On Tuesday, novelist Julie Buntin shared her writing experiences as part of the Study Hotels Writer-in-Residence program, which launched this week.
In conjunction with the Yale Writers’ Workshop, the Study invites writers for a week-long stay in order to focus on their writing, free from everyday distractions. These authors then give a book talk to the greater New Haven and Yale community during their residence.
According to Heather Gayatgay, director of brand marketing and communications for The Study, this program is dedicated to giving authors a space to “read, rest and reflect.”
“This residency program gives writers the things they need most: time,” said Jotham Burrell, who is the director of the Yale Writers’ Workshop.
Buntin, the inaugural writer for this program, shared her experience navigating the writing and publishing processes with her first novel, “Marlena.” The novel became a National Book Critics Circle Leonard Prize Finalist and was named a Best Book of the Year by many outlets including The Washington Post, Kirkus Reviews and Barnes & Noble.
“I started writing fiction seriously in my early 20’s,” Buntin said. “I applied for a M.F.A degree because I wanted to take my desire to write and turn it into something concrete.”
She graduated in 2015 from NYU’s M.F.A program where she started working on her first novel. When she was at NYU, it became clear to her that becoming a novelist full time isn’t a viable career path and began doing event management to build an alternate career. For the past ten years, Buntin has worked in the literary publishing industry.
Her novel tells the story of teenage girls but is catered towards an adult audience, a major literary challenge. She touches upon themes of friendship, drug addiction, and adolescence. During the book talk, Buntin described the challenge in balancing an authentic narrative and keeping the adult audience engaged. Although the sequence of events are fictional, many of the concepts and emotions of the book were inspired by true events in Buntin’s life.
As Buntin shared her experience writing a novel, she also discussed many of the challenges that lie beyond just the writing process. One must find the right agent, secure a good publisher and “edit, edit, edit,” she said.
Buntin met her agent at NYU’s M.F.A program’s meet-and-greet with agents and writers. She met with several agents at that event but found that she shared many of the same favorite books with one agent in particular. After some time, Buntin sent the agent some of her work and was offered representation.
Buntin’s agent and her connections played a critical role in securing a “Big 5” publishing house for her novel. The “Big 5” is a group of the five major trade book publishing companies in the United States that are sought out by many authors. While navigating this process, Buntin said she was simultaneously working at a small publishing house.
Buntin’s experience as both a literary publisher and a writer has given her a unique perspective on the writing process, she said. During the talk, an audience member asked Buntin about the differences between a small publishing house and a larger, “Big 5” publishing house. One clear advantage that she noted was bigger publishing houses have tremendous international and marketing presence. For example, “Marlena” has been translated into over ten languages, “This was only possible because I was at such a big publishing house,” Buntin said.
Buntin also described how she transformed the book during the editing process. Her first draft was rejected by many publishers which pushed Buntin to heavily revise and virtually rewrite the novel. It was almost like writing two novels, she said. These structural revisions brought the novel to where it is today, a Best Book of the Year.
“I stay in a very comfortable hotel, eat delicious food and am not bothered by anyone — what could be better than that?” said Buntin as she described her time in the residence. She will spend the remainder of the week working on her second novel.
After the residency, Buntin will return to Michigan to start teaching Creative Writing at the University of Michigan in the fall and finish her second novel.
The next event at The Study will take place on Thursday, December 12th. Roxanne J. Coady will be interviewing Anthony T. Kronman on his latest book “The Assault on American Excellence.”
The Study at Yale is located at 1157 Chapel St.
Tamar Geller | firstname.lastname@example.org