An interview with Lou Aronica

Please share with readers who Lou Aronica is.

 

I’ve been hanging around the book publishing world for more than thirty-five years now. I started at Bantam Books, ultimately becoming Deputy Publisher there. Then I moved to Berkley Books to become Publisher and then took the same title at Avon Books. At the end of the nineties, I left New York publishing to focus on my own writing and working with other writers. My first novel, The Forever Year was published pseudonymously, as were several others, including my early nonfiction books. When I first started writing, I wanted a bit of anonymity because many people in the publishing world knew me and I wanted to stay under the radar. The breakthrough happened for me when The Element, a book I coauthored with Sir Ken Robinson, became a New York Times bestseller. That was one of the first books to have my real name on it, and I decided at that point that I would use my given name on all of my work thereafter. I even went back and changed my name on my earlier fiction.

 

On the personal side, I’m married and have four children ranging in ages from twenty-nine to twelve. It’s a full life, thankfully.

 

What type of hobbies do you enjoy?

 

The two diversions I love the most are cooking and music. I’m fairly serious about food and I’m regularly trying new ingredients and creating new recipes. I also love going out to eat, so we spend a good deal of time either in or traveling to restaurants. We have a family of food lovers, and conversations about food can last hours in our household. With music, I’m constantly downloading new music (always legally – those of us in the intellectual property business need to stick together) and trying to find new artists. I also have a little recording studio in my basement where I write and record songs.

 

Tell us three crazy things about yourself?

 

I am an absurdly emotional fan of the New York Yankees. I will drive more than an hour for great ice cream. I still don’t understand why critics hate progressive rock.

 

When did you begin to write seriously and why?

 

I’ve been dabbling in writing since I was a teenager, and even when I got into the publishing business, I believed I was doing so to facilitate a career in writing. I didn’t write my first book until the early aughts, though. This actually happened somewhat accidentally. I’d set up my company The Fiction Studio with the intention of developing ideas for other writers to execute. However, when I sold the first of these to a publisher, I realized that I was too close to the project to turn it over to someone else. I decided to write the book myself, and it became my first novel, The Forever Year.

 

Do you remember writing stories as a child or did the writing bug come later? 

 

I recently reconnected with an elementary school friend who told me that I always talked about wanting to be a writer, something I hadn’t remembered. I do know that by the time I was in high school I had become very serious about writing. I did a huge amount of writing in college, mostly short stories, but also a couple of plays, a screenplay, and even a novel. None of these will ever see the light of day, however.

 

Do you think your past experience as a publisher in the book world helps you in writing novels?

 

I think my experience as a publisher helped somewhat, as it helped me to judge my own writing from a professional perspective. What helped even more was working with the great writers I worked with over the years. Getting to see how truly accomplished writers work and evolve their stories was like taking a decades-long master class in fiction writing.

 

Do you ever experience self-doubts with your work?

 

Regularly. Often daily. I’ve come to accept that I’m rarely satisfied with what I’m writing at a given moment. What still vexes me is when I go back to polish something and I see massive flaws in it. At that point, I start imagining that the fixes I’m making are just adding more flaws and then I start wondering if a single person will ever like a word I’ve written. I do get over this eventually, obviously. I’ve had twenty-five books published to date.

 

Where do you write?  Do you have a favorite place?

 

I have an office that I’ve set up with all the writing comforts I need: books lining two walls, pictures of my wife and kids, meaningful trinkets, a couch for laying down when I need to wrestle with an idea, and a fireplace that I never light but still enjoy having.

 

Do you have any writing rituals?

 

I move around a great deal when I’m writing. I’ll write a couple of sentences and then walk around the room. I’ll add another line and go into the kitchen for a minute. When I started writing, I worried that this was a form of procrastination. As it turns out, it’s just the way I work.

 

You’ve written most of your novels in a year or less, but your novel Blue was six years in the making. What took so long?

 

There were a couple of things at play here. One was that this novel was much more important to me than anything I’d done before. I was dealing with issues that mattered a great deal to me, things like father-daughter relationships, the consequences of divorce, and the need for and possibilities of imagination. I wanted to do justice to those themes, so I took my time with the writing.

 

The other issue was that the novel kept developing layers. Every time I thought I’d finished, another component of the story emerged. Each of these layers required a complete rewrite of the manuscript.

 

What types of books do you prefer to write?

I love writing novels about relationships. Characters and relationships are everything to me. That said, when I get to work with a genius like Ken Robinson, writing nonfiction is a joy as well.

 

When naming your characters, do you give any thought to the actual meaning?

 

This is a huge thing for me. I’ve always felt that character names should mean something. What’s the point of simply naming a character Mary Johnson or Rhett Binkley, or whatever? With Blue, though, I took this to an entirely new level for me. All of the names in the book follow a naming convention. Because the fantasy world is filled with lush vegetation, I decided that all of the characters would be named after plants whose names or characteristics matched the characteristics of the character. For example, the three main characters are Becky, who is named after Rudbeckia whose deep roots tolerate drought conditions (Becky goes through quite a “drought” in this novel); Chris, who is named after Helichrysum bracteatum, whose papery petals reflect his fragile state; and Miea, who is named after Tolmiea menziesii, whose common name is “Youth on Age” (Miea needs to carry considerable burdens at a very young age).

 

Every character name holds to this convention, even the walk-ons. In addition, everything else in the book has a naming convention as well. The places in the fantasy world are named after state parks, the exotic foods in that world are named after celebrity chefs, and even the world itself is named after the Tamarisk tree, which produces manna (which will eventually mean something to readers).

 

What do you consider as the most frustrating side of becoming a published author and what has been the most rewarding?

 

The most frustrating side is that it’s so difficult to raise your voice above the din because there are so many books out there. In my years in publishing, I’ve been involved in the publication of somewhere around ten thousand books (which means I’ve obviously contributed to the problem), and I’ve always felt this frustration. Even when a book was a bestseller I found it confounding that more people didn’t know about it.

 

The most rewarding thing is when people tell you they’ve been moved by your work. When The Forever Year came out, several people told me that it made them cry, and this made me extremely happy. What a strange business when your greatest joy comes from making others cry.

 

Any advice to aspiring writers?

 

This is a tough time to be a writer, especially a novelist, because of the seismic shifts in the publishing marketplace. For the same reason, though, I think it is going to be a great age to be a writer. The key for writers is to write with tremendous honesty. Readers have great respect for writers who approach their subjects with honesty. This is more important now than it has been in a very long time, because readers have more ways of learning about the quality of a book before buying it.

 

If you had not become an author or publisher, what career would you have chosen?

I think I would have found my way into the music world somehow. I’m an enormous music fan and I’m fascinated by the business of music. There’s a part of me that thinks I would have been a good corporate executive as well, but I don’t let that part come out very often.

 

What is one thing you’d like to ask your audience who might buy your book one day?

 

My biggest question would be, “What does this story mean to you?” I intentionally leave certain things at the ends of my stories open to interpretation. I am always interested in how readers see these. In fact, if anyone wants to let me know his or her perspective, write me at laronica@fictionstudio.com.