The novella, that cute little format that fits so well into your purse or back pocket, seems to be everywhere these days. Even Stephanie Meyer, of Twilight saga fame, published a novella this year, and no one can accuse her of word weariness. Why is the novella so popular? I decided to ask creative writing instructor Edan Lepucki. Her novella, If You’re Not Yet Like Me (“a romantic comedy–if romantic comedies were dark and screwed up and no one got exactly what they wanted”) is forthcoming from Flatmancrooked Press.
WP: Your novella is coming out next month. Why do you think it is such a popular medium right now? Why did you decide to write this as a novella, rather than a short story?
EL: I think one of the reasons the novella is experiencing a renaissance these days is that it can provide the emotional sucker-punch that comes with the economical grace of a short story, while also allowing for the asides, exposition and narrative sprawl that make novels so fun. I think readers like both experiences. I love to read novellas when I fly for this very reason; I can get caught up in the novella’s world for long enough to feel really invested, and after I finish it, I can still dip into the novel I brought for the rest of my trip. (It also leaves me with enough time to read a trashy magazine, which, for me, is a staple of any travel experience).
WP: Your work has been published in Los Angeles Magazine, The Los Angeles Review, and many other publications. What advice do you have for unpublished writers who have work ready to send out for publication? How do you know when a story is “ready”?
EL: I like to show my students my huge collection of rejections from magazines; some of them I’ve sewn together into a book, and the rest flounder in a file. I tell them it took me two years of submitting to publish my first story, and another two years to publish my second—meaning, I suppose, that one has to be tenacious and keep writing, revising, and sending out because it’s a very long, slow and often disheartening process. The mark of a true writer is someone who keeps writing, even when all signs seem to say, “Stop!” My best advice is to devote yourself to the writing first, and publication second—but don’t be afraid to submit your work because you don’t want to get rejected. You will get rejected; it’s part of the writer’s life.
WP: What writers do you turn to when you’re feeling uninspired? Do you have any “tricks” for getting motivated?
EL: Reading is the reason I became a writer, and anyone who wants to be a writer should be reading, reading, reading. Books will teach, inspire, humble, challenge, and entertain you. Whenever I’m feeling a little stuck, I skim some Thomas Hardy (for his strange, lovely syntax), Antonya Nelson (for her wit and imagery), Edward P. Jones (for his authorial confidence and lyricism), and John Williams (for his crisp prose and compassion). I have a bookshelf of favorite writers right by my desk, and sometimes all I need to do is look at these spines to feel buoyed and excited to write.
WP: Do you have any guilty pleasure reads that you’re willing to admit?
EL: I’m not too proud to say I read trashy magazines (see question #1). I love gossip rags—it’s true, I want to know who’s getting anorexic and who is getting divorced.
I don’t tend to read much trashy fiction. I am very sensitive to prose, and if sentences are awkwardly written, or if the descriptions are inaccurate, I cannot enjoy myself. I really am pained by a poorly-worded phrase. That said, I love a good yarn, and I try to read as widely as possible, to open myself to different modes of storytelling.
WP: What are you working on right now?
EL: I’m finishing up final revisions of my novel, The Book of Deeds. I also just began a short story which will attempt to tell the entire life of a character in 15 pages or less. As my students know, I am obsessed with summary in fiction and how it compresses time.
If You’re Not Yet Like Me will be available for pre-order on October 4th, and Skylight Books will be hosting a book party for Edan on Saturday, November 20th at 5 pm. For more information visit http://www.flatmancrooked.com/launch. To learn more about Edan, visit her instructor bio page.
Katy Flaherty is the Program Representative for Creative Writing (Online) and Events. Her guilty pleasures include vampire novels (yes, even Twilight) and Martha Stewart Living.