Andrew Ladd wins AWP Novel Award: A Q & A with one of our own

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Ploughshares is thrilled to announce that the winner of the AWP Award for the novel is none other than our beloved book reviews editor, Andrew Ladd. The award is part of the AWP Award Series, an annual competition for new, outstanding book-length work in the genres of the novel, creative nonfiction, poetry, and short stories. Andrew Ladd’s winning manuscript is entitled What Ends. Judge Kathryn Davis called his work a “remarkable, haunting novel,” in which “’time isn’t passing, it’s circling,’ and the story of one family’s life on a Hebridean island becomes an apocalyptic vision of what it means to live in time, that ‘blink of stone on a giant sea.'” We talked with Andrew about his writing process, the excitement of a first publication, and plans for the future.

Ploughshares: First of all, congratulations on this incredible honor. Can you tell us a little about What Ends, the novel that won you this award?

Andrew Ladd: What Ends is set on a fictional island in the Hebrides, a real archipelago of more than a hundred off the west coast of Scotland. In the past, many of the Hebrides held thriving communities of fishers and crofters — small-scale farmers — but in recent years their populations have dwindled and on some islands disappeared completely. What Ends traces about thirty years in one of these vanishing communities, focusing in particular on one family, the McClouds, and the various social pressures that compel each of them to stay or leave.

PS: And this will be your first published novel?

AL: It will be, and I couldn’t be more excited about it! I’ll also have some shorter work appearing in print in magazines over the next few months — a short story in the September/October issue of CICADA, and an essay early next year in Memoir (And).

PS: What Ends began as your master’s thesis, if I’m not mistaken. How long has this project been in the making? How has it changed throughout the writing process?

AL: My master’s thesis actually started off as an entirely different project! I was taking a “Writing the First Novel” class at Emerson in January 2008, and was about two-and-a-half chapters into another book — a novel based on an obscure piece of Canadian immigration history — when I found out that Deepa Mehta, director of the Oscar-nominated Water, was making a movie about exactly the same thing. I decided I didn’t want that kind of competition for what I was hoping would be my first book, but because I was in the novel-writing class I had to keep producing pages of SOMETHING each month — so I frantically flipped through my ideas notebook and settled on developing this story about struggling island communities, which I’d first started as a writing exercise in a short story class my sophomore year of college.

Anyway, I began the first real draft of What Ends in February 2008, finished it in the summer of 2009, and then did a complete second draft in just three months for my master’s thesis, which I submitted in December 2009. Since then it’s been through two more complete redrafts, and I’ve been actively submitting it to agents, contests, and small presses since the beginning of 2011.

Incidentally, Deepa Mehta’s movie has since been abandoned, as far as I can tell. But I guess I’m grateful that she was considering it back when I started on my thesis!

PS: Certainly. And you can always resurrect that first idea for your next novel. So, the award is a huge honor, but you must get more than street cred. What else comes with this prize? Is there a monetary award?

AL: The main prize is publication of the novel by New Issues Press, but there’s also a $2,500 honorarium. I’m planning to put it more or less entirely towards my wedding in November…

PS: That calls for a second congratulations! These are some exciting months you have ahead. Aside from wedding bells, what’s next? What is the publication process like and when will the book be available?

AL: As far as I know, the book is being published in Spring 2014, just in time for the AWP conference in Seattle— where I’ll be reading from the finished product. I’ve only just started emailing with New Issues, so I don’t know much else about the process, but they’ve already given me some author questionnaires as “homework” to start on over the summer. Basically I’m giving them a whole bunch of information so they can start planning the cover and how they’re going to market the book when it’s ready.

PS: Are you at work on another novel in the meantime?

AL: In the meantime, I’m already about a third of a way through the first draft of another book, which is a collection of thematically linked short stories about immigration in America. They’re entirely inspired by my current day job as an immigration paralegal, though thinking about it now it seems like maybe I’m setting myself up to get scooped by Deepa Mehta again!

PS: Do you think this award will benefit you in ways beyond the stipulated perks? I.e. getting an agent, easing future publication process.

AL: Gosh, I really hope so! But I’ve been getting rejections from journals and agents for so many years now — and have sent my fair share, working for Ploughshares — that I have no illusions about the publishing world. The actual writing part is easy compared to all the work that goes into getting yourself into print…

PS: What else would you like to share with us about this process?

AL: Only how lucky I was to work with Margot Livesey as a thesis chair on the early drafts. She was enormously patient and generous and helpful, and though the book has changed a great deal since the last draft she read, it could never have gotten to this stage without her. (There are dozens of other people who helped me get the book in shape too, of course, but I’ll save them for my acknowledgements section!)

PS: And we’ll look forward to reading them then! Thanks for talking to us, and congratulations again! We’ll see you around the blog.

Photo Credits: Wikicommons, AWP, New Issues Press.