Julie Orringer Discussion Group discussion

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How to Breathe Underwater

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message 1: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Vegan (lisavegan) I am eager to read The Invisible Bridge but haven't read it yet. So, I might make a point of avoiding spoilers about it in this group.

I read How to Breathe Underwater: Stories many years ago, and I joined this group because that book is probably my favorite ever book of short stories.


message 2: by Roz (new)

Roz Wiener (bubbyroz) | 1 comments I loved the Invisible Bridge. I read it over a weekend. Very compelling and engrossing.


message 3: by Alison (new)

Alison | 5 comments Hi again, Julie,

So much has been said so far about the Invisible Bridge. I loved it, but I also loved How to Breathe Underwater. Can you talk about your approach to short stories versus novels? How is the writing process different? Did you write the short stories in How to Breathe Underwater specifically to be in a collection, or were they brought together later? Also, I know many agents/publishing houses are wary to publish collections because they just don't sell as well as novels. Was this ever a concern for you?

Thank you!


message 4: by Julie (new)

Julie Orringer | 9 comments Mod
Thanks for such a great question, Alison!

In a way, the process was similar. I tend to write stories chronologically, from beginning to end; I wrote the novel the same way. I wrote a number of drafts of each story before showing it to other readers; I followed the same practice with the novel. Of course, one major difference was that the novel required so much research. The stories mainly required knowledge of what it feels like to be a young woman growing up in America. I wrote the stories for How to Breathe Underwater over a seven-year period; during that time, I wrote at least fourteen other stories that didn’t end up working out. It took a long time to figure out the common threads that would link the stories of the collection, but once I did, I knew there were a couple more stories I wanted to write—one with a protagonist who was in her mid- or later twenties, and one that took place in rural Louisiana and involved complications of race and religion. When I had nine stories that felt like they belonged together, my agent sent the book out. I was aware of the publishing industry’s wariness of the short story, but I couldn’t worry about it—I loved the short story form, and wanted to finish the book. Fortunately, in the years just before I finished, there were a couple of short story collections that had phenomenal publishing lives: Nathan Englander’s For the Relief of Unbearable Urges and Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies. Maybe those books made publishers more willing to take a chance on a first book of short stories; maybe they raised readers’ awareness of the form. In any case, I was delighted to find an editor who wanted to work with the collection, and also that the book found readers.


message 5: by Alison (new)

Alison | 5 comments Very valuable insight - thank you so much!


message 6: by Alison (new)

Alison | 5 comments Another question related to this last one... Do you have any advice for beginning writers? Can you speak to the importance of an advanced writing degree, like an MFA? I'm starting a masters writing program in the fall, and it would be great to have some insight into how best to take advantage of my time there, and what to do after.

Thanks so much for your wonderful answers thus far!


message 7: by Madelene (last edited Feb 01, 2012 04:06AM) (new)

Madelene | 2 comments Just a short note to say that I truly enjoyed The Invisible Bridge. It made my emotions burn with deep empathy and got me thinking about it for days after I finished it. Your writing skills have raised the bar, yet by another notch!


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