Adrienne Brodeur & the lawsuit against ZOETROPE: ALL-STORY.
Before I get to today’s interview, I want to show you something my son did on the school bus with a single post-it note. My regular readers are pretty familiar with Green-Hand Henderson, but here’s something typical from his big brother, Bach-Boy. Remember, this is one post-it note:
Cool origami, huh? He calls it a mask of a Greek god. Once he made me a swan from his bus ticket – gorgeous, and about half a centimeter by half a centimeter. Okay, on to this week’s guest . . .
We’ll talk about the work of being an editor, working with Francis Ford Coppola, and what happens to the slush at ZOETROPE. We’ll also discuss her book, her road to publication, and the events that kept her from promoting her book when it was released in hardcover last summer.
But today we’re going to get the biggie out of the way, and that’s the lawsuit against ZOETROPE: ALL-STORY. The court case just finished – and because Zoetrope is planning to appeal the verdict, we’ve decided to say just enough.
I understand you’ve been a witness in a case against the magazine. Can you tell me about it?
Well, what I can tell you is that being on a witness stand – with a judge to my right and a jury to my left, and a lawyer front and center trying to trip me up – is the visceral equivalent of seeing police lights behind you when you’re on the highway. Even if you’re not speeding, your heart races!
The basics: For seven years, I directed a writers’ conference (the Zoetrope Short Story Writers’ Workshop) in Belize at Francis Coppola’s lovely resort, Blancaneaux Lodge. The conferences were always fantastic and the resort, well, let’s just say it was one of the biggest perks of the job. Picture thatch-roof cabanas with Japanese baths and gorgeous birds and flowers everywhere. Zen. Zen. Zen. I brought along amazing teachers (Melissa Bank, Pinckney Benedict, Terry McMillan and Philip Gourevitch, to list a few) and great students, and at the risk of sounding cliche, they were magical weeks. I don’t think there could be a more conducive place on earth to write. In fact, Francis often writes there himself.
Anyway, after the 1999 workshop, one of the participants got sick from a parasite and is suing the magazine for lots of money. I’m not a lawyer and I didn’t watch the trial (I was only present when I gave testimony), but the issues seem to be: 1) Did the participant get the parasite at Blancaneaux Lodge (or somewhere else on her travels, or for that matter, eating something like sushi in this country)? And 2) Is the magazine responsible (or is that an inherent risk of travel? Or . . . )?
I don’t think I can say much more than that, but of course, I feel horrible that this person (whom I liked very much) got so sick.
More Adrienne tomorrow on topics we can actually discuss in-depth, so please stop by again.
Please note: You know I love receiving and posting your comments, but I will not be posting any comments concerning the lawsuit itself. Thanks for understanding. All other comments are welcome!
ZOETROPE: Its beginning, its slush pile, and more.
I’ll go ahead and say it here: I adore Adrienne Brodeur. She is kind-hearted, funny, a little bit geeky (that’s a compliment, Adrienne!), and every time we talk, I feel so appreciated. Maybe you can chalk it up to good chemistry, or maybe it’s something you’ll notice today when you hear her talk about her work as an editor.
How and why did you get into the business?
I had an early mid-life crisis when I was in my late twenties: I’d been offered a my dream job in my chosen field at the time (politics/public policy) and after a night of celebrating my fabulous success, I woke up depressed, realizing that I was on a path I didn’t want to be on. If I continued to play my cards “right,” I was going to end up a bureaucrat. Blech! You know how it goes: you land your first job thrilled that anyone wants to hire you, then one thing leads to the next and suddenly, three promotions later, you have a prestigious title, a fat salary and have become an “expert” at something you never had any intention of doing.
So . . . I upended my life on the spot: I turned down the offer, quit the job I held, and moved from San Diego to New York City to try to break into publishing. Easier said than done. I left a nice house on Mission Bay and for about the same monthly ding – moved into a tiny studio apartment above a restaurant called Curry-In-A-Hurry. About six months later, I was broke and ready to give up. To keep myself in my luxurious lifestyle of Raman Noodles, I freelanced – wrote articles, fact checked for a travel magazine, read for THE PARIS REVIEW – but still, I was having no luck. I had given up too much not to wait for the right opportunity, but the powers that be were unwilling to grant me this! The publishing world seemed incredibly snooty and apprentice-ship driven, and though I’m not above grunt work, the idea of sharpening someone else’s red pencils for two years before ever marking a manuscript of my own seemed like a waste of my time. So I decided to take matters into my own hands: I’d start a literary magazine. On a lark, I wrote a letter to Francis Ford Coppola, who I’d heard was interested in short stories. To my great shock, several months later at about 11PM one night, the phone rang. I was half asleep. The conversation went as follows:
“This is Francis.”
(Francis?) A long pause.
Oh. That Francis!
Over the next few months we talked and emailed about our vision for a literary magazine and, in early1996, I got to work. Our first issue of ZOETROPE: ALL-STORY was published in 1997 and, over the course of the next five years, our stories landed in every anthology – Best American Short Stories, The O. Henry Prize Collection, The Pushcart Prize Collection, etc. – and the magazine won the prestigious National Magazine Award for Best Fiction in 2001, beating out behemoths like THE NEW YORKER and ESQUIRE in the process.
What was it like to work with FFC? Are you still in touch?
I loved working with Francis. He is a dynamic, crazy (in the best sense of the word), risk-taker and was a great collaborator and friend.
We are still in touch, though I see far less of him than I used to. When we were working together, there were days when I’d get twenty emails. Now, we exchange perhaps a dozen a year. Last month I accompanied him – along with magazine’s current editorial staff – to the 2006 National Magazine Award ceremony. Great fun! And though we didn’t win this year, I remain very proud of ZOETROPE: ALL-STORY and all its accomplishments.
What aspect of the job did you do?
What aspect of the job didn’t I do, might be a better question.
In the beginning, not only was the magazine run out of my small apartment, it had a staff of one: Moi! I had to hire designers, enlist “guest artists,” find a printer who had a web press and buy paper by the ton; I had to meet with agents and editors to get the word out, develop circulation and distribution plans, become an ad sales exec and learn how to write direct mail pieces (as well as copy for renewal letters); I was the data entry person, event coordinator and party planner. I read, selected, commissioned and edited stories, negotiated contracts, and organized and ran a writers’ conference at Francis’s resort in Belize. Did I mention that I took out the trash?
What was the hardest thing and what was most rewarding about being an editor?
Believe it or not, rejecting writers was always the hardest part of the job for me. No matter how good or bad a story is, it almost always represents someone’s earnest labor, and I never took that lightly. To this day, I still meet people who will say, “Adrienne Brodeur, you once rejected a story of mine.” Yikes! Talk about a conversation stopper . . .
The other hard part was the endless nature of the job: the tidal wave of stories, the feeling that I would never ever go home at night with everything done. Every day brought new submissions and an ever-growing slush pile. There was always an issue to plan, an issue to edit, an issue to distribute. I was always running to stay in place.
With that said, it was all rewarding. There wasn’t a widget in sight, only stories and writers and artists. We got to create something beautiful every three months and often changed someone’s life in the process (many of our writers went on to get book deals – occasionally big ones). How thrilling is that?
Tell me what you saw over and over in the slush pile?
That’s a great question. While I can’t point to one story that I saw over and over, fairly regularly there would be a cluster of stories that shared some similar element. I would be happily reading along, when suddenly I’d realize that of the ten stories I was seriously considering, three of them might include a protagonist who was missing a finger or have some scene with a kid whose nickname was “Piggy,” or some such odd coincidence. There were months when we’d get a slew of spanking stories and days where every submission seemed to include a drowning. I could never figure out what accounted for these patterns. Some weird collective subconscious thing? A random TV show? Who knows . . .
How many people helped to choose a story for the magazine? And what do you think of the idea of consensus in choosing what to publish?
Once the magazine was truly up and running, I had a great staff, including a fabulous team of readers, and we devised a system that worked well for us re: evaluating stories. Readers would read the slush pile and place stories into one of four bins:
Bin 1 – Buy this story
Bin 2 – Buy this story with some revisions
Bin 3 – Consider this story with major revisions
Bin 4 – Reject this story
The editors would read everything from bins 1, 2, and 3, and we’d haggle amongst ourselves about what we liked and why. Then I’d select the five to ten best stories from any given week and send them to members of our editorial board, who’d rate them by the same 1-4 system and join us for a dinner discussion.
As you can tell, I love feedback, however, I always made the final decisions myself. Ultimately, that is the job of an editor and what gives a magazine its unique voice. I think consensus publishing is dangerous in as much as it waters down passion. [Editor’s note: My thoughts, exactly!!] If everyone must agree, you’re boun
d to publish beige stories that don’t ignite or agitate. I was always most intrigued by stories that simultaneously received 1s and 4s, and least interested in those that hovered around 2.5.
Be honest, how much slush did you accept?
I don’t honestly remember the numbers any more, but I would guess it was at least one per issue. ZOETROPE: ALL-STORY’s mission used to be “to discover new voices” and I took that very seriously.
How much did you read?
The first year, ever single story that was submitted. As time went on, that was impossible, but I was always, always reading: I read at work, I read at home; I read in cabs, I read in labs; I read on planes, I read on trains . . . (sometimes it’s impossible not to channel Dr. Seuss).
Did you wear glasses before you were an editor? And do you wear them now?
I did and I do!
Adrienne Brodeur, author of MAN CAMP (Ballantine).
MAN CAMP, by ZOETROPE’s founding editor, Adrienne Brodeur, is a hilarious story of girlfriends who notice a trend in the city-men they date: they are so enlightened and sensitive that they’ve lost touch with all of the old-school ideals. And in today’s interview with Adrienne, you’ll find your chance to win a prize!
Lucy, the main character of MAN CAMP, is a biologist studying mating behavior. Can you describe a few of the terms she finds useful for describing the bachelors she meets?
As an evolutionary biologist, Lucy views the human world through the lens of the animal kingdom, and is constantly trying to make sense of male conduct – particularly as it pertains to courtship – from that vantage point. For instance, when a man who is trying to pick her up puts his hands on his hips so that his jacket spreads open, Lucy recognizes the behavior as similar to that of the male ruffed grouse, a bird that makes itself look larger through chest puffing and wing stretching displays. Or, when another man claps his hand loudly on the bar to silence the men around him, Lucy likens him to a giant silverback gorilla, knowing the gesture is meant to intimidate the others and announce his role as Alpha. Lucy also counsels her best friend Martha, a woman who can be insecure when it comes to dating, to think “like a peahen.” She instructs Martha to follow nature’s example, and sit back and let the peacock do his job: impress her with his tail feathers and mating dance.
One of the characters in your book describes Man Camp as “a masculinity booster shot” for men who don’t know where to attach their jumper cables and don’t remember to open the flue before making a fire. Does Adrienne Brodeur think Man Camp is a good idea, and why or why not?
Is there a way to answer this that won’t get me in trouble? OK. At the risk of sounding incredibly sexist, here goes: At one point in time – many, many, many years ago – following a particularly unsuccessful romantic weekend at a rustic cabin in the woods (yes, Chapter 3 is slightly autobiographical), a certain boyfriend of mine showed himself to be rather incompetent in the realm of the masculine arts: he couldn’t build a fire, practically leapt into my arms at the hoot of an owl, and (the kicker) didn’t know where to place the cables to jump start our car when the battery died. So, had you asked me that weekend if I thought an actual Man Camp was a good idea, I’d probably have given a resounding: YES!
I maintain, however, that there is a curious phenomenon at play when it comes to gender roles in urban environments – they blur. When I returned from the aforementioned (un)romantic getaway, I realized that my city girlfriends had vastly different complaints about their boyfriends than their suburban/country counterparts, including things like: He’s cranky if he doesn’t make it to yoga class. He has more products in the bathroom than I do. I have to kill the bugs. He can’t fix anything. But truthfully, in New York there’s very little reason to know how to change a tire (we all take cabs), or fix a plumbing problem (that’s what the superintendent is for), or scare off wild animals (the rats seem to scurry away on their own).
For what it’s worth, in the end, MAN CAMP pokes just as much fun at women as it does at men. After all, we wanted them to be more sensitive, right? Well, we got that in spades. In the book, the urban guys fare far better than the women once they all relocate to Man Camp. And if there is a moral to the story, it’s about love requiring compromise on all sides.
The obvious question I have to ask is why on earth isn’t this a movie? It would make a great comedy with a kind of Sleepless in Seattle warmth to it. I would cast Jimmy Fallon as Adam, for starters. It’s such a no-brainer that this would be a great summer hit. Has anyone approached you for film rights?
First of all, thanks for the vote of confidence. I get the Why-isn’t-this-a-movie-yet? question all the time. No good answer, I’m afraid. Lots of people have approached or inquired, but there hasn’t been a perfect fit yet. Fingers crossed!
Talk to me about the process of getting this made into a book from the initial idea through writing it through selling it? Can you describe how long it took from start to finish and some of the ups and downs along the way?
I had two book ideas kicking around in my head for about five years: MAN CAMP and a much more serious (and as of yet untitled) literary novel. But as editor in chief of ZOETROPE: ALL-STORY, I didn’t have the time or creative energy for my own work. Once I resigned in 2002, however, I planned to dive right in . . . only I was asked to be a judge the National Book Award for Fiction, which seemed like too big an honor to turn down. I also tried to convince myself that reading 300 novels would somehow be a complimentary endeavor to writing. HA! Needless to say, for four months I didn’t do anything but read and read and read. Once that was behind me, I got busy with MAN CAMP. By Spring 2003 I’d written a detailed outline and three chapters – all in all, perhaps 75 pages – and gave it to my agent, who thought we could sell it based on what we had. Turns out she was right. Apparently, the stars were aligned and three publishing houses participated in an auction for the world rights. I ended up choosing Random House.
After the euphoria settled and I had to write the book, there were many ups and even more downs, way downs, and way, way downs. Writing full time is just so different than anything I’d ever done before professionally: No feedback. No colleagues. No diversions. Just a cat and a refrigerator to distract me. At least when I edited ZOETROPE: ALL-STORY, if I was burnt out on the creative end, there were calls to make, letters to write, numbers to crunch. At home alone, with nothing but a computer and a brain, when it isn’t going well, there’s nothing to do but contemplate what a talent-less, unproductive, incompetent fraud of a writer you are. Plus, the book was supposed to be funny. Try re-reading any joke for the hundredth time and see if you still find it remotely funny.
I handed in a complete manuscript about a year later. Then the year of waiting-for-the-book-to-be-published kicked in. (Why, oh why does it take this long?). Luckily for me, it turned out to be a busy year so I hardly noticed the clock ticking: I got married. I got pregnant. I moved. I moved. And I moved again. Then, I got bad news: my editor was leaving Random House. Then, more bad news: the pub date was pushed back to two weeks before my due date. And then even more: my pregnancy was “high risk” so I was not allowed to travel or promote the book. Obviously, the baby was my top priority, but as I think any writer knows, your book is your baby, too, so it was devastating not to be able to do anything to promote it. Basically, the two people who cared most about the successful publication of MAN CAMP – me and my editor – were more or less not on the job.
As life would have it, I gave birth to my baby on August 18th and the hardcover publication of MAN CAMP quickly took its place in the back seat of my life.
That’s a decision you’ll never regret. But now that the paperback release is upon us (next Tuesday!!), what will you do differently?
I’m happy to report that my daughter is a healthy, rambunctious almost-ten-month-old, so I’m ready to invest much more time and energy in the paperback release. Obviously, I will be able to travel and give readings, so I am planning a mini-tour hitting cities where I feel confident I can draw a crowd (Newton, MA; San Diego, CA; Kingston, NY, Brewster, MA; New York City, NY; New Haven, CT and others). If any of you have suggestions for other places, please let me know.
Other than that, I hope to take advantage of the internet (not easy for a Luddite!) as I see it as a resource that publishing houses are not yet taking full advantage of. (They snickered when I mentioned MySpace, so help me prove them wrong!) I’m figuring out my “blog tour” now – where better to start than here? – so if you know of other bloggers who might like to review the book or interview me, please contact me! In fact, I don’t have much of a PR bone in my body, so if you have ideas or suggestions whatsoever, I would love your help. [A present from Africa to the first person who offers major help!]
Talk to me about trying to balance family life with your passion for writing and the necessary evils involved with promoting a book?
I have so NOT mastered that balance. What are your tricks? [Editor’s note: Ha! Talk to Mr. Henderson about how balanced I am!] Every day I just do what I can do and hope to figure out a hard and fast schedule. My daughter seems to take great pleasure in teaching me that my plans are nothing compared to her whims!
Are you different for having written this book, and in what way?
I’m sure that I am, though I can’t say how. Perhaps it would have been easier to articulate if the writing of this book had occurred during a quieter year in my life. As it was, the year MAN CAMP was published is a total and complete blur – I got married, became a step mother to two teenage boys, moved, published a novel, gave birth, moved again, and then once again. All great things, but too much to make sense of just yet.
What have you learned about this process that is helpful to pass along to other writers? Any tips? Any life lessons?
For some reason, a stream motivational cliches is rushing through my head . . . I’m going to do my best to ignore it so that I can focus on practical tips.
1) Don’t send your work out before it is ready. As a writer and an editor, I’ve been on both sides of the publishing fence, so I can empathize with the urge to show your work and get published, but I also know what it is like to be unimpressed by writing that isn’t ready for a public viewing. Once you send your manuscript into the world, it is hard to get as warm a reception ever again.
2) Know where you are sending your work. I know the carpet-bombing approach is tempting (send that story to every literary magazine or that manuscript to every agent you can find an address for), but honestly, as writers do we need any more rejection that we are already bound to get? Do your homework. Read the magazines you are submitting to. Know that the agent you’re interested in handles erotic thrillers (or whatever you write). I can’t tell you how often poetry was sent to me at ZOETROPE: ALL-STORY. Has there ever been a poem in ZOETROPE? Nope!
3) Everyone’s feedback is not equal. You have to be open to criticism, but in the end, you are the writer and you know what is best for your work. Often writers, in our desire to get published, will follow any and all advice. Trust your instincts! If you don’t think the grandmother should die in the first chapter, wait until you’re ready to off her on page 95. If someone’s suggestions are right for you, you’ll be nodding your head thinking, “Of course!” or “I knew that!” The best editors are people who understand what you are trying to accomplish and help you to do that.
4) Remember, no one cares more about your book than you do. I used to think: writers wrote, editors edited, publishers published. The fact is, in today’s world, you must participate in all these things. As much as your editor might profess to love you, he/she has twenty other authors she’s working with. They are busy people. And believe me, you don’t even want to think about all that publishers have on their plates.
Get involved, be proactive and good luck!
MAN CAMP casting call!
Adrienne has an interesting story behind the shooting of the trailer: “What no one knew was that I was barely pregnant at the time. Everyone must have thought I had a tiny bladder. In fact I was getting sick between every shoot.”
Okay, call me greedy, but I want more than a book trailer. I want to see the movie MAN CAMP, so why not come up with my fantasy casting call? It’s my blog – I don’t see what’s stopping me.
So . . . announcing the actors I’d like to audition for MAN CAMP’s major roles:
Lucy – Our heroine: practical, smart, pretty. An evolutionary biologist who uses the animal kingdom as her lens through which she examines human mating rituals.
Martha – Wacky and hilarious. She decides she needs to help men in the art of seduction by creating a business called FirstDate in which evaluates a man’s courtship skills based on a date.
Adam – Lucy’s sweet but incompetent boyfriend. He’s capable in the world that he inhabits (academia), but inept in the masculine arts.
Cooper – The antidote to the NYC male. A Southern dairy farmer who is capable, gallant and everything Lucy and Martha want in a man.
Jesse – Martha’s brother and neurotic extraordinaire. This boy is frightened of everything!
Beatrice – Cooper’s controlling steel magnolia of a mother.
That was fun! I dearly hope this will be a film. And a summer hit, at that!
Before I close out this week, I want to mention that Adrienne has been beyond generous and gracious because the whole time we conducted this interview, she was in the process of moving from NY to her new home. Please show her some love and buy her book. Or at the very least, make her your MySpace friend and tell her hello.
And to the rest of you, have a great weekend. Monday will be my last post before my blog goes on summer hiatus.