Meet Jacob Appel

Meet Jacob Appel

Q. Your first novel,The Man Who Wouldn’t Stand Up, won the Dundee International Book Award in 2012.  Can you describe how the moment felt when you found out?

JA: At first, I was suspicious.  I figured it must be some kind of Nigerian 419 scam.  So many publishers had rejected the book that I was like one of those dogs in the learned helplessness experiments who cringes even when not being shocked.   But then I realized it wasn’t a scam and I felt vindicated.   As your readers may know, the Dundee International Book Award is based on Scotland.  I had always believed the Scots to be a superior people, endowed with impeccable taste—and they proved me right!

Q. For those of us readers who haven’t read your first novel, can you tell us briefly what it’s about and where we can find it online? 

JA: The book features Arnold Brinkman, a liberal botanist from New York City who takes his son to a Yankees game and gets caught sticking out his tongue on the Jumbotron during the singing of God Bless America.  Soon he is branded a terrorist sympathizer and must go into hiding in Central Park…. You can always get my books on Amazon, but if you’re looking to enter heaven, you should order them at your local bookstore.

Q. How did you come about writing novels in the mystery/ humor/ comedy genres?

JA: I’d always thought of myself as a serious novelist.   Yet you have to possess a certain gravitas to write a serious novel – like Tolstoy or Proust.  At a minimum, you have to look like John Kerry.   The gravitas standards for comedy writers are a bit more lax – Vonnegut, J. P. Donleavy, Woody Allen.  My choices were either purchase a tie or write humor, and I took the road less asphyxiating.

Q. Your short story collection, Scouting for the Reaper, won the 2012 Hudson Prize. What is it like applying for such awards? And what advice can you give to those applying for the same award?

JA: Applying for awards is easy.  I have done it countless times.  In the case of the Hudson Prize, I’d actually submitted five other collections that same year.  The key to winning prize is to submit early and often.   Or to blackmail the judges…. If you can obtain photographs of the judging in compromising positions, it works wonders on the selection process….

Q. Scouting for the Reaper is a fascinating collection of short stories that you have written.  Each character facing their own unanticipated challenge.  A very intriguing book to read for all. What were your challenges in writing this series if any?

JA: Thanks for the kind words.  You have probably single-handedly doubled my readership, so I am grateful.

The greatest challenge for me, in writing, is always stopping before I make a mess of things.  I had a tendency to write too much.  To stop myself, I focus upon all of the squid who died heroically to make my ink possible….

Q. How many short stories would you say that you have published so far? 

JA: I believe that I have published 215 stories.   My secret fantasy is to become a famous writer and to die suddenly, having claimed to have published 215 stories, while actually having published only 214.  I can picture all of these literary scholars scouring the planet for the missing story….Alas, I am not going to be famous, and I actually have published 215 stories, so I planned this poorly.

Q. Using only three words how would you come to describe yourself as a writer?

JA: Seeking a patron.

Q. Your writing career has definitely launched off successfully. What hardships, if any, have you faced when writing your books and getting them published?

JA: A shortage of vowels.   I suppose Vanna White has cornered the market.

Q. I have read one of your novels called Wedding Wipeout. It was full of humor, mystery, and suspense. I loved it.  How did you come about writing this humorous Jewish mystery? 

JA: Honestly, I’m very close to my grandmother – she’s now 94 years old – and I wanted to write a book that she could enjoy.  Alas, she only reads Jewish mysteries and sagas about Tudor England.  At the time, I thought I’d made a wise choice.   Clearly, I did not.  Just think:  I could have been the Jewish Hilary Mantel!

Q. In Phoning Home, your collection of essays, has a wide range of amazing stories and insights into your family life. Can you tell us readers a bit more about this interesting new book of yours?

JA: Phoning Home is a very personal book.  It shares all the secrets I would not want my mother to know.  My mother, incidentally, has been forbidden from reading the book.  (If you know her, and you share its contents with her, you will be attacked by pestilence and pirates.)   I also discuss some of the bioethical dilemmas that I have encountered as a hospital psychiatrist.  But my favorite part of the book is the cover.  Somehow, the brilliant folks at the University of South Carolina press, managed to find an olive green telephone identical to the rotary device my step-grandmother rented from Ma Bell.

Q. What was your inspiration for writing Einstein’s Beach House? 

JA: I did it for the glory.  And for my country.  I like to think of it as my Lexington & Concord, my Gettysburg, my D-Day all rolled into one.  Alas, I have found when I tell this to veterans, they have a tendency to threaten my front teeth.  On a more mundane level, I started the collection eight years ago when my neighbor, Penny Sycamore, left her typewriter in my apartment by mistake.

Q. What is your advice to writers out there on writing short stories?

JA: The best craft-related wisdom that I have ever received is to know your ending before you start writing.  Imagine if you were planning a family vacation.  There are two ways to go about it.  Either you could choose your destination and travel there, or you could step out your front door and wander.   The first approach might bring you to Paris or Hawaii or Disneyland.  The second approach will likely lead you to nowhere, surrounded by an irritated spouse and whining children.  So why would you start a story without knowing where you’re going?

Motivation is also crucial.  In my case, I keep telling myself that it’s always possible that Sophie Loren will pick up the obscure literary journal where I publish my story – and then fly in from Italy to profess her undying love.  This has not yet happened.   You might think that after 215 stories, I’d have learned my lesson, but hope springs eternal.  In any case, I’d settle for a fan letter from Karen Russell.  If you’re friends with Karen Russell and you persuade her to send me a fan letter, I might just remember you in my will.

Q. Your incredible work has been featured and published in more than two hundred literary journals including Agni, Conjunctions, Gettysburg Review, Southwest Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, and West Branch. How does one go about being published in a journal?  

JA: I imagine many of your readers are familiar with the famous Sidney Harris cartoon, featuring two mathematicians standing before a chalkboard with a tapestry of incomprehensible numbers and formulas, and in the middle, the words:  “Then a miracle occurs.”  Every publication is like that.

Q. What are your hobbies besides writing?

JA: Wronging.

Q. Where can readers find you and your books online?

JA: I’m at   I’d much prefer you purchased my books offline, at your local bookstore, but you can also purchase them over the computer at any of the major conglomerates.   Yet the best way to read one of my books is to ask your local library to acquire a copy.

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