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Paddling Troubled Waters with Ben Schrank

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Love is a Canoe cover
Love Is a Canoe
by Ben Schrank

Buy this Book
at Amazon.com

An Exclusive Authorlink Interview with Ben Schrank,
Author of Love Is a Canoe

By Diane Slocum

January, 2013

Ben Schrank’s third novel, Love Is a Canoe, taps into his knowledge of the publishing world. At age 23, Peter Herman wrote a book on marriage based on what he learned during the summer he spent with his grandparents when he was 13. On the fiftieth anniversary of that summer, Stella Petrovic conceives a contest to promote the book by giving the winning couple a visit with Peter. Emily Babson grew up reading Peter’s book so when she uncovers troubling information about her husband, she enters the contest. Can the author live up to his creation?

“I’ve spent just about all of my adult life thinking about books and about publishing.”
—SCHRANK

AUTHORLINK: Where did you get the idea to write a book about a book – and how your central characters relate because of it?

SCHRANK: I’ve spent just about all of my adult life thinking about books and about publishing. I’ve learned that books aren’t as easy to judge as we think, that one book can be horrible and life-saving and career-making and career-destroying and funny, depending on who is reading. For this novel, the book as a central conceit came from my life, in that when I get home, my wife and I talk about books and stories and how they affect us. And the books we read when we were very young have the most profound effect on how we live today. I was able to build a puzzle around that idea, of how a group of people can’t help but refer to a book that has informed how they live, in wholly different ways.

AUTHORLINK: How did you come up with the advice Peter gives in his book? Should people take his advice?

SCHRANK: The advice in (Peter’s book) Marriage is a Canoe is the only part of the novel that wasn’t revised and rebuilt many, many times. Those homilies and the aphorisms that accompany them are essentially first drafts. My agent told me not to touch them. Then my editor told me not to touch them. So, save copy-edits, I never have. I don’t feel that they belong to me the way the rest of the novel does. I enjoy the heady sensation of having grabbed them out of the air—and I only write that here because I’ve never felt that way before and I may never again. Because of this, I think it is okay for me to say that yes, people should take the advice. The advice is largely anodyne. I don't believe people can be harmed by it. Mostly Peter Herman says be nice to your spouse. Don’t cheat. Spend time together.

“I like a kitchen-sink novel, where you can throw everything in and see whether it explodes.”
—SCHRANK

AUTHORLINK: How did you decide on the structure of your book – with chapters of Peter’s book alternating with chapters in Peter’s, Emily’s and Stella’s point of view?

SCHRANK: I like a kitchen-sink novel, where you can throw everything in and see whether it explodes. In this book, I wanted the story to move fast, but I also wanted the characters to dwell in their own worlds and have time to really think through what was happening to them. Multiple points of view and the freedom to add additional bits of material helped me get there. I also hope that the Marriage is a Canoe chapters begin to float around in reader’s heads as they read, so that they’re able to engage with them from several angles to understand why the characters feel and act as they do.

AUTHORLINK: Have you known people like Helena and Stella in your experience in the publishing world?

SCHRANK: Publishing, like lots of industries, is chock full of people who have to believe that they are right in order to get through the day. I am one of them. We all love books and we are betting that they will be successful in order to keep our jobs. Helena and Stella are extreme publishing characters. But I have also known people in the publishing world who are so strange that they would not work as central characters in a realistic novel.

AUTHORLINK: Did you know before you started writing what effect Stella’s contest would have on all the characters or did that develop as you wrote?

SCHRANK: Stella’s contest and its outcome developed and changed constantly. I didn’t know how it would end until the eighth or tenth time I wrote the novel.

“I’m a much more thoughtful writer than I was a decade ago.”
—SCHRANK

AUTHORLINK: How has your writing and the experience of getting your own work published changed as you’ve gone from your first novel to your third?

SCHRANK: I’m a much more thoughtful writer than I was a decade ago. I’m better at taking editorial suggestions now that I’m an editor. It is easier to understand people’s positions when you've played on their side and that has helped me a lot. Now I cherish every aspect of the experience of writing and being helped along with the publishing of my book by the people at FSG. The freedom to write and the opportunity to engage in the process of publication are extreme luxuries that I wouldn’t trade for an airplane or an estate in Southampton or a piece of the Brooklyn Nets.

AUTHORLINK: As both a writer and a publisher, what advice can you give first-time writers who are trying to get their novel published?

SCHRANK: Don’t believe you’re right. If you are fortunate enough to find even one person who will work with you on your novel, take their advice. Even if they are wrong, the extra work you will do because of their notes will make you a stronger writer. Don’t worry about staying true to yourself. You are going to grow and change and the novels you write will too. Don’t focus on getting your novel published. Write novels instead. And while community is not a bad thing, I worry that we are exchanging too much of our writing time for community time. If you want to be a writer, spend your valuable time writing.

About Ben Schrank:

Schrank is president and publisher of the Penguin imprint, Razorbill, and author of Consent and Miracle Man. In his next novel, a woman believes she did a terrible thing and decides to start a new life on the moon to atone for it.

Diane Slocum
About
Regular Contributor:
Diane Slocum

Diane Slocum has been a newspaper reporter and editor and authored an historical book. As a freelance writer, she contributes regularly to magazines and newspapers. She writes features on authors and a column for writers and readers in Lifestyle magazine. She is assigned to write interviews of first-time novelists and bestselling authors for Authorlink.