We are so impressed with the work being done over at Nouvella Books we literally can’t keep our mouths shut about it. We were thrilled when Nouvella editor Deena Drewis agreed to answer a few questions about their project. Please take a moment to learn a little bit more about them and bask in the fabulousness that is Nouvella Books.
Nouvella was born out of Flatmancrooked, where you were senior editor and business partner. Flatmancrooked published many forms of writing: novellas, short fiction, poetry, and book-length works. Why did you decide to focus specifically on the novella?
The novella imprint at Flatmancrooked was something I took a special interest in from the get-go. We all came up with the idea together, but I handled most of the editing, and I really became attached to the project and the idea of fostering a more involved relationship between the authors and these early “investors” in their work. When Flatmancrooked was getting ready to close its doors, I really didn’t want to let that idea go, and so: Nouvella.
Nouvella focuses a great deal on new and emerging authors. From your perspective, what is so exciting about the discovery of a new voice? Do you think a novella-length story is more accessible to a new writer? If so, why?
One thing you learn when working for a literary publication is that the pool of writers is unfathomably large. You are always told it’s a competitive field and that there are a lot of aspiring writers out there, but until you start sifting through a slush pile and start to physically see how many people—promising and less-than-promising—are going after this, it’s hard to give the sheer size of the writing pool any context. So when you see an unknown voice rise up out of that, it feels like some stroke of tremendous fortune. It’s surprising and exciting every time.
As far as novellas being a good form for emerging writers, I do think it’s a good length. A reader’s time is precious, and a writer has to earn (and then keep) his or her reader’s trust, and with a novella, it allows the reader to spend more time with the writer than a short story, but it’s also not some 500 page tome that could leave a bad taste in your mouth after a rough first hundred pages. No one really sits down to write novellas—it ends up that length because there’s no more to cut and nowhere to expand; it’s a display of both stamina and restraint.
You acquire authors by scouting as well as through cold submissions. In general are you publishing more authors that you’ve scouted or from those who have sent you a cold submission?
Our next title, How to Shake the Other Man by Derek Palacio, is the first title we’ve pulled from the slush pile. And Derek found us through Duotrope, so it was pretty much as cold as a cold submission gets.
I really like scouting, though, because it requires so much active engagement in the community. We get to tap into this level of tremendously talented writers just on the verge of breaking, that we might not have been paying attention to otherwise. And we don’t end up publishing everyone we get in touch with, obviously, but they’re on your radar from that point on, and it’s really thrilling to see their careers unfold, even if it’s not with Nouvella. We also get to engage with the literary magazine community and with its editors—ask them if they’ve got anyone in particular they’re really enthusiastic about.
When you approach an author, what is your process? Do you look for novellas that are expansions from a story you’ve read or do you inquire to see if an author is working on a piece that would be a strong fit for your publication?
It’s been a little different with each author so far. But generally speaking, with scouting, we’ll read a story we are particularly taken with and then email the author to see if they have anything sitting around that falls in our word count range. Almost every writer seems to have some gangly 13,000 word story dying a slow death in their desk drawer.
From someone who sees and reads a lot of novella-length fiction, what does the novella accomplish that short stories or novels cannot? What elements are present, missing, or elaborated on?
For all the panels I’ve gone to and all the interviews I’ve read by authors that have written novellas, I don’t know if I (or anyone) has an adequate answer for this, other than stating the obvious: It’s more expansive than a short story, and less expansive than a novel. I’ve heard some interesting theories, that a novella has an extra plot “motion” over a short story. Recently on a panel, one of our authors, Edan Lepucki, mentioned that she had room for these flashbacks that wouldn’t have fit in a traditional 5,000 word story, and I think the story certainly would have felt less realized without them.
I like novellas because you get to have this expansive experience in a short amount of time. Of course, sometimes you want to immerse yourself in a novel for a long time, but a novel can stretch on towards infinity, and a novella can only go on for so long before it ceases to be a novella.
In traditional publishing novellas seem to have had trouble finding their place. And yet, there are many beloved novellas that are widely read. Have you seen an increase in the popularity of the novella recently? If yes or no, in what way?
It seems like it’s experiencing a little revival of sorts, doesn’t it? I’d like to hope so. The resistance to the form has always been an issue of economics and the cost of production, with the marketing folk feeling as if readers want more pages for their buck. But I think readers and writers know that we’re missing out on a lot of important work because of this. There’s greater interest surrounding the form than there was a few years ago, certainly, and it’ll be interesting to see if the digitization of books eliminates the former production barriers that novellas have faced in the past.
Do you have any favorite novellas other than the ones you’ve published?
One of my favorite books of all time is We Don’t Live Here Anymore by Andre Dubus. Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx. Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote. The Awakening by Kate Chopin. Lucinella by Lore Segal is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger. Most recently, I read Play it as it Lays by Joan Didion, which they don’t market as a novella, but it’s a novella, and it’s devastating.