I am delighted and honored to host Tess Hardwick, author of the highly rated literary novel Riversong. Tess is a lovely person, inside and out, as well as a gifted author and playwright. Today she shares her insight and experiences with writing, publishing, marketing and, of course, her fabulous book Riversong.
Interview with Tess Hardwick
When and how did you begin writing?
I wrote my first ‘book’ in 4th grade as a class assignment. It was a story about an orphan who opens a pizza restaurant. I also illustrated it, very poorly, which is a shame because my mother is an accomplished watercolorist.
What inspires you?
People. I’m fascinated by all aspects of character: what motivates us, how our upbringings and experiences shape the person we ultimately become.
Could you please tell us about your writing journey thus far?
I have a degree in drama from USC and originally began my writing aspirations as a playwright. In 2000 my full-length play, MY LADY’S HAND won a first place prize in a Seattle contest and was ultimately produced in three small theatres in 2001. I learned a lot about my writing during that process. Seeing my play performed night after night highlights the strengths and weaknesses like nothing else can. What I ultimately decided was that the kinds of stories I wanted to tell were better told in novel form. It took me another five years to have the courage to actually begin the first chapter of a novel. RIVERSONG was the result.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned about the craft of writing?
I studied the structure of story fairly intensely, how pace and suspense keep your readers engaged and is so very important to the modern reader with all the distractions of our chaotic world. But I think the most important element of the craft is finding your unique voice. Voice can only come by writing, a lot.
Could you please tell us about RIVERSONG – something we won’t pick up by reading the description or blurbs?
I set it in a fusion of my hometown in southern Oregon and my husband’s hometown in eastern Oregon. As Lee says in RIVERSONG, ‘All small towns are the same. They all have Dairy Queens.’
Can you give us some insider info – a scene behind the scenes?
The scene in which Linus interviews John for a server position at the restaurant is directly stolen from a real life event of one of my best friends from college, Anthony. (Linus is the only character based on a real person, by the way.) Anthony told me the story of the first time he met his now long-time partner, Jeff, during an interview at his restaurant. I was so taken and amused by this normally suave and polished man completely losing it in a love at first site moment that I had to use it in RIVERSONG.
Who is your favorite RIVERSONG character? If you were to give him or her a piece of advice, what would it be?
The character closest to me in real life is Tommy. He loves without reserve, without thought to the protection of his heart. There is part of me that wants to tell him, ‘Cool it, you’re going to get hurt.’ The other part of me wants to tell him, ‘Go for it. Love big or go home.’
What were the hardest and most enjoyable aspects of writing RIVERSONG? Why?
I love writing about sensual pleasures: food and wine, lovemaking, the beauty of the natural world. I’ve gotten a lot of grief from my friends for the steamy scenes in RIVERSONG, by the way. If you met me in real life, you’d think, that boring mommy-type couldn’t have written those scenes!
The hardest part of writing RIVERSONG was the beginning. I rewrote it at least ten times until a friend suggested I try a prologue set in the 80s. Like magic, it all fell into place, using some flashbacks already written and a few new details.
What would you like readers to take away from your novel? Is there a message?
Redemption comes through courage, fortitude, love, community, and the bonding of your heart with other people.
Would you please share some tips on revision? How do you go about revising? How long does this process take? Do you enjoy it?
I do love revision, actually. I sometimes think I like it better than first draft, although first draft can give you a high, if you allow yourself to ‘write a shitty first draft,’ in the words of Anne Lamont, and just let your imagination run wild. But with revision comes that deeper and more satisfying quality to your writing that I also love.
Tips? Strike the first three paragraphs of every chapter and see what happens to the storytelling.
What was it like to work with a small traditional publisher? What do you consider the major differences between traditional and indie publishing?
I worked with Booktrope Editions for RIVERSONG. They are a hybrid of traditional and self-publishing in that they provide an editor, book cover artist and marketing manager to each book, basically providing all the packaging aspects of a book, but use print on demand. They have a concept called team publishing, which compensates the writer and the rest of their team a percentage of each book sold.
Would you be willing to share some book marketing advice? What’s worked best for you? Why? Have you tried anything that hasn’t worked? What would you change?
I am by no means an expert on marketing, but the things that have worked best for us are: Twitter, blogging, Facebook, buying ad space on Kindle Nation and Pixel of Ink.
We were selling well in indie author terms during the first six months of RIVERSONG’s release and then, out of nowhere, we were granted a huge break. Someone at bn.com noticed RIVERSONG, for whatever reason, and put it on their ‘Best Reads Under $5’ newsletter. We shot to #1 Nook Book within a day of the newsletter going out. This, in my opinion, was just really lucky. And, once you’re on the list, more and more readers find you. I wish I knew the secret to selling books because I would share it with all of you, but honestly I think without a large marketing budget that buys a publicist and full-fledged campaign it is nearly impossible to get either traditional or indie books noticed by mass numbers of readers. I hope this doesn’t discourage anyone. At the end of the day, we have to write the books that lurk within us and hope and pray that someone will notice. My mantra is: do good work and someone will notice.
If I had it to do over again, I might borrow money to hire a publicist in the book and publishing segment. From what I can tell, the indie authors who have done extremely well have used a publicist. They are expensive but if you have the money (I don’t) I believe they will bring back your investment at least three-fold. An expert in this business said to me last month, ‘There are so many books out there that the only way to stand out is marketing.’
If you were to give one tip to aspiring writers, what would it be?
No matter what, just keep writing. Write through your doubts, your blues, and all the days when you don’t feel inspired. Put your butt in the seat and start working. Splash anything on the page or open a work in progress and jump in without worrying if it’s crap or not. The words will lead you somewhere good.
What are you working on now?
‘I’m struggling through the first draft of my third novel, trying to take my above advice.
Could you please tell your fans how to connect with you?
They can find me at my website. My email address is listed on the site, along with my blog called, ‘Inspiration For Ordinary Life.’ I also have a fan page on Facebook under ‘Tess Hardwick, Writer.’
About Tess Hardwick and Riversong
Tess Hardwick is a playwright and novelist. She started her artistic pursuits as an actress and director before writing her first play in 2000, which won the first place prize at Burien New Works in 2001.
Like her main character in Riversong, Tess Hardwick grew up in a small town in Oregon. She studied theatre at the University of Southern California and graduated in 1991 with a BFA in Drama. After college, she moved to Seattle where she met her husband when she was his HR Manager at a local technical company. She now lives in Snoqualmie, Washington with her husband, two small daughters and teenage step-son.
When Lee Tucker’s husband commits suicide, he leaves her pregnant and one million dollars in debt to a loan shark. Out of options, she escapes to her deceased mother’s dilapidated house located in a small Oregon town that, like her, is financially ruined, heartbroken and in desperate need of a fresh start. Lee’s resilience leads to a plan for a destination restaurant named Riversong, to new chances for passion and love, and to danger from her dead husband’s debt as her business blooms.
Author Tess Hardwick assembles a colorful cast of endearing small-town characters and takes you on a journey that will make you believe in the possibilities of life – even in the face of overwhelming adversity and unimaginable grief. Lee Tucker is the kind of woman you find yourself rooting for long after the last page is read.
A surprising mix of romance, humor, friendship, intrigue and gourmet food – Riversong entertains while reminding you of life’s greatest gifts.