A Note from Jane Pek, Author of our February Pick, The Verifiers:
I'm a Singaporean author and lawyer based in New York. My debut novel, The Verifiers, is a literary mystery featuring an online-dating detective agency and a complicated Asian immigrant family. The Verifiers was a New York Times Editors' Choice, an Indie Next and LibraryReads pick, and – most excitingly – a Phenomenal Book Club selection. I met Melissa several years ago at the Tin House Summer Workshop, back when I was at the very beginning of my own writing journey. Melissa and I were in the same novel-writing class, and I still remember the chapter from A Tiny Upward Shove that she workshopped – its emotional punch, and how it dealt with topics that are difficult to contemplate, let alone portray. I was thrilled to find out that Melissa had completed her novel – and that Phenomenal chose it for their book club!
The following questions were written from Jane to Melissa.
I still remember reading a chapter from “A Tiny Upward Shove” in our novel-writing workshop. what has the journey of this novel been like, in terms of writing it and getting it published?
Oh wow, you have a great memory. It’s true I workshopped this novel at Tin House twice. Then I pitched it to 100 agents, and came really close with a couple but they all offered generous feedback on what they felt the novel needed. I spent a summer workshopping it again in Iowa, went back to those agents and landed my agent Ellen Levine. Then when I was on a plane to Bread Loaf to try to pitch my novel to editors while it was out to market, I was seated beside my editor I have now. It’s been a rather extensive revision process, seven years of back and forth edits. So on the one hand I feel grateful for the attention from my editor; as Simone Weil wrote, “attention is the rarest form of generosity.” That said, I did spend a big chunk of time avoiding parties and social gatherings where folks would ask me, “How’s the book?”
What was the inspiration behind “A Tiny Upward Shove?”
Well it started as autofiction, but as I was pushed to remedy some wrinkles in the point of view and perspective, and add zhoosh to the plot, I knew I was going to have to incorporate and unpack the role of the aswang. Also, I was reporting on a particularly harrowing case within the child welfare system at the time and I wanted my project to trouble our ideas of mercy and justice more.
I love how “A Tiny Upward Shove” incorporates elements of magical realism and Filipino folklore into a novel that is so harrowingly rooted in our reality. Could you talk about how you decided to tell this story in the way you did, and why?
As someone who writes nonfiction and journalism, when I approach a project I often try to think about what container I will use to tell that story, depending upon my intention. (For example, if my intention is reform or impact, then often I will choose journalism.) In this case I wanted to tell a WHOLE story, the way only fiction can, and magic seemed the best way to achieve that.
What was the biggest challenge in writing “A Tiny Upward Shove”, and how were you able to overcome it?
Well, like I said I was in edits for a long time, and I was changing while I was writing the book. I’m a different person than the one who wrote the earlier drafts. I had so much fear about that — well, I had so much fear about the whole thing. Was I enough? Could I write this book? Will people like it? I had to do a lot of internal work, like get sober and learn how to mature emotionally to sit in some of the discomforts of it all.
A Final Note from Jane:
A Tiny Upward Shove is a powerful, shocking, heartbreaking novel, one that combines the fantastical with the harshness of reality, lyrical writing with the depiction of horrific events. Do pick it up at your local bookstore — some of my own favorite places are Books Are Magic and Yu and Me Books in New York City, Loyalty Bookstore in DC and Silver Springs, The Novel Neighbor in St. Louis, RJ Julia in Madison and Middletown, Connecticut, The Writer's Block in Las Vegas, and the list goes on...