Get to Know Deena



Hi Deena! Where did you grow up? How did it shape who you are/the work you do today?

I was born in South San Francisco, but when I was about four my family moved to Folsom, which is a little suburb in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. It’s pretty fancy nowadays, but it was a sleepy little hamlet twenty years ago. The house I grew up in was surrounded by wetlands, and the neighborhood kids kind of ran wild back there. I hesitate to say that I was “outdoorsy,” but I did spend a lot of time roaming around the wetlands, pretending my bike was a horse. I’m very grateful to have had an upbringing that encouraged and enabled me to be creative. I grew up dancing, but my greater love was always reading and making up stories and getting way too excited about things like Pioneer Day at school. I think at some level I always knew I wanted to be involved with storytelling in book form.

Did you go to college? If so, where did you study and what did you get out the process?

I attended the College of Creative Studies at the University of California Santa Barbara, which is this peculiar, wonderful little program within UCSB. It’s really small—just a couple hundred kids spread across eight different fields of study, crammed together in this cluster of sherbet-colored buildings. I studied literature, which basically meant I spent all my time reading and writing. I knew in high school that I loved books more than anything else, but it was in college that I discovered what the landscape of contemporary literature looked like—that there were writers out there like Lorrie Moore, Grace Paley, Junot Diaz and Alice Munro who were telling heartbreaking, funny, serious, illuminating stories about people I recognized. Because up to that point, I’d understood Literature to be Hemingway and Tolstoy and Henry David Thoreau (I read Walden in high school and was set on becoming a Transcendentalist for about two months). It was in college that I realized how important it was to me, to find art that I could relate to not just in terms of beauty and its ability to transport me somewhere else, but in a way that was vital and sustaining to me as a person.

Who was your hero or greatest inspiration growing up?

I’ve always had a hard time answering this question, but I came to sort of a strange realization a few years ago: In 2012, I was watching the Summer Olympics with some friends, and they showed this clip of the 1996 USA gymnastics team—the Magnificent Seven—and Kerri Strug’s legendary vault completed with a busted ankle. They showed the clip and much to the alarm of everyone in the room, myself included, I burst into tears. At the time of the ’96 Olympics, I was ten and so, so obsessed with the whole team—Dominique Moceanu, Amy Chow, Dominique Dawes, Shannon Miller—they were magical. I remember learning Dominique Moceanu’s floor routine (minus all the flips) and cutting out every newspaper and magazine article I could find. These tiny girls, they were these little beasts, coming out and overcoming these crazy obstacles. Looking back, I think it was incredible too, to see this diverse group of women held in such esteem—it’s still rare today, but even rarer back then. Anyway, I had sort of forgotten about it over the years, or had at least relegated it to the dusty attic of my brain, but seeing it again in 2012, I realized what an inspiration that group of girls was at the time. Total badasses.

What inspires you now?

So many things. In no particular order: Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, who created the funniest show on TV, Broad City; Jenny Offill, who wrote The Dept. of Speculation, one of my favorite novels of last year; the entire cast and crew of the TV show Transparent; the musician A.A. Bondy, who not enough people listen to; San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner, because he is a complete and utter maniac; Joan Didion, who at 80 years old may be the coolest, smartest woman alive; my brother and sister, who are also vagabonds; my dad the cool chameleon; and my mother, who is the most generous yet fierce person I know.

How did the idea for Nouvella come about?

I worked for an indie press called Flatmancrooked for a few years, and toward the end, we had this idea to start publishing novellas by emerging authors as a way to sort of propel them into the industry. It went really well, and it was sort of my pet project. When the press folded, I wasn’t ready to let go of it, so I struck out on my own and started Nouvella.

How did you develop the idea into a business?

I knew there was a gap in the market, so to speak. There are not very many publishing outfits that will publish novellas; work of this length is generally considered too long to print in magazines, and too short to turn into stand-alone books (the thinking goes that the cost of printing outweighs what people are willing to pay for a short book). At that point I knew that even though writers didn’t really have an outlet for novellas, novellas were still being written, because some stories are quite simply novella-length stories. So I saw an opportunity there. This, in conjunction with the fact that the ways we consume material are changing and attention spans are shrinking, all seemed to make a case for the emergence of novellas as a vital and viable form.

What advice would you give to girls who want to do your job?

First: read widely and participate in the community. Almost every (exciting) editorial position in publishing relies on the discovery of new talent, and a lot of small magazines and independent presses are the first ones that are willing to champion new writers. Second: Determine how what you are doing is different from what everyone else is doing. Why is it special? Third: Be good at the Internet and know a little bit of coding, InDesign, and Photoshop. Life is easier when you know CSS and HTML (this is coming from someone who knows nothing about either of these things).

What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?

My dad is a pretty epic guy. When we were growing up, the family would eat dinner together almost every night with a candle lit in the middle of the table and something like Astrud Gilberto or Michael McDonald on the stereo. He had a handful of rotating speeches, and among them was “Get the job done.” It’s a very useful thing to pull out of my back pocket, whether I’m trying to finish up a manuscript or finally wash my car.

What's your favorite thing to do when you're not working?

I’m almost never more at peace than when it’s a Sunday and the San Francisco Giants are playing and I am lying on the couch, ideally with some Haagen Daaz coffee ice cream. I'm mostly a homebody, but I also like to drag my boyfriend Aaron out to the bar every once in a while so I can make him have an intense conversation with me about the latest episode of Looking.

What are you planning next (in work/life)?

I’ve been in LA just over a year now, and I like it very much. I thought initially that the crowds and the LA-ness of LA would get to me, but the weather is pretty much constantly glorious, so much so that if I spend a whole day inside reading, I don’t feel guilty, because the next day is bound to be just as lovely. Now that I’m settled in a little, I want to spend the next year reaching out a little more on a local level. I’m excited, too, about some film contacts I’ve made, because novellas are the perfect length for translation into film. This will be the first time we’ve done three books in a year, and I know it’s going to be a busy year!

Foundation, Tribe, WorkNazmul Hassan