“The Vietnamese American family that opens this novel—three daughters and their mother—are richly brought to life, but the only thing better than meeting and loving those four women was meeting their fierce women ancestors. From contemporary New Orleans to colonial Vietnam, this compelling epic shows us both the big moments that are recorded in textbooks and the quiet moments that are recorded in the human heart. E.M. Tran has crafted an original and unforgettable debut.” –Beth Ann Fennelly, author of Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs
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I asked E.M. two questions about their time as a MFA student at The University of Mississippi, where she graduated from in 2015
1) What was a class that stuck with you (during your time at UM)? What lesson/idea/takeaway did you learn from that class?
One class I always think about is Megan Abbott’s fiction workshop. She never had any qualms about manipulating characters, and she was an expert at creating tension in quiet, simmering ways. Tension can happen in an innocuous look, touch, or breath. She reminded me that conflict doesn’t have to be, and often isn’t, explosive. Conflict is in things unsaid and in small acts that build or fester in the mind of a character. She was always probing into the psychology of our characters and asking us to treat them as fully fleshed human beings who make selfish but not irrational decisions. In addition to guiding my own craft, she also taught us by example how to be a good workshop leader. She had a very gentle way of pointing out the weak parts in a story, and an expert ability to identify what needed revision. But most importantly, she always asked what the writer wanted to do, what their objective was, and workshopped the story from that position. She really did let the story teach her how to read it, and as a practice, also let the story teach her how to workshop it.
2) What’s something that no one told you that happens after getting your debut book picked up? (more about the work of working with a publisher/ or marketing/or other author life stuff)
There is so much that happens in the production of a book, and everyone’s experience is wildly different depending on if you are with an indie publisher or a Big 5, and even then, that experience varies depending on who your editor is, who your agent is, what imprint you’re with, or how your title is viewed by the parent publisher. This process is like watching everything behind a sheer veil–I can see people behind a curtain doing all kinds of things with my book, and sometimes I get glimpses of what’s happening behind the scenes, but much of it is happening within this giant publishing machine. My editor will sometimes mention, for example, that she’s taking my book to a sales conference, or to the publisher’s “Launch” event, where every imprint presents their titles. I never imagined my book traveling through all these hands and viewed under all these lenses–as literary text, artistic object, as entertainment and commodity. It was important for me to assert artistic ownership over my book, but to also acknowledge its production depends upon dozens of often unseen people.
E. M. Tran writes fiction and creative nonfiction. Her debut novel, DAUGHTERS OF THE NEW YEAR, is forthcoming from Hanover Square Press/HarperCollins. Her stories, essays, and reviews can be found in such places as Joyland Magazine, Prairie Schooner, Harvard Review Online, and more. She has an MFA from University of Mississippi and a PhD from Ohio University, where she studied English and Creative Writing. She is from and currently resides in New Orleans, Louisiana with her husband and two dogs.