Aja Gabel, UH Creative Writing Program alum, sells first novel to Riverhead Books

October 24, 2016, by

Aja GabelAja Gabel, University of Houston Creative Program PhD, Class of 2015, has sold her first novel, In Common Time, to Riverhead Books, where it will be published next year. We caught up with Aja in the calm before the storm of her literary debut. Some of you may know Aja as the recipient of the Inprint C. Glenn Cambor/Fondren Foundaiton Fellowship, winner of an Inprint Donald Barthelme Prize in Nonfiction, and winner of an Inprint Alexander Prize in Fiction. Aja also taught writing workshops for Inprint and was one of Inprint’s beloved live tweeters.

MAT JOHNSON: Congrats on placing you first book with the prestigious Riverhead imprint of Penguin Random House! Can you tell me, what’s the novel about? Did you start this book at the writing program, or after?

AJA GABEL: Thanks! The novel is about a string quartet, and how they manage their personal relationships as they battle for professional success. Each member desperately needs the quartet to succeed, but for very different and secret reasons, and along the way they navigate heartbreak, death, birth, marriage, injury, failure, and more. It’s told from all four of their perspectives and covers about 25 years. I played cello for 20 years, and I’ve always been fascinated as to how professional ensembles make a living together while also maintaining relationships with each other. It seems like it must be full of all kinds of turmoil and drama (hence, the novel).

I came up with the idea in the very first workshop I took with Chitra Divakaruni, when she forced us to pitch novels, and I panicked. That synopsis I pitched back then was so silly, but the general idea stayed with me. It took me a few years, but eventually I figured out how to actually make it into a novel that didn’t sound like a Lifetime movie. Hopefully.  Continue reading

Another Country, Near and Far: Henríquez and James Read in H-Town

April 28, 2015, by

RM3_7327Once again, I am running late, headlights mocking me as I creep up 59.  But then, a break, and I fly to Louisiana Street and head to a restaurant for Inprint’s Books & Bellinis, a young professionals mixer, before the Inprint reading.  My Multicultural Literature students are coming tonight, too.  We are all excited: we do not know these writers reading tonight.

What I mean is that we don’t know them yet.

I meet some new friends—or writers I know from Facebook–in person, and let me tell you, in person is better.  Two of my friends win books at the party and I feel happy for them:  what is better than a new book, by a new writer, that you have never read?

Well, not much.

I walk with my friend Elizabeth to The Wortham Center and see my students.  They look so grown up to me—we have read a lot of books together.  Some of them are graduating in May.  I am not sure if I am ready for it, not sure if I am ready for them to emigrate from the benevolent despotism of my classroom to The Next Big Thing.  No wonder people stay in college forever.  There are worse countries to visit, hang around, linger.  Everyone migrates somewhere; even the suburbs of Houston seem like independent states sometimes, each a new country, with languages that I cannot recognize at times.  That is because so many people from so many different countries come to Houston:  it is ever changing, kaleidoscopic, never boring. Continue reading

In her 90s, Tonja Koeppel publishes The Bell File

December 4, 2012, by

Through my work at Inprint, I have been very fortunate, as have many Houstonians, to meet some of the greatest writers of our times—John Updike, Carlos Fuentes, Jhumpa Lahiri, Salman Rushdie, Gary Shteyngart, Junot Diaz, the list goes on. My friends often joke about the seemingly glamorous nature of my job. In all honesty, as exciting as it is to meet a writer you have admired for many years, what inspires me the most about my work at Inprint is the opportunity to engage with all the talented local writers I get the chance to meet, writers from all walks of life who share their imaginative fiction and poetry with us while residing in our beloved city.

Earlier this fall, I had the privilege of meeting a fascinating local writer, Tonja Koeppel, who in her 90s, just published her third novel, The Bell File. Genuine, graceful, and very sharp, Tonja came to creative writing later in her life. She began her career by working as a science writer for newspapers and magazines in Switzerland where she was born and grew up. When she came to the United States, she taught chemistry at a university in New Jersey. After she retired, she signed up for a writing course at Rice University which then launched her writing life.  Her other novels include Astral Twin and Secret of Adamant House. The Bell File is her first self-published novel through Amazon.  Continue reading

“Readers,” Junot Diaz said, “are just happy to see you.”

October 5, 2012, by

Last Monday, over a thousand of us were. We’d come to Wortham Center to see him open the 32nd year of the Inprint Margarett Root Brown Reading Series. Diaz—whose 2008 trip was nixed by Hurricane Ike—took the stage wearing dark jeans and running shoes. (Those of us who by now have read his latest collection, This is How You Lose Her, might be forgiven the desire to conflate these running shoes with Yunior’s, he of the depression-abating miles logged along the Charles River and the ruinous plantar fasciitis.)

Diaz shaded his eyes and looked into the crowd. He’d given readings, he said, at which the only people were his best friend and the guy’s fiancee, who would dump him later that night. After thanking us for coming and thanking Inprint for, as he said, “just existing,” then playfully cursing his favorite bookstore—“Damn you, Brazos,” he said. “I spent $300 there today”—Diaz read two short sections from This is How You Lose Her. Continue reading

On Writing Workshops

August 13, 2012, by

Tuesday, August 14th at noon Inprint begins online registration for its Fall 2012 Writers Workshops. All of our writing instructors have been students in a workshop in the past, either at the university level, or in another format. We thought it would be fun to hear what they have to say about writing workshops and why they can be meaningful. Here, Allyn West, who will be teaching a Personal Essay workshop this fall, shares his insights.

Do you want to know the secret to becoming a  writer? The one thing all writers everywhere want to know how to do?

You write.

But—then what? Unless you’re Zadie Smith or Junot Diaz, with major publishing houses clamoring even for your grocery lists, you will have all these pages and nothing to do with them, stumped by your questions about them. Are they any good? And how can I turn them into something—more? Continue reading