Today on the Oasis, we have the pleasure of hosting debut novelist Miriam Gershow, whose literary novel, THE LOCAL NEWS, has been hailed as a “sad, bravely written story that...demonstrates that not all tragedies have heroes. Heartily recommended,” by Library Journal.
Here’s the flap copy of the book (it had me at the first line):
"Going missing was the only interesting thing my brother had ever done."
Even a decade later, the memories of the year Lydia Pasternak turned sixteen continue to haunt her. As a teenager, Lydia lived in her older brother's shadow. While Danny's athletic skills and good looks established his place with the popular set at school, Lydia's smarts relegated her to the sidelines, where she rolled her eyes at her brother and his meathead friends and suffered his casual cruelty with resigned bewilderment. Though a part of her secretly wished for a return of the easy friendship she and Danny shared as children, another part of her wished Danny would just vanish. And then, one night, he did.
In the year following Danny Pasternak's disappearance, his parents go off the rails, his town buzzes with self-indulgent mourning, and his little sister Lydia finds herself thrust into unwanted celebrity, forced to negotiate her ambivalent--often grudging--grief ffuor a brother she did not particularly like. Suddenly embraced by Danny's old crowd, forgotten by her parents, and drawn into the missing person investigation by her family's intriguing private eye, Lydia both blossoms and struggles to find herself during Danny's absence. But when a trail of clues leads to a shocking outcome in her brother's case, the teenaged Lydia and the adult she will become are irrevocably changed, even now as she reluctantly prepares to return to her hometown.
Relentlessly gripping, often funny, and profoundly moving, The Local News is a powerful exploration of the fraught relationship between a brother and sister and how our siblings define who we are.
Here’s the catch, THE LOCAL NEWS is not traditionally YA, because although the overwhelming majority of the story takes place in high school, it’s narrated by an adult looking back at that time in her life. So Miriam, what inspired you to write about high school from an adult point of view?
A few things: First of all, I’m an adult who still is obsessed with the idea of high school 20+ years later. It is such a formative and fundamental experience, in terms of developing our ideas about ourselves. I was a huge dork, and I still find myself wincing and squirming when I think back on those days. It feels like a time in life no one entirely gets over. And as a writer, it’s just a very ripe environment to try to capture–so much drama, such a rich cast of characters trapped together for four years.
In terms of this particular story, Lydia goes through a great trauma as a teenager with her brother’s disappearance. I knew that with an experience that profound, true resolution would not begin until years later. So I always conceived the story would be told from the perspective of the adult Lydia looking back.
Is there any of yourself in Lydia?
Well, Lydia’s much smarter than I am. She knows geopolitics far better than I do. And I never went to an Ivy League college ;). But I never felt like I fit in, just like her. And I had the same mix of scorn and envy of the “popular crowd.” I also went through adolescence feeling like my parents were far away, though certainly not as far away as Lydia’s. I do, however, have an older sister whom I love dearly. She’s never disappeared, nor have I wanted her to. In fact, we still live seven minutes from each other.
Your novel has been out since February 2009. I assume you’ve received feedback from readers who actually are in high school. What sort of response have you gotten from them?
I’ve been delighted by the response from younger readers. I always wrote the book as literary fiction, imagining an adult readership. I thought it might be too interior or dense for the YA audience. But teenagers I know who’ve read it have related to Lydia and been immersed in the story. When I see their responses, it occurs to me that I read “adult” fiction when I was a teenager too. I’ve come to see the differentiation between YA and literary fiction to be a lot hazier than it’s made out to be.
I know you’ve taught high school student in the past and presently teach to college kids. Do you think being exposed to teens so much has given you more insight into their perspectives, even as an adult?
Absolutely. But like I said, a lot of my sense of being a teenager still comes from inside of me. Certainly, though, being surrounded by young people helps keep that sensibility alive.
I see in an article you wrote that you see book bloggers as an important marketing tool, particularly for debut authors. For our readers who are newly published or soon-to-be published, can you give us your insights on this subject?
Book bloggers are a great way to get the word out about your work, especially now that traditional newspaper and magazine book reviews are rapidly shrinking and/or disappearing. There are a lot of books out there – a lot of good, worthy books – fighting for very little traditional review space. Luckily book bloggers keep growing and growing.
To new writers: If your publishers aren’t already doing it, I think it’s important to research book blogs to find good fits with your books. There are blogs that focus exclusively on YA or others that focus on different genres, including YA. Find those that seem to best match your book best and then look at their submission guidelines. I’ve had great success hearing back from bloggers. If you’re looking for a place to start, take a look at the bottom of this page. You’ll see many of the thoughtful bloggers who have reviewed THE LOCAL NEWS.
You said your publisher helped a lot with initial publicity. Was it what you expected? Anything you would have done differently?
Oh goodness, I’m not sure what I expected. I was intentionally in the dark about so much of publishing because forced myself to only focus on the writing for years and years. That’s the only way I could get the work done.
I think I expected that my book would be lavished with tons of attention and instantly be a best seller. I was very naïve. I’m really happy with the initial push of attention my book received – a tour, several prominent reviews, some newspaper and radio coverage. If I ran the universe, though, I would have continued that publicity push for months and months. But that’s not, I learned very quickly, how traditional publishing works.
I also would have loved to see THE LOCAL NEWS cross-marketed to a YA audience. Like I’ve said, I’ve always seen it as literary fiction. However, I don’t see any reason younger audiences can’t read literary fiction, especially if the subject matter interests them. And because so much of THE LOCAL NEWS concerns high school and Lydia’s coming of age, I know it holds unique appeal to teens.
You’re a big player in the short story market. How different was writing your novel from writing short stories?
The idea of me as a “big player” makes me giggle. I was a pretty tiny player, to be honest, though I did spend years writing stories. Short stories are based so much on economy. You have to very carefully choose each word and moments. It’s often about one big – or small – event. I found with a novel, especially with the big fat middle of a novel, there was much more room to play around, explore characters, explore secondary stories. There was a freedom in novels that I hadn’t found in stories.
Other than getting your MFA, what have you done to really hone your writing skills?
Great question, as I spent years honing my skills, which is what I think every aspiring writer should do. A decade before the MFA progam, I was writing in all my spare time. I paid for week-long non-credit writing workshops through local colleges. I joined community writing groups–some casual, some quite serious and structured. As I got better and better at listening to feedback, I got better and better at the writing. Even after my MFA program, I spent a few years in more writing groups. It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve taken a more solitary approach to writing, though I do still have trusted readers who I send early book drafts to for feedback.
After all the teaching and writing, what do you do to find sanctuary and relax?
Another giggle. I have a 1-year-old, so all the ways I used to find sanctuary and relax (a long, hot bath, a night out with friends, a quiet time with a book) are temporarily on hold. There is a joy in sinking into the couch right after my son goes to sleep for the night.
BONUS QUESTION: You’re stranded on a desert oasis. Assuming you had a never-ending battery, would you rather have a computer with you to write or a book reader (like Kindle) so you can read?
Goodness, goodness, goodness. This is the kind of question that could give me nightmares. It’s like asking, “Do you want your arms or your legs?” I’m going to have to go with a book reader, since most have a keyboard with which I could also write stories. I know I just cheated, but without the ability to do both, I’m quite certain I’d go mad.
Thank you, Miriam, for sharing your story and your book with us on the Oasis. We'll forgive you for cheating just this once!
For those of you who are now dying to get your hands on THE LOCAL NEWS (whether you consider it YA or not), here's your chance to WIN a copy. In the spirit of Lydia's horrific high school experience, leave us your worst high school memory (plus your name and e-mail address) in the comments below. Miriam will pick a winner after the contest closes next Friday, September 17 at midnight EST.
And for those of you who don't win a copy, be sure to pick up THE LOCAL NEWS at your local book store, Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Also, be sure to stalk Miriam at her website, on Facebook or twitter (she's a self-proclaimed twitter addict, and I know there's more than one of you reading this in the same boat)!