Friday, July 12, 2013

Andi Brown, Animal Cracker

AUTHOR: Andi Brown                                   
BOOK TITLE: Animal Cracker

Please tell us about yourself?  I’ve spent my career as a professional fundraiser in the Boston area.  I have two delightful young adult children, and I’m thrilled to be publishing my first novel.

Tell us your latest news?  Animal Cracker will be available mid-June in paperback on and in a Kindle version about three weeks later.

When and why did you begin writing?  First grade!  Seriously, I wrote a story about a dog that so impressed my teacher she had me show it to all the third grade teachers.  I was so proud.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?  I’ve been writing seriously for about twenty years, but, rightly or wrongly, didn’t feel I could  legitimately call myself a writer until I published something.

What inspired you to write your first book?  Events!  I wrote my first (justifiably unpublished) novel about twenty years ago. There were things happening in my personal life (disguised of course) that I felt made for a good story. I was wrong.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?  I want people to have fun with my book. 

Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?  (Has anyone ever realized it?)  There are both events and characters in Animal Cracker inspired by my own experience.  The story is a total fiction,  and no  characters are based on specific individuals, but I have borrowed bits and pieces from actual people and events.

 What books have most influenced your life most?  I’ve loved Joyce Carol Oates’s earliest novels, which often feature women buffeted by difficult events who feel they are somehow destined for greatness.  Those characters touched me deeply.  Philip Roth is a genius. And everyone simply must read “Let the Great World Spin” by Colum McCann.  It’s about finding both humanity and interconnectedness among all of us.

If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?  Helen Fielding. Bridget Jones’s Diary was the first book I remember laughing out loud at. It was lighthearted and fun, but also extremely well-conceived and well-written.

What book are you reading now? What do you like, or not, about it?  I’m re-reading The Ten Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet for my book group, and I’m looking forward to digging into this masterpiece a second time. David Mitchell is another genius of our time.  The book is rich in history, bits of humor, and again, humanity.  And the writing is absolutely gorgeous.

Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? She’s not that new but I really enjoyed Meg Wolitzer’s “The Interestings.”

What are your current projects? At the same time as I’m publishing Animal Cracker, I’m also putting out a Kindle book called (A)Musings, which is a potpourri of  short humor pieces, essays and assorted other writings. It’s fun!  And I’m working on another comedic novel, this one about a group of English speakers and Spaniards thrown together at a week-long intensive English language program. Complications ensue. Working title: English Only.

If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?  I wouldn’t  I really love my book.

Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?  I was the kid with her nose always in a book. I think probably lots of really avid readers have a yen to write.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?  Getting the plot going and keeping it moving is hard. I need to work hard to make sure things stay interesting for the reader.

Do you ever have problems with writers block?  If so how do you get through it?  I may put something aside for a few days and then return to it when I get a little stuck.

What do you do when you’re not writing/editing or thinking about writing/editing?  I’m an obsessive knitter.  I watch a lot of (quality) TV and I simply can’t watch with idle hands. They must be holding  knitting needles and those needles must be moving at all times.

Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?  As I mentioned earlier, Philip Roth.  His writing is fluid and lively and above all, passionate. And all too real.

What was the hardest part of writing your book?  Rewriting, rewriting and rewriting some more.

Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?  I learned that I had a lot to learn.  I’d never taken a creative writing course, and believe me, it showed.  I finally recognized this and started to study.   Anne LaMotte’s book Bird by Bird was a great starting point.  I spent a week at the Iowa Summer Writer’s Festival where I studied with a great teacher named Lon Otto. I attended seminars at Boston’s Grub Street writers’ organization.  And finally, through Grub Street, I hired an editor who helped me whip my book into shape, and provided me with what almost feels like a private MFA in the process.

Do you have any advice for other writers?  Read a ton, and read critically.  Pay attention to language and structure.  Find a writing course.  And of course, write!

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?  Totally self-serving but here goes: if you like Animal Cracker,  tell your friends.  Write a review.  Tweet about it.  Spread the word.

Any special appearances or events coming up that you want to mention?  I’m having a launch party at Newtonville Books in Newton, MA on Wednesday, June 26 at 7:00 p.m.  Be there!

Who is your publisher and how did you connect with them?  I published the book through Create Space and will be republishing for the Kindle on Amazon.

How can we find you? Website, Facebook, Twitter, blog, etc. - please share your public links.
Twitter: @andibrownauthor

Excerpt from Animal Cracker:
Chapter One
                             I was sitting in my new boss’s office at the Animal Protection Agency, a 12-site pet shelter organization, for our weekly supervisory meeting, surrounded by the entire contents of the Critter World catalogue.  Pens shaped like goldfish littered his desk; a collection of mugs featuring a zoo’s worth of animals awaited their morning coffee on his credenza.             
                        “So tell me, Diane, what are your dreams?  For your life I mean.”            
                        Hal leaned back in his chair and folded his arms behind his head.           
                        I was twenty-five years old.  I had more dreams than Don Quixote – yes, I’d been an English major - including saving every sad-eyed pup, paying off my student loans without selling my soul, and cuddling with a man-shaped specimen of the human species.  I wasn’t about to confess any of this to my new boss. 
                        “Well, I…”
                        “Diane, my dream is for a world that has respect for every living creature, from the lowliest field mouse to the majestic elk on the plain.”  He paused, knitting his eyebrows.  “No, wait, not respect.  Make that reverence.  Yeah, reverence for all God’s creatures.  What do you say to that, Diane?”
                        “Hal, that’s a dream I can really get behind.”
                        “I knew we shared a vision the minute I met you.  You have a passion and intelligence that fits right in here.”
                        So far, I was killing it.             
                        “Yeah,” he went on.  “More than I can say for some people.”
                        He looked at me expectantly.  A question seemed to be called for.
                        “Like, um, who?”
                        A satisfied smile played about his lips. I’d passed some sort of test.
                        “Your predecessor.  Rebecca.”
                        “What about her?”
                        His near-perfect face developed some unsightly lines as he scowled at the memory of the imperfect Rebecca.
                        “Let’s just say she didn’t exactly fit in here.  Not like you.”
                        I didn’t want to know any more. At least not at that moment, and not from Hal.  I made a mental note to ask someone else about Rebecca, after I’d been here longer and found someone I could trust.  Whatever had become of her, it didn’t sound good.           
                        “Now, about this press release,” he said, pointing to the document I’d handed him.  “You need to blump it up.”
                        Blump? I made a mental note to google it later.  Conjectured definition - to expand upon.  Origin: from the Latin blumpere, to swell.
                        As he smiled like Mr. Universe, the sound of dogs barked from Hal’s well-tailored pocket.  He reached in and withdrew his phone.  I could hear squawking, then Hal.
                        “Joyce, we already discussed this, and I told you….”
                        More squawking, Hal drumming his hands on the table. After some eye-rolling and sputtering, he hung up.
                        “My wife.  She’s a Harvard professor, a biologist who’s written extensively about the role of animals in our ecosystems.  You may have heard of her.  Joyce Carter?”
                        Hal was married to Joyce Carter?   The Spider Woman?                        
                        Joyce Carter had been an obscure zoology professor specializing in arachnids of the American Southwest when she’d been tapped to host a public television show called Creepy- Crawlies and Friends.   Boston’s Saturday morning TV screens are slithering with spiders and Joyce Carter.                         
                        “She’s a very impressive woman,” I kissed up.
                        “Got that right.”  He leaned towards me. “I respect women, Diane.  And I like to see them reach their highest potential.” 
                        He paused.   “You know, I’m a writer too.” 
                        His chest blumped up.                       
                        “You mean like articles on animal rights?”           
                        “No, something else entirely.  I’m working on a screenplay.   Lots of folks gonna be mighty uncomfortable when this baby gets out there.”           
                        He was gonna blow the lid off the animal shelter world?           
                        “What’s it about?”
                        Again, he leaned forward and in a mock stage whisper informed  me, “It’s about some evil goings-on at that famous university in town.   I can’t tell you any more than that, except that those hoity snot-noses over there ain’t gonna like it.  Not one bit.”
                        Hal’s face was nearly flawless, piercing blue eyes, firm chin, all topped by wavy dark hair and arranged in perfect symmetry  save for the lines etched up and down and across his forehead in a sort of plaid pattern.   He wore his love of animals on his sleeve and around his neck. That day’s tie, setting off his Brad Pitt-handsome face, featured raccoons scampering under a cascading waterfall, frolicking on an umbrella-decked beach, and, I’m not making this up, lobbing tennis balls, dressed in the formal whites of Wimbledon.                           
                        “I studied film in college,” I told him. “I mean, not how to make them, but I took a course on contemporary European cinema, and I go to movies all the time.”           
                        Hal stared over my head and I almost turned around to see what creature he might have spied behind me.  When he resumed speaking, his voiced had shifted into a sonorous tone, as if he were narrating a PBS wildlife special.
                        “My personal favorite is ‘The 400 Blows.’ That kid’s bleak childhood, well, um, let’s just say, the movie speaks to me in a very profound way.”  He wiped his eye, and I feared my new boss, whom I hardly knew, would erupt into full-fledged waterworks.
                          “Oh my God, that’s one of my absolute favorites too. Well, everything Truffaut actually.”        
                        “I’m all for cinematic technique and what not, but y’know, there’s nothing like a good story.   Sometimes it can even change your life.”  His eyes misted.
            “And I’m guessing there’s one that changed yours?”
            “Got that right. Late 50’s, Saturday afternoon when the movies cost about a buck.             
            “ So what was the movie?”
            None other than” – pregnant pause -  ‘Old Yeller.’” 
             “For some reason, I missed that one.”
            “Diane, it is just about the most pungent movie ever made.” Did he mean poignant?  “It’s about a family and a dog that heals their hearts.  You go out and rent it and, guaranteed, you’ll see what I mean.  ‘Old Yeller’ is why I’m sitting in this chair today.”
            “Well, Hal, I have a movie like that in my background, too.  Did you ever see ‘Homeward Bound?’
            He nodded.
             “Yeah, “Homeward Bound,” you’re right, that’s another great one.”                       
                        He looked at his watch, and, for emphasis, at the chimp clock over the door.  I took the hint.
                        “See you later,” I said, and returned to my office.
                        Back at my desk to work on the blump-up, having ascertained that there was no such word.  So what exactly did he want?  Longer?  Bouncier?  More hyperbolic?  I rested my head on my desk for five minutes in an effort to psych myself for the task of turning perfect prose into something possibly less perfect.                         
                        And finally, after blumping and plumping, time to go. It had been a tough afternoon.  I'd given Hal four versions of the release, each one of them progressively worse, until he'd proclaimed the fifth semi-literate one perfect.

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