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Glatt, Greenberg Collaborate on Abigail Iris: The One and Only

Published: March 16, 2009

CSULB’s Lisa Glatt and Suzanne Greenberg have pooled their considerable talents to create a third-grader for our times.

Glatt’s novel A Girl Becomes a Comma Like That has been optioned for a film by producer Andrew Wagner and Greenberg won the Drue Heinz Literature Prize from the University of Pittsburgh for Speed-Walk and Other Stories accompanied by a $15,000 prize. Together, Glatt and Greenberg recently completed their first children’s novel, Abigail Iris: The One and Only, for Walker Books/Bloomsbury USA.

A plucky miniature heroine facing the same straitened circumstances as the rest of the USA, Abigail Iris comes from a large, blended family which means no beach cruiser with handlebar tassels, no cell phone and no bedroom of her own to paint fairy-tale pink and enchanted purple.

When Abigail Iris gets to go on vacation to the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco with one of her “only” friends, she finally gets to experience what she’s been missing: room service! But when the trip is cut short and she leaves to join her family on their camping vacation, Abigail Iris decides that the perk of having your parents to yourself might be nice some of the time, it just isn’t right for her all the time.

The idea of co-authoring a book for a young readership with the attention span of houseflies was no deal-breaker for the writers.

“Children love to read about other children who are grappling with the same kind of problems they have in their own lives,” said Greenberg, who joined the English Department in 1995. “My own children have each told me separately that they wished they were only children. Of course, if they didn’t have siblings, I’m sure I’d be hearing about that! Abigail Iris: The One and Only is about trying on someone else’s life and discovering what you might miss about your own in the process. We thought this idea could appeal to almost any child.”

Glatt agreed that growing up in a big family is a universal theme. “Even a family with two kids in it can seem like a ‘big’ family when you’re not the one being celebrated at the moment, but being an only child has its drawbacks, too,” said Glatt, who joined the English Department in 2000. “What drew me in the direction probably had to do with remembering my own childhood and remembering that I wanted both: lots of brothers and sisters one minute and then none.”

Writing in tandem has its challenges, but not to hear Glatt and Greenberg tell it. “Lisa and I write the way pen pals write,” Greenberg explained. “I write a chapter and e-mail it to her and then she writes a chapter and sends it back to me. We have an idea where we’re going but we also surprise each other. It’s so much fun to open -mails when we’re working this way. I’m not sure I know the key to success, but laughing definitely has something to do with it and giving up any sense of complete individual ownership of the material – that’s freeing, really.”

Glatt explains how the pair practiced their two-handed authorship.

“We collaborated and wrote a short together titled ‘Ojai’ that was published in Swink and we haven’t had any trouble in blending our voices or agreeing on structural matters,” she said. “With Abigail Iris, we went chapter by chapter and it wasn’t at all difficult to make the voice sound like one voice. I didn’t even think about it. And when people who are very familiar with our other books read Abigail Iris, they have no idea who wrote what. And sometimes we don’t remember either! When we’ve received compliments from our editor about certain passages or received criticism, we often don’t know who to praise or blame.”

Glatt and Greenberg
Photo by Victoria Sanchez
Lisa Glatt (l) and Suzanne Greenberg

Abigail’s money woes seem to be in sync with the national economic malaise. “I know my own kids are aware of our family’s budget and having to make choices when it comes to spending money,” Greenberg said. “A lot of their friends are from similar backgrounds but they also have friends with much bigger houses and newer cars and glamorous vacation homes. While the precarious economic state of our country might be a relatively new problem, envy is as old as the Old Testament.”

The choice of the novel’s setting in the world-famous Sir Frances Drake Hotel can be traced to Glatt’s childhood. “I stayed there once when I was a child with my mom and I remember the hotel as a magical place – not of our time and full of charm,” she said.

Greenberg is at work on a new novel about homeschooling, set in Southern California. Speed-Walk and Other Stories was a finalist for the 2004 Binghamton University John Gardner Fiction Book Award. She received her B.A. in English from Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., and her MFA in creative writing from the University of Maryland.

Glatt’s next novel, The Nakeds, saw its film rights sold to Steven Shainberg (producer of “Secretary”) at Vox 3 Films. Her husband, poet David Hernandez, also published two young adult novels with Harper Collins, Suckerpunch and the just-released No More Us for You. Her short story collection, The Apple’s Bruise, came out in 2005 and her poetry includes Shelter and Monsters & Other Lovers. Glatt followed her 1984 bachelor’s degree from CSULB with a Master’s of Fine Arts from Sarah Lawrence College. She returned to CSULB to join its faculty in 1992 before joining UCLA’s writer’s extension program as an instructor, then linked back up with CSULB in 2000.

The pair just sold the second young people’s novel titled Abigail Iris Has Half a Birthday to the same publisher and are busy on a third. They are also working on another series, this one starring a little boy named Billy Doil, a recurring character from the Abigail Iris series.

“I’m hoping that Abigail Iris finds a loyal, receptive audience but I’ve been at this writing thing long enough to understand that my expectations and hopes for a book once it’s published are mostly out of my control,” said Glatt.

When asked if she was hoping for another Harry Potter, Greenberg laughed and replied, “Who isn’t?”

The Children’s Collection at CSULB, located in the main library, will hold a publication celebration/book signing for Abigail Iris: The One and Only on Thursday, March 19, 4:30-6 p.m.