by Aimee Levitt
This is how your life changes, if you happen to be Anton DiSclafani.
It's a Wednesday morning in early February. You're still in your pajamas, thinking about how you should be preparing for the workshop in historical fiction you'll be teaching later this afternoon at Washington University. You get an e-mail from your agent, Dorian Karchmar. Karchmar had just submitted the manuscript of your first novel, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, to several publishers the afternoon before. Karchmar's e-mail says you need to call her.
Over the phone, your agent tells you that several publishers are interested in the book. It's then that you know the book is going to sell.
And somehow, that's even more extraordinary than the news the following Tuesday, after the manuscript goes to auction, that Riverhead, a division of Penguin, has bought it for a seven-figure sum. (Neither DiSclafani nor anyone at Penguin will name the exact figure.) Stuff like that hardly ever happens -- especially not for a first novel.
"I just didn't believe it," says DiSclafani now. "I couldn't wrap my head around it. It was all kinds of surreal. Suddenly I was talking to these incredibly smart editors about my work. I'd been preparing myself for the book not selling at all."
She admits she's been using the word "surreal" a lot. Also "excited."
Since then, though, not much has changed. DiSclafani, who is 30 and a graduate of Wash. U.'s MFA program (and whose first name is pronounced "Antin"), has gone back to her routine of teaching and writing.
"I started writing again pretty quickly," she says. "It's anchoring. Nothing had changed at my desk." Also, her editor, Sarah McGrath, requested a series of revisions, "nothing huge," says DiSclafani, "but still work."
The book, which DiSclafani has been working on for the past four years, is the story of a teenage girl named Thea Atwell who, after getting involved in a scandal at home in Florida, is sent to a girls' equestrian boarding school in North Carolina, the institution of the title. The book is set during the Great Depression, and the riding camp itself is based on one -- now defunct -- that DiSclafani's family used to visit when she was growing up; the founders' house is now a restaurant where the family would eat dinner.
"Anton's book hits the sweet spot that publishers are consistently looking for," Karchmar told the Kansas City Star. "It's a very literary, review-worthy piece of writing with mainstream potential and accessibility. There's a lot of payoff available to readers, whether they want a more psychological, interior exploration of character or simply to be swept up in a world and time that is radically different and utterly fascinating. It's very difficult to find those books."
DiSclafani herself says she's very happy with the book. "It sounds conceited," she admits, "but I am."
The book is tentatively scheduled to be published in the summer of 2013, though DiSclafani says the date hasn't been confirmed. By then, she will have received her advance, but she doesn't believe her life will change all that much. She still wants to keep her day job.
"I love teaching," she says. "It was definitely a way to support myself while I was writing, but one of my students asked if I liked being a professor and my immediate answer was 'Yes.' Then she asked me why. It's because I can talk about the things I love most with people who care about them. It's very energizing. I can't imagine my life without it."