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First Draft Just the Beginning, Advises Danielle Ganek

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The Summer We Read Gatsby book cover
The Summer We Read Gatsby
Danielle Ganek

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An exclusive Authorlink interview
with Danielle Ganek
Author of The Summer We Read Gatsby

 

 

By Ellen Birkett Morris
September 2010

 

Danielle Ganek always knew she wanted to be a novelist, but it was only after she began writing in earnest that she learned to trust that the process would take her where she needed to go in the development a story.

“As a first-time novelist no one is waiting for you to finish your manuscript. The truth is you’ve only just begun when you finish the first draft. That’s when you know what you have to work with,” said Ganek.

“I am really trusting of the drafting process and going where my characters take me.”
—
GANEK

“I am really trusting of the drafting process and going where my characters take me. I usually do four complete drafts that contain major overhauls, the repositioning of pieces of the story and the elimination of characters.”

The road to becoming a novelist had its share of twists and turns. Ganek moved to New York City after earning a B.A. in English from Franklin and Marshall College. She worked Woman’s Day and Mademoiselle before serving as Creative Director of the French department store chain Galeries Lafayette overseeing marketing.

All the while, she worked on the craft of writing by taking classes at Columbia University School of Continuing Education, Writers Boot Camp and the Writers Studio.

“You have to have faith in the process and hone your craft. You have to enjoy and thrive with the process. It is nice to be published and that validates the time you spend writing, but if you amortize your time spent writing you probably only make a penny an hour,” said Ganek.

One move to Connecticut and three children later, Danielle and her husband returned to New York City where she focused her efforts on completing her first novel. Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him, published by Viking in 2007. Her second novel, The Summer We Read Gatsby, was published in June of this year.

The Summer We Read Gatsby tells the story of half-sisters Cassie, a practical expatriate, and Pecksland, a dreamer with a flair for the dramatic, who have the same father (now deceased). The sisters are thrown together when they inherit a ramshackle cottage in the Hamptons from their Aunt Lydia. The girls share a love for novel The Great Gatsby and the house, but little else.

“For this story, I started with the two sisters rereading Fitzgerald and the question of why The Great Gatsby was able to endure for so long despite the fact that it got poor reviews when it was first published. Maybe because it is such an American story?”

The book helped Ganek explore certain aspects of the main characters.

“I thought it would be interesting to explore two characters with nothing in common but an obsession with Gatsby.”
—GANEK

 

 

“People fetishize certain books and I thought it would be interesting to explore two characters with nothing in common but an obsession with Gatsby. Cassie reads it to understand America. Peck reads it as a love story,” said Ganek.

“I am fascinated by the idea that you can be related by blood to someone you don’t relate to. Their bond turns out to be about something besides their being blood between them.”

She chose the Hamptons as a backdrop because of its long tradition of writers and artists, including Jackson Pollock who figures in a mystery regarding the worth of a painting in the house left to Cassie and Peck.

The novel features a cast of madcap characters and mixes modern day romance with the mysterious quest for what their aunt deemed an object of “utmost value.”

It took Ganek a little over two years to write the book. Her greatest challenge in writing it was pacing the plot. “I had the hardest time with trying to keep the story in a tight time frame but still have forward momentum and have the relationships develop naturally,” noted Ganek.

She experimented with having Cassie and Peck alternate as narrators but discovered that the larger than life Peck threatened to dominate.

“She was better seen and heard in little bits of dialogue,” said Ganek.

Peck speaks up in the afterword where she offers her own assertions about the story and wraps things up nicely. Ganek worked with Editor Kendra Harpster, who is no longer with Viking, to craft both of her novels. “Kendra and I had a great time working together on the second book. She read drafts along the way. We edited together deciding to take a chunk out here and move a section up there. It was nice to have someone to bounce ideas off of,” said Ganek. She advises new writers to educate themselves about writing and give themselves time to perfect their work.

“Read a lot of writers who write what you want to write. Then trust the draft process.”
—GANEK

 

 

“Read a lot about writing. Read a lot of writers who write what you want to write. Then trust the draft process. Write all the way through the first draft, stop and see what you have. That is when the real work begins.”

She noted that many writers sell themselves short by wanting to have their writing published before it is ready for public consumption.

“Editors want to buy good books and agents want to sell them. You also need to realize that different editors are looking for different things. It is a lot like dating, if the first person you meet isn’t interested it doesn’t mean you’ll never have a relationship,” said Ganek.

She is currently working on her third novel.

About Danielle Ganek

Danielle Ganek lives in New York City with her husband and three children. She is the author of two novels and a collector of contemporary art and photography.

About Regular Contributor
Ellen Birkett Morris

Ellen Birkett Morris is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in national print and online publications including The New York Times. She also writes for a number of literary, regional, trade, and business publications, and she has contributed to six published nonfiction books in the trade press. Ellen is a regular contributor to Authorlink, assigned to interview various New York Times bestselling authors and first-time novelists.