Humiliated by his father’s joke, Arnie vows to one-up him.  His opportunity comes from a radio evangelist who preaches that for saved men, sinning is like scoring points in heaven.  The Reverend offers partnership in his big bling ministry to the highest shareholder. 

   - HALF OF NO by Kari Pilgrim

In keeping with its mission to serve as an ongoing bridge between its aspiring author members and professionals in the business, Author Salon has been actively reaching out to major New York publishing editors as well as literary agents on both coasts to promote a variety of projects each and every month. In other words, we've been querying on behalf of our writers, providing them with the visibility and promotion they need to become published. One of our writers below, Kari Pilgrim, has received several requests for fulls and partials from major literary agencies and New York publishers.  Below she talks to Author Salon.

A Dialogue With Literary Fiction Writer Kari Pilgrim

Kari's work has appeared The Literary Review, Brooklyn Review, and Del Sol Review. She has received a MacArthur Scholarship in Fiction, an MFA in Fiction, and a PhD in English.  Currently, she is a professor of writing and literature at SUNY.

1. What inspired you to write your story? What do you love about the genre?

I have always been attracted to bad guys (and bad gals!). I want to write the mea culpas of anti-heroes because they represent an extreme version of what we are, as people, as Americans, as 21st centurions. They have guts. They’re vulnerable like everybody else, but for so many reasons, they don’t, and often can’t, take the safe route to where we’re all trying to go, the American dream place that doesn’t actually exist. I like these types of characters because they are unabashed in their desires, they break from the pack and learn something about how the pack operates.

Of course, they are bad. And that fascinates me for other reasons; once characters cross over into violence my liberal humanist heart thinks it because they’re in pain. I want to expose two things at once, through my anti-hero (in Half of No, Arnie Hansom): his similarity to most of us, taken to an extreme form, and his vulnerability and deep hurt, that makes him the way he is. So, I guess, I set out to write the story of a bad guy with a broken heart because that seems utterly human, and poignant.

I am also concerned about the state of the country, the state of the world. Four years ago, when I started my novel, the housing bubble had just burst, a new war was being ignited in yet another desperately poor country, and an enormous financial theft was perpetrated on the country. Meanwhile, the religious right was more powerful than ever. I wanted to write a novel with an anti-hero who represented the intersection of money, religion, and violence as I was seeing it play out in the news. Half of No is a deeply serious comic satire about the type of capitalism that profits off of disaster.

What do I love about upscale fiction and satire? Language! Words, rhythm, metaphor, making abstract concepts concrete, and the humor of ironic juxtaposition (thanks Flannery O’Connor!). I love the high that comes from the synthesis of all of these things. The way a simple story, at a deep level, can take on poetic resonance and become something almost mythic in its feel. And I love comic satire because it manages to make us laugh, and question the accepted conventions of our lives.

2. Prior to being included in the Author Salon Literary Showcase, how did your project and/or your writing evolve here at Author Salon? What have you learned that has brought your novel closer to publication?

A huge part of my project’s evolution cam about by the seemingly simple—but in reality arduous—task of writing that hook line, and the conflict+stakes line. I’ve learned that being able to articulate my novel on the level of a single sentence will strengthen it immensely, because this enables me to locate a heart to the story, a simple underlying premise that guides my character and the plot. It’s a human premise, rather than a bunch of abstract intellectual ideas like—in my case—capitalism and fundamentalism. I say “a heart” because there could be several ways to pitch my novel, and whichever one I choose to go with is going to influence how I revise the work.

The synopsis is just as tough and rewarding. My instinct in the earlier drafts was to tell my whole story, with all its addendums. But that’s not at all what a synopsis is about. It’s like an extended hook that manages to convey the arc of the story. Getting it right gives me the ability to actually talk about my novel and draw people in (hopefully), as opposed to stuttering out some plot points and then letting my listeners try and figure out why they would want to read it.

The process of creating a profile for the novel on Author Salon taught me how to make my novel into a story that anyone (in a perfect world) would want to read.