Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Sticky Name, Sticky Title: Interview With Author Anna Jarzab

As soon as I saw Anna Jarzab’s name on the Tenner’s site I knew it would get stuck. Do certain names stick with you? And once they're stuck must you say them over and over—silently, of course, using your brainvoice—until you've worn it out? Or is that just me and my mild OCD?

Anyway, the point of all this is that Anna's name got stuck in my head but I've been saying it like Ah-nah Yar-zahb, which is apparently all wrong. I just learned on her shiny new website that it’s Anna with a short A and Jarzab with a solid J. Just wanted to clear that up before it get stuck for any of my fellow compulsive-brainvoice-name-chanters.

Now that we have that out of the way, let me tell you about the person behind the catchy name. Anna is actually a publishing insider. She’s a graduate of the Denver Publishing Institute, has a Master’s degree in literature and creative writing from the University of Chicago, and works in book marketing in New York City. On the side she happens to write the occasional novel and get preemptive offers and two-book deals. Yeah, so what have you done today?

I'm dying to read Anna’s book, All Unquiet Things, because it was pitched as The Secret History meets Looking for Alaska—two of my very favorite books. Class struggle in an elite school with a murder mystery? That's my sweet spot! Count me in Ahnah Yarzahb, I am all over it.

Here's the Publisher's Marketplace deal report for Anna's sale:

Anna Jarzab's ALL UNQUIET THINGS, pitched as The Secret History meets Looking for Alaska, about two unlikely allies from different ends of the social spectrum at a NorCal prep school who band together to solve a friend's murder, to Francoise Bui at Delacorte, in a pre-empt, in a good deal, in a two-book deal, by Joanna MacKenzie at Browne and Miller Literary Associates.

And here is her beautiful-in-a-creepy-way cover:

Welcome, Anna! Can you please tell us how you met your agent?
That's a bit of a long story, but I'll try to condense it here. The summer after graduate school I got an internship at Browne & Miller, a literary agency in Chicago. It was such a great experience, I loved it and learned a ton. Joanna (MacKenzie, my now agent) was just starting to take on her own clients and really wanted to work on YA projects, but for a long time I was afraid to send my manuscript (which I started querying in fall 2007, right about the time I moved to New York) to her because I was afraid if she didn't like it she'd think less of me or something. Writers are neurotic, you heard it here last. Eventually I just sucked it up and sent her an email with a short synopsis of the book, and she offered to represent me about a month later. She's the most awesome agent, I couldn't be luckier.

Can you tell us how your book deal happened?
Joanna and Danielle (Egan-Miller, the president of Browne & Miller) and I worked on ALL UNQUIET THINGS for about six months before Joanna started submitting to editors. She sent the book to six editors the second week of September, and by the end of that week one of them (my now-editor) called to tell us she'd get back to us on Monday with a pre-empt offer. Over the next two days Joanna did a little bit of negotiating on the offer and we accepted it. It went INCREDIBLY fast. I was at work when the deal was done and I remember my friend Doug had to literally drag me up off my chair to give me a hug because I couldn't move.

What was the inspiration for ALL UNQUIET THINGS and how long did it take you to write?
I started writing ALL UNQUIET THINGS my sophomore year in college, which would be 2002, so about seven years at this point, which seems like an awfully long time to be working on one book but it has actually gone through two vastly different versions. The version I wrote in college was a huge melodrama with mysterious elements, and I abandoned it after it was finished for about six months. I went back to it because I actually really love the characters, realizing that to make it work I had to turn it into a full-out mystery, so I started making notes for that. When I went to graduate school the next year I opted to write a creative thesis, and ALL UNQUIET THINGS was it. As for what inspired it, I don't have a great answer for that. It's definitely a conglomeration of influences so thick it's hard to separate them out individually.

What's your publication date and where in the process are you now?
I just found out my pub date (or, I guess I should say "tentative pub date" since it hasn't been confirmed by my editor) through GoodReads, believe it or not. It's January 12, 2010, which is the day before I turn 26. Happy birthday to me! Right now I'm waiting for my manuscript to come back from copy edits. I suspect I will weep bitterly and then get over it. Then come ARCs!

What's the biggest change having a book published has made in your life?
It's funny, but at every stage in the writing process, the book feels a little less like mine, especially the stages that have nothing to do with writing: getting the cover, for instance. Having a face for Carly was truly jarring, because I was like, "That girl is a stranger to me." The cover is so beautiful and I love it, but it was odd for a while to see her come to life (or death, I guess). Recently we've been going back and forth about flap copy, and I started to feel a similar sense of alienation from the book, because someone else was talking about it, not ME. That feeling is only going to increase as time goes on because soon the book won't just belong to me and to my agent and my editor, it'll belong to lots (I hope) of readers. It's not a bad feeling, it's necessary and good because it means other people are investing in something that matters so much to me, but it always catches me off guard.

What are you working on now?
Well, Delacorte bought two books from me. By the time the deal happened, I had finished a second book, and we sent the three-page prologue along with the manuscript when it was submitted to editors, so instead of having "Book 2" on my contract, it actually says the title of my second book: MURDER BURGER. It's another YA mystery, but it's much more humorous and less dark (although I would not say "light"), a little more romantic. My editor has the manuscript now, but I'm not sure how long it'll take her to get to it, since it's coming out in January 2011 (although according to my contract it's due June 1, 2009, which is not that far away, so...) and, you know, priorities. Right now I'm working on a book I'm calling GEORGIA'S RESCUE, which is a quasi-post-apocalyptic pseudo-mystery set in semi-rural California. It's different than anything I've written before, so I'm working really hard on the synopsis and trying to not to talk myself out of it. I'm also working on another YA mystery, off and on, an Agatha Christie homage set in Pebble Beach, CA.

Do you have any words of wisdom for writers trying to get published?
The thing about writing is that the more you do it, the better you get. I've wanted to be a writer since I was in junior high and started writing really seriously in high school, so I've had many years of practice, but I learn something new every day. It's important not to get discouraged in the face of worthwhile critique, and to realize that it's not just going to happen with the flip of a switch: most people don't decide to write and then become instantly good at it. It's a process, so you've got to be in it for the long haul. Always write for writing's sake--not just to be published. If you write to be published, disappointment becomes more bitter than if you're more focused on the work itself. That's kind of my life mantra: "It's about the work, think of the work, focus on the work." My writing is the touchstone of my life. It's really cheesy, but whenever I get frustrated with things, in my personal life or in my writing life, I think of that scene in CENTER STAGE when the instructor tells Zoe Saldana "The smart ones know where to look when things get rough. It isn't there, it's here." And then she touches the barre, continuing, "No matter what happened in class, performance, last week, five minutes ago, if you come back here you'll be home." That's how I feel about my work.

Anna has a freshly hatched website, a blog, and she can be found in the realms of Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace.

Thanks for the interview, Anna! I hope I haven't totally freaked you out by admitting that I used to chant your name, albeit incorrectly.


Jennie Englund said...

What a gunner!

The day after I turn 39, I'll be looking for my fellow Capricorn's release!

No rush, though, right?

Jody said...

Jarzab. If only that were a scrabble word. Looking forward to these books!

Deb Markanton said...

Great interview! Wow, I'd forgotten about The Secret History...loved that book. And, Looking for Alaska is a favorite of mine too. Can't wait for Anna's book!

Carrie Harris said...

Fabulous interview, and I'm glad I'm not the only secret Center Stage fan out there. ;)

Anna Jarzab said...

Nope, I am not at all freaked out about the name chanting (I don't think...). Thanks for this, Christy!

Carrie: Center Stage=amazing. I'm happy you agree.

Rachel Hawkins said...

Wonderful interview! I am SO PSYCHED for this book! Boarding school? Murder mystery? Class issues? Count me in! (Oh, and whenever I'm feeling blue, I watch the end ballet from Center Stage. It warms my heart! ;) )

Anna Claire said...

OK this book sounds so cool. Can't wait to read! I'm a sucker for murder mysteries.

Weird how a random movie from several years ago still influences people. The Center Stage soundtrack has just about the best workout songs ever. When the Chili Peppers' "Higher Ground" comes on my iPod, I pretend I'm in that cool dance scene in the movie and getting totally pumped up.

Suzanne Young said...

That has to be the best cover I've seen in a long time!!!! Very cool, fellow tenner!

Angie Frazier said...

I'm so glad I've been saying Anna's name the correct way! I'm really looking forward to reading AUT!

Jame said...

I was just writing a little something about my obsessive name saying. I can't believe I'm not the only one who does that! There was about a year in which whenever I wasn't actually talking out loud, I was think-saying Ravi Shankar, Ravi Shankar, Ravi Shankar.

When I was kid, big ones were Gina Lollabridgida, AnnaMaria Albergherti and Lola Follana. (I don't know if I spelled ANY of those right.)

Funnily enough, I think my recollection of my obsessive name saying was also brought on by the name Anna Jarzab, and perusing her lovely website.

Christy Raedeke said...

Jame! You are an OCD namesayer! YAY! Hilarious about Ravi Shankar - I heard him play her at the University a few years ago and didn't stop saying his name until a couple of years later!

I wonder if this condition is documented anywhere?

Jame said...

Ravi Shankar is Nora Jones' dad. When she started to get famous, I had to go through another 6-8 months of saying his name!