Read and Write with Natasha

The challenge of writing a culture different from your own with Pauls Toutonghi

December 17, 2023 Natasha Tynes Episode 41
The challenge of writing a culture different from your own with Pauls Toutonghi
Read and Write with Natasha
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Read and Write with Natasha
The challenge of writing a culture different from your own with Pauls Toutonghi
Dec 17, 2023 Episode 41
Natasha Tynes

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Pauls Toutonghi is the Pushcart Prize-winning author of the acclaimed novels Red Weather and Evel Knievel Days. He was born in Seattle, Washington, to an Egyptian father and a Latvian mother.

His latest novel is The Refugee Ocean.

In this episode, we explore various facets of writing, publishing, and the art of storytelling:

  • Exploring The Refugee Ocean:
    • A heartfelt tribute: Paul delves into how his novel serves as a poignant homage to his refugee parents, weaving their experiences and struggles into a compelling narrative.
  • Beyond a story: The book is portrayed not just as a literary work but as a medium to preserve and share the refugee experience, highlighting the transformative power of storytelling in capturing human emotions.

  • Insights into cultural identity and publishing:
    • Cultural nuances in writing: We discuss the complexities and sensitivities involved in writing about cultures different from one's own and the responsibilities that come with it.

    • Publishing’s Cultural Lens: Paul shares his perspective on how cultural identity influences the publishing world, from author representation to thematic trends.
  • Behind the scenes of the publishing industry:
    • The agent hunt: An in-depth look into the challenges authors face in finding the right literary agent and the strategies that can make this search more effective.

    • Social media impact: Paul gives insight into the surprising influence of platforms like TikTok on book marketing and sales, highlighting a modern twist in the traditional publishing journey.
  • The writer's journey:
    • Overcoming doubt: Our discussion emphasizes the common challenge of self-doubt among writers and the ways to navigate through it.
    • Learning and growing: The importance of continual learning, reading, and personal growth in the craft of writing is explored alongside tips for maintaining mental wellness and creative health.

Tune in to our discussion about the nuances of writing and publishing!


Support the Show.

****************************************************************************

➡️ P.S: If you find my content useful, you might want to check out my Substack newsletter, in which I talk and vent about the writing life:


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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Send us a Text Message.

Pauls Toutonghi is the Pushcart Prize-winning author of the acclaimed novels Red Weather and Evel Knievel Days. He was born in Seattle, Washington, to an Egyptian father and a Latvian mother.

His latest novel is The Refugee Ocean.

In this episode, we explore various facets of writing, publishing, and the art of storytelling:

  • Exploring The Refugee Ocean:
    • A heartfelt tribute: Paul delves into how his novel serves as a poignant homage to his refugee parents, weaving their experiences and struggles into a compelling narrative.
  • Beyond a story: The book is portrayed not just as a literary work but as a medium to preserve and share the refugee experience, highlighting the transformative power of storytelling in capturing human emotions.

  • Insights into cultural identity and publishing:
    • Cultural nuances in writing: We discuss the complexities and sensitivities involved in writing about cultures different from one's own and the responsibilities that come with it.

    • Publishing’s Cultural Lens: Paul shares his perspective on how cultural identity influences the publishing world, from author representation to thematic trends.
  • Behind the scenes of the publishing industry:
    • The agent hunt: An in-depth look into the challenges authors face in finding the right literary agent and the strategies that can make this search more effective.

    • Social media impact: Paul gives insight into the surprising influence of platforms like TikTok on book marketing and sales, highlighting a modern twist in the traditional publishing journey.
  • The writer's journey:
    • Overcoming doubt: Our discussion emphasizes the common challenge of self-doubt among writers and the ways to navigate through it.
    • Learning and growing: The importance of continual learning, reading, and personal growth in the craft of writing is explored alongside tips for maintaining mental wellness and creative health.

Tune in to our discussion about the nuances of writing and publishing!


Support the Show.

****************************************************************************

➡️ P.S: If you find my content useful, you might want to check out my Substack newsletter, in which I talk and vent about the writing life:


Speaker 1:

You are vulnerable as a writer to destruction if you do not, if you don't have that tie, and in fact so I felt that really strongly because I follow Marguerite's story. And then she went to Cuba. I mean, this really actually happened. She went to Cuba, so I had, I was like, well, I'd like to write this section of her life in Cuba. She went to Cuba at a time when you know, it was right before the revolution, what happened? And so I imagined that and I followed her and how, you know, did she learn Spanish? How did she? How was she? How did she learn Spanish? How? What was her life like? What was her daily life like? I wrote hundreds of pages.

Speaker 2:

Hi friends, this is Read and Write with Natasha podcast. My name is Natasha Tynes and I'm an author and a journalist. In this channel I talk about the writing life, review books and interview authors. Hope you enjoy the journey. Hi everyone, and welcome to another episode of Read and Write with Natasha. I'm so happy to have with me today author Paul Tutange, or Tutange if you want to say in Arabic.

Speaker 2:

He was born in 1976 to an Arab father and a Latvian mother. His work has been published in the New York Times Granta, among others. He won a push cart prize and his latest novel, the Refugee Ocean, was published by Simon and Schuster. So, paul, so happy to have you here. I read your book and thank you very much, and I'm so excited to talk about it. I have lots of notes here. I started really hard, so thank you for having me. Paul, thank you for agreeing to chat with me. So, paul, I think my first question is just to tell us what your book is about. I mean, I know what it's about, but, for anyone who's listening or watching, if you can just tell them a bit about your book, the Refugee Ocean.

Speaker 1:

So the book is about two characters, two refugees in a sense, who are separated by 70 years, and they are both musicians. Marguerite Tutange she is born in Beirut, in Lebanon, and she has a very restrictive family. She was very much modeled after my own family and in fact some of her father's quotes are exact, direct quotes from my father. But so she grows up there and she leaves her cultural context for reasons that I don't want to spoil too much, and flees across the ocean.

Speaker 1:

And then the second character is Naim Raheel, and he's born in Aleppo in the present day and is a refugee from that conflict, loses his family in the conflict, ends up in a refugee camp and then comes to the United States where he settles in the Washington DC area. And it's about he's a musician and he interacts with Marguerite around the idea of music and art and art's sort of power to transcend generations and to last over time. So the book is about loss and it's about love and the decisions that you make for love, and it's about music and time I guess all of these things.

Speaker 2:

So what made you write this book? I mean, compared to other work I read, Evil Can Evil Days and it kind of mirrors your life. In it. You know, half American, half Egyptian, and this one has is a different vibe and a different tone to it.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, a very different tone.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, so what inspired you to write about refugees and music? Are you a musician yourself?

Speaker 1:

Yeah, so both of my parents were refugees to the US. My mother was. She very much like the two characters in the book actually, because my mother fled from war. She was born in Latvia and she, when the Soviet Army came in in the last days of World War II, her mother, you know, scooped her up in her arms and basically left ahead of the army by a matter of days. They fled into Germany and they lived in refugee camps, displaced persons camps, in Germany for seven years before coming to the United States. And so that was very much. You know, that was her trajectory. It was what where she grew up. It was something that I knew pretty.

Speaker 1:

You know the stories that she told from that time and my dad's side of the family, you know they came to the US on Syrian refugee visas, despite coming from Egypt where they had lived for about 20 years before coming to the United States.

Speaker 1:

So they came in part because my aunt fell in love with an American GI and she kind of came to the United States and settled here and my grandfather said you know what will happen to her in the United States. She'll be divorced and murdered and you know everything imaginable will happen to her. And so he took the entire family and they came to the US. No money. They auctioned off all of their furniture to their friends, they held a raffle for their furniture and they bought the tickets on the SS Volcanoe and they came to the US on a ship. Much like Marguerite crosses the ocean on the SS Marine Carp. So it was so the sort of historical familial background for me, you know, one generation removed, which, as we talked about before we hit record, is a big deal. It's a big difference, you know. But that was always in the background and I kind of wanted to. I wanted to write about those things.

Speaker 2:

So one thing that really intrigued me and I have to put my glasses on because I'm an old lady- this is not true.

Speaker 1:

We're both born. We're born four days apart, in 1976. We are young. We have to believe that we are young, still very young.

Speaker 2:

True, true, you're very kind, but it says in dedication for my cousin, marguerite Tutangi, tutangi or Tutangi. So I was like, okay, wait a minute here. So this is kind of like you know, your name is Paulist Tutangi and this is for your cousin. Okay, that's good. And then we talk about another Marguerite here and she also in the book. Her name is Marguerite Tutangi. So you dedicate this book to a real life, marguerite Tutangi, and then you mark this book as fiction and your last name is Tutangi with H. So this kind of really confused me. I didn't know what was going on. So what were you thinking? What is the explanation for that?

Speaker 1:

no-transcript. You know, with the way I mean we, the way that we pronounce our name, comes in part because, you know, the Egyptian is a guh and so it's like a harder, yeah, a different dialect, and so they always so they grew up saying, you know, to Tunggi, but I, so I think that it's interesting with the idea of Margarit, and I was I actually, you know, just had a long exchange with one of my cousins and she said a different cousin, she said was this Uncle Edouard's daughter? And you know, and and I, was she murdered? Was she actually murdered? And because that is a thing that happens in the book, and so you know, this is a, she said it was very shocking to me to read this about our cousin, and I was thinking about that and I thought about the role of fiction in people's lives, and when we read books, I think that we want to believe that they're true, and I don't know why that is, and I think that that there's a natural impulse to believe that the stories that a storyteller is telling are true.

Speaker 1:

If someone says something to you, you want to believe in it. You don't want to think that, oh, this is an artifice or this is a. You know, not a, not just an earnest truth in some way, and so I think that that's an interesting thing, and I think it talks about the need that people feel to be close to stories, to understand stories, to be in in a space where, where they trust the voices that that are talking to them. In a novel, it's all fiction, everything is fiction. So that is an unstable space. It's an unstable space. So if you really follow it, you know that that that is a gesture, that's a pretty complex one. Dedicating the book to, to my, to my cousin, yeah.

Speaker 2:

So you're saying that Margarit Tutanji exists in real life and she's your cousin. But see it's, yeah, it's interesting.

Speaker 1:

It's interesting that you want to ask that. Right, you know it's like it's, so it's just interesting because every people want to know these things. And I mean, books are magic. They are magic, right, and so it's. And when I, when I was a kid, I I read these things and they transported me to some other place completely, and I wanted to look at this thing and and understand every aspect about it, and I just wanted to perform that trick for people that they performed for me as well. So they, yeah, they're very much, they're very much magic.

Speaker 2:

So okay. So the real story of Margarit is it similar to the one in in the book? Was she also your cousin? Was she also murdered?

Speaker 1:

But I mean I, you know, I don't. This is a good question. I don't, I don't I.

Speaker 2:

Was this messed with my head?

Speaker 1:

like.

Speaker 2:

I kept going back and forth like what, what's going on here? I want to know, like, tell me what happened to your cousin. I mean you opened that door. You have to explain it.

Speaker 1:

Well, I don't know that I do, though. I mean, I just see, here's the thing I appreciate the question and I respect the question and I know it's like a. It's such a if. If I asked a question to somebody and they said, you know, I don't want to answer that because of art, you know, I would think they're the an idiot, you know. But I think it's really important to not that. I think that, okay, I think there's a whole host of things going on here. One is how are books marketed? Books are marketed through identity. They're marketed through identity and that itself.

Speaker 1:

When you market identity, you flatten identity because it becomes a commodity. So then, the sense, your sense of who you are as a human being. I use my sense of who I am as a human being to sell, to sell something, to create a monetary thing. It's so disgusting. I just like, really. I mean like it, like I have a deep, but at the same time, there's no other choice that I have. I have no other choice because it's just been the way that I've been able to access the marketplace. So I desperately wanted to create books and writing for people and have them read it and have myself be a member of you know, have my name sit next to you know, on the bookshelf next to Tolstoy in the bookstores when people go into the bookstores, and I would do anything to get there, and so you know, it's just, that's the way that it worked. It worked. So I don't know, I don't know what to say. I wish I had this sort of.

Speaker 2:

So the answer is there's no answer. There's no answer. There's no answer. There's no answer. There's no answer, there's no answer.

Speaker 1:

He's a frustrating, frustrating, no answer.

Speaker 2:

No, it's, it's. It's like a typical politician answer. It's okay, I'll take it. I'll take it, let's move on.

Speaker 1:

Okay, let's move on.

Speaker 2:

Did. Did you get any feedback from the readers on the fact that your, your main character, shares the last name as the author?

Speaker 1:

Yes, Well, of course and I mean it was, she's very much based on my aunts. So this is, this is this is the, the, the family that, the family that is reflected in the book, is very much like my own family. We were a a very patriarchal family.

Speaker 2:

And you know where the, the.

Speaker 1:

There's a quote where the, where the uh, edouard says you know, as God was our father, the father is the God of the family, and that is a direct, exact quote from my father. My father said that in the context of an argument to us. You know, he said that exact thing, so that our family was very much that way and my aunts, who were all really interesting, you know, very intelligent, very, um, complex people, they, they, the main thing that their lives that were channeled toward, especially uh in Egypt, but then also when they came to the U S? Uh, was marriage. You know, they were going to get married and that was their, that was their path, that was what they had to do. And so, you know, so that was the, the sort of genesis of that family and the constriction that um, that Marguerite feels because she, she dreams of of being, having being a musician, having some other life, much like I did, where um, she wanted to be an artist and and and to follow that dream, and then that dream is taken away from her.

Speaker 2:

Hmm, so you realize that you kind of created a new genre here, you kind of meshed the fiction with nonfiction, and so you just let's call it a new term. It's called I don't know Metafiction, metafiction. Or yeah, it's a better fiction, or maybe the nonfiction fiction. Uh, what's interesting.

Speaker 1:

And I said, but I mean it is. There's all these different ways to think about it, because if you think about, marguerite Tatunji, with that spelling of the name, existed. You know in my family and it was, she was a person who existed in my family and born probably in roughly that time, in fact, that the ship's manifest is a real ship's manifest of from her life. So I know Simon and Schuster probably doesn't want me to say that, but you know, I, I, so I'm writing. I'm writing fiction about, about fiction, about real people.

Speaker 1:

And people do this with historical fiction all the time the. There's a theorist named Walter Benhamene and he has this quote that I really love, where he says that it is more arduous to honor the name of the. The memory of the nameless rather than the memory of the renowned historical construction should be devoted to the memory of the nameless. And, um, you know, and I think I think this is true, you know we have historical novels about King Henry the eighth, so why can't we have a historical novel about an average person who lived 70 years ago?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, it makes sense. I think the only for me, the only jarring point, if you want to call it jarring, was the fact that she, she shares your last name. Uh, and what did any readers comment on that? Or was it only me?

Speaker 1:

I'm just not picking here, oh no, I mean I think, yeah, well, my wife, who is funny, my wife is a writer and she went to the Iowa Writers Workshop. She's very, she's very trained, like a sort of classically trained writer, right, and she read it and she hated that. It was the, the uh, that it shared my character's name. And part of the reason that I did that, quite honestly, was because we're in an environment in publishing today where where cultural identity, like I said earlier, is the publishers need, desperately need, to have a sense of authenticity in cultural identity around the book for the most part. I mean, ben fountain just published a novel that's written from the perspective of a woman from Haiti, which is kind of shocking to me that he did that. But right now it just feels like the environment around books and writing is one where you need to have identity tie to the thing that you're writing about and it's just, it's so, it's, it is. You are vulnerable as a writer to destruction if you do not, if you don't have that tie. And in fact, so I felt that really strongly because I follow margaret story and then it she went to Cuba. I mean, this really actually happened, she went to Cuba.

Speaker 1:

So I had, I was like well, I'd like to write this section of her life in Cuba. She went to Cuba at a time when you know, it was right before the revolution, what happened, and so I imagine that and I followed her, and how you know, did she learn Spanish? How did she? How was she? How did she learn Spanish? How, you know how? What was her life like? What was her daily life like? I wrote hundreds of pages but then in the end I cut it because I was afraid that it would be sort of savage to buy critics, because I don't have any right to write something from a cultural position of, you know, a Cuban, cuban characters. You know, I don't like, how can I do that?

Speaker 2:

I can't do that because I'm so, so yeah, but you know you're bringing a case study like american dirt and what happened with the author of you know you follow.

Speaker 2:

But, yeah, but who decides that? Is it the twitter mob? Or the x mob, the elon mob? But I mean no, but, but really, who decides that? And what you did is reminds me of me being a journalist in the middle east. Yeah, which is I'm self-sensitive if I write this, the mojave or the intelligence after, and in your case, the mojave is the twitter at the council, right, and? And if I? And as as an author, you know, you're traditionally published and you have to follow the guidelines of your publisher. But I mean, until when we are gonna be following the gatekeepers who are following the trends on twitter, who are, mostly of them, are trolls who see the word as black and white and it's and they're. They're deciding the future of publishing and imposing self censorship in a country where first amendment is our institutional right, right, so for me it's like being back in the middle east, but the dictators are the twitter mob. And well, I agree with that. Why, why are we allowing?

Speaker 1:

well, I, I think, I actually, I mean, I think that what it is is, it's not, it's not like, it's not an intentional thing. I don't think that anybody sort of in publishing sat around and thought, well, we have to do this, or we have to, you know, move our, our acquisitions in this direction. It's just that it's the natural outcome of A many step process, and the first step was when people started using people's identity as a way to market their books, and so, as soon as that started happening, then the identity became incredibly important for sales, right. And then, once it became important for sales, it became important for acquisitions. And so once it's important for acquisitions, then you have All of the major publishers publishing in this certain way, and then prizes start following along. So you have, so it's, there's no, there's no way to sort of negotiate a territory that's, that's not kind of clouded by this, this fact of the market, this market pressure, and yes, I agree with you, it is self censorship and I mean it's really sad. I think that I love that.

Speaker 1:

I mean you look at, or elizabeth gilbert, who, just you know, she wrote a book set in in russia, but, like I, a group of angry ukrainians who hadn't read the book tore it apart on goodreads and she doesn't publish it. I mean, it's like it's just astonishing, right, it's astonishing and and I think that writers are very insecure we, at least I am very insecure and, you know, desperate for the public, for the approval of others, and I won't even try something if I know that it's not gonna, if it's not gonna be out there. I probably shouldn't be this honest, I think is a mistake. I should.

Speaker 2:

No, no, no, it's all about honesty here, but uh-oh, so no, I mean, I was thinking. This just inspired me to of course I don't have the funds but create a publishing house called the the anti-Twitter cancel culture, twitter publishing house, where people can write whatever they want to and I'm the editor tells them that there is no censorship. We don't care what the good readings are, we don't care what the Twitter mob says, but as long as you don't cross any legal boundaries, you can publish whatever you want to.

Speaker 2:

You can be a man who, uh, you know, writes from the perspective of a woman. You can be, you know, like anything you want to do.

Speaker 1:

Right.

Speaker 2:

And just do this experiment and see how it's gonna sound.

Speaker 1:

See what happens.

Speaker 2:

See what happens. See what happens because we?

Speaker 1:

Yes, I see, I could see how that you want to invest. You can do a just investor.

Speaker 2:

But yeah, I mean this is because that's why there's the rise in self-publishing, because until when we're going to just listen to the whims of the gatekeepers, who are also influenced by you know, the cultural narrative that's happening and it's not doesn't really benefit literature and writing. Because, Right, but see.

Speaker 1:

But see, here's the thing is that if a writer self-publishes their book, it will never be reviewed in the New York Times, it will never be, it will never be reviewed in the Washington Post, it will never. It will never achieve a level of sort of cultural positioning that books can achieve if they are published by mainstream publishers. So that so, so you have to. So then you have to sort of as a writer, you have to say, well, okay, do I want to access this means of distribution you know, and this sort of you know structure that that can get my work out there and and and have it seen, or do I want to sort of write what I dream of writing and and that's that, and then maybe, but the thing is, is that I don't, I don't see. I actually don't see either. I don't see the other position.

Speaker 1:

If I just wrote, if I wrote what I dream of writing and wrote some you know novel that like I would love to write, I don't know that anybody would care, nobody would care, nobody would read it. Maybe, I don't know, maybe 10 people, you know, and so it's like so. So it's almost like the there's no alternative. What is the alternative? Well, I mean, look at, my book is so beautiful, like the. They did the most amazing job with the. The way it looks, the way it feels, the hardback is gorgeous and and it feels so legitimate. And it was. You know, it was in every Barnes and Noble across the country as a Discover New Writers pick for October, which was incredible. So it's like this access to readers that I could never have if I was just doing it on my own.

Speaker 2:

Well, here's where I disagree. Ok, because there's also a market shift now, and I was even listening to a podcast recently with the top New York agent and she's saying you know, in the past we thought what would move the needle when it comes to book selling was in New York, like a stiller New York Times review or whatever. But it's not anymore. It's the, it's how viral the book becomes, and what's what made Queen Hoover best seller was not a stellar New York Times review, it was TikTok right, and we all know the story. So what's happening now is especially, you know, like you know, if you cannot, I guess, if you cannot beat them, you join them. So you cannot beat the younger crowds that are trashing the books, but at the same time, they're actually making some books go viral through TikTok videos and that's what moving the books is the book sales are and you have the yeah, and you have the Queen Hoover of the world, you have the Tyler Jenkins of the world.

Speaker 2:

You have what you call them the book club, fiction books, and these are people are picking these books not because they read, reading the New York Times.

Speaker 1:

Right.

Speaker 2:

They are reading the books because they're seeing a TikTok recommendation.

Speaker 1:

I get my daughter to make some videos for the refugee, which then you know. I don't know why I haven't thought of that until now.

Speaker 2:

Thank you, but yeah, I mean exactly that. That's what's moving the needle on, on. And that's not me pontificating, that's really the experts. That's what they're saying and I've seen it. I bought so many books. I mean, don't tell my husband because like I have. I have a book addiction and I can give you my oh my gosh, we. I'll give you my sponsor name, hello.

Speaker 1:

My name is Paul and I'm a book.

Speaker 2:

And I bought so many books from, and I'm 47. I should not be on.

Speaker 1:

Are you on TikTok just for the? For the.

Speaker 2:

I create content, but I create my content. I put like this podcast will go on, really, yeah, yeah, I mean I have to have no choice. I mean you have no choice as an author now not to be on TikTok, because that's what I mean. If, if you're worried about the reviews, honestly I would say forget about the reviews, because that's what's moving. The book says if you want the let's say, bored housewives like me who have a book club which I do we're going to find it mostly from TikTok, from, like you know, people on the beach at the pool reading it, and these people see it on TikTok and they say, huh, everyone I see at the pool is reading this book and this is what makes what make book says it's not. They're not reading the New York Times and reading the New Yorker and looking for the reviews.

Speaker 1:

Yes, I mean, that's really interesting, you know, it just seems like a completely different world, and you know it, I. It's funny to think about. How could you, you know? But on the other hand, I'm, I'm not really I, I don't want to expend my energy. I have so little time as a human being, Correct and like, if I like, if I go on TikTok, I just can't imagine how I would possibly, what I would possibly do there that would outsource it yeah.

Speaker 2:

Outsource it. Hire someone to just pay your daughter.

Speaker 1:

My daughter. I was just thinking that. You know it's funny.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, just hire her and she can just take a picture of the book. She can take a picture of you typing away and like anything that you can do like you are, and it doesn't have to be. You cannot just talk about your book. You cannot just go and say, buy my book, buy my book, buy my book. People are going to turn you out. You have to offer value. Just talk about books that you like. Talk about your writing process. Create a TikTok tips for for aspiring authors. Give value and then promote.

Speaker 1:

Like 10% from I love this idea. I you know. What's funny is, when I was a kid, my parents would pay me $10 to mow the lawn, so maybe now this, now in this generation, will pay them 10 to make a TikTok video yeah.

Speaker 2:

Why would you spend the money on someone else? Just give it my. My daughter taught me how to use a cat, or whatever it's called cat cat, a cop cut, which is the cop cut? Yeah, which is the video editing on the phone. And she, she taught me how to use it. She's 12. And I use it now all the time for my TikTok video and she makes fun of my videos. She tells me they're so cringe, but I don't know. I love this this is my favorite thing.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, you know, my daughter is 13 as well, and my son, so they both are. Yeah, they use CapCut. They're twins. They're twins, yeah.

Speaker 2:

I have twins as well. Really, they're 12. Boy and a girl Me too. Yeah, yeah, yeah, wow, so, yeah, so that's what I do, ok, so I want to you know we don't have much time and you and me can talk like, I think, forever, but I want to like ask you something, which is you're published by, like the top publishers in the world, and I talk to so many authors here and you know, like, my podcast is not like the Joe Rogan podcast, so, but many, the majority of them, some of them have agents, some of them published by traditional publishers, but the majority of them are having a really hard time being picked by an agent and, you know, having the same success that you have when it comes to being, you know, published by the top publishers in the world. So how did you do it? What was your journey?

Speaker 1:

Well, I love that question. Thank you for that question. I mean, I think that there are a couple of things that I want to sort of just talk about quickly, which is that internal feeling of success is the most important thing. So I feel like, if you're struggling, if someone's watching this and they're thinking like you know, I don't know how to get an agent, I can't get an agent, I can't sell my book. You know, even if you do accomplish those things and you get the agent, you sell your book. If you don't sort of address that internal feeling of you know, being less than or something, or striving, striving, striving that drives you to want to do that, you will feel exactly the same way on the other side of getting that agent or publishing the book. And I just say this as, because you know, the other day I, you know, someone said to me check your privilege, because I had I posted on Facebook.

Speaker 1:

First I went to see Jeff Kinney's no Brainer tour. Have you? Do you know about Jeff Kinney? The Diary of a Wimpy Kid? So, diary of a Wimpy Kid.

Speaker 2:

Oh yeah, I know the Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Yeah, from my kids. Yeah, I've read novels. My kids love them.

Speaker 1:

So he's doing this tour where he's driving around in his Mercedes branded Diary of a Wimpy Kid van and doing 1,000 person events at mega like you know, mega churches and like, oh nice, you know halls and like, and so he's like he's sold 275 million books and anyway. So I went to that and the next day I had a reading that I drove seven hours for. That was three people you know, and and you need to tweet about that.

Speaker 2:

You have to, I need to tweet about that. You need to tweet yeah, because it's it's. We need to see the journey. This is what makes you authentic. Yeah, well, yeah, yeah.

Speaker 1:

But like but so. So I so I read to those three people and they came home and I posted about this on Facebook and my friend said you know, look. And he posted on my page. He said I've written five manuscripts, I've queried a hundred agents. I can't get anybody to even return my email. You know he's published like check your privilege, like be you know, and and it.

Speaker 1:

I was like first of all, I was like kind of angry and I was like I don't want to feel shame about this, but like whatever and but then, and I I mean I did, and it's like the thing that is at the heart of that is that I don't, I feel a certain way. I don't feel I will always feel the same, you know, and I'll just look for the opportunity to feel like, to feel bad, really Like I'll try to feel bad. I'll be like oh, I only read to three people. You know Jeff Kinney reads to thousands and you know. So it's like there's always this sense of dissatisfaction that if I don't address that for myself, then I will never feel it.

Speaker 1:

You know, my, my path to being to, to getting the agents was I've had three agents over the course of my career the, the first one. She signed me when I was very, very young and based on a nonfiction book proposal that I wrote and she her name was Jerry Toma, and she's no longer, she's retired, so I've reached an age where my early agents are now retiring. But so after her I was, I published a little short story in a in a magazine called Book Magazine that doesn't exist anymore, and my second agent saw that and she wrote to me and then signed me and represented me through my first couple of books. She's really wonderful, she's a great agent, she's, I mean, like an excellent reader and but she just we didn't quite see eye to eye around. It's kind of the path that I wanted to take in my career, and so we sort of parted ways. And then, and then I I landed with Bill Clegg, who's my current agent and I, and the thing that happened was I was referred to him by someone who was his client and that was the way that. That was the way that the initial contact was made, and I had a manuscript, a project that that I sent to him at that point, that I had that I had sent to another agent who said, no, you know, he said I don't want this and then, and but Bill saw it and he understood it and so he he was really he. He agreed to represent me and he's been. He's been amazing and I've been incredibly lucky to to work with him now for for two books.

Speaker 1:

But it's like I think that the to get to the agent the best way is through you know someone who is an existing client who can refer, refer you to them, because it's going to be extremely difficult to you know, to just cold call the agent and get and get, get to them. I mean that's the you know and that. And then it's that raises a whole bunch of other questions, which is, then, how do you meet people who are clients of agents? And then, and then it's sort of disingenuous, if you're trying to, like you know, get to know someone because you want them to refer you to their agent, which is weird, so you just kind of I don't know, it's like if you, if you're in the world of of writing, maybe you'll meet those people and and and make those referrals. I mean that's it's, it's a really it's.

Speaker 1:

It's difficult because they are these, they are these gatekeepers, you know, they're these gatekeepers and the gates are shut and like, and so for me, I was like when I was when I figured out that this system existed, because we're 47, right now, somebody who's 23 and is trying to figure out how books are bought and sold, they can go online and they can just research that and figure it out very easily. But when, when we were 23, if you wanted to know how books were bought and sold, it was like a secret society. You had to know a handshake and like you know, and so you know, so.

Speaker 1:

So, like I, when I figured that out, I was like, okay, well, so this is the system, I want to get into this system. So what do I do to get into this system and get my voice out there? So that was what I sort of pursues single-mindedly.

Speaker 2:

So here's an idea Start a podcast and have someone on the podcast called Paul Tutanji and then ask Paul to refer you to his agent.

Speaker 1:

This is amazing. Yeah, I figured it out.

Speaker 2:

I love it I love it.

Speaker 1:

I love it. I mean, it's really, it's so. It's such an annoying piece of advice, you know, but I just think it's so. It's so true. It's like, if you think about it, though that's the way so much happens in in the world of books and not in the world of books in the world of business, you know, like if any kind of business is through personal referrals, people saying you know, it's very rare, like when I wrote to you, you know, and said, hey, you know, would you talk with me on, or could I, you know, could we talk on the podcast, I was surprised when you wrote back, you know, because because it it, it's just a I don't know you at all and so, and you know so, but so most of these things happen through personal connections.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, that's true. So okay, let's say that the last few minutes here here's there's. So are you a full-time author?

Speaker 1:

I teach at Lewis and Clark College, so I teach creative writing. I teach nonfiction writing and fiction writing, both.

Speaker 2:

What is the top advice you tell your students?

Speaker 1:

I tell my students be kind to yourself, have you know, shut up those angry voices that are telling you that they're that they're terrible, that you're a terrible writer and that you are, your project is not worthwhile.

Speaker 1:

You know the self-doubt that sets in when it, when you're 60% of the way through any project, you almost immediate, almost 100% of the time, will doubt it. So that's one, that's the thing you know. And then the other thing is read a lot. I mean, I think it's really important for for writers to read, to read a ton, to be reading constantly books, you know. So that not only so that you can understand what kind of sort of book you want to put out into the world, but also because it's like your tool bag. You learn all these things just by reading, you know. So, read a lot, be kind to yourself, you know. Ignore the self-doubt and focus on your sentences. I mean, we spend a lot of time working on individual sentences and trying to make them strong, one at you know, sort of one at a time.

Speaker 2:

Is the future bright? Are we going to have the next? What?

Speaker 1:

do you think?

Speaker 2:

I mean, there are some new authors that are like I just finished Yellow Face. Have you read Yellow Face? Oh my God, it's amazing.

Speaker 1:

Brilliant right.

Speaker 2:

It's brilliant, I mean. And she's what's her name? I forgot her name the author, but anyways, she's like brilliant and she's very young, I think. I don't know, is she even 30?

Speaker 1:

RF Quang.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, she's just amazing, I mean, and even her satire of the publishing industry in that book was amazing. For me to come from someone from her generation, you know, she is like she did not drink the Kool-Aid. She like rose above the Kool-Aid in a sense. And you know, people like her really renewed my hope for the new generation of authors that are coming. I mean, what do you think?

Speaker 1:

I mean I have students who are brilliant I mean, they are really great writers and so I do have hope, in that sense that I have. I do have. I'm continually amazed by the work that some of my students do, and then I'm amazed in other ways as well by some of the speakers, in not good ways maybe, but yes, I have lots of students who are pretty amazing and there are lots of voices. I mean, omar Al-Aqad is an incredible writer.

Speaker 2:

I am.

Speaker 1:

You know there are so many young writers who are doing brilliant work and you know, so I'm hopeful. In that sense. It's tough to be hopeful about the world. You know, maybe right now, but you know, hopefully we won't, you know, run out of water and yes, you know, yeah.

Speaker 2:

So, last thing, what are you working on?

Speaker 1:

So right now I started a new book I am working on a novel that's set in Khan in 1939, right before the Second World War. It's about the yeah, sort of the film festival, I guess, and then so that's so that it's a historical novel. I'm working on it. But also, you know, in the lag time between when we, when I finished the book, and then it was published, it was like 16 months my wife and I wrote a thriller.

Speaker 2:

And so we are.

Speaker 1:

I don't know what's going to happen with that, if we're going to publish it or not, but we worked on that, so I'm working on a historical novel and kind of a thriller, I guess.

Speaker 2:

Do you write every day?

Speaker 1:

I try to. I really try to. It's tough with being a parent Right now. My kids' schools are on strike, the teachers are on strike, so we kids are when do you live?

Speaker 2:

Portland Oregon, where do you live?

Speaker 1:

Ah, okay, my kids are home all the time and have been for weeks now. But you know I with work it's really hard. I I'm responding to student papers, so it's very difficult to teach for, you know, three and a half hours and then to respond to student papers for six hours and then parent and then you know, try and kind of sit down at the desk and be creative. But I try, how about you?

Speaker 2:

Ah well, I'm actually talking with an agent now, and that's my second novel, and it's a three book series. It's an urban fantasy. It's set in the suburbs of, of course, an immigrant point of view, because that's what I am and that's what I know. But there's, there's a sense of magic to it, similar to your books. I noticed that you add some magic elements yeah, yeah.

Speaker 2:

So I gave it to an agent and the agent is interested. But she asked. She said that it has some issues and she suggested I work with an editor. So I'm working now with an editor and I'm going to resubmit and we'll see what she would where it takes me. So the first, the first one, was a small press and then I did up self publishing and now I'm trying a more traditional route, but I'm open to anything. You know I'm. I don't want to box myself to this or that, I just want to publish. If only five people read it and only one person is somehow changed by it, that's enough, Right? But yeah.

Speaker 1:

I mean, that makes that, makes sense. I think if you, if you, you know it's important to have that kind of center, if you, if you can, Correct you know that and that will keep you, keep you going, keep you centered and going.

Speaker 2:

It's. It's the journey before the destination.

Speaker 1:

Right.

Speaker 2:

And you know, like becoming the next T-thinking is just a cherry on the top, but enjoying the journey and knowing what you want to get out of the journey for me is is better than you know being a New York Times best setter. Because again, how do you define success?

Speaker 1:

Right.

Speaker 2:

Because you can keep going Like that's not enough.

Speaker 1:

I want to say, you know, but you can, you can keep going, yeah, yeah, and it's I mean the yeah, the poet I read. I heard the poet Alan Shapiro give a reading and he said that, you know, when he was first starting out, he dreamed of getting a poem published. And then, when he got the poem published, he said well, I would just, it would be amazing, I would be so happy if I got a poem in the Hudson review. And then he got one in the Hudson review and he said, oh, if only I could get a poem in poetry magazine, you know. And it just went on and on and on and at every phase. You know so yeah, yeah.

Speaker 2:

Well, this has been wonderful and thank you so much for your time. You know we spend a lot, a lot of time chatting because we have a lot to discuss, and for anyone to read you, they just can go to your website.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, Go to Paul Tatanghi, PaulStatanghicom. And you know, yeah, send me an email. Hey, why not send me an email? It's my last name at gmailcom. Send me an email if you want.

Speaker 2:

Sure, and I am going to email you about that agent.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, email me, for sure.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Sure, we'll. We'll see. We'll take it one step at a time. So thank you so much for your time. Appreciate it and for anyone who's reading and watching, make sure to check Paul's book the Refugee Ocean, and it's available everywhere. I actually saw it at my local Bizarre Noble here in Maryland, so I was like huh.

Speaker 1:

Oh yeah, it's. It's cool it was in every.

Speaker 2:

it's an Opus All right, I know, so maybe I'm going to take a picture of it. I'll send it to you, all right?

Speaker 1:

Thanks, take care. Bye, natasha.

Speaker 2:

Thank you for tuning in to Read and Write with Natasha. I'm your host, natasha Tynes. If today's episode inspired you in any way, please take the time to review the podcast. Remember to subscribe and share this podcast with fellow book lovers. Until next time, happy reading. I'm Natasha Tynes.

The Refugee Ocean
Cultural Identity Influence in Publishing
TikTok's Influence on Book Sales
Navigating the Publishing Industry
Writer's Advice and Hope for Future