Thank you! Elsewhere is around 61,000 words, as I recall. I, too, used to be interested in the word counts of comparable books when I was starting to write novels.
By no means is it Curtis Jest’s best performance, nor is it his finest moment as a songwriter. The lyrics are (it must be said) rather trite, mainly about the transformative powers of love. In truth, most love songs are exactly the same way.
-Gabrielle Zevin, Elsewhere
Been a long time since I’ve thought about Curtis Jest. Nice to see him again.
One of the more absurd ways a book quote of mine has ever been used. Also, I didn’t personally say this – a dog character in Elsewhere did.
Hello to you and your girlfriend. Is that an Appetite for Destruction T-shirt I spy in your profile picture?
I’ll begin by answering a question you didn’t ask. I don’t believe in an afterlife like Elsewhere and I absolutely didn’t write the book to propose a viable afterlife or even a viable world. I know this answer disappoints people, but I always feel I have to say it. I wrote the book to talk about the things that matter to me in this life, which is the only one I know and certainly the only one in which I have any agency. That said, the older I get the more I believe you can’t control any reader’s experience of your books. It’s probably silly of me to try.
Your question intrigues me. Since the question has been asked more than once, I hope you won’t mind that I’m answering it publicly. If there were an Elsewhere (which I’ve already told you I don’t believe) and if the entire human race died, I imagine that humanity would end, that the fates of Elsewhere and Earth are linked. Occasionally, souls do get lost on their way from Elsewhere to Earth and vice versa. (For example, when Liz found herself at the bottom of the ocean — had she never tried to save herself, there would be no Liz on Elsewhere or on Earth.) I once entertained writing a prequel in which the Captain from the ship and an entire boatload of passagers were lost at sea. If humanity dies, a lot of people might find themselves lost at sea forever.
There are other ways of answering this question. I could tell you, for instance, that there are definitely Elsewheres elsewhere. Liz’s experience of the world had been so limited when she died that she didn’t know the kind of people who might end up in the other Elsewheres. I have also entertained writing a novel about one of the other Elsewheres, but I probably won’t ever do it. Those Else-elsewheres are somewhat bleak and not places I necessarily want to spend a great deal of time.
The truth of all of it though is, Elsewhere is a story, not a postmortem destination. It’s a fantastical literary device meant to entertain people and possibly make them reflect on their own lives. You probably know this without me saying.
(If anyone ever gets to Elsewhere, I wouldn’t mind receiving a message in a bottle though.)
(I jest. Of course I jest.)
I suppose you are talking about the British paperback version, which has a blond girl wrapped in a blue towel, on a beach. I don’t know who she is except to say that the photo came from a stock photo house, like Getty. I know this photo has been used on other books, too. I think she represents Liz, but you probably know that already.
I imagine this girl was a child model. She’s probably a grown-up now. Maybe she’s in college or even older. Maybe she doesn’t model anymore. Maybe modeling was her mom’s idea to begin with and maybe she only did it to make her mother happy. Maybe she was cold that day. Maybe she wouldn’t like being on a book where the girl dies, but that’s the life of a model: You end up where you end up. Maybe, since the photo is from behind, when she sees the book in stores, she doesn’t even know that it’s her.
At this moment, there sit 84 questions in my tumblr askbox. For the next month, I’m going to try to answer them.
Zoë Alder, a reader from the UK, wrote me today to say she had named her brand new salon for my book, Elsewhere! How picturesque is that sign? Anyhow, if you’re in the Oxford area, please go and take a picture for me. And get your hair cut, too.
“A Beautiful Mess,” a painted Elsewhere-themed entry by Rachel Wheeler for the Because It Is My Blood contest.
Seemed like a cheerful thing to post on this briefly rainy Thursday in Los Angeles.
I agree with you that an Elsewhere movie would be “very ingenious”… unfortunately, no one influential enough to make that happen has ever agreed with us!
It has been nine years since I wrote Elsewhere and seven years since its publication. Below, you will find a few ways things have changed:
– In 2005, when Elsewhere was published, there was no Facebook.
– No Twitter either. No Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, Goodreads or anything else. YouTube had just come online the prior February.
– I didn’t have a website. If you wanted to send me an e-mail, you had to know someone who knew me. Like, personally.
– Most readers sent me letters. Bonafide paper letters.
– I didn’t have a blog.
– The book was the lead title for what was then Farrar Staus Giroux BYR. There was no pre-tour, book tour, blog tour or giveaways.
– It was a big deal that the ARC was going to have COLOR art on the front.
– I did not go to BEA, ALA, Comic Con or anywhere else. After the book started to do well — and for the record, it did quite well — I went to the Southern Festival of Books.
– My publisher DID make a fancy press kit folder. The folder also had color art on it.
– I was very fond of my publicist Sabeth Albert. She couldn’t have been gentler with me. Jeanne McDermott, whose exact job title I don’t remember, was also a wise and calming presence. Sabeth is no longer in publishing. Jeanne is well on her way to becoming a librarian.
– No one at my publisher had a job that specifically involved online promotion and social media.
– I loved my editor, Janine O’ Malley. Much of what I know about the craft of writing, I learned from her. One of her big books this fall is Crewel by Gennifer Albin.
– Janine’s office didn’t have any windows back then though it did have a scary-looking pipe that ran through the middle. I think her “office” might have actually been a storage closet. She is a senior editor now with a very nice office.
– Farrar Straus Giroux was in Union Square. The office had a cat. I do not know who took care of the cat nor do I know what became of the cat when they moved.
– I was supposed to go on NPR to promote the book. Hurricane Katrina hit so my appearance was (sensibly though disappointingly) cancelled.
– Most of what happened to promote a book happened behind the scenes. This author, at least, wasn’t too involved. I did not write essays. I did not host contests. I did not provide additional material.
– While I remember that much less (or at least much differently) was done to promote my book than a comparably big title these days, what I also remember was the feeling that my publisher was a family.
– When the book came out, everyone came uptown to see me read at the Corner Bookstore. For no particular reason, I was nervous. There was wine, fruit and cheese. After, I went out to dinner with my my best friend, my boyfriend, my editor and her then boyfriend, editor Wesley Adams.
– Tim Ditlow and Listening Library, who recorded the audiobook, had me down to their studios in midtown to listen to the recording and drink tea. Tea drinking occasions are less common in publishing than you’d think.
– A lot of what happened to promote a title went on behind the scenes without any involvement or input from the author.
– The only thing I had to do on pub day was pick out a dress to wear to my book party.
– My dress came from Filene’s Basement, which no longer exists.
– I did not know a SINGLE author when my book was published.
– The only blurb we had was from Printz-finalist Carolyn Mackler (most recently Tangled). I didn’t know her at the time. She would become a good friend. For a couple of years, we had a lark keeping this (irregularly updated, probably ill-conceived) blog together. Don’t blame her; it was my idea.
– What Elsewhere did have was great independent and chain bookstore support. My book happened not because I was charming online, but because key book people really supported it. This wasn’t random — a lot of what my publisher did was painstakingly and deliberately making sure that the book ended up in all the right hands. Jeanne McDermott did fantastic librarian and educator outreach, too.
– Elsewhere beat Looking for Alaska and Twilight to win the Borders Original Voices Award. There is no Borders Bookstore anymore. I would wager that more people have heard of the other two writers than me. (For the record, I liked both those books and their authors very much.)
– I did not receive any correspondence from transgendered teenagers. Now, I hear from them all the time. They want to know what happens to the transgendered in ELSEWHERE.
– Old media mattered. The thing that really took Elsewhere to the next level was a superb review in the New York Times Book Review. The review was written by Elizabeth Spires, a well-known children’s book writer. At that time, the section was edited by the whip smart Julie Just. The other review that was really key was Jennifer Mattson’s in Booklist. I believe Julie Just and Jennifer Mattson are both on the agent side of the business now.
– My agent at the time, Jonathan Pecarsky, is now in advertising.
– Everyone wasn’t nice! People used to hang out on message boards like adbooks where they felt free to be incredibly critical. The agent Barry Goldblatt wrote a scathing tract on what he considered to be the “flaws” in the book. For better or worse, I doubt you would find such an established agent doing that today.
– The first bonafide young person to read it, I believe, was Wesley Adams’ eleven year-old daughter. I think she liked Elsewhere but preferred Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac. She is now in college, and her father is now Janine’s husband. (Last year, Wes edited Jack Gantos’ Newbery award-winning Dead End in Norvelt.)
– The first reader at Farrar Straus Giroux was Lisa Greenwald, who I believe was an intern at FSG and an MFA student at the New School at the time. Lisa is now the author of several, adorable middle grade fiction titles (My Life in Pink and Green) and a librarian at the Birch Wathen School.
– Things are different now, of course. I often feel that my skills as a writer were better suited to a pre-social netowrked world. I don’t feel like I can write as well or as deeply when I’m onilne. However, it is necessary to be online to promote your books. These positions often seem hopelessly irresolvable to me.
– What is the same is the fact that the people I work with still believe in what they are doing — delivering readers stories that will challenge them and that they will love. I still believe in this, too.
Thanks to all who read Elsewhere and the thousands of readers who have written me to tell me what the book has meant to them over the last seven years.
(Monday Nostalgia No. 3)