The Second Time Around | Day of Dialog 2017

Five authors discuss the ups and downs of writing a second novel.

The panel (top photo, l.-r.): Celeste Ng, Marie Benedict, Robin Sloan, and Eleanor Henderson. Photos by William Neumann

In The Second Time Around, moderated by Prepub Alert editor Barbara Hoffert, five authors opened by discussing the ups and downs of writing a second novel. Marie Benedict, author of Carnegie’s Maid (Sourcebooks, Jan. 2018), relayed her love of her hometown library, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, and the inspiration for her novel about a maid in the household of Andrew Carnegie. For Benedict, the difficult part about writing a second novel was leaving characters behind. Celeste Ng, author of Little Fires Everywhere (Penguin Pr., Sept.), shared a Pittsburgh connection. She grew up there as well as Shaker Heights, OH, where her second novel is set; it depicts social and  racial tensions in a progressive suburb. Ng likened writing a second novel to having a second child, saying, "What’s hard and scary is that you've done it before." Agreeing with the parenting metaphor, Eleanor Henderson, author of The Twelve-Mile Straight (Ecco, Sept.), said she felt five percent more confident this time around. Her novel, based in the Jim Crow South, examines racial violence and the South's complicated class structure, featuring share croppers and train hoppers among other memorable characters. "The benefit and the curse is that you know more," stated Chloe Benjamin, author of The Immortalists (Putnam, Jan. 2018), which centers on four extremely different siblings each seeking his or her own fate. The parenting metaphor was carried throughout the panel, as Ng discussed how her book raised questions about what makes a good parent. Benjamin talked about her interest in what happened to her book's four siblings regardless of how they were influenced by a fortuneteller they visited when young. A recurring theme in the discussion was the "freedom of uncertainty," a phrase from Benjamin's novel, which Robin Sloan, author of Sourdough (MCD: Farrar, Sept.), elaborated upon when describing his latest. Sloan's book has a high-tech backdrop (techies revel in that uncertainty) while immersing readers in the world of baking, with a touch of magic owing to a sourdough starter with its own personality. Let's hope for third books soon!


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