On April 26, Dina Santorelli interviewed me on her blog, Making Baby Grand. It was a wonderful experience – and a terrific opportunity to reflect on the writing process and journey to publication.
Here are a few highlights:
What is your book about? In Leah’s Wake is a story of a family in collapse. Sixteen-year-old Leah, a star soccer player, has led a perfect life. When she meets a hot, older guy, a former roadie in a rock band, she begins to spread her wings. Drinking, ignoring curfew, dabbling in drugs-all this feels like freedom to her; her parents, naturally terrified, thinking they’re losing their daughter, pull the reins tighter. This is unfamiliar territory for the whole family. Unfortunately, they get it all wrong, pushing when they ought to be pulling, and communication breaks down. Soon, there’s no turning back. Twelve-year-old Justine caught between the parents she loves, and the big sister she adores, finds herself in the fight of her life, trying desperately to pull her family together.
What is the most challenging part of the writing process for you? For a lot of writers, it’s facing a blank screen, revising, dealing with rejection. I struggle with all of this, too, to varying degrees. For me, sustaining belief-not in the project, but in myself-is, by far, the biggest challenge. I wonder if I’m on the right track, constantly second-guess myself, which results in periods of, let’s just say, creative procrastination.
What motivates you to write? Love. I can’t think of any better way to put it. I love to write. I’ve been writing all my life-living inside my head, making up stories.
Did you experience writer’s block? Yes, occasionally. I’m only ever truly blocked-can’t string words together at all-when I’m anxious, if I’m worried about someone I care about. When I first sit, I sometimes feel blocked, the nasty editors on my shoulders heckling: A writer? Are you nuts? Nine times out of ten, I dig in; the writing may be choppy at first, but eventually I regain fluidity. When the demons get too loud to ignore, I read. Reading, like meditation or yoga, sends me to my happy place. In my experience, years working with professional and emerging writers, a block is almost always caused by self-doubt. The trick is to find a way to settle your mind, calm yourself, get those nasty editors off your shoulders. For me, reading provides an escape. For others, walking, meditating, listening to music can help.
How long did it take you to write this book? Do you hear that? It’s me, laughing. Seriously, three months to write the first draft, about five years of revising.
What is the biggest misconception about writing a book? That it’s easy and/or fast. Occasionally, an author, like the self-publishing sensation Amanda Hocking, claims to have written his or her book in a few weeks, a month, and people, maybe because they want to believe this, get the idea that you have only to channel the muse and the words spill out. If only. Most of us spend many long months, if not years, drafting, revising, editing. The sister misconception is that writing isn’t hard. These people think writing is effortless-for the gifted. While it’s difficult to sustain the necessary energy, confidence, attention to write a novel, craft can be learned.
What was your favorite aspect of the writing process for this book? I wrote the first draft as my MFA thesis, so I was under the gun. The writing was dreadful, but it was a breathy process; when I finished, the novel had characters and a general shape. I spent the next several years immersed in the book, developing the characters. I was with them all day; they took over my dreams. I almost believed they were alive, that Cortland, the imaginary town, was a real place. It was an adventure, and I loved every minute.
What advice would you give to writers regarding promotion? My advice for all authors, self or traditionally published, is, first, mobilize your networks. Spread the word to family and friends, send books to people who might be interested in reading, ask others to spread the word for you; ask friends to post reviews.
Next, and this, in my view, is one of the smartest things a writer can do: hire a PR firm you feel comfortable with and trust. Work hard with your publicist to promote your book. Over a million books are published each year, the majority of which sell very few copies. If you’re a name author or received a hefty advance, your publisher will promote you. For the rest of us, if we don’t take PR into our own hands, we’re likely to receive little or none. The reality is, we can either promote the book we’ve put our heart and soul into creating or watch it languish. There are various types and levels of promotion, so you don’t have to spend a fortune.
If you can’t afford or don’t care to hire a publicist, do the work yourself. Create a website, build your social network, contact reviewers, bloggers; reach out to book clubs. Stacey’s book, How to Market, Sell, Distribute, and Promote Your Book: Critical, Hard-to-Find Information for Authors and Publishers, available through Amazon, offers a wealth of information. You can also find information online. Check out Seth Godin and Jon Konrath’s blogs. It’s hard work, and it takes time-as long as a year or more, I’ve been told-but it can certainly be done.
To read the rest of the interview, please visit Dina’s Website.