Braden Smith – culture editor. What do English professors do in their spare time? They write books, of course.
Assistant Professor of English Anna Keesey recently had her first novel selected for publishing and signed.
The book, titled “Little Century,” is set in a central Oregon town of the same name at the turn of the 20th century.
Keesey described the it as a coming-of-age story amid a backdrop of vicious, local competition for land and water.
As it intensifies, relationships between the government, cattle herders and farmers become strained to a breaking point, resulting in murder.
Keesey said she wanted to write the book because she often visited central Oregon as a child and loved it. This adoration encouraged her to research and learn more about central Oregon’s history, which provided her with a setting for the novel.
Keesey said she was also inspired by anecdotes and interesting stories about the early frontier.
She said it was helpful to write about a place she only partially knew, adding that it would be difficult to write about a place she already knew well because she would already have an overwhelming amount of information.
Keesey said she drew inspiration from novels about the West, particularly ones that brought up its loneliness. She said the story and prose styles of “O Pioneers!,” a novel by Willa Cather, who often wrote of frontier life, influenced her writing. Marilynne Robinson, who wrote “Housekeeping” and taught Keesey at the University of Iowa, was also an impact.
Keesey also said she appreciates the works of 19th-century women writers such as Charlotte Brontë, author of “Jane Eyre.”
“I [also] like to read 18th- and 19th-century women’s letters and diaries who never wrote anything else in their entire lives,” Keesey said.
In regards to getting her book published, Keesey said the overall process went smoothly.
“The problem for me was getting it finished,” she said.
The first step in publishing a book is to find an agent. Keesey said she was thankful to have an agent who was referred to her by another writer.
“I got a talented, thorough and energetic agent who knew whom to take the book to,” she said.
Keesey emphasized the importance of having a trustworthy agent because of the pivotal role he or she has in the life of a book.
Her agent persuaded the publishing company Farrar, Straus and Giroux to publish “Little Century.” She said she felt lucky to have signed with this publisher, which has a reputation for publishing more literary, sophisticated books and a lack of commercial fiction.
Founded in 1946, Farrar, Straus and Giroux has published the works of influential writers such as T.S. Eliot and Flannery O’Connor.
While Farrar, Straus and Giroux has agreed to publish the book, Keesey said that it will likely not appear on shelves until early 2011. The book is basically finished but still requires a small amount of editing.
Keesey said it was somewhat of a challenge writing a novel while working as a professor. She said it’s easier to write when time is available to be passive and receptive.
“Being a professor doesn’t allow me to live in a parallel life [with the time] to make crap up,” she said.
However, she noted that her position allows her to be around bright minds all the time, and it keeps her in touch with the language, which helps her writing.
Although Keesey said that writing “Little Century” at her age is pretty late for a first novel, she did hint at the possibility of more books in the future.
“There’s a swirl of images and ideas circulating in my brain involving mermaids and the Patriot Act and the Gulf of California,” she said.
She said that water would probably be a continuing theme.