and editor become blurred after a while?

Interesting story, but it reflects more on the past than the present. Very few editors now would take on a book that needed that amount of work. Even then it was unusual. Gottlieb must have thought it a great story, as indeed it was. (I doubt he thought C. was a great writer, or the book wouldn't have needed so much editing.) Notice that Crichton agreed with the changes and learned from them; they weren't shoved down his throat. I don't see an overlapping of functions here, just a zealous editor and a receptive writer.

Thank you very much, Barbara, for visiting on my blog and answering all my disconnected questions!

Parting words on this ROW80 day (I've edited a few more pages and typed up two filler scenes. Yes, it's going s l o w l y) come from Neil Gaiman's Journal:
"It does help, to be a writer, to have the sort of crazed ego that doesn't allow for failure. The best reaction to a rejection slip is a sort of wild-eyed madness, an evil grin, and sitting yourself in front of the keyboard muttering "Okay, you bastards. Try rejecting this!" and then writing something so unbelievably brilliant that all other writers will disembowel themselves with their pens upon reading it, because there's nothing left to write. Because the rejection slips will arrive. And, if the books are published, then you can pretty much guarantee that bad reviews will be as well. And you'll need to learn how to shrug and keep going. Or you stop, and get a real job."

(image found in a Google search)

Tomorrow is Dewi Sant/Saint David's Day. If you're Welsh, wear a leek or daffodil!

18 comments:

Linda G. said...

Great interview! Barbara, I'm totally jealous you got to work with Madeleine L'Engle, too. How cool is that!

Nadja Notariani said...

St. David's Day? Never heard of it...but I have boys who love all things from England's history - especially griffins and coats of arms (hmmm..never typed that before...'coats of arms' sounds so, so wrong??!!). I'll send them off to school with an interesting tidbit to share! I think the boys may protest wearing an oversized onion...haha, but maybe we can conjure up a daffodil at the flower shop! Have a wonderful day, Deniz.

Deniz Bevan said...

Thanks for coming by, Linda!

That sounds like fun, Nadja - I'm planning to wear a daffodil too, if I can find one under all the snow!

Cherie Reich said...

Great interview! And that's an awesome tidbit about Michael Crichton and THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN.

Deniz Bevan said...

Thanks Cherie!
I like reading author histories/biographies :-)

Medeia Sharif said...

Great interview. I enjoyed reading about Barbara, what she's done, and who she's worked with, as well as the writerly tidbits. Thanks for introducing me to her.

Deniz Bevan said...

I'm glad you enjoyed the interview, Medeia!

Angela Brown said...

While the interview shed a great deal of light on some things regarding the editor's view, that journal entry by Neil really embodied the audacity of what we do as writers. We dare to dream, dare to share the dream with others, taking a beating along the way with rejections and some bad reviews. But it does take some gumption to do what we do.

Jamie Gibbs said...

Happy St. David's Day to you to! I didn't have time to get a leek, but I've got my Welsh rugby shirt, so that'll count :)

Romance Book Haven said...

Great interview, Barbara and Deniz! Lovely answers to fantastic questions! And really Barbara....villians?

Talli Roland said...

Happy St David's Day! It's absolutely gorgeous here and the daffs are blooming.

Fantastic interview with Barbara. It's nice to see I'm not the only one who loves property shows.

Deniz Bevan said...

And we have to renew that stockpile of gumption everyday, Angela!

Rugby shirt definitely counts, Jamie~!

Thanks so much, Romance and Talli!

Vicki Tremper said...

Great interview! Gosh that Neil Gaiman is just brilliant, isn't he? I don't quite want to disembowel myself with my pen after reading his work, but I do consider not writing anymore. Until I realize that I just can't stop.

Happy St. David's Day!

nutschell said...

Great interview Deniz! I love that Barbara got to work with the great Madeleine L'Engle!

The Golden Eagle said...

Excellent interview! I loved reading her answers.

S.P. Bowers said...

Great interview. Happy St. David's Day. I think I do have welsh ancestors.

Barbara Rogan said...

Linda, I actually became quite friendly with her. We had lunch several times and talked on the phone, and she read one of my books and gave me a blurb. The lovely gracious woman.

Deniz Bevan said...

I feel the same way, Vicki!

Thanks Nutschell, Eagle and Sara!

Sooo lucky, Barbara! Thank you so much for answering my questions :-)

Books I'm Reading and Finished Books

  • The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny (reread)
  • The Murder Stone by Louise Penny (reread)
  • The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien (annual reread)
  • ***Reading At Intervals***
  • Burning Sky by Lori Benton
  • 12 Anne and Avonlea books by L. M. Montgomery (skimming/reread (this was free on Kindle!))
  • Istanbul Noir (Akashic Books anthology)
  • Parade's End by Ford Madox Ford
  • The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien manuscripts edited by J. D. Rateliff
  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  • The Jerusalem Bible
  • ***Finished Books***
  • The Cruellest Month by Louise Penny (reread)
  • Dead Cold by Louise Penny (reread)
  • Still Life by Louise Penny (reread)
  • A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny
  • Mrs McGinty's Dead by Agatha Christie (reread)
  • Still Into You by Roni Loren
  • Partners in Crime by Agatha Christie (reread)
  • Remember Me (beta read of short story)
  • Palace Pets busy book
  • Smurfs busy book
  • The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie (reread)
  • The Murder Game by Julie Apple
  • To Get Me To You by Kait Nolan
  • Know Me Well by Kait Nolan
  • Smurfs storybook in playmat/figurine collection
  • The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie (reread)
  • Creed or Chaos? by Dorothy Sayers
  • Cat Among the Pigeons by Agatha Christie (reread)
  • A Dangerous Alphabet by Neil Gaiman (reread)
  • Robert Munsch Mini-Treasury One: The Paper Bag Princess, Angela's Airplane, 50 Below Zero, A Promise Is A Promise, and Pigs (reread first two)
  • On Fairy Stories by J.R.R. Tolkien (reread except for all the expanded edition bits)
  • Elephant and Piggie - Elephants Can't Dance by Mo Willems
  • Elephant and Piggie - Let's Go For A Drive by Mo Willems
  • Elephant and Piggie - There is a Bird on Your Head by Mo Willems
  • Overdose of Death/The Patriotic Murders by Agatha Christie (reread)
  • Once Upon A Coffee by Kait Nolan
  • Turn My World Around by Kait Nolan
  • Hickory Dickory Dock by Agatha Christie (reread)
  • Ordeal by Innocence by Agatha Christie (reread)
  • "I Give You My Body...": How I Write Sex Scenes by Diana Gabaldon
  • Fractured by Catherine McKenzie
  • The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman
  • Maigret Chez les Flamands by Georges Simenon
  • Prince Wild-fire by G. K. Chesterton
  • Birthday Girls by Monica Byrne (short story)
  • Who We Were Before by Leah Mercer
  • The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain
  • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J. K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany
  • No Man's Land by Simon Tolkien
  • BOSS: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band - The Illustrated History, by Gillian G. Gaar
  • Age of Consent by Marti Leimbach
  • The Secrets She Kept by Brenda Novak
  • Lethal Lies by Lara Lacombe
  • The Mansfield Rescue by Beth Cornelison (skimmed)
  • beta read!
  • Killer Exposure by Lara Lacombe
  • What Makes My Cat Purr (board book)
  • Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand (love this!)
  • Things That Go (board book)
  • Peppa Pig Visits the Hospital
  • Peppa Pig and Friends
  • Ox-Tales anthology
  • Colton Baby Homecoming by Lara Lacombe
  • Traumphysik by Monica Byrne (short story)
  • The Cookie Jar by Stephen King (short story)
  • short story by R. W. (unpublished)
  • The Rose on the Ash-Heap by Owen Barfield
  • English People by Owen Barfield
  • "Come Sing ye Light Fairy Things Tripping so Gay": Victorian Fairies and the Early Work of J.R.R. Tolkien by Dimitra Fimi (essay)
  • Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry by J. K. Rowling
  • A Closed World: On By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept by Emily St John Mandel (essay)
  • Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel
  • The Summing Up by Somerset Maugham (reread)
  • The New Adventures of William Tell by Anthony Horowitz
  • Gambled Away anthology featuring Jo Bourne, Rose Lerner, etc.
  • The Dust That Falls from Dreams by Louis de Bernieres
  • The Bog Girl by Karen Russell (short story)
  • Dust by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor
  • The Favour by Clare O'Dea (short story)
  • Wizarding History by J. K. Rowling (short pieces on Pottermore)
  • Jack Palmer by Amanda Palmer (essay on http://myoldman.org/jack-palmer-by-amanda-palmer/)
  • All Fixed Up by Linda Grimes
  • One Day I Will Write About This Place by Binyavanga Wainaina
  • various haiku by R. Wodaski
  • various issues of Amon Hen
  • How do artists make a living? An ongoing, almost impossible quest by Monica Byrne (essay)
  • The Darkling Thrush by Thomas Hardy (poem)
  • Traitor's Purse by Margery Allingham
  • Kill Me Quick by Meja Mwangi
  • A Pocketful of Rye by Agatha Christie
  • Little Miss Twins by Roger Hargreaves (reread)
  • Mr Rush by Roger Hargreaves (reread)
  • Mr Funny by Roger Hargreaves (reread)
  • The Mzungu Boy by Meja Mwangi
  • By the Pricking of My Thumbs by Agatha Christie (reread)
  • secret beta read!
  • Where the Exiles Wander: A Celebration of Horror by R. B.
  • How to Write about Africa by Binyavanga Wainaina (essay)
  • A Woman in Arabia: The Writings of the Queen of the Desert Gertrude Bell (compiled by Georgina Howell)
  • Three Men In A Boat by Jerome K Jerome
  • Dead Man's Folly by Agatha Christie
  • The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • A River Town by Thomas Keneally
  • Free Fall by Monica Byrne (short story)
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  • Heartburn by Nora Ephron
  • New Europe by Michael Palin
  • Lyddie by Katherine Paterson
  • The Seven Dials Mystery by Agatha Christie (possibly a reread)
  • Husli the Dwarf
  • Winter Birds
  • Walkabout by James Vance Marshall (reread)
  • Wish I Might by Kait Nolan (novella)
  • A Walk in the Countryside A B C (National Trust and Nosy Crow Books)
  • My First Touch and Trace 1 2 3
  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Weep Not, Child by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o
  • A Secret Vice by J. R. R. Tolkien (edited by Dimitra Fimi and Andrew Higgins)
  • A Pocket For Corduroy by Don Freeman
  • The Narrow Corner by Somerset Maugham
  • Cakes and Ale by Somerset Maugham
  • Le gout d'Istanbul (anthology) (skimmed)
  • Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
  • Blue Nowruz by Monica Byrne (short story)
  • Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie
  • secret beta read!
  • The Road Home by Rose Tremain
  • The Mewlips by J. R. R. Tolkien (poem; reread)
  • Just for This Moment by Kait Nolan
  • To Err is Human -- To Float, Divine by Woody Allen (short story)
  • the collected works of Beatrix Potter (Folio Society edition, over 30 books)
  • 11 Doctors 11 Stories by various authors (including Neil Gaiman) (only half read)
  • At Home by Bill Bryson
  • Millions of Cats by W Gag
  • Travels in the Scriptorium by Paul Auster
  • Discovering You by Brenda Novak
  • Notes from a Big Country by Bill Bryson
  • Report from the Interior by Paul Auster
  • Dream Days by Kenneth Grahame
  • Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman
  • The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien (reread)
  • They Do It With Mirrors by Agatha Christie
  • The Creatures of Number 37 by John Watts
  • The Inklings by Humphrey Carpenter (reread)
  • A Mother's Confession by Amanda Palmer (lyrics and liner notes)
  • Where Eagles Dare by Alistair MacLean
  • Guide to the Names in the Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien, in A Tolkien Compass
  • Dirge Without Music by Edna St. Vincent Millay (poem)
  • For my Wife, Navid by Monica Byrne (short story)
  • An Evening in Tavrobel by J. R. R. Tolkien (poem; reread)
  • The Lonely Isle by J. R. R. Tolkien (poem; reread)
  • Bilbo's Last Song by J. R. R. Tolkien (poem)
  • Ancrene Riwle, preface, by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • Adonais: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats by Percy Bysshe Shelley (poem)
  • Absence of Mind by Marilynne Robinson
  • The Peoples of Middle-earth - Book 12 in the History of Middle Earth series by Christopher Tolkien and J R R Tolkien (reread)
  • The Tale of Jemima Puddleduck by Beatrix Potter (reread)
  • The Tale of Mr Jeremy Fisher by Beatrix Potter (reread)
  • The Tale of Tom Kitten by Beatrix Potter (reread)
  • The Young Magicians edited by Lin Carter (anthology; includes two poems by J. R. R. Tolkien and all of rumble rumble rumble rumble drum belaboured by C. S. Lewis, referred to in The Last Battle)
  • Black and White Ogre Country by Hilary Tolkien
  • The Devil's Coach Horses by J. R. R. Tolkien (essay)
  • Guido's Gondola by Renee Riva and Steve Bjorkman
  • Save Our Public Universities by Marilynne Robinson (essay in Harper's Magazine)
  • Edmund Campion by Evelyn Waugh
  • Arthur and George by Julian Barnes
  • Career by Yevtushenko (poem)
  • Human life in this century by Yevtushenko (poem)
  • Willow by Anna Akhmatova (poem)
  • Sonnet LXVI by Shakespeare
  • Sir Walter Raleigh to His Son (poem)
  • Fair Jenny by Robbie Burns (poem)
  • MacPherson's Farewell by Robbie Burns (poem)
  • World's End, the collected Sandman No. 8 by Neil Gaiman
  • O Wert Thou In The Cauld Blast by Robbie Burns (poem)
  • The War of the Jewels - Book 11 in the History of Middle Earth series by Christopher Tolkien and J R R Tolkien (reread)
  • The Rolling English Road by G. K. Chesterton (poem)
  • The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes
  • A Tradition of Eighteen Hundred and Four by Thomas Hardy
  • The Hierophant by Lee-Ann Dalton (short story)
  • The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street by Helene Hanff
  • 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff (reread)
  • Lonely Planet guide to Switzerland
  • Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen
  • beta read!
  • Ode on Venice by Lord Byron (poem)
  • Little Miss Scatterbrain by Roger Hargreaves (reread)
  • Little Miss Lucky by Roger Hargreaves (reread)
  • Little Miss Trouble by Roger Hargreaves (reread)
  • Homage to Switzerland by Ernest Hemingway (short story; reread but I really don't remember it after 20 years)
  • The Hockey Sweater by Roch Carrier (reread)
  • Sing a Long Children's Songs
  • Emily's First Christmas
  • Up At the Villa by Somerset Maugham (novella)
  • Telling Stories by Tim Burgess
  • The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • The Marble Collector by Cecilia Ahern
  • Sophie's Throughway by Jules Smith
  • Baby Animals (Little Golden Books)
  • The House That Jack Built (Little Golden Books)
  • Scuffy the Tugboat (Little Golden Books)
  • The Saggy Baggy Elephant (Little Golden Books)
  • Morgoth's Ring - Book 10 in the History of Middle Earth series by Christopher Tolkien and J R R Tolkien (reread)
  • A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Who's A Pest by Crosby Bonsall
  • Mine's the Best by Crosby Bonsall (reread)
  • The Case of the Hungry Stranger by Crosby Bonsall (reread)
  • extracts from the diary of John Evelyn (Volume 1 of 2)
  • extracts from Lord Byron's letters about Villa Diodati
  • Pippin the Christmas Pig by Jean Little
  • Ite Missa Est by Anthony Martignetti
  • The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis (reread)
  • The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis (reread)
  • The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis (reread)
  • Prince Caspian by C. S. Lewis (reread)
  • The Red Angel by G. K. Chesterton (essay)
  • Emily's Runaway Imagination by Beverly Cleary
  • The Boy Who Set Out to Learn What Fear Was by the Brothers Grimm
  • The Horse and His Boy by C. S. Lewis (reread)
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis (reread)
  • secret beta read!
  • Preludes by Wordsworth (extracts read aloud)
  • Little Miss Scatterbrain by Roger Hargreaves
  • Dance Me A Dream by Kait Nolan (ARC)
  • Once Upon A Coffee by Kait Nolan
  • England and Switzerland, 1802 by William Wordsworth (poem)
  • Once Upon A New Year's Eve by Kait Nolan
  • short story by Becky Morgan (http://forums.compuserve.com/discussions/Books_and_Writers_Community/Writers_Exercises/Becky_Morgans_December_X/ws-books/85291.1?nav=messages)
  • Blood In Blood Out by Brenda Novak (short story)
  • That Hell-Bound Train by Robert Bloch (short story)
  • Distraction by J. L. Campbell
  • Humble Bundle Peanuts collection (strips by Charles Schulz)
  • Peanuts Volumes I to VI (bought via Humble Bundle; very disappointing as it's mostly new strips -- how is that even allowed?!)
  • Sandals and Sangria by Talli Roland (short story)
  • Over the Hump by Talli Roland (short story)
  • issues of Journal of Inklings Studies and Amon Hen and Mallorn (Tolkien Society)
  • Z is for Zamboni: A Hockey Alphabet by Matt Napier
  • Babar and his Family by Laurent de Brunhoff
  • Illusions Lost by Byron A. Maddox (short story)
  • ongoing rereads of most board books listed last year!
  • Lost My Name book for Emily (https://www.lostmy.name/)
  • Now We Are Six by A. A. Milne
  • When We Were Very Young by A. A. Milne (reread)
  • Neil Gaiman comics on Sequential app
  • Moranology by Caitlin Moran
  • see the 2015 list and statistics at http://thegirdleofmelian.blogspot.ch/2015/12/annual-books-read-statistics.html
  • see the 2014 list and statistics at http://thegirdleofmelian.blogspot.ch/2014/12/books-read-in-2014-review.html
  • see the 2013 list and statistics at http://thegirdleofmelian.blogspot.ca/2014/01/toast-to-professor-books-read-in-2013.html
  • see the 2012 list and statistics here http://thegirdleofmelian.blogspot.ca/2012/12/the-hobbit-review-and-year-end-books.html
  • see the 2011 statistics on http://thegirdleofmelian.blogspot.ca/2012/01/books-read-in-2011-statistics-fourth.html
  • see the 2011 list at http://thegirdleofmelian.blogspot.ca/2012/01/books-read-in-2011.html
  • see the 2010 list at http://thegirdleofmelian.blogspot.com/2010/12/books-read-in-2010-listed-here.html
  • see the 2009 list at http://thegirdleofmelian.blogspot.com/2009/12/books-read-in-2009-part-ii.html
  • also in 2009 at http://thegirdleofmelian.blogspot.com/2009/12/books-read-in-2009-part-iv.html
  • see the 2008 list at http://thegirdleofmelian.blogspot.com/2008/12/books-read-in-2008-part-ii.html
  • also in 2008 at http://thegirdleofmelian.blogspot.com/2008/12/books-read-in-2008-part-vi.html
  • also in 2008 at http://thegirdleofmelian.blogspot.com/2008/12/books-read-in-2008-part-iv.html