Diana Abu-Jaber is most recently the author of Birds of Paradise, an Indie Books Pick, as well as of the award winning memoir, The Language of Baklava, the best-selling novels Origin andCrescent, which was awarded the 2004 PEN Center USA Award for Literary Fiction and the American Book Award. Her first novel Arabian Jazz won the 1994 Oregon Book Award and was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award. A frequent contributor to NPR, she teaches at Portland State University and divides her time between Portland and Miami.
WHAT INSPIRES AND INFLUENCES YOUR WRITING THE MOST?
Inspiration is wonderfully ineffable– for me it comes from the air, from everywhere: music, memories, novels, readings, dreams, glances, random notions and musings. The key, I think, is to be open to it, to cultivate a collector’s mindset, learn to observe, take notes, to write quickly and see what your own writing opens up.
DO YOU HAVE AN AGENT? IF SO, HOW DID YOU FIND HIM/HER?
I do. My first agent retired after the publication of my first novel and the second sort of drifted off when we couldn’t get the next novel published. I was in the midst of mourning the non-publication of an ms I’d labored over for five years– a weird, unnerving time– when my friend, novelist Whitney Otto mentioned that she had an amazing agent. She put us in touch with each other. We hit it off: she believed in my writing and was welcoming and real in a way that made me feel that everything would be all right. And it was. I’ve been happily represented by Joy Harris for over fifteen years.
WHAT SURPRISED YOU MOST ABOUT THE PUBLISHING PROCESS?
How political and personal and capricious it is: I’d wanted to believe publishing was a kind of platonic meritocracy, based entirely (or mostly) on artistic worth. Some of it actually is– but it’s all entwined with the mysteries of sales and publicity.
DO YOU MARKET YOURSELF? WHAT (SPECIFICALLY) DO YOU DO TO BUILD/MAINTAIN YOUR READERSHIP?
I’m sure I should. The most I seem to be able to manage is trying to write more books to help lead readers to the next books. I used to try to blog a bit, along with the rest of the world, and theres a website, occasional events and speaking engagements. Mostly I goof around on Twitter.
BASED ON YOUR EXPERIENCES IN THE INDUSTRY, WHAT ADVICE CAN YOU OFFER WRITERS?
An editor once told me: an author should write the best book they can and then turn it over to their editor to publish it as well as they can. Despite all the alternative routes to publishing, I still believe that’s the best thing a writer can do. Read widely, work regularly, write the book you want to read, then hand it over!