Author Marya Hornbacher comes to Andersonville
by Tim Frick
Marya Hornbacher says she'll start tweeting when she can fit a Russian novel into 140 characters. The Pulitzer and Pushcart-nominated author and I sat down to discuss new work, social media, the collapse of publishing, and writing to your passions.
I first met Marya Hornbacher in 2008 when I interviewed her for Bookstream just before her third book, Madness: A Bipolar Life, was released. We had a great rapport in the interview, found we have a lot in common, and have since kept in touch. I was thrilled to learn that she is currently in Chicago a few days per week teaching at Northwestern University and will be reading almost entirely new work at Women and Children First bookstore on Friday, February 25th. We sat down in her room at the Dana Hotel for a quick chat between meetings and classes.
A Prolific Writer, A Good Year
In the past year, Marya has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes for poetry and non-fiction and in June her fifth book will be released by Hazelden. Titled Waiting: A Non-Believer’s Higher Power, the book is about finding spirituality without a god. She is currently working on a book about sex and sexuality in literature, a new novel, a collection of essays, a collection of poetry, and selecting candidate schools for getting her PhD. Add teaching a couple days per week to the mix and that makes for one busy writer, but I get the impression that level of energy is something Marya thrives on.
It hasn’t been such a good year for the publishing industry, however. Marya and I met on the day that Borders Books filed chapter 11, a fact that she found both sad and liberating. “With publishing collapsing the way it is,” she told me, “there’s this weird feeling that you can write whatever you want. It’s heartbreaking but at the same time, there’s City Lights in San Francisco and these readers groups all over that are forging paths to help readers find the work they really want to read. As a writer, there really is this feeling that you’re not going for advances anymore, you’re not going for the big names. What you can do now is write what you’re really passionate about… and that is very freeing and kind of delightful.”
Marya says this liberation is reflected in the books she’s been reading as well. “I’m seeing new work come out now that I wouldn’t have seen come out ten years ago. Now new titles are coming out because people aren’t trying to make a name for themselves, they’re just trying to create good literature and that’s a new direction.”
Publishing and Social Media
Of course e-book readers and a monolithic publishing industry that’s slow to adapt (thus opening avenues for innovation by nimble independents) play a significant role in the industry’s transformation, but the role of social networks and the ease with which one can easily share information to thousands of people with a few well-placed mouse clicks can’t be underestimated as well. Social media is a topic Marya has resigned herself to, but she embraces it with guarded reservations.
“I’m Facebook-phobic!” she says. “It’s terrible. I need to grow up and deal with social media, but like most writers I’m really reclusive. My agent’s on my butt all the time. She’s saying Tweet! Tweet! The fact of the matter is that we are going to have to start creating a lot more self-generated media. We’re going to have to be a lot more proactive about getting our books out there, especially since the publishing industry is going (Marya cocks her head here) ‘meh’. Social media is going to be so critical in generating word of mouth, especially for those really good books that you just want to share with everyone.”
Authors as Brands
Expanding on this, I asked Marya about the idea of ‘author as brand’ and she kind of blanched. “I don’t really like the idea of authors as brands but I think it is important for an author to be willing to put themselves out there in a way they might not be comfortable with. I mean, writers are not really the most social people that you have ever met in your life. I am going through a shift—as are I think many writers—where I have to stop being such a literary geek and start being more of a tech geek. I’ve got to get out of my own head a little bit and that’s going to be scary…but I’ve got to do it.”
I nod in agreement. Marya has fashioned herself a great career by putting herself out there in ways many might not be comfortable with and we are all the richer for it. Her writing, like conversations with her, moves at breakneck speed and it is both invigorating and inspiring to talk with her. I am very excited to hear her read in person on Friday.
Check out our 2008 interview with Marya:
Friday, February 25, 2011
Women & Children First Bookstore (corner of Farragut and Clark)
More info is available on the Women & Children First Bookstore website.