Anton DiSclafani didn’t quit her day job to write The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls. In fact, teaching played a vital role in her acclaimed debut, four years in the making.
Zola: There was a bidding war among several publishers for the book. Did you ever imagine that would happen? What was your reaction when you found out it had been sold?
Anton DiSclafani: No, I didn’t imagine that scenario. When I found out the book would sell (I knew publishers were interested about a week before it sold) I was pretty excited.
Zola: It took you four years to write the book while you were teaching creative writing at Washington University in Saint Louis. Did you ever feel like teaching was inhibiting your ability to finish the novel? Or did reading and critiquing the work of your students help motivate you and refine your own work?
AD: It took me two years to finish a first draft, a year to find an agent, and then two and a half years of revision with the agent. I taught the whole time, yes (I still teach), and teaching was the most rewarding of all the various part-time jobs I had while writing the book (babysitting, retail, editing, transcription). I find teaching invigorating—it’s like having a captive book club! Teaching isn’t working in the coal mine, you know? It’s a very flexible, rewarding job, kind of a dream job if you want to fit something else in your life besides work.
Zola: You were an equestrian growing up. Do you still ride? Did you write all of the riding-related material from memory or did you have to do research?
AD: I do still ride—I’m taking a lesson this morning, in fact. I didn’t have to do much research for the riding-related material, no. I wasn’t a jumper (I do a kind of riding called dressage), so I had to refresh my memory on heights of jumps, but that was about it. There were little details that I’d forgotten (like what a certain part of the underside of horse’s hoof is called—the frog, in case you’re wondering), but I rode for so long, and spent so much time around horses, that most of the riding-related material is second nature to me.
Zola: The girls’ camps and etiquette schools so prominent in the 1930s—when the novel is set—have all but disappeared. Is this a good or a bad thing? Is there anything those institutions imparted that current society could use?
AD: The good parts about an old-fashioned girls’ school—a sense of community, a way to exist for a short period of time without the presence of boys—are still available to girls in the form of all-girls schools, summer camps, etc. The idea of one of those schools existing today, in this country, seems utterly impossible, and that’s a good thing: modern girls don’t need finishing schools because their lives aren’t so terribly constrained.
Zola: What is your all-time favorite book about horses?
AD: You know, I don’t really have one. I loved the Black Stallion series, growing up, and I can appreciate books about racehorses (I’m thinking about Jane Smiley and Jaimy Gordon’s Lord of Misrule), but the horse-racing industry leaves me cold—it’s more of a business than any real relationship between jockey and horse. And most of the books (for adults at least) out there that involve horses are set on the track. I understand why: there’s something immediately exciting about a race, and the track is such a rich setting, but it’s not my cup of tea, horse-wise.
This article originally appeared on Zola Books.