Brooklyn Eagle recently spoke to Ben Schrank — a writer and publisher who has long been tied to Brooklyn. In his new novel “Love is a Canoe,” Schrank divulges what goes on behind the scenes in a publishing house, all the while tracing the stories of various Brooklyn couples. He follows Peter Herman, an author whose acclaimed but decades-old relationship-advice book is in the midst of a publicity craze. A young editor plans to promote and commemorate the book through a contest in which Herman will spend time with a Brooklyn couple in an effort to save their marriage. With his own wife now dead, Herman is challenged to believe in his much lauded romantic advice when he sets out to help out Eli and Emily, a couple living in Carroll Gardens. Schrank seamlessly weaves together this tale of a struggling marriage with the complexities of book publishing, interspersing the love story with press releases, correspondence between publishing house employees, and excerpts from Herman’s book.
Why did you decide to focus your novel on Brooklynites?
I believed that the winner of the “Marriage is a Canoe” contest in my novel would be someone who recently moved to Brooklyn. I wanted those characters and that part of my novel to be very true to the life in Brooklyn that I know. It’s meant, partly, as satire, but of course what I see around me now seems odder than what I wrote.
Where in Brooklyn did you grow up, and where are you living now?
I grew up in Park Slope, on President Street between 7th and 8th Avenue and now I live in Gowanus, on Carroll between Nevins and Third. When I lived in Park Slope in the Seventies, 7th Avenue was silent after dark save for a few news stands, Pino’s, and the Purity Diner. When I go to Neergaard now and hear Range Rovers honking in front of Old First Church I tremble at the transformation.
I’m not sure how Brooklyn has informed my writing save that I’m wildly aware of all the great writers within shouting distance. I had no idea that by staying put in my hometown, I’d soon be surrounded by thousands of other, better writers. I sometimes feel that I can only be competitive about my writing space–I have an oversized bulkhead room on my roof with views of Manhattan. I tell myself that, though I may not be the best writer living in Brooklyn, I definitely have the best writer’s room in Brooklyn.
How do you balance your writing career with your job as a publisher?
I wake up really early and write and then go to Manhattan and spend the rest of the day working on other people’s novels. I haven’t found a balance yet, but I love writing and I love my job, so I don’t mind working hard at both of them.
Schrank is the president and publisher of a Penguin imprint, Razorbill, and has previously published two novels, “Consent” and “Mircale Man.” Schrank has also worked as a columnist for Seventeen magazine. He will be appearing at BookCourt on January 10 for a reading, audience Q&A, and signing. The event will begin at 7pm. BookCourt is located at 163 Court St. in Cobble Hill.