Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Q&A with author Jacob M. Appel

Jacob M. Appel's books include The Biology of Luck, a novel; Phoning Home, an essay collection; and Scouting for the Reaper, a short story collection. A physician and attorney, he is based in New York City.

Q: Your novel The Biology of Luck includes a story within a story. Why did you decide to use that approach in the book?

A: I have a hard time focusing on any one project for more than a few minutes. So when I wanted a break from one novel, I turned to the other one -- which worked, because they were both part of the same enterprise. 

(The other alternatives were turning to less productive endeavors, like checking the book sales from my previous novel on Amazon or lamenting the plight of the people of Eritrea.) 

This gives the reader two books for the price of one. I wanted to charge extra, but I was overruled by my publisher. 

I should also mention that one of the purposes of the novel is to question the objectivity of romantic yearning and experience. 

Rather than showing Starshine objectively and subjectively, I wanted to show the reader Starshine subjectively and then more subjectively, first as Larry imagines her in his mind and then as he crafts her on paper. 

Readers, especially those who send me unkind email messages about my depiction of Starshine, should remember that every view we get of Starshine is from Larry's perspective, just to different degrees.

Q: New York City is a major part of the novel, and you have been a New York City tour guide, as is your protagonist. How did your experience affect the book, and what are some of your favorite parts of the city?

A: I was once a New York City tour guide. Although I still have the license, I'm now a full-time psychiatrist, so I tour New York via souls rather than soles. 

But I do adore New York. My secret fantasy is to be Tourism Commissioner for New York City, so if you're reading this, Mayor De Blasio, now is your chance to curry favor with the rapidly growing constituency of secular Jewish agnostic novelist lawyer-turned-doctors with sightseeing guide licenses. We vote. Often more than once.

My favorite parts of the city are the areas where you can still sense
the natural history of the landscape, whether the contours of the
hills of Inwood or the scent of salt water at the Battery.

Q: You've written fiction and nonfiction. Do you have a preference?

A: My preferred literary genre is actually drama. Nothing is more

exciting than going to a theater and watching strangers enact your
words on stage. You can watch the audience's reaction--what makes them laugh, when they throw rotting vegetables--to a degree that isn't available to fiction writers. 

Of course, I suppose I could ride the subways, looking for strangers reading my novels, and then I could watch their reactions....but that seems like a good way to get picked up on a stalking charge.

Q: How has your background as a physician and attorney influenced your writing?

A: As an attorney, I can defend myself from charges of libel and
defamation. When I lose these cases, the physician in me can self-prescribe high dose narcotics to take the edge off. 

Another advantage is not having to worry about paying for the roof over my head; I've heard it's very hard to write when the roof keeps leaking and blotting out your ink.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: My agent has two new novels on her desk, waiting for a far-sighted publisher to make a six figure bid. Meanwhile, I'm scribbling away on yet another novel.... I never learn my lesson. 

I also have a new short story collection, Einstein's Beach House, coming out with Pressgang in October, so I should have a busy
summer and autumn promoting books.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I'm generally willing to give a free PDF of the novel away to anybody who can make a good case for receiving one -- such as they'd like to write a review or their piggybank is jammed and they can't access their savings. 

Potential readers: feel free to e-mail me at and make your pitch.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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