5 from 35: Author Q & A with Rebecca Entel
Rebecca Entel, 40, published Fingerprints of Previous Owners in 2017. (Unnamed Press). If you live in New York, you can see her tonight at KGB Bar’s “Hidden Histories” reading with Dawn Raffel and Donna Baier Stein in this Booklyn Books Festival Bookend Event.
How long did it take you to write your first (published) book, start to finish?
It took 6.5 years from when I first started working on what I thought was a short story to when I sent the final edits to my editor.
What kind of work did you do to earn money while writing your first book?
I’m a professor full-time, so that’s where my salary and health insurance come from. In order to get the book done, though, I took a full-year sabbatical at half salary. I was able to get some grant money for research trips, and to make things work, I moved into a studio apartment and cut my expenses way down. (It was worth it.)
What are you reading right now?
I’m reading Lydia Yuknavitch’s The Book of Joan. On deck: Daniel Alarcon’s At Night We Walk in Circles, Tommy Orange’s There There, and Elizabeth Tan’s Rubik.
What compelled you to write your story?
In 2010, I went down to a small island in the Bahamas to develop a Caribbean literature course. I didn’t know this trip would be the first of many. I was just so taken by unexpected aspects of the island – for example, a beach where garbage washes up from all over the world – and by how the different layers of the island’s history coexisted or clashed. So I started writing about it, especially about that beach. Eventually I discovered a character who had her own mysterious reasons for digging into the island’s history, and the story took off from there.
How many books did you write before you published your first one? What happened to them?
Does my doctoral dissertation count? If yes, two; if no, one. I have a short story collection that I submitted to a bunch of contests many years ago, before I finished the novel and before I had an agent. Many of the stories have been published in journals, but right now I’m not trying to get the collection published. I’ve got my hands full with the new novel I’m writing.