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3Q with Sara Gruen (And a Contest with an extra Perk)

The gorgeous and sugar hearted Sara Gruen not only agreed to do a 3Q, but she is donating three SIGNED copies of Ape House as a prizes. I’m going to see Sara in New York Saturday (I am flying up to meet my new editor…more on this later) and so I will close the contest Friday at Noon EST. That way, Sara will be able to personalize the winner’s copies.

You can enter up to four times. Each Entry requires a SEPARATE COMMENT as here on FTK, we ROLL the heartless RANDOM NUMBER GENERATOR to pick winners.

Way one: Leave a comment that says HOW you want the book signed. For example, if you are Aimee, your comment would read “To Aimee, within whose bosom heaves the wild heart of a bonobo lover, Best Friends Forever, Sara Gruen” or if you were Fran but wanted this to be a gift, your comment would read “For Lillian—Happy Birthday. Love, Sara Gruen.” Basically your comment should say whatever you want Sara to say. Sara is even willing to sign in a particular color ink IF THAT’S WHAT YOU NEED TO BE HAPPY. If you win and you don’t say how you want it signed, you will get a plain signed and dated copy.

Way 2: Post a link to this contest on your facebook (or myspace) homepage. Then post a SEPARATE COMMENT here saying you have done so.

Way Three: TWEET a link to this contest. Then post a SEPARATE COMMENT here saying you have done so.

Way Four: Post a link to this contest on your Blog. Then post a SEPARATE COMMENT here linking back saying you have done so.

One of Sara's friends reading her third book, Water for Elephants

SO if you hang out here regularly, you know Sara is one of my crit partners, and so I am THRILLED TO LITTLE BITS to be doing a 3Q with her as Ape House is released. I think this is an amazing, fantastic book, fast paced and structured like a thriller, but the apes and the character of Isabel also give this book a rich red meaty heart. But hey—don’t believe me…

“Gruen delivers a tale that’s full of heart, hope, and compelling questions about who we really are.”—Redbook

“Gruen’s astute, wildly entertaining tale of interspecies connection is a novel of verve and conscience.”—Booklist (Starred review)

“Has the dramatic tension of a crime thriller…Twists and turns, lies, and treachery abound in this funny, clever, and perceptive story.”—Library Journal (Starred review)

If you don’t know what it’s about: Sam, Bonzi, Lola, Mbongo, Jelani, and Makena are no ordinary apes. These bonobos, like others of their species, are capable of reason and carrying on deep relationships—but unlike most bonobos, they also know American Sign Language.

Isabel Duncan, a scientist at the Great Ape Language Lab, doesn’t understand people, but animals she gets—especially the bonobos. Isabel feels more comfortable in their world than she’s ever felt among humans . . . until she meets John Thigpen, a very married reporter who braves the ever-present animal rights protesters outside the lab to see what’s really going on inside.

When an explosion rocks the lab, severely injuring Isabel and “liberating” the apes, John’s human interest piece turns into the story of a lifetime, one he’ll risk his career and his marriage to follow. Then a reality TV show featuring the missing apes debuts under mysterious circumstances, and it immediately becomes the biggest—and unlikeliest—phenomenon in the history of modern media. Millions of fans are glued to their screens watching the apes order greasy take-out, have generous amounts of sex, and sign for Isabel to come get them. Now, to save her family of apes from this parody of human life, Isabel must connect with her own kind, including John, a green-haired vegan, and a retired porn star with her own agenda.

Ape House delivers great entertainment, but it also opens the animal world to us in ways few novels have done, securing Sara Gruen’s place as a master storyteller who allows us to see ourselves as we never have before.

Joss: A lot of writers read this blog—-how did you
a) Find an agent
b) sell that first book
c) come to realize you wanted to pursue writing as a career instead of a personal passion or a hobby.

Sara: Finding an agent was almost as hard as getting published, which is almost as hard as finishing a manuscript. I was completely naïve when I started writing fiction. I got laid off from my job as a technical writer and thought LAR LAR LAR I’m going to go write a book now. So I did.
Then I discovered that I needed an agent, and only then did I get a taste of how difficult this business is. After figuring out which agents were sharks and which were legitimate, I sent out 129 queries (basically a letter asking an agent if they’re willing to look at your manuscript) and got 79 rejections before someone finally said sure, I’ll have a look. (I have to assume the deafening silences from the other agents were also rejections.) That agent called me on the weekend and said, I love the book. Will you marry me? Or words to that effect.

Anyway, I signed on with her, she submitted the manuscript to six houses and said, Oh well, that didn’t work, go write another book. So I did. She said, I don’t think this will sell, go write another book. So I did. I sent it to her and didn’t hear from her for four months (apparently she was busy working with Prince Charles on his book about macrobiotic gardening, or something—anyway, not a good sign). I was prepared for the inevitable dumping, and had a list of agents I would query when it happened. She finally dumped me on a Sunday and that same afternoon I queried the next round of agents. I had several offers by Wednesday, and chose another agent. Unfortunately, I chose the wrong agent—to my knowledge he never submitted my book anywhere. Certainly he refused to provide me with any names or publishing houses and so eventually I had to dump him. And then I found my One True Agent. As they say, third time’s a charm. She sold RIDING LESSONS at auction two weeks later.

That covers A and B, which leaves C. I have always wanted to do this. Always, always, always. So much so that I did my degree in literature. The problem was that I then found myself with a degree in literature and needing a job. I wrote software manuals and online help systems for ten years before being laid off and deciding to give fiction a serious go. And I had a deadline. I had two years or two books to make up for my salary as a tech writer, or I was going to go back to it. It was close—I ran out of money for daycare at one point and my husband built me an office made of baby gates, which did keep the baby from unplugging all the wires on the back of my computer but did not prevent him from throwing toys at my head.

Sara meets Teco, a four month old bonobo born at the Great Ape Trust

Joss: What’s a day in your life like?

Sara: It’s pretty pathetic. I get up, drink two cups of tea with my husband, retreat to my office, lie down on my couch under a quilt, and work on my laptop. If I’m feeling really wild and crazy, I’ll actually get dressed and go to the grocery. Usually there’s a good bit of email moaning to my friends about why it is that I simply cannot, CANNOT, open my file. They cajole and threaten me until I do, and then they make the same declarations and I cajole and threaten them. This is how I finish books.

Joss: Sounds…eerily familiar. Except instead of two cups of tea it should read umpty cups of coffee. Who did you dedicate this book to and why?

Sara: I dedicated this book to great apes everywhere, but especially Panbanisha, who is one of the language competent bonobos at the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, Iowa. I was fortunate enough to be invited into their home, and Panbanisha and I really hit it off. On my second visit, she invited me to a tea party in the forest, remarkable for many things, including that she made the tea herself (she has a kitchen at the Trust). My last visit was five days ago, and as I left she asked if I would bring her a new Mr. Potato Head on my next visit.

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