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I spent yesterday afternoon at the combined conference of the Montana Library Association and Mountain Plains Library Association here in Billings. I was on a panel with Ruth McLaughlin (Montana Book Award winner! Woot!), Montana poet laureate Henry Real Bird and Dan Aadland.
Somehow, when I was recruited for this panel some months ago, I got it into my head that we were to deliver speeches. Well, no. We were there to read from our work (which, frankly, is a way better deal anyway). I was happy to make the switch, and I realized that I could just post the speech and PowerPoint presentation I prepared here at the blog.
So here goes: recycling!
THE PUBLIC LIBRARY: AN ESSENTIAL
I’d like to thank the Montana Library Association and the Mountain Plains Library Association for inviting me here today. I’m proud to be able to speak with folks who are doing a job that I consider absolutely essential to a well-rounded community and an informed, engaged populace. Thank you, sincerely, for all that you do.
I came to book writing relatively late. Although I’ve been involved with writing and editing as a journalist for nearly a quarter-century, it was just two and a half years ago that I wrote my first novel, 600 Hours of Edward. And while I sometimes retroactively kick myself in the pants for waiting so long to get going, in some ways I’m happy to have a nascent career at a time of such upheaval and rapid change in the business of words and publishing. You see, I have no time to sit around and pine for how it used to be, back when publishers were proliferate, writers were given three or four books to become overnight sensations and a fella could wear an ascot without getting funny looks. I have to figure out how to make it work with conditions as they are, not as I wish them to be. And if you’re here today, you have the same challenge.
This is just one guy’s opinion, but it’s an enthusiastic one: I think we’re going to be okay. Yes, it’s true: Never have so many things competed for people’s time and attention, and even when reading happens on a cell phone screen rather than a typeset page, it’s a decidedly old-school endeavor against the allure of game consoles and 3-D movies and video on demand. Like you, I hear this sullen phrase more than I wish to: “I just don’t have time to read.” And yet, on the other side, good news blooms: There’s more reading going on than ever before. Everybody and his dog are buying one of those fancy new e-readers. There’s a revolution in reading that certainly does threaten less-than-nimble publishers, but on the flip side, more power to create and bring books to market has fallen into authors’ hands. And we authors are eager to work with you. My friend Dee Ann Redman at Parmly Billings Library need only call and I’ll be there for any program she cares to put together. (Okay, truth be told, she’ll have more luck by pinging me on Facebook, but my larger point stands.) I’m dead serious about this, and I walk my talk. Any library group that wants to work with me will find that I’m a willing partner in presenting timely, informative, entertaining programs. I consider it vital to my self-interest as an author and a library’s role as a community pillar.
In this new world of reading, there is an essential role for librarians to play. We will forever need people who curate books, who put them in the hands of readers, who love them so much that their infectious enthusiasm lights the fuse of patrons young and old. That these tasks are performed in a place that is uniquely positioned as a community gathering place makes your role all the more important. My great hope for you falls along two lines: First, that your local governments and voters will give you the capital you need. (This, I’m afraid, is where my optimism wanes a little bit. It seems that the public arts are too easily considered expendable when tough economic times come along. On the contrary, I believe they’re needed more than ever.) Second, that publishers who adopt a penny-wise-pound-foolish approach to new technology see things in a more rational way. As you have no doubt gathered, I’m speaking here of ridiculous rules regarding limited licenses for e-books. It’s madness, and I sincerely hope that more reasonable people prevail here.
Back in January, my second novel, The Summer Son, was published. To have written and published two novels since November 2008 has changed my life in ways that I couldn’t have imagined when I sat down and finally pursued my writing dreams with an appropriate vigor. Among other things, it has afforded me the opportunity to talk about the influences that shaped my decision to pursue a career in letters.
In this regard, teachers and librarians – and, of course, my parents – loomed large in my upbringing. Some of my earliest memories of family outings involved going to the public library in Hurst, Texas, and taking home a stack of books. In my high school years, the library was an invaluable source of information and a quiet space for study. In my early twenties, when I could barely afford my rent, let alone books, the public library was a place I could feed my voracious appetite for free.
All of these people – parents who actively encouraged me to read, librarians who shamelessly fed that habit, teachers who helped me shape my thinking and my interests – worked in concert to make me a lifelong reader and someone who loved books so much that he wanted to write them. And while it’s been a long time since I’ve been in school, making me a candidate for viewing that part of my past through a kaleidoscope of nostalgia, I have a hard time believing that times have changed so much that these roles are no longer needed. Again, I have to think that they’re needed more than ever.
So, again, I thank you for lending your considerable talents to the communities that so badly need you.
And here’s a PDF version of the PowerPoint presentation I prepared:
New to the blogroll today (and only because I was lazy about 10 days ago, when it launched):
Reading Kitsap, by my good friend Jim Thomsen.
While the blog does play to a Kitsap County, Wash., core audience, Jim has some ambitious plans for it. As he said in the introductory post: “It’s my hope that this becomes the one stop for all news about our writing, publishing, bookselling and book-sharing communities.”
So far, he’s been true to his words. He’s had items on writers (including the awesome Jonathan Evison, who has come in for some praise here), provocative posts about how technology is changing our reading habits, riffs on book design and all kinds of other fabulous stuff. One of the best parts of my day is when a new post hits my e-mail box.
And if you think I might be trying to figure out some way to connect myself to Kitsap County so I can wedge my way into this blog … you’re right!
Gold Under Ice, Carol Buchanan’s follow-up to her Spur Award-winning debut, God’s Thunderbolt, is now available on Amazon.com. In a state brimming with literary talent, Carol is one of the most graceful writers we have. Her debut gave readers a fascinating piece of fiction set during Montana’s Vigilante period and a new hero in Dan Stark. Dan is back again, this time facing trouble back home in New York.
Carol announces the book’s arrival here.
From the back cover:
Money. Greenbacks vs. gold. The Lincoln administration prints greenbacks to pay the Union armies, and in the Gold Room off Wall Street traders pit the greenback against the gold Double Eagle. By January 1864, the greenback loses nearly half its value. An angry President Lincoln wishes gold traders – traitors all – were “shot in the head.”
Far to the west, in Alder Gulch, Montana Territory, millions in gold lie under the ice of Alder Creek. Gold-seekers pray for spring. When the ice breaks, Daniel Stark rescues a man hurled into the frigid water, only to learn that his autocratic grandfather sent the man to bring him back with gold to pay his family’s debt.
But Dan does not have enough gold to rescue the family from their financial burden. If he joins the gold traders, he could make enough to pay the debt and secure his family’s future. Or lose everything and be branded a traitor to the Union.
On a related note, I’m pleased to be able to announce that my new venture, Missouri Breaks Press, is the publisher for Gold Under Ice. Carol’s lovely book is the imprint’s first title, and I couldn’t be more proud. I launched this boutique publishing house because I wanted an outlet to work with projects and people that interest me. Carol qualifies on both counts. We both know all too well how perilous and uncertain publishing is right now, and we both know there’s never been a better time to swim through the currents of indie publishing.
Make no mistake: This is Carol’s book. I say that not to distance myself from the project but rather to ensure that I don’t take any undue credit for it. She pushed God’s Thunderbolt to its position as a regional and national success, and she’ll do the same for Gold Under Ice. I’m providing some editorial support and some cheerleading, and together we’ll see what that amounts to. I can’t think of a book I’d rather see as the initial Missouri Breaks release.
Yesterday in Bozeman, I completed the circle on what has been a surreal experience. “Surreal” was how Jamie Ford, the author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, described winning the 2009 Montana Book Award, so I’m going to co-opt his word. My book, 600 Hours of Edward, was one of four Honor Books for 2009, and, yes, “surreal” is the word.
I had no idea what to expect from the evening. I’d been told where to show up (Bozeman Public Library, a beautiful place) and when, and that’s about it. (Brief detour: I very nearly messed up the “when.” Angie and I were having dinner with my publisher, Chris Cauble, and his wife, Linda, and at 5:45, I noted that we still had plenty of time, given that the event started at 6:30 and was right across the street. Chris said, “I think it’s 6.” He checked the invitation, and sure enough: 6 o’clock. Angie changed into a dress in the front seat of the Explorer while I drove 100 feet at approximately 85 mph. Good times!)
When Wally McRae (Stick Horses), the first honoree, seemed completely at ease and launched into perfectly tailored remarks, my heart raced. I was wholly unprepared to actually say anything, so I stood there with Ang, trying not to sweat (or retch) and tried to come up with something appropriate for the occasion.
I won’t bore you with the actual remarks. I thanked Ang first and my publisher second, and expressed deep appreciation for the honor (which works, as I’m deeply appreciative). I thanked Jim Thomsen, who’s largely to blame for getting me into this crazy thing. I gave a brief, disjointed synopsis of how the book came to be. It occurs to me now that maybe telling people that I drafted it in 24 days isn’t the wisest thing in the world; it sounds as if I think art is something that can just be tossed off on a whim, which doesn’t reflect my point of view at all. Art comes on its own terms; in the case of 600 Hours of Edward, it came in a one-month torrent. I know how fortunate I am. Believe me.
In what can only be described as one of the themes of my life, it was hours later and miles away that I realized what I should have said. So if you’ll indulge me …
The motorcycle accident I had in July 2008 has become part of the Edward backstory, in large part because I’ve encouraged that. (For proof, see my bio and the latest bit of news to cross the transom.) But in July 2008, I hadn’t given any thought to Edward Stanton, and any dreams I had of being a novelist had been tucked away in the recesses of my brain.
What I was in July 2008 was a broken person, and this was long before the buck jumped into my path at mile marker 37 of Interstate 94. For months, I had been shuffling through my life without much enthusiasm and with a hurt and an anger I could could barely, and not always successfully, keep under the surface. I thanked Angie last night not just because she tolerates my incessant need to write but because she lived with the shell of the person I’d become, and she never lost faith that I would find my way back to a worthwhile path.
The motorcycle crash made me focus on getting better — first, in healing the physical scars, and then in confronting what was going on inside.
In November 2008, Edward came along, and for 24 days, I lived inside his head — an interesting place to be sure, and at that time, far preferable to being inside my own cranium. Writing Edward made me feel useful and gave me a peek at something I wanted to do with the life I had left.
I’m always gratified when people write to me and thank me for breathing life into Edward. That my fictional man, so flawed and so beautiful, has a profound impact on folks just blows my mind. It’s the best validation for writing I can imagine.
And yet, I’m always tempted to correct them. Because from where I sit, the truth of the matter is that Edward breathed life into me.
Quick takeaways from Bozeman …
- It was so nice to see people who are becoming such good friends: Mark Miller (who introduced me), Barbara Theroux, Mary Jane DiSanti, Ariana Paliobagis, Michelanne Shields, Jill Munson. It was, in every sense of the word, a wonderful evening.
- Jamie Ford and his lovely wife, Leesha, are such nice folks. Jamie wrote a beautiful book, and he’s every bit as graceful as his words. I joked with him afterward that we should start a literary blood feud, but if you were to meet him, you’d know how truly preposterous such a notion is.
- Librarians can party.
- Finally, a meteorological note (Edward would approve). Here’s Montana in spring: We arrived in Bozeman just after 3 p.m., and the sun was shining, people were walking around with sunglasses, Angie shed her top layer because it was getting warm. Not a half-hour later, a snowstorm plowed into town, with huge flakes flying sideways and swirling. By the time we got to the car, I had to sweep it clear. We arrived at the restaurant positively drenched. Hours later, as we left town, it looked like a winter wonderland.
Today brings one such opportunity. Henry Baum’s new novel, The American Book of the Dead, just emerged. In addition, Baum has been at the forefront of the self-publishing movement, as the creator of the influential Self-Publishing Review site and the founder of Backword Books, a collective of independent literary authors. (Full disclosure: I was set to join Backword before my novel, 600 Hours of Edward, got picked up by Riverbend Publishing.)
In the questions and answers that follow, we’ll dig into Baum’s new book as well as his views on where publishing is … and where it’s going.
Q: You’re at the forefront of indie publishing, with a book (North of Sunset) that has been hailed as a standout among self-published works and a Web site that is a must-read for those who are going it alone. At what point did you realize that self-publishing had morphed into something bigger than the pejorative vanity publishing?
Actually, as soon as I got the first copy of North of Sunset from Lulu. The formatting of the text was a mess, but I was holding an actual book in my hands. The ability to see myself in print was a revelation. I’d spent years writing a novel prior to North of Sunset, years more trying to get it published — had an agent, etc. A draining, dispiriting experience. I’d published traditionally before in the U.S. and abroad, but when I got that first copy of the book after suffering to be in print for so long, it was like: Finally, I can bypass the madness.
Q: What has your publishing journey been like? Unlike a lot of indies, you’ve had some action in the traditional arena.
My first novel came out with Soft Skull Press, which was up and coming at the time, and is now pretty well-established. Actually, going back I had a novel before that with an agent and that didn’t sell. I hand-delivered my manuscript to Soft Skull myself, along with the demo tape of a band I was in, which the editor, Sander, said helped in his decision. That book’s endured, strangely. I wrote it when I was 20 years old and it’s come out in the U.K. with Rebel Inc. Press and France with Hachette Litteratures — maybe the equivalent of Vintage here. It just came out in another edition with Another Sky Press (anothersky.org). So it’s not as though I don’t traditional publishing. I’ve had many agents — a foreign rights agent, but I’ve had a fair share of bad experiences along the way with both agents and publishers. I think I might be a poster child for self-publishing, which is not something I ever wanted to be.
Q: Your third novel, “The American Book of the Dead,” just hit the market. In what ways are you applying the lessons you’ve learned about indie publishing in marketing this book?
Strangely enough, to not try as hard. What I mean by that is that with North of Sunset I went out of my way to try and find reviews and get the book listed wherever I could. I may run the Self-Publishing Review, which reviews books, but basically reviews aren’t that useful — they’re just kind of fun, to be part of the conversation. But in terms of selling books, it’s some wasted energy. So I’ll try to get some reviews here/there, but I’m not going to go crazy. So much social media didn’t exist when I put out that book — specifically Twitter, but also Scribd and the ebook revolution. In many ways, it’s a lot easier now. I mean, my novel shot up to the top of Kindle’s charts after a brief mention on a forum. Unloading that number of print books just isn’t realistic. But I’m also going to be patient — this is something that could build over time, as people discover the book, read it, pass it on, so I’m not nearly as desperate to “hit it big” as I once was. If it happens, great, but it’s much more likely to happen organically, slowly, than selling a lot of books all at once.
I’m also doing something very different with this book. I’m also a songwriter — I was a musician before I ever started writing fiction, but I’ve always kept it as more of a hobby. Now I’m really going for it and recording a song for each chapter in the novel @ theamericanbookofthedead.com. Something else I’ve learned is your marketing strategy has to be unique; it’s not enough that your book is good. This songwriting project is unique I think, and it also gives me a reason to take songwriting more seriously for the first time.
Q: You’ve gotten blowback from some in the indie ranks for suggesting that it’s not antithetical to self-publishing to insist on editorial weeding-out. What do you mean?
I’m a part of Backword Books — a collective of self-published authors who have banded together. In doing so, we’ve had to turn away a fair number of writers no differently than an agent or publishing house. Which sucks, in a way, because the reason I’ve gotten into self-publishing is because I so loathe the gatekeeping system. But what I loathe about the gatekeeping system is that it is money-driven more than quality-driven. I have no problem with a literary press selecting books the editor likes – that’s his/her prerogative. Gatekeeping isn’t bad by design, it’s just that the design has gotten fairly screwed up by the current system. But there are a fair number of self-publishing purists out there who think even the collective arrangement is anti-thetical to the DIY spirit. I don’t.
Q: What’s wrong with the traditional publishing model? How can collectives like Backword Books find the legitimacy of traditional publishing while also avoiding the problems that affect it?
I have no problem with traditional publishing — I’ve just been rejected (as have many other people) based on criteria that has nothing to do with the writing. My last novel was about Hollywood. I was told by an agent, “A book was just sold about the magazine industry, so that’s what people are looking for.” This is lunacy. Plenty of good books get published, but too many good books get turned away and authors aren’t given the chance to grow should a book not sell immediately. That’s not usually how art unfolds, with overnight success. It can take years, possibly, for an artist to hit their stride. Publishers can say: Well, self-publish and hit your stride, and we’ll talk then. I’m fine with that and I think that’s what’s happening with self-publishing and why it’s gaining legitimacy — because a lot of good writers with a decent track record are getting turned away.
Backword isn’t everything it could be, I’ll admit — not yet. The thing that traditional publishing has over self-publishing is distribution. And it’s not as though Backword suddenly got a bookstore distribution deal by banding together. That’s one of our ultimate goals. If we’re able to achieve that, then it does change the landscape quite a bit because you take away the main issue that makes traditional publishing superior: distribution to brick and mortar stores.
Q: What is your ideal writing environment?
Hmmn, not having a full-time job. Unfortunately, I don’t live in that paradise. All I need is four hours right after the first morning coffee and that’d be great. I read that both John Steinbeck and Truman Capote only wrote full-steam for four hours — even though they had the time to do otherwise. Otherwise the writing started to get weak. I’m a person who writes in bursts, so I’ll write a novel in three months and then be totally drained and not write another word for a while. So, man, if I could have three months to just write half the day and record music the other half, that would be a dream. Right now, I get in writing when I can.
Q: What’s on your nightstand? What sort of things do you read for pleasure?
Well, I have so much reading to do for the Self-Publishing Review — so many writers counting on the site for reviews — that I feel guilty venturing out into other territory. Which is sort of unfortunate. Strangely though, I tend to read a lot of non-fiction — esoteric stuff. The American Book of the Dead is about the end of the world, evolution, consciousness, and other such ideas and I still haven’t lost my bug for figuring out just what the hell is going on behind the veil.
Wyoming native Ron Franscell is a literary adventurer. The longtime newspaperman has three published books to his credit and three more working their way through the convoluted pipelines that lead to publication. Along the way, he has told stories of brothers forged by war and common experience, a journalist’s attempt to clear a man’s name no matter the cost and a shocking crime that affected Franscell in the most personal of ways.
He’s also a contributor to In Cold Blog and a man generous with advice and fellowship with up-and-coming writers. Many thanks to him for taking part in this Q&A:
Q: Your debut novel, Angel Fire, was picked by the San Francisco Chronicle as one of the 100 best novels of the 20th century West. How many times was it rejected on the road to publication?
ANGEL FIRE was rejected 38 times before it was finally published by a small publisher in Alabama. Editors tended to say they loved the plot, the characters, the writing, the voice … but the book simply wasn’t commercial enough. By that, I now know they meant “we can’t justify the risk of publishing a first literary novel by an unknown writer.”
One of the rejecting houses was Berkley. So it was pleasantly surprising after ANGEL FIRE’s first printing of 3,000 sold out within a month and Berkley swooped in to buy the paperback rights to a book it had rejected in manuscript.
At writers’ conferences, you’ll hear editors say they yearn to sign the next Hemingway. Nice line. But in fact, they would likely reject the next Hemingway, since the first Hemingway changed everything. Publishing is a risk-averse business, despite its carefully tended risk-loving façade. If those editors were more honest, they’d say they want somebody else to take a risk on the next Hemingway so they can go out and find somebody who writes just like him if he becomes a bestseller.
Q: Your books — Angel Fire, The Deadline, The Darkest Night — fall into many genres, among them literary fiction, suspense and true crime. How difficult is it to move from genre to genre?
I accept that each genre has its unique conventions, but a story is a story. In fact, I believe deeply that every great story contains the same literary DNA, bits of every other story we’ve ever told.
In my books, I didn’t start out by choosing a genre; I chose a story. I didn’t set out to write a literary novel, a mystery and a true crime. To me, in the beginning, ANGEL FIRE was merely a story about two brothers in a close, necessary relationship; THE DEADLINE was inspired by a dream that caused me to ponder my own cynicism as a newspaperman; THE DARKEST NIGHT rose from a post-9/11 flight back from a reporting assignment in the Middle East, as I suddenly remembered another day, another time when my world changed in a single moment.
My upcoming projects continue this odd anti-trend. I just finished a nonfiction about an extraordinary road trip with my son to the Arctic, where we sipped a cocktail containing a mummified human toe and spent the longest day of the year under a sun that never set; an exploration into the lives of 10 survivors of mass killers; and a fun guidebook to more than 400 outlaw-related sites all over Texas. There’s also a screenplay haunting me.
But a word to the wise: genre-jumping is not the path to riches. Agents and editors will publicly advise writers to write what’s in their hearts, but publishing is a risk-averse business and they’re most interested in what has already succeeded for somebody else. Those same experts will sternly warn that there’s very little chance of publishing anything anyway … so it seems to me a writer should do what he wants to do and hope his agent is versatile and devoted. If I fail at publishing, at least I fail telling stories I want to tell.
Q: Your book-writing career sprang from a newspaper career. How did journalism help prepare you for the literary world, and in what ways did you have to make adjustments?
The transition has been made by so many writers, such as Hemingway and Twain, it might seem natural, but it isn’t. I believed it would be like shifting gears in a car, where the transmission is set differently for shorter and longer trips. I saw book-writing as just a longer trip. No problem, just shift into gear and settle back.
I was wrong. Much of what we learn in journalistic storytelling is anathema to longer writing, especially fiction. In a newspaper, we’re taught to distance ourselves from the material, to put our emotions in a box, to write short, fabricate nothing, write fast, and put the most important thing first. A novel would be very short if we put the most important thing first! But everything is fabricated, the revision is endless, and the story would be empty if it wasn’t filled with an author’s emotion.
Think about it: a poet, a songwriter, a news anchorwoman and a technical writer are all wordsmiths and each tells a kind of story — but none of a news anchorwoman’s skills make her a natural poet . . . none of a songwriter’s talents suggest he could write a good technical manual. We have many storytelling modes, and each requires special proficiencies.
My fiction has benefited from the authenticity of my newspaper writing, and my newspaper writing has benefited from my development of a more distinct voice and confidence in long fiction. They are blended most inextricably in narrative nonfiction like THE DARKEST NIGHT, where I Tell a true story with some of the tools in a novelist’s toolbox, such as foreshadowing, dramatic pacing, dialogue, and a more literary flourish.
My heart will probably always be in newspapers. I got into this business in the salad days of newspapering, the Seventies, when reporters conducted themselves like knights and readers trusted us to speak truth. Newspapers can do what books have seldom done: Change communities for the better. The pendulum has swung to a different height now, and the craft sometimes is its own worst enemy, but I still believe people want honest, good people to tell them what’s happening just beyond their view. In the Cyber Age, we might see the death of newspapers-on-paper, but there will always be a need for honest, good people to observe and report what is happening. The Internet, as it exists now, can be a seedy and untrustworthy place, and I believe readers will eventually seek out the farthest corners of that vast “library” for information they can trust.
Q: The West is a common bond among all your works. What is the West to you, and how does it shape your art?
The West is heart-earth to me. Out here, the landscape shapes us as much as we shape it. Landscape — and by extension, weather, seasons, space and climate — makes Western literature unique, and often plays a role in any story. These things are all part of the algorithms of our simplest decisions, from going to the market to planting a tree. And how come we never hear something in Manhattan described as “weathered”?
I grew up and have worked in small western towns, and I love the texture of a place. The simple image of a small-town water tower on the cover of ANGEL FIRE piques the memory banks of anyone who grew up in a place where the water tower loomed over everything.
West Canaan and Winchester (the setting in THE DEADLINE) are composite places, cobbled together from memory, imagination and reality. Everywhere and nowhere. They bring together many of the things that characterize small, high plains towns, from the courthouse lawns, to the balky back doors of rural movie houses, to the intimacy of this tiny settlement surrounded by nothingness. I seek familiarity when writing about a small town, and in small towns I find the most resonant memories and emotions.
Q: It’s safe to say that publishing is a bit chaotic these days. How can writers, particularly aspiring writers, best prepare themselves for what they’re facing?
It’s impossible to predict what the book industry will be doing next week, much less next year when a newbie will finish his first book. All a writer can do is improve his odds by making all the right moves. Too many variables go into the process of writing, pitching, contracting, marketing and selling a book. You cannot time the market, you can only get lucky.
But you can improve your odds, first and foremost, by writing a good book. Without a good manuscript, you lessen your odds of publication significantly. And every move you make after -30- [the newspaperman’s traditional symbol for “The End”] will improve or lessen your odds. The right agent, the right proposal, the right editor, the right time … on and on. If you did every single thing right, then your odds of publishing your novel are slightly better than 1-in-1,000. Woo-hoo!
Persistence is probably the most valuable quality a writer can have. One must persist in the writing, even when the Muse is off masturbating. One must persist in the process of finding a home for the book, in spreading the word, in showing up time after time (even when the bookstore didn’t prepare), and keeping the tiny spark alive so you can start the whole process again tomorrow. If you’re a would-be writer who isn’t up to the literary equivalent of an iron-man triathlon, stay on the porch.
Q: What is your ideal environment for writing?
At home. In my office. At my desk. In my chair. Usually morning.
Q: Any writer who has done an event or a signing has a story of abject of loneliness at the table. What’s yours?
I’ve been extraordinarily lucky. In dozens of book events, I’ve only had one skunking. This small-town bookseller put the wrong date in the calendar, posted no signs or calendar listings, and left a teenager in charge of the store for the entire weekend. Nobody came in the store for two hours … and when I say nobody, I mean not a single soul crossed that store’s threshold that day. I left feeling that it wasn’t a lack of popularity on my part, but an impending bankruptcy on theirs. (Writers are exceptionally talented at such rationalizations.)
Q: How do you define validation as a writer? Is it the process itself? Holding the book in your hands? Reviews?
It’s when a reader comes up to me or writes letter and tells me how one of my books touched her in a memorable way. For me, this has always been an intimate contract between me and readers. Agents, editors, booksellers, publicists, reviewers, media are all necessary in delivering the book to a reader’s hands, but when the reader completes the circle and tells me something marvelous about one of my stories, that’s when I know I told a good story.
Q: Someone tells you he/she wants to write novels. Your advice is?
Write. Just write. Until you have written, nothing else is important.
Ron Franscell’s Web site: www.ronfranscell.com
The Darkest Night on Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/Darkest-Night-Sisters-Brutal-Innocence/dp/0312948468/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1253297486&sr=8-1
Jennifer August’s debut novel, Her Dark Master, was released just days ago and has quickly racked up all sorts of good buzz. Whipped Cream (seriously, you can’t make this stuff up) gave it four-and-a-half cherries and said “Her Dark Master combines intrigue and suspense with pulse-pounding erotica, ensuring a reader squirms in their seats while they remain on their toes.” Night Owl Romance went with four-and-a-half out of five hearts, observing, “Intertwined within the Victoria and Lord Corwin story-line, the author has also peppered the novel with a mystery concerning blackmail and provided a glimpse of how the custom of arranged marriages, could potential leave a young woman with a very unsuitable choice in husbands.”
Obviously, I’ve ventured outside my usual genres here, but Jennifer has a great publishing story and some great insight into the various levels of the romance genre. And then there’s this: She’s a high school classmate of mine, though I must concede that I didn’t remember her when I stumbled across her profile on Facebook. That says nothing about her memorability or my advancing age and much about the size of the Richland High School Class of 1988: 620 members.
In any case, I’m glad to know her now and happy for her success. Here’s more about how she broke through:
Q: Tell us about Her Dark Master. When did you start writing? How long did it take? What was the road to publication?
My very first attempt at writing came about when I was 16 years old. I devoured series romance novels and the bigger historicals from authors like Kathleen Woodiwiss and Jennifer Wilde. One day, I decided I could do it too, which is howI think most authors start their careers. Unfortunately, I had no real clue about writing. By the sweat of my brow, I cranked out 32 handwritten notebook pages of a really dreadful romance. I still have it, just to remind me. I’ve been seriously writing since 1997. In that time I’ve finished 14 manuscripts and started countless others. Her Dark Master was the 13th book I wrote, and oddly enough, 13 has always been my lucky number.
In the romance industry, we have a national organization called Romance Writers of America and within each state, as well as online, there are local chapters. I belong to several such chapters, as well as non-romance writers’ groups. A lot of these chapters have contests where the final judges are usually acquiring editors or agents. I entered HDM into one of these contests, it finalled, then won, and the editor requested it. She bought it within a few weeks.
Red Sage bought my book in December of 2008 and it was released as an e-book on Sept. 1 of 2009. The intervening months were spent with an initial revision letter, followed by line edits, the cover and finally proofs. It alternated between passing quickly and dragging on. Especially the last two weeks of August!
Q: Break down the romance genre. Are there levels of, for lack of a better word, steaminess?
Steaminess is a great word! There are legions of levels within the romance genre. There are sweets, where the sexual tension is apparent between the hero and heroine but no actual “on-screen” lovemaking is witnessed. At the top level is the extremely erotic — which is what I’d classify my book as — where readers pose as voyeurs and get to see every single aspect of lovemaking, written in graphic terms. In between is a wide range of levels depending on lines, readers and authors. These books run the gamut from just above sweet, where we might get a little more action and glimpses into the bedroom, to full-fledged lovemaking that’s not quite as graphic as an erotic novel. There is literally a taste of romance for every reader out there. Romance novels have expanded and adapted to what the readers demand, while ensuring the core of the story always remains the relationship between the main hero and heroine, or in the case of yet another evolving genre, the hero and hero. Or the hero, hero and heroine.
Q: An indelicate question: What’s your approach to writing sex scenes? Do you plot them out, or just go with the moment?
I have to say my sole plotting of sex scenes is “Sex here. Hot, super hot or nova” on my plotting board. For me, the characters dictate the way the love scenes go. More often than not, I’m just along for the ride (so to speak!). I know who they are before I start writing and I know their temperaments and experience levels and definitely their tastes in what turns them on, but when it comes time to actually write the scene, I just let the words pour out of me. I am very visual, so I usually “see” the scene in my head and work fast to get everything down on paper. I try to get the whole thing down in one fell swoop, then go back and make sure all the body positioning and emotional reactions are fully logical and engaged. It’s actually a very delicate operation and probably one of the things I spend the most time on. Of course, they’re wickedly fun, too, so it’s not a hardship!
Q: You write with a historical bent. How much research is involved?
When it comes to accuracy, I really try to get all my facts straight. I have a ton of research books that are specific to the romance industry, as well as more obscure works that might have one or two bits of useful information I might use one day. Of particular importance is ensuring when you bend history that you don’t break it. Readers do not like that. They’ll forgive some stuff, but if I made the Prince Regent king three years before he actually ascended, I’d lose my credibility. It’s a huge trust factor with the readers, and I don’t want to risk messing that up. But research is actually fun. I can get lost in the past quite easily and for hours on end. I’ve been tossed from the library at closing time more often than I care to admit.
Q: What sort of environment do you require for writing?
I’m a creature of habit. I must be at my desk with either a sporting event or music playing, a candle of the pumpkin spice variety burning and the lights on in order to write extensively. If I need to do revisions or line edits, I work from printouts, which is archaic but I find more stuff that way. I always carry around a notebook and favorite pen just in case I get inspired and need to jot something down, but for actual book writing, it’s gotta be in one place — my glass desk.
Q: Romance fans are among the most enthusiastic readers out there. What has your interaction with readers been like?
You’ve totally hit the nail on the head! Romance readers are genuine, fun, bold and supportive. I’ve received e-mails and posts from all around the country since the release of my book. They’re all complimentary and ask about the next book (soon!) and inquisitive! They ask how I came up with a plot point or how much is real life and how much is pure fantasy. Since my book is available only online, I haven’t had the opportunity to do anything face-to-face public, but I’m working on it.
Q: What do you read for pleasure?
My ultimate pleasure read is The Belgariad by David Eddings. It’s a sword and sorcery fantasy series, and I just love it. Other than that I read romance novels, usually historicals, but I’ve been getting into a lot of contemporaries lately. I like mysteries and fantasy, but not a lot of horror. My imagination is too vivid!
Q: What lit your fuse and convinced you that you wanted to write?
When I was little, I used to make up stories all the time. As I grew older and started reading, I became fascinated by how random words could come together to create compelling stories. In high school, I was encouraged by my English teachers to try creative writing and always did well on it. I also did a lot of “changing” books in my head. If I didn’t like the way a scene played out, I totally changed it in my mind. I had a lot of support from my family, too, who pushed me to give it a whirl. In fact, my brother is the one who really got the ball rolling. He bought me a ticket to a local writers’ conference and the rest, as the cliche goes, is history. I’ve lived in my own land of make-believe for so long, that it’s nice to have it appreciated by others!
Q: What are you working on now?
Currently, I’m writing the sequel to Her Dark Master. It will be the story of Tori’s brother Ryder. After that, I’ll feature another character from the book, the mysterious Mr. Wolffe.
Jennifer August’s Web site: http://www.jenniferaugust.com/
Purchase link for Her Dark Master: www.eredsage.com
I met Heidi Thomas when she was wending her way through Montana on tour with her debut novel, Cowgirl Dreams, and have since enjoyed bandying thoughts with her on the craft of writing and seeing another print journalist break through in the fiction world. Her novel has received strong notices from critics and readers alike. Consider this from a reader on Amazon.com:
It takes the reader into Big Sky country on the back of a strong horse flying over the rugged terrain. I felt that I was there with Nettie experiencing her life and adventures. The descriptions are vivid, detailed, and heart breakingly real as evidenced in the story of little baby Esther. The rodeos and bronc busting found me holding my breath.
Below, Heidi talks about how the novel came to be.
Q: Walk us along the road to publication for Cowgirl Dreams. When did you start writing it? How long did it take get it published?
I started writing it in 1999. It took me about 2½ to 3 years to write and rewrite a few times, then it took until the end of 2008 to be published, so almost 10 years from start to finish. I collected 17 rejections, including two “yes, but it’s not in our budget right now” non-rejections, before Lee Emory at Treble Heart Books took on the project.
Q: The main character, Nettie, is based on your grandmother, and the book started as nonfiction. Why did you switch?
I didn’t really start the book as non-fiction. Before writing a book, I tried writing some scenes based on family history, and I found that I was apparently too close to the characters. I didn’t have the freedom to elaborate, to embellish, to create conflict and make a better story, so that’s why I chose the novel form. My grandmother was not a “famous” cowgirl — she wasn’t as flamboyant as Prairie Rose Henderson; she didn’t win competitions in Madison Square Garden; and for her time, she was just an “ordinary” horsewoman who happened to ride steers in local rodeos. Fiction allowed me to fill in the blanks and ask “what if?
Q: You published with Treble Heart Books. How has the support been? What have you learned about marketing?
Great editorial support, and the nice thing about being with a small publisher is that the author often has more “say” in how the book turns out, both in content and in cover design. I was able to give my ideas about what I’d like to see on the cover, whereas I know that in many cases with large publishing houses, you have no idea what they might come up with and it might not relate to the story at all as you see it.
Most publishers these days (even large New York houses) don’t put out much, if any financial support for marketing, so authors have to do most everything on their own. I’ve read books on marketing, studied the internet, and done my marketing on the “trial and error” basis. You have to get your name out there, so networking via the internet is important — having a website, writing a blog, joining social networking sites, building your “platform.” But it also takes pounding the pavement, talking it up, and driving many miles (as I did on my Montana book tour). It’s fun, though, and rewarding. I’m basically a shy person, but I do have a bit of “ham” in me, so I’m finding that I’m actually enjoying the public speaking, meeting people, and talking about my passion—my book and my writing.
Q: What is the role of the West in your writing?
The West (Montana) is my setting and becomes almost a character in the book. I didn’t set out to write a “Western,” but authors have to have a spot on the marketing bookshelf for a book, so because Cowgirl Dreams was about rodeo and took place in the West, it is labeled a Western.
Q: How do you work? What’s your approach to getting down a draft and then revising it?
The familiar litany “I should be more disciplined; I should have a set schedule for writing, etc” is my lament. With my marketing, teaching classes and editing for other authors, I sometimes put my own writing on the back burner. But I belong to two wonderful weekly critique groups, so that gives me a deadline. I know I have to have some pages to present, and that keeps me going. I guess that working against deadlines stems from my old newspaper days.
Q: What books lit your fuse and set you on a path toward becoming an author?
Oh, I’ve always been a voracious reader from a young age. Zane Grey and Nancy Drew were favorites, of course, and throughout elementary school, I wrote many stories. One teacher told me I had a “wild imagination.” But I read many genres, from classics and literary works to police procedurals and courtroom dramas. I greatly admire the writing of Ivan Doig, a fellow Montana author, and Jane Kirkpatrick, a western historical author.
Q: You do a lot of blogging on writing technique. Do you find that it helps you when you sit down to do your own work?
Yes, it does, actually. I also have taught community adult writing classes for several years. I’ve had many experiences where I’m telling my students about a technique and I suddenly realize that’s exactly what I should be doing in my writing. It solidifies an idea when you have to explain it to someone else.
Q: What are you working on now?
I just submitted my sequel, Follow the Dream, to my publisher, and I am working on an idea for a third Nettie novel. I’d originally planned that the third book in my series would be the next generation, based on my mother who came from Germany after WWII. But I found that the way I ended my second book left it open for another, and it may help me bridge a gap between the Nettie years and the next family story.
Heidi Thomas’ Web site: www.heidimthomas.com
Heidi Thomas’ blog: http://heidiwriter.wordpress.com
Heidi Thomas’ book at Treble Heart Books: www.trebleheartbooks.com/SDHeidiThomas.html
To get a sense of Joshua Mohr’s wonderful debut novel, Some Things That Meant the World to Me, and its protagonist, a 30-year-old man named Rhonda, consider a snippet of the Publishers Weekly starred review:
To withstand the frequent absences of his alcoholic mother and her boyfriend’s abuse, Rhonda imagines his childhood home in Arizona as a living thing, where rooms stretch and move, and desert wildlife wanders the halls. The disturbing narrative engine — Rhonda’s renaming and reimagining of the world around him to fit into his damaged logic — keeps the story creepily moving as it touches on homebrew prison wine and Rhonda’s friendship with his childhood self, little-Rhonda. Mohr uses punchy, tightly wound prose to pull readers into a nightmarish landscape, but he never loses the heart of his story …
In an article titled “A Faithful Grope in the Dark,” Mohr wrote expansively and persuasively back in May about his decision to cast his lot with a small, highly regarded literary press (Two Dollar Radio). More about that piece and Two Dollar Radio in the Q&A below.
Q: Where did the idea for Some Things That Meant the World to Me come from? Have you known people like Rhonda, your main character? How did you get into his world?
The novel started with an image of a broken home, a home that’s literally broken: its rooms drifting away from one another like the separating continents. Broken homes aren’t just well tread territory; they’re trampled! So my task became finding a new way to talk about them. How can you surprise your reader while immersing her/him into a familiar setting? The idea of shattering the structure seemed like a fun way to worm my way in.
Then I was standing out front of a bar one night, and I looked down the block and saw a man standing over a woman and choking her. It was disgusting and scary; I yelled and ran toward them and pushed him off of her. I felt drawn to write about this moment of emergency and constructed what I thought would be a short story. But as the weeks went on, I thought more about combining these two tentacles: maybe the man who interrupted the violent episode toward the woman could have had violence in his own past, and maybe the broken home could be a vehicle to explore this collision of past and present.
This is really a coming-of-age story. We don’t often think of coming-of-age tales being about adults, but the book’s main character, Rhonda, is thirty and this is definitely a time of redefinition, of understanding the world in a new way. It’s fascinating how humans reanimate the ghosts of our lives by dwelling on them, that intersection of past and present; we allow them to haunt us; we empower memory by fixating on scenarios long since gone in space-time but very much alive in our brains. And if those wounds are ever cauterized, what then? That question is a big part of the novel.
Q: In “A Faithful Grope in the Dark,” you detailed your reasons for ultimately publishing with a small press, Two Dollar Radio. What sort of response have you received?
People love “sexy” stories. People love to hear about the first-time novelist who gets a six figure advance and now wears nothing but fur coats and slurps champagne from supermodels’ bellybuttons in Saint-Tropez. And I wouldn’t have turned down that path had anyone actually offered it to me.
More often than not, though, people’s experiences with publishing their first books are much less sexy. My agent tried to sell my novel for over a year, and all the major houses turned it down; some expressed interest in picking up my book if I agreed to tone down certain macabre themes, but I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I castrated my own story. It’s very Faustian, in that sense: we have to weigh those tempting, nefarious offers, but hopefully in the end, our loyalty is to our own aesthetics instead of chasing publishing contracts. Because there are no guarantees of what will succeed versus flounder in the marketplace whether you publish with a large or small house. And if that’s the case, why would you compromise your artistic vision?
So I didn’t take some kind of “moral” high ground, shunning the larger publishing houses and seeking out an indie house. My agent and I searched for a shop that had a vision similar to ours, that loved Some Things that Meant the World to Me and didn’t want to water down the meat of the story. That was 2DR.
The essay about “deciding” to publish with 2DR has put me in touch with all kinds of people. I’ve loved hearing other writers’ feelings on the topic, their own circumstances trying to crack into this weird business. This might be a total rationalization—I’m not self-aware enough to know for sure—but I think the whole big house vs. small house debate is actually pretty moot. Writers shouldn’t concern themselves with that stuff: just write a kick ass book. After that, all we can do is heave it at the wall and see if it sticks. We have limited impact over how it fares once it’s on the shelves.
Q: A lot of authors who have gone the independent route — and a lot of those still plugging away at trying to find an agent and break through with the big publishers — can relate to your publishing story. Having made it through and casting your lot with Two Dollar Radio, what advice do you have for them?
The thing I find myself saying the most often to students is simply this: do the work. There are constellations of reasons why we can’t write—I’m tired, I’m sick, I’m overworked, etc. And these are cogent excuses; I’m not diminishing their clout at all. But at the end of the day, either you do the work or you don’t. If you want to write a book, write one. Is it easy to spend sunny days locked indoors with our rough drafts? Of course not. And how do you find the energy to come home and stare at a computer after sitting in front of one all day in your cubicle? Do you really want to skip that cocktail party and rewrite chapter eleven? There’s a certain level of sacrifice (masochism) that comes with this writing thing.
Once the book is written and we search for agents or wait to hear feedback from editors at publishing houses, it’s vital that we have distractions. Writers can’t just sit around and wait to hear reports. I’ll try and only speak for myself here, though I know plenty of writers that fall in a similar category: I’m a fragile manic narcissist. When I get a good review, I’m on cloud nine. And when I was getting shot down by editors, I wanted to pull the covers over my head and not leave the house all day. I wish someone had helped me escape some of that self-importance, helped me keep the experience in a better perspective. In the end, I’m not curing cancer or doing AIDS research, I’m writing a book. Yes, we should take our craft seriously, but it can’t be the end all be all.
So find ways to distract yourself—work on the next novel or story collection, learn to blow glass, take up pole dancing. Anything to get you out of your own head.
One last tine of advice comes courtesy of Pablo Picasso, who said, “The chief enemy of creativity is good taste.” That’s so fucking wise I tattooed it on my arm.
Q: What is your ideal environment for writing?
Ideal environments are more a question of when than where for me: I’m an insomniac so my best work gets done between midnight and 5 a.m., in the hours liberated from cell phones and emails and “real world” responsibilities. Sometimes, I think I’m better suited for my imaginary worlds anyway. Real life confuses me.
Another way to think about a writing environment is the way in which writers approach their own terrains on the page. For example, I’m always working on two novels at once—one further along that needs cleaning up, tinkering, late-drafting issues, etc; then there’s always another mired in the painstaking early draft process. Each flexes different muscles in my literary-brain, so when one isn’t clicking, I can focus on the other. I find having these options alleviates some pressure, makes it easier for me to find the gusto to enter one of the projects and that flexibility keeps me generating pages/making progress.
Q: What books lit your fuse when you were deciding to become a writer?
I came to reading later in life, faking my way through book reports throughout junior high and high school. Then during my senior year, we were supposed to read something I’d deemed boring and stilted—Jane Austen, I think—and I turned in another bogus report. My teacher called me on it, told me he’d flunk my ass if I didn’t make this right. Then he handed me a copy of Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five and told me I had a week to write a report on it. I read the book in one sitting. It blew my fucking mind. I had no idea writing could be so vibrant and wild and reckless. I thought literature was stodgy, bourgeois, and Vonnegut’s book blew away any misconceptions I had about the wanton opportunities that are there, waiting like closed doors to get kicked in.
Q: How much marketing and promotion do you take on? How much help has Two Dollar Radio given you?
I try to make myself as available as I can, taking advantage of the 21st century’s forums, primarily Facebook and Goodreads. Earlier you asked about my essay on the Rumpus about publishing with 2DR, and I must have been contacted by fifty or so people through Facebook, thanking me for telling a story that’s more relatable than the six-figure advance fairy tale. People need to hear that there’s a community of writers out there, and we’re all struggling to tell stories that aren’t “palatable” enough for the pigeonholes in the big houses. But there are still places for us to tell those stories, and those stories can still find large audiences.
2DR has been very helpful with marketing and promotion, as helpful as I think they can be. In the end, the thing I love about their outfit is also our biggest hurdle in terms of getting the book out there: they don’t have a marketing department. So on one hand, that’s fantastic in terms of us writing and editing an acerbic subversive book; however, it means that there isn’t a team of people whose entire jobs revolve around pimping the novel. It puts more of an onus on all of us, makes it more of a grassroots, do-it-yourself deal.
Q: You teach writing classes. From the trenches, what do you see? Are you seeing some truly talented folks?
I teach fiction writing through UC Berkeley’s public arts program and also through a boutique shop in San Francisco called The Writing Salon. I love teaching. It’s a blast, and the fact that someone pays me to sit around discussing the minutia of narrative construction is laughable: I’d do it for free. Teaching is an amazing gift, and each new class forces me to articulate complex details about storytelling… and through these articulations, I’m learning more about prose.
Q: What’s on your nightstand? What do you read for pleasure?
I’ve been rereading Salinger this summer: Catcher in the Rye and Franny & Zooey. If any aspiring writers are bemused about the concept of voice, which is really just another way of categorizing a novel’s personality, Salinger is one of the best. He thrusts you right into his characters’ psyches and it feels like they’re whispering their stories into your ears. I love books like that: when I get the sensation that the narrator is sitting on the barstool next to mine, spilling his/her sordid sad exciting secrets.
Q: Your next book, From a Fragile Galaxy, is coming out next year. What is it about?
I’ve recently changed the title of the second novel to Termite Parade and it will be released in June 2010. These first two books are installments in The Heresies Cycle. It will be three novels total—I’m finishing the third now—and while each is sovereign, they have a shared geography, concentric imagery, and overlapping characters. They’re investigations on the different ways that people who are supposed to love one another often belie those affinities.
Some Things deals ostensibly with familial definitions of love; Termite Parade is more about sexual/monogamous love; and the third book will be more sociopolitical, though hopefully it’s more interesting than the word “sociopolitical” implies. They’re all set in San Francisco’s Mission district, in late 2007.
I’m hoping to put the three novels out in three consecutive years because I imagine they work best like circles in a Venn diagram, and too much time off between the introductions of each circle might undermine my tension, my subtext. That’s the plan, anyway. After that, insomnia or no insomnia, I’m going to take a very long nap.
Joshua Mohr’s Web site: http://www.twodollarradio.com/sttmtwtm.htm
Some Things That Meant the World to Me, on Amazon.com
Ashley Lane’s novel, Minnie, and mine were both up for a vote to be the 100th title reviewed by the LL Book Review. (As it turned out, neither of us won.) That led to some writing talk across e-mail lines and, now, to some questions and answers about Minnie and the new projects on Ashley’s plate.
Ashley lives in Washington state. Her book was published in December 2007.
Q: What spurred the idea for Minnie?
When I was a sophomore in high school, it was required that each student volunteers for 24 hours before they could graduate. I volunteered at a nursing home, where the main character, Sadey, did, as well, and I enjoyed my experience. So, a few years later, I thought, “What if someone was forced to volunteer and had a bad attitude about it?” With this new thought, Minnie was born.
Q: Once you had a solid idea in your head, how long did it take from conception to completion?
It took me about two years from outlining to publishing on Lulu. Of course, I never consider Minnie absolutely complete, as I see things here and there that I can improve.
Q: You chose to publish with Lulu. Why that service? Did you query any agents?
I stumbled over Lulu one day and decided to give it a try. I’ve queried agents and editors before with other works of mine, but only to receive the famed rejection letter. So, instead of playing the wait-for-three-months-even-though-I’m-going-to-get-rejected game, I wanted instant gratification to hold my book. With Lulu, that was achievable for less than $10. I’ve queried agents for Minnie, but have only received kind rejection e-mails. Every now and then I’ll get this burst I feel in my heart to query an agent, just for fun. It’s easier when I don’t have a heavy heart involved.
Q: What are some of the lessons you’ve learned on your independent publishing adventure?
I’ve learned to write what I want to write, not what an editor wants. Since I’m not contracted with a publishing house, I’m freer to enjoy writing, rather than doing it for money and fame. When it comes to covers and interior formatting, I’ve used attractive books for models. For Minnie, I used Where the Heart Is for the interior layout and I’ve received lots of compliments on how professional my book looks.
Q: How much do you draw from your own experiences in shaping characters and stories?
Minnie was heavily based on some people and events in my life. To begin with, the whole opening plot was Sadey ending up volunteering at a nursing home so that she could get twenty-four hours of community service. As a high school sophomore in 2003, I volunteered at a nursing home to get twenty-four community service hours in order to graduate. I ended up with fifty-two and yes, there was a real Minnie, but alas, I only took her name for the title character. One of Sadey’s “friends” is named Wynter in the book, but in real-life, I had a friend named Autumn (get it? Winter/Autumn?) who was a bad influence … or tried to be. She never got to me and we didn’t stay friends long. As for other life-altering events in my book (neglect, falling in love, being pregnant, having a parent die, nearly getting raped), I have no experience with that and just did my research with those topics. Without volunteering in the first place, Minnie would not be in existence.
Q: Tell us a bit about how you work. What is your ideal environment for writing? Do you outline?
I have outlined everything I’ve ever written. If I didn’t outline, my pieces would be super-short and not very deep! Sue Monk Kidd didn’t outline The Secret Life of Bees and still managed to create a twisty and rich story. I’m jealous! Anyway, I make a bare bones outline with the beginning, somewhat of a middle, and how I’d like it to end, then I fill in all the intrigue and twists from there. I like to write late at night in bed, when my brain kicks it into high gear and can somehow carry me through typing five pages at once.
Q: Who, if anybody, helps you shape your work? Do you have a writing group? Trusted friends?
I know it’s highly recommended, but I’m not in any writing group and my readers don’t really tell me what to alter. I was in a Creative Non-Fiction course in college that I found remarkably enjoyable and even looked forward to the comments and constructive criticism, but since then, I’ve not let a single soul tell me what to do. Not by choice, of course, but because that’s how it has worked out for me. If I had an editor, that would change.
Q: You’re adapting Minnie for the stage. What has that experience been like?
Yes! It has been just as, if not more, exciting to imagine it as a play than as a movie. It has been somewhat painful to decrease the scope of my book for the stage because I’ve had to cut some characters and scenes. I pretty much have to condense thirty pages to a scene and I’ll most likely leave out some important events and just connect the ones I do leave in. However, it is nice to see that Minnie is still Minnie despite all the changes.
Q: Are you working on any new original works? How far along are you?
I have several ideas that are in pre-production. Next up is a piece I have titled That Feeling. It’s about running away from heartache, starting anew, and finding what you are really after. Another piece was inspired by an antique photograph I bought and on it is written “Sincerely, Mildred,” which will be the title, as well. It’s set in the 1930s and about a shy girl falling in love with a pilot she reads about in the newspaper. All I know is that I’m going to have to research the heck out of the 1930s, just like I had to research heart disease for Minnie. One idea revolves around equine therapy and then another is about leukemia (not inspired by or related to My Sister’s Keeper).
Q: What question would you ask of fellow writers who are trying to make a go of it?
What does it feel like for you when inspiration hits you? My heart literally jumps and feels like sunshine has entered into it.
You can find out more about Minnie and purchase the book here: www.lulu.com/laneaj