TBR [to be read] is a new feature on my blog, a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe!
Welcome to The Egg, an off-campus geodesic dome where David Fuffman and his crew of alienated Princeton students train for what might be the end of days: America is in a perpetual state of war, climate disasters create a global state of emergency, and scientists believe time itself may be collapsing. Funded by the charismatic Mathias Blue and fueled by performance enhancers and psychedelic drugs, a student revolution incubates at The Egg, inspired by the superheroes that dominate American culture. As the final superstorm arrives, the students toe the line between good and evil, deliverance and demagogues, the damned and the saved.
Which character did you most enjoy creating? Why? And, which character gave you the most trouble, and why?
I really enjoyed writing Haley Roth, the female protagonist of the book, probably because she was the most challenging to write. She’s both the moral center of the book and yet she operates in a moral gray area, but ultimately she’s the heart of the story and maybe the one true superhero. She’s funny and complicated and resilient and an all-around badass. I credit my editor, Olivia Taylor Smith, for encouraging me to add a substantial number of pages—mostly from Haley’s POV—fairly late in the editing process. I think this freedom to write and push for a longer book not only made Haley’s character more compelling, but really brought the whole story together in an important way.
Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.
The book took 12 years—nearly 13 by the time of this writing—to reach publication, so there was a large quantity of both highs and lows. I wrote a piece of flash fiction in late 2005 that got published in an anthology called The Apocalypse Reader. This first taste of publication was a huge high that gave me the confidence to turn the short story into a novel. I wrote most of the first draft during my MFA program at California College of the Arts (my MFA experience was another highlight) and finished it at a Vermont Studio Center residency in 2008. I spent a few years revising and tightening it up, and then began looking for an agent in 2011. It took a long time to find representation, and this was a low…but also an important part of the process. Each time I got a rejection, it usually came with thoughtful feedback on how to revise, plus an offer to resubmit. So I’d spend months or sometimes years making these revisions—typically major revisions of the story structure and how we move through time in linear vs. nonlinear ways. Eventually after losing track of each other four years earlier, I got signed by Noah Ballard at Curtis Brown in early 2017. He and I did one more big revision and then he sold the book to The Unnamed Press in late 2017, at which point I did another pretty substantial revision with Olivia. Working with Unnamed has been a massive high—the kind of personal attention and support that’s come with an independent press, their appetite for “challenging” material that doesn’t fit neatly into a particular mold, and they’ve generated a lot of publicity and brought the book out to a wider readership than I ever imagined. It took a while, but I feel extremely lucky to have landed with my agent and my publisher.
What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?
I’m not sure who said this originally (I should probably find out) my one of my CCA mentors, Tom Barbash, relayed a piece of advice: a great day of writing is one where you get your character from the kitchen to the living room. That’s it. For me, writing is very incremental, just consistent/persistent effort to get a few more pages and then do the same thing again the next day and the next and then go back and fix that and push a little further. That piece of advice helped me realize the discipline necessary to work as a writer. Joyce Carol Oates (my undergraduate thesis advisor) also once told me, “You might be just masochistic enough to be a real writer,” so I think that stuck with me and plays into how I perceive the writing process, for better or worse.
My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?
That it actually got finished and published. And that real other human beings are now reading it and enjoying it! It’s what I’d always dreamed about, but still!
How do you approach revision?
I approach revision as a natural part of the writing process, one and the same. I’m producing new paragraphs and pages, and I’m getting rid of old ones that don’t sound as good this week as they did two weeks ago. I think time plays an important role—what feels great the night it’s written may not work so well two weeks later, and for me it’s important to allow for that fermentation period to see if something ends up being right. But I also love the revision process—some writers dread it—so I don’t mind reworking things for months and years, because I’m constantly learning new things throughout this process—about the story and about myself and what I actually believe.
Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes* I might share?)
The main food from my novel that jumped to mind is a Batman sheetcake, and that probably won’t work for these purposes. So I’ll mention a traditional survival superfood that shows up in the book: pemmican. You can read about pemmican online, but it’s kind of the OG energy bar, and can be consumed for years or decades if stored properly. It’s based on dried meat, a bit like jerky, except it also contains fat and typically some kind of dried fruit or nuts, so it’s a more complete food source that survivalists claim to be able to live on for weeks. Recipes online vary, and I’m no expert, so Google around a bit. But here’s the basic idea and two recipes I stole, one with lean meat and one with already-dried meat, both from https://www.wildernesscollege.com/pemmican-recipes.html
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Recipe # 1
- 4 cups lean meat (deer, beef, caribou or moose)
- 3 cups dried fruit
- 2 cups rendered fat
- Unsalted nuts and about 1 shot of honey
Meat should be as lean as possible and double ground from your butcher if you do not have you own meat grinder. Spread it out very thin on a cookie sheet and dry at 180 degrees F for at least 8 hours or until sinewy and crispy. Pound the meat into a nearly powder consistency using a blender or other tool. Grind the dried fruit, but leave a little bit lumpy for fun texture. Heat rendered fat on stove at medium until liquid. Add liquid fat to dried meat and dried fruit, and mix in nuts and honey. Mix everything by hand. Let cool and store. Can keep and be consumed for several years.
Recipe # 2
- 2 lbs dried beef (see recipe 1 for drying instructions)
- 1.5 cup raisins
- Beef suet
Grind meat to fine pulp in a blender. Now add in the raisins. Chop this mix enough to break up the raisins and mix in well. Melt the suet to a liquid and pour into the mixture, using just enough to hold the meat and raisins together. Now allow this to cool slightly. Put this into a pan and let it cool completely. Next, cut the pemmican into strips, then divide it into bars of about 4” long by 1” wide. Bag these separately and you can store them for several months.