Story by Rachel Schwartzmann – Discover Nouvella – Photos by Karen Hernandez for The Style Line
“I know every editor says this, but I’ve gotten to work with some of the most brilliant writers out there,”
Deena Drewis expressed during our recent visit. “I can’t think of many things that are as rewarding as the collaborative process of putting a book out into the world.”
With Deena’s unwavering passion for storytelling coupled with her collaborative spirit and determination, the inception of Nouvella was inevitable. The rising LA-based publisher was founded with a premise of fostering emerging writers whose work primarily focuses on short stories and novellas. With Deena at the helm as editor, her tiny but mighty team have worked diligently to cultivate a community of authors (and literary lovers alike) that is supportive, collaborative and truly creative.
The growing roster of authors includes a dynamic mix of emerging and established voices, and Deena contends that for most, being part of the Nouvella platform has paved the way for growth. As she mentioned in our interview below, “Nouvella has worked as a launching pad of sorts, and everyone’s been so supportive of each other.” With this in mind, we were thrilled to have the opportunity to visit Deena at her Los Angeles studio to talk more about her plans for Nouvella and her relationship to writing along with what she’s learned from this endeavor so far. Discover the interview below, get to know a few of the authors in the Nouvella network and enjoy beautifully captured moments from our visit by Karen Hernandez for The Style Line.
*THIS STORY WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN NOVEMBER 2016 AND REFLECTS UPDATED CHANGES TO THE LAYOUT AND INTRODUCTION
I am probably addicted to salt
and I love watching baseball. I was a decent but very lazy ballerina growing up, and I miss it a lot, though I’m still lazy about it, so I don’t go as often as I should. I buy too many books, naturally. I value quiet and I need a lot of it, and I could probably eat soup for every meal, which brings us back to my salt problem.
From Girlboss to Nouvella talk to us about your relationship to writing. How has it evolved and why do you think embracing the power of the pen is so important in this and age?
As a reader, there’s no other form of communication where I can better begin to wrap my head around abstractions. Like if you want to talk about loneliness, to me, reading an Alice Munro story is better than trying to get at it by speaking about it literally.
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Or if you want to get the contradictory nature of being an artist, writer, and mother, the deliberateness with which something like The Dept. of Speculation is crafted gives you such a concentrated impression—an extended feeling of this is it. There’s a lot of hand-wringing going on about the place of long-form writing and especially physical books in the digital age, but you can’t really extricate storytelling from civilization, and I think it inevitably finds ways to survive. This is probably the most L.A. thing I’ve ever said, but I’ve been here for three years now, so here it goes: we need art to be humans.
We love your mission of empowering emerging authors so talk to us about the inception of Nouvella.
Thank you! The idea, first and foremost, was to publish work that the industry had deemed unpublishable—too long for magazines and too short to be stand-alone books. But it’s inevitable that sometimes a piece, in the best iteration of what it is, is going to end up at that word count, and that there’s nowhere for them to go just seemed like a silly, Old Guard technicality.
And yes, it’s turned out to be a really terrific platform for emerging authors! They get the reader’s focused attention, as opposed to having a story in a magazine, where there’s a lot going on. On the reader’s side, it’s a good introductory length to a new writer—you get to spend a little more time inside their head than you would with a short story, but it’s not as much of a commitment as a novel. Almost all of our authors have gone on to publish novels and short story collections with major publishing houses, and two of them—Emma Straub and Edan Lepucki—have gone on to be New York Times best sellers!
What has it been like to build this kind of business in Los Angeles and how do you hope to see the city evolve in terms of how it caters to small businesses?
I actually started Nouvella in Sacramento and relocated to L.A. three years ago. For a long time, L.A.’s literary community wasn’t considered to be a real thing and it was widely accepted that if you’re a writer, you’re a screenwriter. But that’s changed in recent years; there are terrific presses and organizations doing good, important work: Unnamed Press, Writ Large Press, Dum Dum, Writing Workshops Los Angeles.
I’d love to see the literary scene keep growing, and it’d be awesome to see more collaboration between the indie literature scene that and the film industry. I mean, Hollywood is right here and they need good stories, and fiction writers need money, forever and always.
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How would you characterize the Nouvella community of staff and authors and how do you hope to see it evolve over time?
That’s probably my favorite part of this whole thing. I know every editor says this, but I’ve gotten to work with some of the most brilliant writers out there. I can’t think of many things that are as rewarding as the collaborative process of putting a book out into the world. And they’ve all helped propel each other forward—Nouvella has worked as a launching pad of sorts, and everyone’s been so supportive of each other. I’m realizing that this sounds like Sesame Street, but it’s true.
Would you say that there is a synergy between the literary and fashion world? What speaks to you the most about both industries?
It’s funny. I think Literature with a capital “L” tries to remain aloof of Fashion with a capital “F,” but I think the former is secretly obsessed with the latter. No one secretly wants to be considered fashionable more than a writer. There’s a lot of pretense among the literary set about fashion being frivolous—there’s this whole dog and pony show about being so consumed by your work that you simply can’t be bothered to put on a clean shirt every once in awhile, and I think historically speaking, women, as writers, have been subjected to really intense, bullshit scrutiny about whether they look the part of the writer (wear makeup, but not too much; smile and look approachable, but not unserious). I think it’s dissolving, though. I know so many stylish writers. And of course, I think I’m required to mention Joan Didion, patron saint of that crossover. What speaks to me about the fashion industry? Too much, clearly, judging by the number of dresses in my closet that still have tags on them.
How do you think creativity contributes to some of the world’s bigger conversations and how do you think Nouvella is playing a role in this shift in thinking?
This has been on my mind a lot during this election season. I think we are changed by subtlety; perspectives you wouldn’t have considered sneak themselves in on the vehicle of art, and it’s the nuance that wedges itself into the nooks of your brain that gets you to see things from more than the dominant viewpoint.
Comedy does this really well—maybe the quickest and most effective in terms of reaching people and starting a broader conversation. With Nouvella, I just hope to keep publishing work that is diverse and challenging and to help put talented new writers out there so they can keep telling stories.
What is one question you wish people asked you more often?
I wish people would ask me for book recommendations more often! I freaking love recommending books and getting to talk to people after they’ve read them.
How would you advise the next generation of makers, creative and fashion profession professionals to leave an imprint in the world simply by doing what they love?
Whatever the thing was that you fell in love with in the first place, don’t loosen your grip on it. It sounds obvious, but it can very easily slip away from you when you’re trying to put all the pieces together so that you have the freedom to do whatever it is you set out to do. So hold on. Try and discern the difference between opportunity and distraction. Read for pleasure. Pay attention to how good food tastes every once in a while. Hold on.