By Adrienne Mand Lewin
Curran really appreciates the congratulatory e-mails she
receives from teenage girls who've fallen in love with her debut novel,
"Whores on the Hill." She's just surprised that so many
are reading it.
me, it's not young-adult literature," Curran says of the tale
of teenage angst, sex and life in '80s suburbia. "If I did [mean
it to be,] I wouldn't have called it 'Whores on the Hill.' I would
have toned it down."
in May 2005 to much critical acclaim and named one of NPR's "best
debuts," "Whores on the Hill" reminds Curran of books
like Curtis Sittenfeld's "Prep" and William Golding's "Lord
of the Flies" that have young characters but were written "with
a narrative distance and language style that make it adult."
think it's a fine line between young adult and adult," she says,
adding, "Sometimes I do see the book in the young adult section
at the library and I just think it's wrong. I would have written it
differently. It doesn't mean that I don't think it's appropriate for
15-year-old girls, but I think more mature readers should be reading
was taken aback by the reaction in her hometown of Milwaukee, where
the novel is set at a girls' Catholic school and there was speculation
that its provocative characters and events were based on real circumstances.
think it's so obvious that it's fiction," she says. "I didn't
base it on my experience. I didn't base it on my high school. I was
quite surprised that people really did think this stuff was real -
it's pretty wild stuff."
says she enjoyed getting to know her heroines Astrid, Juli and Thisbe.
"I really liked writing it. I really liked the girls. I was really
swept up in their world. I felt a spark with it that I only had with
my best short stories."
took some chances and had fun with the writing, including such formats
as an interview and a quiz, satirical takeoffs on teen magazine staples.
"I get pleasure experimenting with prose styles, trying out new
language," she says.
the success of "Whores on the Hill," Curran was in a position
that many writers can empathize with: having a graduate degree and
a desk full of work but nothing published.
attending the MFA program in creative writing at Virginia Commonwealth
University in Richmond, Curran taught composition for a year before
joining the Web site Richmond.com, where she covered arts and entertainment.
She currently works at the Richmond Times Dispatch Web site covering
a full-time job, Curran had a set writing routine while working on
her first novel. "I'd get up at 5, write until 7:30, go to work.
On really good days, I'd hit it again at home in the evenings."
she describes herself as a night person, the early routine was a necessity,
she says. After a friend told her to quit writing since she hadn't
had any success with it, "I was so insulted by that, so upset
because I felt like I am a writer. It really forced me to say, 'I'm
going to try this getting up in the morning and see if it works.'
My brain is kind of more open. I'm not as stressed out. I don't have
all the worries of the day."
says getting an agent "took a long time - kind of like building
a fire, building a resume."
did feel like I'd been at this since I was a teenager. I went to grad
school, graduated from grad school and still didn't have any published
short stories. I felt pretty much like a failure."
began to change when she had a short story published in Jane magazine's
fiction contest. From there, she had a few pieces picked up in literary
magazines and then the anthology "The Dictionary of Failed Relationships:
26 Tales of Love Gone Wrong."
knew that finally I had a good base to say I've been published."
she'd written her third or fourth draft of "Whores on the Hill"
and thought it was done, Curran went through all of her favorite books
and wrote a list of agents to contact based on who writes like her
and what kind of company she would like to be in.
she wanted to be represented by Eric Simonoff, a literary agent with
Janklow & Nesbit Associates in Manhattan, based on his reputation
and client list. She'd gotten an offer from another agent, but when
Simonoff suggested revisions she turned it down to work with him.
Four months later, she had cut 100 pages, written 150 more and finished
the book. He sold it in a week.
good to work with people that you trust and people that you like,"
she says, adding that writers have to be "very careful who they
sign with. Other people went with agents who were first responders.
They didn't get book deals and are in really difficult positions.
They can't shop the book again and can't get another agent. Be careful."
"Whores on the Hill," Curran edited the anthology "Altared:
Bridezillas, Bewilderment, Big Love, Breakups, and What Women Really
Think About Contemporary Weddings." The idea grew from her own
reluctance to plan her nuptials, which eventually took place in 2006.
whole idea of plans and the wedding itself seemed really outmoded
and daunting," she says, adding, "I was just thinking, 'How
do other women deal with it?' I wanted to hear from other women, women
who had strong careers and independent wills and never really fantasized
about the big day."
to assembling some excellent essays, she says, the process was cathartic.
really helped me come to grips with planning my own wedding,"
Curran says. "That's really what working on a book for me is
all about - coming to grips with something that won't let you sleep
Curran is working on short stories about women in their 20s and 30s,
as well as a few novel projects. Without divulging specifics, she
says they deal with women and their jobs, money, relationships, kids
writing a part each day.
me, working every day really seems to be the best way to go,"
she says. "I get nervous about writing. I get scared about it,
scared to sit down, scared I'm going to write another horrible short
story, scared I'm going to write another page of just terrible, terrible
if you write every day, then it's not as bad because you can have
some really bad days but you can have some good days, too."