Today we speak to Jacob M. Appel

Jacob M AppelQ) Tell us something about yourself.

By day, I’m a psychiatrist at Beth Israel Hospital in New York City and teach medical ethics at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.  When I hang up my white coat each evening, I sneak into a phone booth and transform myself into another of the city’s struggling writers.  Alas, as phone booths become rarer, competition for space has been increasing.

Q) Tell us about your latest book. Why do you think the readers will like it?

My latest work of fiction is The Biology of Luck, a novel of love and desperation set in New York City.  It is actually a novel-within-a-novel:  Sort of like the play-within-the-play in Hamlet, only mine contains dialogue and pretty girls and nobody is poisoned through his ear.   The main character, Larry Bloom, is an inept and lonely tour guide who has written a novel about the woman whom he admires from afar—and plans to give her this manuscript to demonstrate his affections.  Maybe not the wisest of romantic plans, but we all have to make a fool of ourselves sometime.   Your readers will love it.  Did I mention that reading my book helps you lose weight and make money simultaneously?

Q) How did you come up with the title of the book?

One of the characters in my book, an elderly Armenian florist, believes that good luck is a genetic trait.  Hence the title.  Unfortunately, it’s easy to mistake the title for that of a science textbook.  Yet another instance where hindsight proves 20/20.

Q) What kind of research did you do for your book?

I wandered the streets of New York City, staring at people and imagining their inner lives.   I also sampled an extraordinary amount of chocolate and pizza is the name of research.

Q) Which of the Characters in your book are your favourites and why?

My favourite character is Bone, the one-armed super, who has a reputation for being able to get anyone absolutely anything for the right price—from “a year’s supply of napalm” to “nude photographs of the Queen of England” to “a particular painting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.”  I’ve always wanted to be one of those resourceful people like Bone.  The reality is that I couldn’t find you a snowball on a glacier, hence my envy for those who make things happen.

Q) How did you formulate this character? Is it based on someone you know?

None of the characters in my book are based upon anybody I know.  I REPEAT, if you are an ex-girlfriend or the attorney for an ex-girlfriend, none of these characters is based upon anyone I know.

Q) Every Author has a distinct writing style. How would you describe your style and how do you think you came to form it?

I don’t know if my style is distinctive – but I do own a fancy pen.  I try to remember everything they taught me in school and then do the opposite.

Q) How long have you been working on this book and what inspired you to write it?

I started this book in the late 1990s.  Actually, I also finished this book in the late 1990s.  And then it sat in the trunk of my car for more than a decade, until a lovely independent publisher, Elephant Rock, solicited a copy.  So I have two pieces of advice for aspiring writers:  1) never give up and 2) if you buy a used car at an estate sale, check the trunk – this could be your big break.

Q) When did you start writing and when did you realize you want to become an Author?

I remember being a little child — five or six years old – and watching lawyers and businessmen disembarking from their commuter trains in the early evening, looking sapped and joyless.   I knew with certainty, at that moment, what I did not want to become when I grew up.  There are very few jobs one can do in a pair of pajamas, even fewer that are legal and can be performed standing up, so writing seemed like an appealing choice.

Q) Who are some of the Authors you like and how do you think their work inspired you?

Among contemporary authors, I’m a great admirer of Karen Russell, Dan Chaon, Kevin Brockmeier, Elizabeth Graver, Chris Adrian, Robert Olen Butler – people who are not afraid to wade out into the depths of imagination.  (My marriage proposal to Karen Russell—whom, for the record, I have never met—remains open-ended, even if she is already married.)  I should also put in a plug for my former students and mentees, including CJ Hauser, Chanan Tigay and Brigit Kelly Young, who are slowly rising through the ranks of the literary establishment.    I’m also a fan of a well-written memoir like Andre Aciman’s Out of Egypt or Emily Rapp’s Poster Child or Melissa Febos’s Whip Smart.

Q) What do you think is the most difficult part about writing and publishing a novel?

Plagiarizing from the classics without getting caught.  That’s why it’s much better to lift work from obscure volumes written in endangered languages.   Large portions of The Biology of Luck were originally written in Arjeplog Sami, a Uralic dialect spoken in the north of Sweden.  I also cobbled together some dialogue from Rongorongo glyphs found on Easter Island.  I like to think of myself as the downscale version of Jonah Lehrer, just smarter.

Q) What is some advice you will like to give to people trying to write and get their stories published?

Be relentless.  Most people fail to achieve literary success because they give up too soon, not because they lack talent.  (Yet I’m beginning to fear I may be among that small minority who actually lacks talent.)  Be kind to strangers, especially if they’re likely to blurb your novel someday.  And, needless to say, marry an heiress.  Any large fortune will do, although Old Money has its particular charms.  That won’t make you a better writer, but with the former Miss Rockefeller bankrolling your literary career, it may not matter.

Q) Tell us something about what you are working on or about some of your future projects.

My agent already has my next novel on her desk.  It’s about a teacher who becomes embroiled with a band of “Civil War deniers” and discovers that the American Civil War may be a hoax.  If you’re an editor with a major publisher (or even a well-heeled, minor publisher), now is your opportunity to make your bid.  My secret fantasy is to write a sequel to Jean Paul Sartre’s Nausea—which will not, for the record, be called Vomit—but I’m probably going to have to hold out for posthumous publication.

Q) From amongst all the novels ever published if you had to write any one, which one would it be and why?

The Bible.  It’s a bit repetitive at times, but you can’t beat those sales figures.

Q) If you had to convince someone to read your book in 5 lines what would they be?

1)  If you read my book, I will remember you in my will.

2) If you read my book, I promise not to date your sister, daughter, or [insert name of beloved female relative here].

3) If you email me, I will send you a free PDF of the novel.  Free!  That’s even better than cheap.

4) Carrying my novel on the bus or train attracts romantic partners; mentioning it conspicuously at job interviews has singlehandedly lowered the unemployment rate.

5) There will be an exam at the end.  And it counts.


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