Author, Editor, AND Screenwriter: An Interview with Preconference Academy Instructor, David Ebershoff

The Historical Novel Society is excited to welcome back David Ebershoff as a special guest. This year he is providing instruction at our Preconference Academy with two workshops entitled: “Costume Drama: Adapting (Historical) Fiction for the Screen” and “Ask An Editor: Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know (But Might Have Been Afraid to Ask) about the Editor-Author Relationship.”  Today, David visits our blog to pique our interest in his workshops.

David EbershoffAs an editor at Random House, you worked with dozens of NYT bestselling authors before becoming a bestselling author in your own right. What kind of qualities does an editor need to be successful? What kind of qualities does an author need? How much do the lists overlap?
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DE: That’s a big question and is the core of what we’ll be talking about in the workshop — so I hope you come and listen. But I’ll give you a quick answer: I think an editor has to know him/herself. An editor has to trust his/her own judgment and listen to the gut. Of course an editor should seek out opinions and advice, but ultimately the editor has to believe in a manuscript as much as the author, and sometimes even more. For an author, perhaps the answer is the same. An author should be writing a story that he/she can’t shake and must tell and believes in down to the cells. Authors must know listen closely to their instincts about their work.


In your preconference workshop “Ask an Editor,” you’re going to share what’s really going on inside a large publishing house and give attendees the opportunity to look behind the curtain at the editing process. What’s the number one thing that new authors are surprised to learn about the editing process?

DE: Writers were often surprised by how intimate the work is and how much attention the editor brings to the manuscript, for as long as it takes. There’s an old saw that editors no longer edit, but I worked at Random House for 20 years and I only witnessed the opposite: editors working very hard on their authors’ behalf.


Danish GirlIn your workshop “Costume Drama: Adapting (Historical) Fiction for the Screen,” you’re going to explain what makes a good book-to-screen adaptation. Can you share one or two of your favorite screen adaptations of classic books with a few comments on what makes them shine? 

DE: The best adaptations often respect the source material, but don’t revere it. By this I mean the screenwriter isn’t afraid to bring his/her own perspective and ideas to the adaptation. The page and the screen are (obviously) very different. Therefore what works on the page might not work on the screen. Some of my favorite recent adaptations include Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Blackkklansman, and If Beale Street Could Talk.


Thank you for joining us, David, and giving us a glimpse of some of the gems of knowledge you’ll be sharing in your preconference workshops. There is still room in both of these Thursday workshops for our HNS2019 attendees. If you’ve already registered for the conference but now want to add a workshop, you can log back in to your registration to make changes. See you in June!

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