On self-publishing, poetry, and courage: 3Qs for author Hilary Thayer Hamann

Yesterday, I offered my two cents worth on Anthropology of an American Girl, Hilary Thayer Hamann's debut novel, self-pubbed in 2003 and revamped for release last week by Spiegel & Gau, which has been eliciting critical superlatives and comparisons to everything yumcious from crack to Salinger. Today, we have a word with the author.

Hilary, thanks for taking time to visit. On the topic of self-publishing, you've said, "I wanted to work with something really organic, the whole way through. I wanted to make that art my own." Does the novel feel any less your own now that you've reworked it within the traditional publishing process?
The self-publishing process was definitely organic! It was like working with a living entity that required constant consideration and care. And it demanded a different application of strength and intelligence than I've had to exercise as a writer exclusively. So though it was liberating, and I evolved in ways I never could have anticipated, it was not without its pressures—economic, professional, and social. Lately, I’ve been able to write more or less exclusively, and that’s been a pleasure.

I’m proud of the product that grew out of that time. It was raw and dense and in need of an edit, but it was also poetic and courageous—-an endeavor of the heart and mind. Though I didn’t expect this when I embarked, I think my writing style—my voice, I guess—-was given the chance to develop in a type of untended isolation. And I feel especially fortunate to have gotten direct feedback from readers on that voice, and on the overall endeavor. Anthropology is not the usual take on American women. There is an effort to confront stereotype to study the ways we fall victim to it.

Of course, developing in isolation is not always reasonable, nor is it necessarily the best thing for the product—or the readers. The new edition is much stronger and more accessible. Cindy Spiegel, my editor and publisher, cleared away much of the density of the previous version so that the story could lift off the page. In the process my original vision became clearer to me as well.

So in response to the question, both works feel like my own, but in different ways.

Considering how dramatically the world has changed--and how dramatically you yourself probably changed--over the last seven years, I'm curious about how the characters and heart of the novel were transformed (or not) as the manuscript was reshaped. Did the original Evie stay the same and provide an anchor or did she evolve while other elements in the novel provided a stable platform?
Quite honestly, Eveline hasn’t changed at all. I don’t think she could have. The entire book is her internal point of view, so any alterations that were made occurred more or less as adjustments in her memory. Certain details dropped back and broader messages and themes moved forward. In fact, none of the characters changed from the original. If anything, they were given space to breathe as the book was edited, and their intentions became more evident.

At the time I originally wrote the novel, I was conscious of describing a pre-digital world in which random and serendipitous connections were possible—not only possible, but they were actually the engine of social survival. Your destiny was totally influenced by your approach to living. Were you the sort of person who was out and about, at home, at clubs? I mean, people used to have to sit by a phone and wait for a call, or sit by a window and wait for a car to pass! There are a few points in the book at which Eveline retreats from the social landscape to take time to think, or wait for things beyond her skin to settle down, and she is able to do that, to take that time for herself. If such a personal retreat would have been unlikely when I first released the book, it would be impossible now. It’s very hard to cultivate a private world for oneself anymore. It’s like there’s no alternative to the public path you are on.

We recently featured an interview with your agent, Kirby Kim at William Morris Endeavor. How did you connect with him? And where will you go from here?
Kirby has been an integral part of all this. He’s intelligent, collected, knowledgeable, and professional. I sent the paperback to a handful of agents in July 2007, and Kirby was the first to read the book and get back to me. He then sent it out to a handful of publishers, and by September I was sitting with him and Cindy Spiegel talking about her vision for the project. That was a really nice moment for me. Being in that room with those two on a rainy autumn afternoon, having a strong intuition that the book was in the right hands, that I’d done the right thing, and that I could let go, even just a little, of all that I’d been managing on my own for so long. I felt like I was with friends, and I guess that was the case.

Read Chapter One of Anthropology of an American Girl, or just dive in and buy from IndieBound.

Comments

jenny milchman said…
Thanks so much for sharing your momentous journey, Hilary. It reminds me a little of Maryann McFaddens's--not sure if you know her work--but she too originally self-pubbed, hot-footing it from indie bookstore to book club and back again, until an agent signed her and sold that novel at auction a few days later. Your faith in your work was clearly justified, and I'm so glad readers echoed it. Congratulations on your "debut"--I look forward to reading your excerpt.
So glad you and your book found the right partners for this new phase of your journey! Thanks so much for stopping by BtO.

And *fabulous* reviews! You could put that pull-quote on a tattoo. It's a keeper! ;)
jenny milchman said…
Just wondering if Hilary saw that ANTHROPOLOGY is featured as an Amazon best pick of June? I'm trying to figure out how to copy the link...if Hilary has trouble seeing this and wants to, she can write me at jenny at wedeskyull dot com and I will forward! congrats again!!
Anonymous said…
Hi,
I just saw these nice remarks from Jenny and Colleen! So sorry for the late reply. Thank you both and best for the New Year.
Hilary

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