Jean Hanff Korelitz is an author of many adult novels, children’s novels and books of poetry. The works of this dedicated writer have even appeared in magazines like Vogue, Newsweek and Reader’s Digest. Oprah has recently added Jean Hanff Korelitz to her list of top summer reads for her book "Admission."
10 Questions With Jean Hanff Korelitz
1. How did you get involved in writing and what motivates you to continue?
I am a person with very few marketable skills. I can make fine quality chocolate covered fruit (a legacy of my first job at Kron Chocolatier, the birthplace of the chocolate dipped strawberry!) and I can write novels. Of these, I have passion only for writing novels. A confluence of talents and passions is rare in life, and one would be a fool not to grab on with both white knuckled hands when they do occur.
I have always written, always taken great pleasure in sentences, stories, characters and the transport of really good fiction. It’s a difficult field to enter, and arguably even more difficult to stay active in. I feel fortunate every day that I have been able to publish four novels, and that people are actually reading them.
2. How significant are the topics of cool hunting and trend spotting in the world of writing?
I think in literary fiction we tend to focus less on the of-the-moment impact and more on what lingers--the books we’ve loved along the way, the ideas we keep returning to, the characters who’ve proved indelible for us. Not that it’s not important to be current; when our cultural attention alights on something or other, there’s usually an interesting reason for that.
In the case of Ivy League College admissions, which my novel ADMISSION focuses on, it’s hard not to feel that my generation, and our children’s generation, are completely obsessed. For the kids, it’s become a keyhole for their entire population bubble to squeeze through. For my contemporaries, it’s become a verdict on our parenting. Add in a few of our other cultural obsessions, like ideas of success, tradition, class (Yes, class! Don’t pretend there’s no such thing in America!), money and, again, parenting, and you can see why I was so attracted to the material.
3. How do you define a trend?
I don’t think much about trends, to tell you the truth. Generally they enter my ken via my 17-year-old daughter, who has been engaging in/wearing/listening to/watching whatever it is for many months before I finally get wind of the trend in question. I am also woefully blind to the lasting power of certain cultural currents. For example, I remember asking a Hip Hop music producer, back in 1991, how much longer she thought Rap was going to last. She looked at me like I was a complete dolt, which history has proven me to be--in this case, at least.
4. How do you define cool?
I think a thing is only as cool as the coolness of the person associated with the thing. That is to say, we wouldn’t look at a pair of shoes and pronounce them cool; we would note the supreme coolness of the person wearing the shoes, and then attribute some of that coolness to the shoes they are wearing.
Then we would frantically search for the shoes in stores, trawl eBay for the shoes, finally acquire the shoes, and ultimately discover that the shoes inexplicably do not seem to make us as cool as the person who originally wore them. I can’t explain exactly why this should be so, but it has proven true in my life over and over again, especially with shoes.
5. Do you need a culture of innovation to create something that is cool?
A culture of innovation? Not necessarily. But perhaps a culture that appreciates innovation (and its attendant coolness) when it does occur. Even a little appreciation goes a long way.
6. What is the best way to create an infectious idea, product or service?
Accidentally. Anything that expressly sets out to be infectious (like a video prefabricated to be "viral," for example) is doomed to fail. The most irresistible ideas always seem to come out of nowhere, in part because people like to feel they’ve discovered them, and in part because the most genuinely thrilling ideas are ideas we didn’t know we didn’t know.
7. What is the key to innovation?
Negative capability. (See under: John Keats)
8. What are the most important trends you see in the writing industry?
It’s actually a very interesting time. Because of the economy, many publishers are slowing or even freezing their acquisitions. This is bad news if you’re trying to get something published, but for the vast majority of writers, who’ve had the experience of publishing a book and watching it sink in the great sea of published material, it feels like a necessary correction.
The fact is that there have been far too many books published, for far too many years, with the great ones all too often going unnoticed. On the other hand, this feels like a really vibrant moment for readers. The E-Book concept, which has been floundering around for ages, finally has a workable model in Amazon’s Kindle, and it’s allowing more people to read more books.
On the web, there’s a thriving network of blogs devoted to books and reading, where news of a great book is passed and opinions are exchanged with humbling speed. Sites like Goodreads, Shelfari and Library Thing seem to be replacing Amazon as the repository for online reviews.
One other important change: the technology and mechanisms allowing publishers to reprint and deliver books to the marketplace have improved, which means that publishers can quickly go back and generate more copies. This will affect the guesswork that has always plagued the industry, with its evil twin offspring: remaindered copies (i.e. too many printed) and stores waiting for reprints of a suddenly hot book (i.e. too few printed). My recent novel began with a small printing but the publisher quickly reprinted, and I’ve been so pleased to find that bookstores usually have copies on hand.
9. Professionally, what do you want to be doing or studying in 10 years?
After three novels that were not particularly successful in terms of sales, I feel extraordinarily lucky to have been able to publish a fourth, let alone have it be well published, well received, and widely read. I hope I’ll be able to write a new novel (or two) and that it (or they) will be as fortunate.
10. What are your most important hobbies?
Flea markets are my happy place.
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