Saturday, August 8, 2009

Q & A with Susan Schulman, literary agent

Susan Schulman founded her own literary agency in 1980. Prior to this she was an agent at International Creative Management in the Literary Department. Some of her best-known projects are: Rise of the Creative Class by Richard Florida, Ph,D.; The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron; Women Who Love Too Much by Robin Norwood; The Good Son by Michael Gurian; The English Patient (Miramax) by Michael Ondaatje; Holes (Disney) by Louis Sachar; and The Color of Money (Disney) by Walter Tevis.

Susan, thank you for taking the time out of your hectic schedule to answer a few questions for Novel Spaces. Please define for us the qualities a successful fiction manuscript must possess before you will take it on.

A. Whether the manuscript is literary fiction or romance or mystery or any genre in between, the voice has to literally grab me by the throat. The surety of the author, his or her vision, the clarity of conviction in the writing must shine through in the writing. Thus the novel can be about anything at all so long as the author knows clearly the story he or she must tell. If this is so, that the motive for telling the story is clearly driven by the writer's need to write it, everything else falls in place.

Q. If you were asked by a struggling writer to recommend five or more brilliant works of fiction as must-reads, i.e., novels they could really learn something from, which ones would you recommend?

A. I am passionate about writing and thus in answering this question I don't intend to limit or exclude any writer. I have found that there is something to be learned from each writer's work, each piece, and that writers often tell me what they themselves learn from writing or especially in the rewriting of a manuscript. And, my answer is subject to change tonight depending on discovery of the next great work. Therefore in no way does this response exclude any writer or any book. Nor are my choices limited to clients' work. My answer is framed by my answer above, that is, below are novels which clearly exhibit the author's voice, that can be written by no other writer, and without a title page, without any identification, one could say this novel was written by this writer. Good examples but not exclusively these novels come to mind as great, sure, clear, confident writing voices:

Michael Ondaatje - In the Skin of a Lion
Marilynne Robinson - Home or Gilead
David Wroblewski - The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
Jonathan Safran Foer - Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
John Irving - A Widow for One Year
Janet Evanovich - the Stephanie Plum series
Walter Tevis - The Man Who Fell to Earth


Vanessa A. Johnson said...

Interesting info the someone searching for an agent. Thanks for the advice.

KeVin K. said...

Thanks for coming by. Useful stuff. Spurred a few questions of my own.

Liane Spicer said...

Food for thought here re the writer's voice and needing to tell the story vs, for example, a publisher's need to have the writer disgorge a new manuscript on demand.

I'm always excited by new book suggestions. I've read some Ondaatje and Irving, but not the ones you suggest. Will remedy that.