Pigeon Pages Interview with Erin Hosier
Do you have a bird story or favorite feathered friend?
A few thoughts on birds:
My book has a Beatles theme so a blackbird is always going to be a go-to fave. "Bird" is another word for "Girl" in England, so that's another subject that's always on my mind.
I know it’s bad, but I often dream about wearing some extravagant ostrich feather collar from the Edwardian era, or a plumed hat by Philip Treacy. It’s so dramatic and unnecessary but I am vain and love fashion.
All birds are a bad omen in horror movies, of which I watch too many. And also in television dramas such as in the final season of Six Feet Under when Nate kills the innocent bird that accidentally gets trapped in the house the night of his 40th birthday party. [Spoiler alert] I knew then that Nate was a goner, too.
My folks live in the woods in Ohio and a popular birdcall in those parts is that of a pileated woodpecker, which my mom and I have perfected a version of and now use as a way to annoy our respective cats and communicate with each other across one side of the house to the other. Highly recommend attempting to perfect a bird call before you die.
What is your most memorable reading experience?
As an agent it was Koren Zailckas's sample writing that came through the agency slush pile in like, 2002. It had the genesis of what would one day become a memoir called Smashed about girls and drinking. That was exciting because it was the first time I had the sensation that I knew exactly who the audience was for a book (me) and what it needed to break through. Indeed it hit the bestseller list when it was published in 2005. For fiction, it was reading Edan Lepucki's unsaleable debut novel in manuscript form, which I knew was too incendiary to be published but that the next one would be worth the exercise of trying. The next one was CALIFORNIA, which debuted at #3 on the NYTBL. I got to read Emma Straub's work when she was still in school - I knew she was the real deal, but timing is everything in publishing, and everything takes longer than you could ever imagine.
Separate from agenting, I was quite inspired as a young person by the erotic trash of V.C. Andrews. Like Flowers in the Attic, but also the lesser works such as My Sweet Audrina or Heaven. As a teenager I discovered the very dark poetry of Sharon Olds— that was a game-changer in terms of understanding that something so spare could leave you with such indelible images. I don't think I really had a favorite favorite book until someone gave me their extra copy of Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son in 2000 which I read in one sitting even though I never do that and I don't love short stories. (This answer is exactly as surprising as Rolling Stone naming "A Day in the Life" the greatest all-time Beatles song, I realize, but now I always have an extra paperback for that one person who still hasn't read it.)
What makes you most excited about Don’t Let Me Down?
The current absence of therapy bills. My work there is done!
To tweet or not to tweet?
I will never, ever have a Twitter account. I get my Twitter news from the professionally curated offerings featured in every article on dailymail.co.uk.
What books do you have in your bag right now?
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande on a Kindle, and two galleys for upcoming nonfiction - Three Women by Lisa Taddeo and All That You Leave Behind by Erin Carr.
Can you tell us your favorite rejection story?
Yes! As an agent I am always the first to receive an editor's pass on behalf of the writer, so I have a very thick skin and I've seen the whole range of "no," from genuinely kind and thoughtful, to meh, to some real doozies that you generally have to chalk up to, Maybe this person needs a meds adjustment and will be in a better mood next time. Agents must take it in stride and move on to the next; there are only so many editors to submit to, and in many cases we're friends outside of our deal-making responsibilities.
Before I had ever contemplated writing a book of my own, I was encouraged to give it a try by two different editors at separate publishing houses. Both were so solicitous and encouraging and excited, even asking for early exclusives of absolutely anything I could produce - it was that rare feeling of, Wow, maybe I really am just that fucking good. Six months later my agent sends around the proposal for what would become Don't Let Me Down to those two editors along with a bunch of others, as is customary. The reads were quick, the inevitable passes were kind and thoughtful, and some people seemed to like it enough that I felt like it would sell, and it did. But what of those two original editors, the ones who had been so into me in the first place? Ghost town, USA: both. Then, when pressed by my agent in the interest of closure, each gave essentially the same unsolicited advice with their rejections, that maybe I wasn't a good enough writer after all. That there might be an audience out there for "this kind" of story, but they couldn't identify it and maybe I should stick to the behind-the-scenes work. For several days I was devastated by this, irrationally angry, paranoid and confused. Whatever the intended message, what I heard was stop writing from the very people who'd just told me to start. Even though I wanted to defend myself, I had to take my own advice to let it be— not everyone is going to get you and this is part of it— writers don't get to argue with their readers. Since that happened like 8 years ago, I have continued to have a working relationship with one of these people, but the other one just fell out of my orbit completely (though continues to exist!). In neither case has anyone ever brought up the subject of my book again. Good times.
What literary journals do you love?
I know you mean like, Tin House (because of course), but my preferred concept of a literary journal is The Andy Warhol Diaries. I need gossip and a food log.
What shakes your tail feathers?
What advice do you have for fledgling writers?
Give in. Accept that you're doomed to be a person who has to exhaustively rehash an idea or a memory or an image you can't get out of your mind, and that this is necessarily very lonely, interior work that people who like not to be sedentary or poor all the time really don't understand. Accept that you probably won't be published in the manner you'd prefer— or at all— and that this is not really the point of writing. You don't need an MFA. Even if you write professionally, you probably need another job. A side hustle is where you'll get your best ideas anyway. Get some therapy if you can afford it, even if you're just "researching a character." If you're struggling with anxiety or depression, which go hand in hand with the compulsion to write (or think), reach out to your fellow writers and talk about it. It is not your job to suffer. Read for pleasure. And this is important: write letters to strangers. If you read something great, whether it's a tweet or an article or a book, find a way to reach out to that person and tell them that you read it, tell them what you liked about it and thank them for writing it. Two or three lines is all it takes— that kind of unsolicited feedback is what we're all living for— pay it forward and you will find that you're already part of a community.
What other eggs do you have in your basket right now?
Erin Hosier is the author of the memoir Don't Let Me Down (Atria, 2019), and the coauthor of Hit So Hard by Patty Schemel (Da Capo, 2017). She has been a literary agent since 2001 (currently with Dunow Carlson & Lerner), and was an original co-host of the Literary Death Match. As an agent, she primarily works with authors of nonfiction and has a special interest in popular culture, music biography, humor, and women's history (and untold stories of all kinds). In general, novels with happy endings put her in a bad mood. She grew up in rural Ohio, and lives in Brooklyn.