Freelance Blog + writers on writing

5 Q's with Anna David

I interviewed Anna David almost two years ago when her first novel came out. Her second novel, Bought, comes out today, and Anna was kind enough to send me a copy and agree to another interview. Bought is a fictional account of a journalist who gets sucked into the world of high-class prostitution as she's writing about it. Here's how Anna approched her second book, got published in the New York Times, and more...

Urban Muse: When you were researching the article that inspired Bought, how did you get the women to trust you and open up? Did you actually use Emma's strategy of pretending to be one of them?
No, I never did try to pretend I was one of them --- I’m not nearly that ballsy, desperate, or whatever it would take. But I found that once one person had vouched for me, people just opened up. I managed to get a hold of a phone number of a guy who had been married to a porn star/sometime prostitute and I managed to persuade him that I was going to do a fair story, but only if I had the right access – which he could help provide. And he did. But I also had a distinct advantage in that rather early on in my reporting, I found out about a madam that absolutely everyone hated – from the clients to the girls to the other madams. Once I got her name, all I had to do was mention it in passing to anyone I contacted and I’d suddenly have people on the phone with me for hours because they’d been dying to get their revenge on this woman – or simply vent about her – for years. I think another reason the girls trusted me is that I made it really clear that I didn’t judge them – that I saw the whole business of selling sexuality as a fairly complicated issue and that I didn’t really think that what they did was any different from the trophy wives walking down Rodeo Drive on the arms of old men.

UM: Your protagonist is an aspiring journalist who covers Hollywood openings while she waits for her chance to break into the feature well as she. Many of us can relate to that, so what advice would you give to writers on impressing an editor and convincing them to a take a chance on an unknown?
Not to do what my character does! (Of course, they have to read the book to find out what pitfalls to avoid – see how that works?) In general, I think that the best way to impress an editor is to become a pitch machine. Even if the pitch doesn’t sell, the editor then sees you as someone who’s hard-working and gets the magazine and will ideally assign you something. Also, it’s important that you accept the fact that if you’re being paid $2 a word, you’re mostly being paid for the rewrite. The editor may wait six weeks to get back to you and then send you a hysterical email that she needs all the sources re-interviewed and the piece completely re-written in time for the close the next day, and you need to do it and act like this is completely appropriate, even though it’s anything but.

UM: Could you tell us about your first "big" clip, the one where you felt like your career was starting to take off?
I guess my first big clip, the one that really changed my career, was a piece I co-wrote with Amy Sohn for Playboy. We traded cities and dating lives for a week and the piece got a lot of attention (it was optioned and actually made into a reality show pilot) and really launched my career as a sex and relationship essayist. Another big one was an article I wrote on crystal meth addiction in Hollywood, which was for Details. It was my first investigative feature. But the biggest coup of all was when an agent sold an essay I’d done for an anthology to the “Modern Love” column in The New York Times. I seriously heard from people I hadn’t spoken to in 20 years after that, and have managed to work “I’ve written for The New York Times” into a painfully embarrassing number of conversations ever since.

UM: I won't ruin the ending except to say that it's somewhat open-ended (not one of those "tied up a bow" endings that make readers cringe). Are you thinking about a sequel?
Oh, no – no sequel. That was the first question I got when I sold my first novel -- “Want to do a sequel?” – but I honestly couldn’t imagine it. The whole point of writing, to me, is being able to teach yourself to do new things…in my case, writing short stories in college, then doing magazine pieces, then novels, blogs, twitters, what have you. With each book, I want to try something different: the first one was about writing a story that was quite autobiographical and focused on one main character who was, essentially, me; for the second, I worked on creating two believable characters and a story that was almost entirely manufactured (while the information I gathered doing the Details piece is sprinkled throughout, neither of the main characters are based on real people and the plot is entirely made up). I’ve started writing a third and it’s actually completely different in every way: third-person, past tense, with a male protagonist. All that being said, if Bought does really well and someone wants to pay me a lot of money to pen a sequel – um, where do I sign?

UM: Any tips for first time authors? What do you now know that you wish you'd known then?
I wish I’d known how anti-climactic the release of my first book was going to be. No matter how much you try to temper your expectations, you pretty much feel like your life is absolutely going to change the minute your book is discovered by the world. Even though everything you’ve learned from being alive has taught you that lives never change overnight, you’re somehow still convinced this will happen to you. And then there’s…silence. At least in my case there was. You suddenly realize that something like 200,000 books are released every year and that yours may not be the cultural phenomenon you’d secretly theorized it would. I sort of had this notion that selling the novel was my big break and it was all going to be smooth sailing from there. But a friend of mine has published something like eight books, most of which are New York Times bestsellers, and he still worries about what his next one is going to be and how well it will do. Most of us have to accept the fact that there is no “smooth sailing from here” point. Which is fine with me, because I operate better when I’m under stress. I don’t really know what to do with myself when things are calm.

Read more on Anna David's website or follow her on Twitter.

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5 Q's with Anna David + writers on writing