Amy Waldman, author of the politically charged forthcoming novel The Submission (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Aug.), has been knee-deep in international politics for some 15 years. Reporting for the New York Times, the Atlantic Monthly, and other outlets from spots like Afghanistan, Iraq, and South Africa, Waldman also spent three years in India as co-chief of the Times’s South Asia bureau. A few years back, however, the Brooklyn-based, L.A.-born journalist had an idea for a novel that wouldn’t go away.
“I was having a conversation with a friend about the Vietnam Memorial and [its designer] Maya Lin,” Waldman tells Show Daily. “There were many aspects to that controversy, but one was [Lin] being Asian-American, and Vietnam being an Asian war. I started thinking, ‘What would be the parallel now, with 9/11?’ ”
The Submission follows a number of characters involved in the creation of the 9/11 memorial at ground zero, including a determined 9/11 widow who sits on the committee to select a memorial design. When the committee makes its selection, it turns out to be the work of a Muslim-American designer. It isn’t long before the news leaks, and the novel turns around the resulting controversy.
Already blurbed by no-nonsense urban realist and lifelong New Yorker Richard Price (“Waldman captures a wildly diverse city wrestling with itself in the face of a shared trauma like no other in its history”), The Submission has also appeared on several blogs’ lists of the most anticipated titles of 2011—not bad for a writer who started writing fiction only four years ago.
“When I had the idea for The Submission I was a journalist, and for quite a few years after that,” says Waldman. “So me turning to fiction really came out of this particular idea, this idea that never went away. And so I thought, ‘Okay, I’m going to try this.’ Once I started I just got really hooked. I felt like, ‘Wow, that’s really what I want to be trying right now.’ ”
Though Waldman admits there were days when she missed reporting—with “notebooks full of quotes by other people” that don’t need inventing—and says she might not have gone through with the novel “if I’d known how hard it could be,” she finds the challenge of a “blank space” fun and rewarding. “When you sit down to write a piece of journalism, you know what’s happened, and you’re essentially trying to reconstruct it based on the reporting you’ve done,” she says, “whereas with fiction, you really don’t know what’s going to happen or how it’s going to unfold. It felt like using a totally different part of my brain.”
This will be Waldman’s first time at BEA, for which she feels “honored,” and she is excited for the “rare opportunity” to connect with so many book enthusiasts. She will be signing galleys at the FSG booth (3352) today, 2–2:45 p.m.