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Room for `caring, careful criticism'

WHEN I sent the rough draft of my novel, ``The Cheer Leader,'' to Louis Rubin in 1982, I had no idea that it would begin my publishing career. I sent the manuscript to him because he had been one of my writing professors while I was an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina, and since my graduation had continued to offer his opinions and criticisms on my work. I didn't know that he had just begun brainstorming what would soon be Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. When he said that he wanted to publish the novel, my agent, who had shown the novel to a couple of houses with no success, thought that it was a good move. The novel would be the first novel they published and would not appear until the fall of 1984; during that time of eager anticipation and waiting, my second novel, ``July 7th,'' was written. It was at this point that I clearly was in the right place at the right time. Louis Rubin and Shannon Ravenel agreed that the second novel was the stronger of the two, the one that would best launch a career, and yet they did not want to hold ``The Cheer Leader'' back. As a result they came up with the idea of simultaneous publication, something that, as far as anyone could trace, had not been done before. Though I could see the novelty of the idea, I was also terrified; I thought that it would be crushing enough to have one novel come out and receive negative reviews, but what if there were two? I genuinely felt this was a move that would clearly determine what I would do next, and it was very frightening. The hope to which I clung was that I knew from being Louis Rubin's student that he did not offer false encouragement; I had also, while editing both novels, developed enormous respect for Shannon Ravenel and felt very comfortable working with her.

As a result, the venture worked very much to my favor. I don't think that either novel published alone would have received the attention that the two did together. Reviewers, if nothing else, were able to note growth and diversity. I went in expecting little to nothing and therefore was completely astonished at what happened. It was a wonderful sensation, because there was a dual purpose; I was happy for myself and I was happy for Algonquin.

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As I was working on my third novel, ``Tending to Virginia,'' there was no doubt in my mind about where I wanted to be; I wanted to once again have the privilege of working with Shannon Ravenel and Louis Rubin. It is hard for me to imagine that I could ever be in a place where I would receive more caring and careful criticism than I have with them. It seems that many first novels are overlooked and/or receive very little attention. In a small house such as Algonquin, every book counts. I have always felt that there was plenty of time for me and for my work; in short, I feel very much at home there and of course, as is true in most circumstances, 99 percent of that is the result of the people who have formed and established and represent Algonquin.