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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Something #Original For You: Experimental Animals: A Reality #Fiction by Thalia Field

I know that this is story month here at LROD, but I've come across something so new and original (a reality fiction) that I felt I had to post it today. Thalia Field's Experimental Animals is a book about humans and our treatment of animals. Karen Joy Fowler (author of the best-seller We Are Completely Beside Ourselves) calls it “A beautiful and thought-provoking collage of a tale of rescued history and a sobering tribute to some of its victims.”

The experimental novel revolves around a moment in modern science when a choice was made to base human research on the bodies of animals. As you all know, I'm a medical writer by (paid) trade, getting my start when HIV/AIDS was a nascent topic of scientific study (but mostly because my friends were dying), so I am fascinated by this topic, as will you be. Here's what she has to say about the book:

When did you first start writing this novel?  I've been working on this book in fits and starts for 20 years. I had no idea where it would lead me, and no idea how it would be in its final form until long into my later drafts.

How is this novel different ( the same) as your other writing? What makes them fit into the category of “experimental” Experimental Animals shares some genetic material with my last book, Bird Lovers, Backyard. Both involve history of science and a range of narrative forms, a combination of fiction and non-fiction. I think my work is innovative in that I don't rely on previous styles or forms with each project... in other words, each book, every piece, finds its own "way of being" that is pretty unique.

How many revisions did you write? The first draft that felt like it even approached what would be the whole book was over 800 pages long! It wasn't in the form the book finished in, and it didn't have the same focus. Over the course of a few more years I worked very hard on shaping and cutting and forming the final manuscript, at about 1/4 of the length. It was devastating to get rid of so much amazing material, but... for the sake of the novel's success as a novel, it had to happen.

Who read your drafts? A select group of writer-friends read drafts once it was in a readable form, in other words, pretty close to what I was willing to show and send out. It's a lot of work to ask someone to read a draft and give feedback, so I tend to limit that request until I'm desperate, and also until I really know what I'm asking that reader for in particular.

Did you use an agent? If not, why not? I have no agent. No agent will take me, it seems.

How long did it take to find a publisher or the collection? This book took a few years, which is about my average. My work is deemed difficult, and since each book is unique and different, it seems like it takes awhile to find the perfect publisher. But I've lucked out with Solid Objects, they are amazing and have incredible literary insight and follow-through.

What is your worst rejection story? I have so many...from horrible rejection letters telling me "you must not know anything about literature"* to the harsh rejection by editors who cite their marketing departments. Horrible.

What is your best rejection story? I'm not sure what's the difference between worst and best... It's always pretty hard to hear someone hates your work. I guess sometimes people try to be kind, but...not really. There's a weird amnesia that seems to overtake they forget what it feels like to put work out there...

Where were you when you received the offer for the book to be published? Aww... I was teaching at the Vermont Studio Center... what a great day!

Has your philosophy on getting published changed? I think small presses are the best, especially for literature. They give an artist time to develop an audience, and they don't rely on marketing departments to make their decisions for them.

What words of advice would you give to a writer on the journey toward story and story collection publication?  I always try to remind my students that you can't base a life's work on any one book, or story, and that it's impossible to know where one is heading next. Getting published is important, but going only for name-brand status is not. The smallest publishers are so often the ones doing work that eventually goes into the mainstream. It's worth always considering the smaller presses.

*Thalia Field is a professor of Literary Arts at Brown University.

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