An Interview With Author Sarah Gerkensmeyer
March 3, 2014 Leave a comment
Prof. Sarah Gerkensmeyer of SUNY Fredonia has recently published a new short story collection. What You Are Now Enjoying, is an extremely well crafted example of originality in writing. The work was selected by Stewart O Nan as the winner of the 2012 Autumn House Press Fiction Prize. Crossborder got in touch with Prof. Gerkensmeyer for an interview. Being both a creative writing educator and a newly published author; Sarah’s insight was fantastic!
What inspired you to write your first book?
I think I’ve been working on this book since as far back as I can remember. Although only one of the stories is from when I was in graduate school (and none of them are from before that period) the ideas for strange stories have been spinning around in my mind since I was a little kid. I have always felt like a storyteller, and I have always wanted to write a book. And it only took three and a half decades! I think the most immediate inspiration for this particular book of stories was the birth of my second son. He was a very erratic sleeper as a newborn, and I couldn’t concentrate on smooth, seamless projects. So I started challenging myself to write a draft of a story during each one of his naps. Those super-strange short shorts became the pieces that glued my entire collection together.
How did you come up with the title?
The title was actually a recommendation from my agent. The title story is one of her favorites, and I agreed that it was a neat title for the book as a whole. That story features 20-something women who are just on the verge of getting going in life, and then the book ends with a piece about an elderly couple. So I like how the title alludes to that arc across the entire book.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
The hardest part of writing is always the writing itself. Thinking up ideas is easy. Taking copious notes about those ideas is easy. Booting up the computer and making a cup of tea is easy. Sharpening pencils and arranging highlighters in rainbow order and then making another cup of tea is easy. But the writing is the hard part. Each time, I have to convince myself that the story will get going if I would only begin. I have to convince myself that I have discoveries to make and that something really will rise up on the page in front of me, like a miracle. Sometimes that’s a very hard kind of convincing to do.
How did you decide on the cover for your book?
My publisher, Autumn House Press, has a wonderful artist on staff who came up with the design. I was so flattered to see her visual representation of the strange stories in my book. Yes–my stories are about women, but it was such a relief not to see pink or ruffles or frilly things. She captured the ghostly essence of some of these stories that even I hadn’t noticed before.
What is the best first step in marketing a book? How can a writer get book reviews, etc.?
The publishing process can be intimidating for first-time authors. Small presses and big presses alike are cutting back on public relations and marketing services, asking authors to take on much of the job of spreading the word about their books. My secret discovery during the release of my book was the book blogging community. These blogs and websites (such as Largehearted Boy, The Quivering Pen, Beatrice, and The Next Best Book Club) are truly amazing advocates for books–and for new authors, especially. I realized that I would feel most comfortable marketing my book in a grass-roots kind of way. I wanted the opportunity to make personal connections and have interesting conversations. Many of the interviews, essays, and book reviews that came out around the release of my book took place on book blogs. I had so much fun, and that’s such an important thing during what can be a nerve-wracking experience.
What genres/authors are you most interested in right now?
Well, I love crossing borders, too! I’m constantly on the lookout for authors who challenge the notions and boundaries between poetry and fiction, fiction and nonfiction, reality and fabulism, etc. I recently read and really enjoyed Maggie Nelson’s book of lyrical essays Bluets. Now I’m excited to check out Anna Joy Springer’s fabulist memoir The Vicious Red Relic, Love. And at this moment I’m devouring Lucy Wood’s story collection Diving Belles. She’s like a British Karen Russell. And she writes about mermaids!