Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Jan Ellison, Author of A Small Indiscretion, Answers Six Questions All Novelists Have a Hard Time Answering + Giveaway! (US/Can only)

A Small Indiscretion
Jan Ellison

Page Count: 336
Release Date: January 20th 2015
Publisher: Penguin Random House

At nineteen, Annie Black abandons California for a London winter of drinking to oblivion and looking for love in the wrong places. Twenty years later, she is a happily married mother of three living in San Francisco. Then one morning, a photograph arrives in her mailbox, and an old obsession is awakened.

After a return trip to London, Annie’s marriage falters, her store floods, and her son, Robbie, takes a night-time ride that nearly costs him his life. Now Annie must fight to save her family by untangling the mysteries of that reckless winter in Europe that drew an invisible map of her future.

With the brilliant pacing and emotional precision that won Jan Ellison an O. Henry Prize for her first published story, A Small Indiscretion announces a major new voice in suspense fiction as it unfolds a story of denial, obsession, love, forgiveness—and one woman’s reckoning with her own fateful mistakes.

Six Questions that Writers Have a Hard Time Answering

How much of this is true?

Years ago, when the first short story I published was included in the 2007 O. Henry Prize anthology, I was standing out front of my kids' school when a woman I hardly knew poked her head out of her car to say that she'd only read the first paragraph, but would I be willing to tell her how much of my short story was true? It was the first time the question had been posed to me, and I had no idea how to answer it. Did she only want to read the story if it was "true," or if it was not?

Is this story based on your life?

Like all writers, fiction writers strive to get at an emotional truth. Sometimes, even when a story is borrowed from life, the facts need to change for the truth to emerge. Other times, the facts stay the same and the meaning changes. Most lives don't make very good plots, but life does provide material that can be mined. Anecdotes. Bits of dialogue. Situations. Events. Objects. Settings.

Is the husband character actually your husband?

In the early years, I tried to capture the people in my life in my fiction—yes, including my husband of twenty years. But I found I got bogged down by all that I knew. It was as if I'd done too much research, and I was trying to cram every detail, every nuance, every inconsistency into the character, instead of allowing a character to evolve as the story itself evolved. Over time, I found it much more expedient—not to mention more fun—to invent characters from scratch.

Didn't you do exactly what your main character did?

When a fiction writer takes an anecdote from real life and assigns it to an invented character, it is inevitably altered. Characters operate according to the author's rules, whether those rules are conscious or not. People don't. I spent time in London when I was nineteen. So did my narrator, Annie Black. But because she is not me, we interpret our shared experiences differently. Other times, we interpret divergent experiences similarly. I have learned to allow for both.

Where did the idea for your novel come from?

Nearly ten years ago, when I set down the first sentences that would ultimately become A Small Indiscretion, I was trying to write a coming-of-age story set in London. Four years and hundreds of pages later, I had the makings of a novel set in Europe in the early nineties, but it had no driving plot. It was a story without an ending that had no urgent reason to be told. Then one day the main character, Annie Black, was not twenty but forty, looking back, addressing a nearly grown son in a medically-induced coma. I knew where that impulse came from, because my twenty-one year old cousin never emerged from a coma after a car accident the year I began work on my novel. But I also knew the boy Annie was addressing was not my cousin, and that the story she was telling would not be his devastating story, but one that allowed for an alternate fate.

What is your novel about?

I sold my novel two years ago, and still, I have a hard time with my "elevator pitch." I suppose that's because it's difficult to boil down three-hundred pages, and many years of work, into a sound-bite people can immediately grasp. It's also difficult because in my novel, there are two inter-connected story-lines, one past, one present. But after a long time, I realized that the two were thematically linked. To me, the story of the young Annie Black in Europe is about that moment of liberation when a person becomes free to claim an adult life. The present story—centered on her son and his accident—originated in a young life cut short. Both story lines had a leaping off point in my own life—the first, joyfully, the second, tragically—but as I wrote, each demanded to be not mine but their own.

About the Author

Jan Ellison lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband of twenty years and their four children. Jan’s first published short story won a 2007 O. Henry Prize. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and has been shortlisted for the Best American Short Stories and the Pushcart Prize. After her children were born, she spent seven years taking classes at San Francisco State and finally earned her MFA.

Jan had a brief career in her twenties at a Silicon Valley startup, marketing risk management software to derivatives traders. The company went public, Jan became a mother, and instead of leaning in she leaned out, became a stay-at-home mom, and began to write.

Before that, Jan abandoned a job in investment banking before she even started it to spend two years waitressing in Hawaii, temping in Australia, and backpacking through Southeast Asia. Her college days were spent at Stanford, where she earned a degree in History, but wishes it were in English. She left Stanford for a year at nineteen to live on a shoestring in Paris and work in an office in London. She scribbled notes on yellow legal pads, and years later those notes provided the inspiration for her debut novel, A Small Indiscretion, which was just published this past January by Random House.

Jan grew up in Tujunga, California, in a house made of river rock and timber.


Books à la Mode is giving away one print copy of A Small Indiscretion—yay!!

To enter, all you have to do is tell me:
What's the craziest thing you did—or wish you'd done—in your twenties?
Please make your comment MEANINGFUL. Comments solely consisting of stock responses or irrelevant fluff like "Thanks for the giveaway!" will not be considered for entry. Jan and I really want to hear from you guys! :)

Don't forget the entry eligibility terms and conditions!
Sponsored wholly by the publicist—a huge thank you to FSB Media!
Giveaway ends May 6th at 11.59 PM (your time).
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Void where prohibited.
Winners have 48 hours to claim their prize once they are chosen, or else their winnings will be forfeited.
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Good luck!