The Diamond Lane was first published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons in 1991, Overlook Press published a trade paperback in 1993. What’s it like to have a book go out of print, then be reissued in a gorgeous new edition with sexy French flaps, and an introduction by Jane Smiley?
Long before The Diamond Lane was published the first time, Dr. Egon Spengler prophesied that print was dead. And yet, it lives on. The only way print can continue to survive can is in beautifully designed editions like this new one from Hawthorne Books. So far, there’s no app that can completely satisfy the human need for the tactile experience, and if you’re a reader, eventually you’re going to tire of Kindle, that cheap floozy, and settle down with something you can gaze upon, you can feel and hold. Also, crack open a book and take a whiff. There’s no smell like that ink-on-paper smell. As far as being lucky enough to have Jane offer to write an introduction, I am humbled beyond measure. I have been a huge fan of hers since The Age of Grief. She’s one of our greatest contemporary writers, plus a kick ass horsewoman.
Dr. Egon Spengler?
You know, from Ghostbusters. (R.I.P. Harold Ramis)
A lot of people think that R.I.P. business is flip and disrespectful.
I knew Harold, actually. In the late 80s he was an inch away from buying one of my scripts.
The usual thing in Hollywood. A flurry of urgent meeting and phone calls, then The Phone Did Not Ring. I don’t think it was Harold’s fault. He wasn’t yet at a place in his career where he could green light a movie on his own. My writing partner and I went on to write a few more screenplays, a few of which were optioned. A flurry of urgent meetings and phone calls, then The Phone Did Not Ring. By then, I’d acquired the necessary amount of film industry disappointments to write The Diamond Lane.
What’s it about?
Two sisters in L.A., one who works as an assistant to a literary agent and one who’s spent the last sixteen years making no-budget documentaries in Africa (the kind public television shows at one a.m.) Mimi, the agent’s assistant, is an aspiring writer who never writes, but prefers to hold forth. Mouse, the documentarian, has a boyfriend who wants to marry her, something which she can only bring herself to do if she uses what she considers to be the ludicrous First World wedding planning conventions as material for her next movie. Meanwhile, Tony, her fiancé, is collaborating on a screenplay about their time together in Africa. In a larger sense, it’s about a group of friends who collectively realize, as they settle into their mid-thirties, that it’s looking like their dreams of fame and fortune might never come true.
Are you concerned that people won’t be able to relate to your fictional world because cell phones hadn’t been invented yet?
Despite the plethora of videotapes, Walkmans and answering machines, and the fact that the most technology-forward character is a car FAX machine salesman, the plot is still seems pretty fresh. The machinations surrounding getting a deal in Hollywood haven’t changed at all, but I was floored upon rereading it to see just how much the more satirical material has lost its bite and low grade lunacy, and reads as mere reporting. Mouse obsessively chronicling the minutae of her wedding preparations on film is almost exactly like the shenanigans on Say Yes to the Dress (the show has enjoyed an eight season run, and also spawned a heinous amount of spin-offs, Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta, Say Yes to the Dress: Bridesmaids, Bridal School, Something Borrowed, Something New.) In the book, Mouse seems a little unhinged; in fact, she was just way ahead of her time.
Do you consider yourself a satirist or a futurist?
Given that satire is dead (even more so than print), I would have to go with futurist.
This was your second novel, published twenty-three years ago. Amuse us with some olde tyme publishing recollections.
When I’m on point I write a thousand words a day. The book took me about 14 months to write, which I did on a KayPro PC (286i, 8 MHz, 640KB + 128KB RAM) I worked from about 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. five days a week. My biggest temptation in the morning was whether to distract myself by reading the Arts section of the newspaper before I sat down to work. After I finished the book, I was granted access to my father-in-law’s “professional” office printer. I stood at the end of the machine, feeding in each page, one by one. I then drove to Kinko’s, rushing to get there before the 4:30 cut off for FedEx. I Xeroxed the manuscript then paid $13ish dollars to send it to my editor, Stacy Creamer, at Putnam’s for afternoon afternoon delivery. I sat back and waited for her to read it and call me, which she did in three days time. It was a monstrous pain in the ass. On the other hand, the stateliness of the process as fixed the completion of the book in my memory for all time, something that has never happened once since the advent of attaching a Word doc and hitting SEND.
There is a dog called Sniffy Voyeur in the novel. Is it based on a real dog, or is it a composite dog?
He was not a composite dog, but based one hundred percent on the dog we had at the time, Barney, a shepherd collie mix rescue. We called him Sniffy Voyeur because he never met a shrub he didn’t like, and he also liked to stop on walks and peer into the neighbor’s windows. There is nothing more satisfying than writing about your dog; you never have to worry that he’ll hate you for it, or sue you.
You were recently selected as one of 24 writers for the Amtrak Residency for writers. Do you get motion sick?
I’ve been known to get a little queasy on those European bullet trains, but I think I’ll be safe on Amtrak. I once read that Balzac — or maybe Zola — used to go to his office above a row of shops on main street, where he would take off his pants and give them to his valet, who would take them and go away for a pre-determined number of hours, then return with the pants when Balzac or Zola had completed his daily quota. This way, the writer couldn’t leave until his work was done. The Amtrak Residency operates on the same principle: pre-determined entrapment, with a view.
You’ve been writing for almost twenty-five years and still haven’t found a better way to make a living. Any advice for emerging writers?
Know some things. Have interests. Develop ideas. Read. For a portion of the day, turn off the internet. Get a dog who needs a daily walk. Know that it’s hard for everyone, that every other writer deserves more attention than they’re receiving, and that even if one person reads your work and is touched by it, you’ve succeeded.
According to a chart that recently made the rounds on social media, 42% of college graduates never read another book after college and 70% of US adults haven’t been in a bookstore in the last five years. Why does anyone need a novel published in 1991?
Never forget, 87% of statistics are made up on the spot.
KAREN KARBO is the author of fourteen award-winning novels, memoirs and works of non-fiction including the best-selling “Kick Ass Women” series. Her 2004 memoir, The Stuff of Life, was a New York Times Notable Book, a Books for a Better Life Award finalist, and winner of the Oregon Book Award for Creative Non-fiction. A recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Fiction, Karen’s three adults novels have also been named New York Times Notable Books. Her short stories, essays, articles and reviews have appeared in Elle, Vogue, O, Esquire, Outside, The New York Times, salon.com and other magazines. Recently, she was one of 24 writers selected for the Amtrak Residency.