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First-Fiction Annual


Rishi Reddi
Karma and Other Stories

Publisher: Ecco
Editor: Lee Boudreaux
Agent: Maria Massie of Lippincott Massie McQuilkin
Format: Trade paperback original
Pages: 240
Blurbs: Arthur Golden, Kiran Desai, Binnie Kirshenbaum, Judith Guest
Deal: Two books—a collection and a novel

Born in Hyderabad, India, and raised in cities and towns in California, Kansas, Missouri, and West Virginia, Rishi Reddi knew that she wanted to be a writer, but chose at the urging of her family to pursue a professional career first. Now that she has achieved that and more—she's an attorney who practiced environmental law in Massachusetts for ten years as well as being the state's legislative coordinator for Amnesty International USA for two years—Reddi is focusing on her primary passion, and a new literary career.

The stories in her first book are set mostly in the Boston area—near where she lives with her husband and daughter in Brookline—and portray the interconnected lives of the members of an Indian American community confronting cultural pressures of tradition and identity.

What made you switch from environmental law to writing fiction?
I always wrote fiction on my own time, so it wasn't really a switch. What was a key decision for me was to stop practicing law in April 2003; there had been some changes in my office and I had recently been married. My husband and I were living in a place we could afford on one salary, so it suddenly was possible for me to devote myself to finishing the collection.

When did you begin writing Karma and Other Stories?
In the fall of 1996. I wrote in the mornings for an hour or so before I went to my day job. It took me ten years to write the book that way—I wouldn't recommend it.

What was the impetus for it?
I was writing to try to learn more about the craft of fiction, so I was concentrating on short stories that I could workshop. Like most first-time authors, I was dealing with themes that were autobiographical (the Indian family, the immigrant experience), that I knew from childhood experience.

How did it come to be published?
I sent out many, many query letters to agents and got very few bites; I sent the manuscript to the few who asked. Of them, I was lucky enough that three people were interested. I chose Maria Massie as my agent.

What were you doing when you first heard the book was accepted for publication?
I was standing in front of the library in downtown Boston where I do some of my writing, talking to Maria on my cell phone, waiting for my husband to pick me up at the end of the day. As soon as I opened the car door, I yelled out the news to him—I didn't even say hello!

What's your next book about?
It's a novel set in the small Punjabi-Mexican community that existed in Southern California in the 1910s and the 1920s, a time when the United States was enacting stringent anti-immigrant laws.

Any advice for first-time authors?
Persevere through everything: the time it takes to write, the people who condescend, the bad advice, the good advice that you must follow, the effort it takes to get in touch with agents or editors. And always honor the craft, the care required to get it right.

 

Jeff Hobbs
The Tourists

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Editor: Terra Chalberg
Agent: David Halpern of the Robbins Office
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 330
Blurbs: Adam Davies, Amanda Filipacchi, Allison Lynn, Ron Carlson
Deal: One book

After graduating from Yale University, Jeff Hobbs moved to New York City, where he became executive director of the African Rainforest Conservancy, a small nonprofit that promotes the conservation of African rain forests through educational programs and community development. Hobbs, though, was an aspiring fiction writer with a newly finished novel manuscript, so when he was introduced to Bret Easton Ellis at a fund-raiser, he mentioned his work, and Ellis offered to take a look. While his response wasn't exactly the one Hobbs was looking for ("The structure, line writing, and dialogue are perfect. But there's something wrong with the tone, a sober quality. I'm not sure what it is, or how to fix it," Ellis wrote), it provided the spark for Hobbs to write something different: his debut novel, The Great Gatsby for the new millennium.

When did you begin writing The Tourists?
I was twenty-three, living alone in New York City, and had just returned from a work trip to Tanzania.

What was the impetus for it?
My older brother had just had his heart broken and concluded over a bunch of beers that the worst thing you can do in a relationship is try to change the other person. The book tries to address that concept.

How did it come to be published?
A year after I finished the book, I was extremely lucky to meet my agent, David Halpern, through a friend of a friend of my wife.

How long did it take him to find a home for the book?
He took care of selling it remarkably fast—about six weeks from the time I signed with him.

What were you doing when you first heard the book was accepted for publication?
Staying with my in-laws in Brooklyn for a month before my wife and I moved to Los Angeles.

Your reaction?
My wife and I went out for a night of heroic drinking and got back to work the next morning.

How was it working with Bret Easton Ellis?
Incredible. He's about as sharp a guy as I've ever known, and to have such a precise thinker point out where the extraneous paragraphs and words were taught me such a great deal about how to think through the process of writing a book—when and where it is necessary to mistrust your own instincts.

Which writers do you count as your literary influences?
Jonathan Franzen, Richard Yates, Toni Morrison, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Andre Dubus, Philip Roth.

What's your next book about?
Five sisters whose mother passed away a few years ago. They all end up going home to Worcester, Massachusetts, when they learn their father has gotten engaged.

Any advice for first-time authors?
Work very hard every day. Don't pay attention to "how-to" books. Write in longhand.

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