By Ian MacAllen on Thursday, February 26th, 2015 at 9:01 am
Alena Graedon and Joshua Max Feldman read from their novels at Community Bookstore in Park Slope. Graedon’s The Word Exchange is set in a not-so-distant Dystopia where the death of print has lead to the buying and selling of words. A disappearance at a renowned dictionary sets of the action. Feldman’s The Book of Jonah is modern retelling of the biblical story set in New York City with a lawyer at the center.
Graedon says that the thing with a first novel is that the writer never expects anyone to actually read it. In a way, that is liberating.
“I grew up in a very nerdy family,” she says, explaining that her brother and mother would sit around reading stories to each other, often they were science fiction or fantasy novels. Her grandfather was also a rare and used book dealer, meaning she had constant access to books.
“Inevitably what you read and love finds its way into what you’re writing,” she says.
The Word Exchange began with a character, the disappearance of the father figure who works at the dictionary. Coincidentally, the entry on him also disappears from the electronic version of the dictionary simultaneously. It was this duality of disappearing from a physical and digital world that first intrigued Graedon.
As she was writing the novel, Graedon says she kept trying to invent new things in the future she had created. The hardest part for her was that Google kept inventing everything she was coming up with to be set in the future.
“Right now we’re in this amazing period of Dystopian novels,” she says, but she didn’t want to read them before finishing her novel.
Feldman knew he wanted to have a modern retelling of the bible. In fact, he planned on doing stories from ten different books. The story of Jonah offered him the opportunity for a longer work. “It all took a lot longer than I thought it would,” he says. He thinks the bible has some amazing stories.
When writing his characters, he believes that if he pushes them in the wrong direction, they begin to fail. In character development, he says, there is a push and pull that exists in the author’s imagination. “Be true to the imaginative idea,” he says.
Feldman says he tried avoiding reading fiction while he was writing his novel, although he spent plenty of time thinking about 19th Century Russian Literature.
For both novelists, their characters spend time working. Feldman’s protagonist Jonah is a lawyer, and Graedon’s protagonist Anana works at her father’s dictionary publishing house.
“The project of writing a book is so different from working in an office,” Feldman says.
“I find sitting in a room all day writing is sort of terrifying,” Graedon says, adding that the office becomes something everyone has access to. She says the second book hasn’t been any easier to write, especially now that she knows someone will read it. “When you start having faces to your readers, it makes you want to write something they want to read.”
Alena Graedon and Joshua Max Feldman
Thursday, February 19th, 2014
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