TSD Q&A: Author JE Fishman

Local author JE Fishman’s new book, Primacy, has been called an “appealing debut thriller…” by Publishers Weekly and Kirkus says “Fishman is a deft, fluid writer.” Fishman spent several years living in Delaware before recently scooting across the state line into Pennsylvania. He’ll be signing copies of his book on Saturday, September 17 from 1:00-3:00 p.m. at the Book Shelf in Hockessin.


Primacy is set in the world of secret animal testing labs – what is it about this area that interested you?

As an author I’m increasingly interested in moral dilemmas on a level that not only test an invented character but also force the reader to question some of the choices we make as a society. Though I have my own opinions, of course, I don’t have a special attraction to animal testing or animal rights. But it occurred to me that it would be ironic if an ape mutated for speech and ended up in an animal testing lab. Depending on how the protagonist responds to this, you either have no story at all or the first act of a thriller. Because if she decides — as the heroine of Primacy does — that she can’t countenance having this ape treated like all the others, then her actions automatically become a threat to entrenched interests. Those forces are much stronger than she is, so she’s overmatched. How far will she go to do what she believes is right? What will she risk? It’s an individual against the system, which presents an opportunity for true heroism.


Any plans to promote your book on CNN with Piers Morgan? And will you stay for the whole interview?

Ha! If Piers Morgan will put me on, not only will I promise to stay for the whole interview, but I’ll admit I’m a witch.


Where do you actually do your writing?

I have an office in Montchanin. The walls are covered with framed book jackets from my days as a literary agent. It helps remind me that I know something about playing the publishing game.


You’re a former editor and literary agent – how has the world of book publishing and promoting changed since you first entered the industry 20+ years ago?

Book publishing is currently undergoing a revolution that some have compared to Gutenberg’s invention of moveable type, but since I first got involved with books in the late Eighties there have been several major trends and counter-trends. Twenty years ago, with the rise of the major book chains came the mass marketing of hardcovers. This pumped up publisher revenue and author advances at the top of the industry. Now you have downward pressure on revenue and advances coming from e-books, which are competing directly with the hardcovers. At the same time, we’re in Round Two of the self-publishing revolution, which is flooding the market with millions of titles, many of inferior quality, but it can be hard to tell the difference until you read them.

For most creative products, people consume what others tell them to consume. Those others could be reviewers or experts on a subject or one’s peers. With books, because they require such a big investment of the consumer’s time, the filter is that much more important. Famously, of course, for a long time you had Oprah, who frequently put books on the bestseller list with little more than a nod of her head. But that only ever applied to a handful of books a year. More important for most books, it used to be that newspaper book reviewers had a lot of power — Jonathan Yardley of the Washington Post, for example — but there’s less and less space in print newspapers devoted to books these days. Picking up the slack have been bloggers, who collectively have a very big following, but individually not so much. So there’s a kind of atomization going on that makes it harder than ever for an author who doesn’t already have a brand name to break into public consciousness.

That’s why you find many authors today trying to work every angle: traditional media, sure, but also the bloggers and social media. Everybody asks about book tours, but the reality is that they rarely make economic sense unless the author is already famous. Most book promotion happens from behind a desk. If you can’t hit a home run from there, you try to string together a whole bunch of singles. I have been blogging fairly extensively on this subject at www.thenervousbreakdown.com/author/jefishman.


What are you reading now?

The “Jack Reacher” thriller 61 Hours by Lee Child and Carl Jung’s Man and His Symbols.


Tell us some of your favorite local haunts.

When we first moved to Delaware, we lived in a historic house right across the river from Hagley. I think the river walk there is really special, combining natural beauty with a sense of history. We also walk a lot at Longwood Gardens, which is truly world class. When we take out-of-town visitors there, you can almost see their jaws drop. But my favorite spot of all is on the tennis court. My style of play favors the hard courts, but Delaware has some of the best clay courts I’ve seen anywhere. When my body’s holding up, you’ll often find me hitting the yellow ball on local courts. Stick around long enough and you may also see me cursing my own ineptitude.


Any plans for a Primacy movie?

There have been some inquiries, but nobody’s shown me the money yet.

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