About Jay Neugeboren:
I’m the author author of 22 books, including five prize-winning novels (The Stolen Jew, 1940, etc.), two prize-winning books of nonfiction (Imagining Robert, Transforming Madness), and four collections of award-winning stories. My stories and essays have appeared in many publications, including The New York Review of Books, The Atlantic Monthly, The American Scholar, The New York Times, Ploughshares, and Hadassah, and have been reprinted in more than 50 anthologies, including Best American Stories and O. Henry Prize Stories. Professor and writer-in-residence for many years at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst,at other universities, including Stanford, Indiana, S.U.N.Y. Old Westbury, and Freiburg (Germany). I have three children and four grandchildren, and live on the Upper West Side of New York City, where I teach in the Columbia University Graduate School of the Arts.
What inspires you to write?
When I was a boy growing up in Brooklyn, my two great loves were sports–playing ball–and reading. I’d come home from school, or the schoolyard,! and read novel after novel. Sheer joy. I wrote my first novel when I was 8 years old, and read a new chapter on Monday each week to my class at PS 246. the novel was about 80 pages long–typed for me by my mother. I wrote two novels (unpublished) while I was undergraduate at Columbia, and 6 more unpublished..books before my novel, BIG MAN, was published in 1966. I haven’t stopped since, and hope that here and there some reader will be pleased, perhaps inspired, by a book of mine in the was as a boy… and still am.
Tell us about your writing process.
No outlines, but lots of homework and lots of notes. I sometimes will do the latter for more than a year before I write the first sentence. I go to my desk early every morning, even weekends, turn off the phone and keep it off, and stay at my desk until early afternoon, or until exhausted. I revise endlessly. My mantra, from Flannery O’Connor: Routine is a condition of survival.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
My characters and I talk with each other all the time—when I am eating, swimming, playing tennis—and when I am writing. And sometimes they talk with one another and I eavesdrop. They do not seem offended. When they get off good and surprising lines and snatches of dialogue, I always remember to thank them.
What advice would you give other writers?
The only sound advice I have is that you develop a regular routine, and stick to it. You may be able to write a few stories, or even a book, via “inspiration”—but for anything resembling a career, you need to cut out a time that is almost sacred, and be ruthless about it: no phone calls, no bill-paying, etc. It’s the only way. It can be every morning before you go to work, or before the rest of the household is awake (if you’re not alone)—or every night from midnight to 2 AM, after others are asleep, or once a month when you rent a motel room… but it has to be inviolable. I recall, when I had young children, my son Eli, then about 3 years old, standing outside the door of the room I wrote in—I had turned around, to stretch, and saw him standing there, and said, “Ah Eli—come on in and give me a hug.” He stood firm, shook his head sideways, and refused to move. When I asked him why he wouldn’t come in, he said, “Poppa works.” I nodded. “Ah,” I said, “well Poppa is giving you permission. . . “
How did you decide how to publish your books?
Having a literary agent is essential. Most publishers, mainstream and indie, will not read unsolicited manuscripts. Alas, it may be as difficult to get a literary agent these days as it is to get a publisher! But persevere. Unless you write “genre” novels (romance, intrigue, crime), I’d advise against self-publishing novels. The problem: who will distribute, and who will review? I.e., how will anyone, other than friends and family, know your book exists?
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
Literary fashions come and go. The novel itself, as we know it, is barely 200 years old. The centralization of publishing in several large conglomerates is not a help to most novelists, since the bottom line for corporate-owned publishers works against diversity, and against thinking long-term… and while online services such as amazon(!) do allow for readers to buy virtually any book in existence, by controlling the market, they eliminate competition, etc. Check out The Authors Guild on this and other issues regarding the present publishing scene. Lots of pluses, lots of minuses—but there will always be readers who love stories, whatever their form and/or their packaging.
What do you use?: Professional Editor, Professional Cover Designer
What genres do you write?: Novel, memoir, essay, short story, young adult, poetry, scripts (stage and screen)
What formats are your books in?: eBook, Print, Both eBook and Print, Audiobook
All information in this post is presented “as is” supplied by the author. We don’t edit, to allow you, the reader, to hear the author in their own voice.