Monday, October 26, 2020

TBR: The Rest of the World by Adam Schwartz

TBR [to be read] is 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.


Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?

 All of the stories in this collection are set in Baltimore, and they were all inspired by getting to know the teens in my classroom. As our country grapples with the ideals we claim to aspire to, this collection offers stories about resilient kids growing up in neighborhoods sabotaged by systemic inequities. These teen and young adult characters rescue loved ones, betray one another, seek redemption, plot hustles, reckon with moral ambiguities, and struggle to find meaning in a city that owes them better.


Which story did you most enjoy writing? Why? And, which story gave you the most trouble, and why?

 “Pavane for a Dead Princess” was probably the hardest story for me to pull together. It’s the longest in the book; it covers a lot of ground temporally; it’s a story within a story. But most of all the protagonist undergoes a reluctant transformation that wasn’t easy to render. It’s about a young man who falls in love with the daughter of the owners of the neighborhood carry-out. Her family is Korean, and her parents don’t want her involved with a dude from the neighborhood. One night, just as things seem to be lining up for the protagonist, he becomes entangled in an altercation that he might’ve avoided. (Readers can decide.) Setbacks ensue and over time—almost without realizing it—he finds himself on a redemptive quest that takes him down the unlikeliest of paths.

 The story I most enjoyed writing was the title story, “The Rest of the World.” In this story, the teen narrator is called upon to protect a child. By doing so, he takes on a moral task larger than himself, and achieves, perhaps, a kind of nobility. [See link below.]


Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.

 The high point has been working with the wonderful people at Washington Writers’ Publishing House. Everyone there has been kind, helpful, professional, smart and experienced.

 Prior to winning the WWPH prize, I sent my book around to literary agents. A handful of agents read at least of some of the stories in the collection, offered praise, and then proceeded to ask for a novel. The publishing industry’s preference for novels over story collections is well-known. (For a reminder, stroll along the literary fiction aisles of Barnes and Noble; relatively few story collections adorn the shelves.) Still, it was disappointing to hear first-hand from some agents that they liked my work but didn’t think they could place my story collection with publishers.


What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

 “If you keep working, inspiration comes.” Alexander Calder


My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?

One thing that surprised me is that I discovered the scope of my concerns. I’m drawn to writing stories about teens and young adults coming of age. Our initial encounters with the hard realities of adult life transform us. How do we negotiate these experiences? Who do we become in their aftermath? And in what ways do we hold on to, or reach back for, the parts of ourselves that got left behind?

That may sound like a narrow range for a book of stories, but I don’t think of it that way—in part because our teen years are such a crucial, formative period. It’s during this window that we’re trying to sort out our values, trying to figure out the kind of people we want to be in the world and trying to forge identities that are in harmony with who we hope to become.  

I spent much of my own adolescence adrift. Decades later, I still wonder who I was back then and what I was looking for. If the reckless, dreamy, short-fused, high school drop-out I was at seventeen could meet the schoolteacher I am today, would they recognize each other? I don’t know. 

Anyway, this border between childhood and adulthood interests me. It can be a fraught and volatile period. Throw into this mix the kinds of challenges many vulnerable kids in Baltimore have to deal with and, sometimes, the stakes become unimaginably high. Teens in Baltimore don’t get much of a margin for error. There aren’t a lot safety nets to catch them if they make a poor decision, as kids sometimes do.

 And if Baltimore asks children to navigate a minefield of complex choices—as I believe it does—than I hope my stories are affirmations of belief in kids who refuse to give into despair.


How do you approach revision?

 My approach to revision is I keep doing it until I can live with what’s on the page. I’m frequently surprised by the progress that comes from holding an inchoate or unresolved idea in my mind—sometimes for days or weeks or months—and continuing to check in on it. Sometimes I feel like writing fiction is really about tapping into this instrument that allows you to hold certain unresolved ideas in perspective over time so that you can work them out.


Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book?

Eight years ago, Hostess Brands, the company that makes Twinkies, briefly went under. After several months, a buy-out company stepped in and saved the iconic snack cake. Twinkies—and the fear that they were about to disappear—became the device that propels the events in the story “Wizzur.”








READ A STORY FROM THIS BOOK, “The Rest of the World”:





DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.