Author interview: Zeb Appel

zebLike other members of the Westport Writers Rendezvous with publishing news, Zeb Appel shared that her debut novel, Good Luck and a Benevolent God, was published this summer by DartFrog Books  not just in the US, but around the world. The book is about the colorful life and death of Mandy Flanagan, an Irish girl from the South End of Boston who elopes to New York in the twenties, how she navigates a good part of the twentieth century, and finally retires to the suburbs of Wallingford, CT. It has a great review from Kirkus, including this quote: “Appel writes in the natural prose of a raconteur, rising occasionally to the level of lyricism when praising her heroine.” I enjoyed the book too, and the way it demonstrated how stories and people intersect in their lives—what keeps them together and forces them apart. It’s a great book club book, with plenty to discuss.

I’ve followed some of Zeb’s progress via our meetings, but I wanted to know more.

GC: How did your experience as a playwright help or hinder you in writing a novel? Do you think it influenced your prose style?

ZA: Actually, my creative writing life began as a student writing poetry and short stories. These were published in literary magazines and university publications. About ten years ago I started writing plays, short and full-length, comedies and dramas. I took a class at the Hartford Stage, joined organizations and went to shows. This was fun. I learned about dialog and performance, the delivery of words, what sounded natural and what fit that particular character. This works in fiction, too. I always read my work aloud no matter what form it takes.

appelGC: What was the impetus for writing a novel at all? Just to try something different? To write about this particular character?

ZA: I am just a storyteller who writes in different forms. For me, poetry is an intimate experience while plays are public and must engage an audience. “Good Luck and a Benevolent God” originated a while ago in a workshop led by the New Haven writer Alice Mattison. Back then, it was a handful of (humorous) linked short stories about an eccentric family. Alice called it a ‘baby’ novel. Even though it ‘grew up’ to be the full portrait of a woman’s life, it still retains that ‘linked short story’ flavor about key characters and their adventures. This device (emphasizing character over plot) labeled it literary rather than commercial.

GC: Can you tell us something about your journey from first idea to publication?

ZA: Well, I don’t outline but will draw a relationship chart with major events to ‘see’ that it works logically. Initially I just write about something seen or heard that I want (need) to shape into a poem, a story or a play. My reader-friends critique and I use outside (paid) editors. But I’m fussy. I can always find fault with my work and will endlessly revise and mush the words around unless someone takes it away from me.

At present, I don’t have a literary agent (that may change). I find querying tiresome and the process to place a book with a major house too slow. A friend referred me to DartFrog Books. They liked the book and agreed to publish in less than a year and pay royalties like a traditional press. (They have since changed their business model.) They edited and formatted the content, and also designed a dandy cover. Plus, I enjoyed a book release signing and giveaway at BookCon in NYC.

GC: Mandy is considered eccentric, partly because she’s ahead of her time. To me she seems admirably independent. Is she based on anyone in particular?

ZA: My nana played slide piano on an old upright in her little house and a crowd sang along. I come from a family of four girls and we are a headstrong ornery bunch with our own sense of timing. Like most Americans, our family history is colorful. Of course I am part Irish so I enjoy a good story, music and beverages, like Mandy.

GC: You cover sixty years of New England life. How did you research the historical settings?

ZA: It was fun. The best background came from an estate. But I wasn’t writing a historic novel, so whole chapters about events like WWII had to be removed from the final version because it was too long.

GC: And finally, what’s next?

ZA: The final draft of my suspense novel, “The Median” is almost done. It’s about a woman’s breakdown, a truck driver and the startling event that changes their lives.

You can connect with Zeb on her website and at zebwrites@gmail.com, and via Facebook, and Goodreads.

Westport Writers’ Rendezvous – June update

It’s been a week since the last Westport Writers’ Rendezvous, and I should have published this post sooner. But I was away over the weekend, and I was doing some of my own writing, too, which all writers understand (I hope) has to come first. It was a great meeting, as ever, with several new faces, and there was a lot to talk about. Far from slowing down in the summer, the number of author workshops and events seems to be multiplying.edi

Among the upcoming events we discussed were the Memoir Workshop on June 25th in Westport. Run by The Company of Writers, the cost is normally $300 (including lunch), but the organizer, Terence Hawkins, is offering a specially discounted rate of $200 to Writers’ Rendezvous members.  The workshop leader is Blanche Boyd, a professor at Connecticut College, and a published writer.

BTW, The Company of Writers’ website also offers a list of indie presses, most of which accept direct submissions from writers. The site is worth a look.

Also on the 25th is a workshop run by Jan Kardys of the Unicorn Writers’ Conference, in Newtown, CT. It’s called: You Wrote a Book – Now What? Click on the link to can check it out.

June 26th sees an interesting development in book launches. Nora Raleigh Baskin, middle grade and YA novelist will launch her latest novel, Nine, Ten: A September 11th Story, on Facebook at 8pm. Check it out – it’s an intriguing new idea.

On June 28th, The Westport Library is offering a 2-part workshop called Writing Scripts for Television. It will be run by GiGi News. Part 1 is on June 28th and part 2 takes place on August 25 – both from 6.30-8.30pm. Register here.

Barnes and Noble in Westport, CT, is running a couple of excellent events next week. On June 29th, at 7pm, authors Nora Raleigh Baskin, Linda Legters and Stephanie Lehmann will discuss their paths to publication and changing views of success and art. Free. (Click here for my interview with Linda Legters.)

And the day after, June 30th, also at 7pm, our very own Susan Israel, crime writer, will be launching her latest novel – Student Bodies. If it’s anything like the last, it will be a great beach read.

Alex McNab wanted me to remind you of these other events:

Tues, June 28, 2 pm: Afternoon Tea with Author (The Bridge Ladies, The Forest for the Trees [about writing & editing from editor’s perspective]) Betsy Lerner at Fairfield Public Library, free.

Tues, July 5, 7-9pm Writers Read and Fri, June 8, 4-6pm Writers’ Salon at Fairfield Public Library, free.

Tues, Aug 23, 6-8pm DartFrog Books publishers are offering a  pitch session for self-published authors at Bank Square Books, Mystic, CT. Look for the sign-up form at http://dartfrogbooking.setmore.com/

One of our members is still soldiering on, checking out book marketing companies. It’s not easy to know who, among the crowded book marketing sector, can actually deliver in terms of book recognition, never mind sales. There are various companies that offer packages of services, but the consensus seemed to be that these aren’t likely to provide much in the way of promotion, and one is better off going it alone.

Which led us to a discussion of the value of editors – this without any prompting from me. As you know, I have a bee in my bonnet about editing, and it turned out that we had three among us. They agreed that it as best to submit 10 pages to an editor before hiring them, since the writer and editor must be compatible – on the same page, so to speak. This makes sense to me, because there are as many different styles and points of view as there are writers. If you’d like me to put you in touch with them, let me know in the comments.

For those wanting to print copies of their own book, the Espresso Machine by On Demand Books is located in New York, and can print your book while you wait. I’ve used it to print the first draft of one of my terrible novels, and I found it very useful for editing, since I left it in Courier type and double-spaced, so I could make written changes. (What is doesn’t do is improve the terrible first draft…)Much easier than doing it all on the computer. The machine itself is located in Shakespeare & Co, the independent bookstore on Lexington Avenue, and the company now offers other self-publishing tools as well.

Our most frequently published member, Ed Ahern, publishes short stories in many places, among them Ember and Spark. Recently, one of his stories, published by them, was accepted for a project that brings stories to young readers in eBook form to encourage them to read. And there’s a strong possibility it will be made into an audio version by Audible, too. The project is being coordinated by Plympton, so check them out. If I gave you all the details, it would be another whole post, but I’ll ask Ed to tell us more at the next Rendezvous.

Ed found Ember and Spark via Duotrope – it works, people!

And Kate Mayer recommended a site for freelance writers who want to make money writing: The International Freelancer. Check it out.

Kate also mentioned that she’d been paid to be a beta reader of a book. We all need beta readers for our own work, so if you know how to find them, let me know.

Write on, until next month!