“When did you decide to start writing?” (I’ve heard this a lot lately, usually from people who’ve known me for a while.)
I don’t really have a start date since I feel like I’ve always been writing. I used to make up stories when I was little which would develop into elaborate scenarios as I got older. I knew very early that I wanted to be a writer and my dream was reaffirmed by one of my high school English teachers, Mrs. Barbara Follrath, who, when handing back my paper on Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities, remarked “You should be a writer.” Done and done.
My first book, which I just refer to as “Things” (or by the unfortunate nickname “Bad Husband”), was actually written more than ten years ago. I remember sitting at my desk in our kitchen, staring at the last sentence. I’d just finished my first book. Unfortunately, publishing opportunities were short on the ground with few publishers willing to take a chance on an unknown writer. I’d only had a couple of tentative “Well if we went with you…”s but nothing ever manifested. So I just kept writing.
“How do you come up with your stories?”
This is a hard question for me. I’m often asked about my process and, to be honest, with each story the process is quite different. Things manifested from a combination of my husband, Sean, being a complete butthead (sorry hon, but you were) and my good friend, Stephanie George, who at the time had a great shop named Doojies in Oella Mill (which is now ridiculously expensive condos). Through Stephanie I met Susan Shoemaker who had a small but super cool shop on Historic Ellicott City’s Main Street. (She still has a shop there but it’s much larger and no less cool.) So in my head, I created Judith by hijacking parts of Stephanie’s life. I made Judith an antique dealer though Stephanie is more of an artist in my opinion. I understand furniture but Stephanie understands beauty. There’s no way I could articulate in my writing the talent that Stephanie possesses. BTW She still has Doojies and it’s pretty and pink and fabulous.
My second book, Solitary, grew from a single lyric in the Gavin Degraw song, “I Don’t Want to Be”. I was in my car when it came on the radio. At the very beginning of the song, he sings “I don’t need to be anything other than a prison guard’s son”. For some reason that lyric really resonated with me and I wondered under what circumstances would a child be born from a prison guard. The story formed in my head almost immediately and I started writing it down as soon as I got home. This was in 2003. When I was about halfway through the book, I wrote the framework and the ending then just let it sit. Then when my company was bought out and I had nothing to do but wonder what I was going to do for the rest of my life, my husband said I could go do the two things I loved the most. I could either teach or write. So I chose writing and filled in the framework and finished the story last summer. At some point I’ll write about the process of writing Solitary in another blog. Trust me, it’ll take a whole blog.
“Why don’t you publish with a traditional publisher?”
Two reasons. First, they weren’t really interested and second, they weren’t really interested. OK, really it’s just the one reason but it’s a good one. When you send a publisher your manuscript, it goes into what’s called a “slush pile” unless you’re famous. Then it goes to whatever editor is in charge of handling “celebrity” writers, of which, if you watch reality TV or follow politics, there are many. Kim Kardashian has a book. I’m not kidding. A woman who can barely string three words together has a published book. Granted, she shares her author status with her two marginally more intelligent sisters and the hardcover is priced at a whopping $3.32 but still, she can say she’s a published author. It’s mind boggling who can get a book deal.
Unfortunately, I am not famous so my manuscript went into the slush pile where some poor 2nd 2nd Assistant Editor (who was probably really an unpaid intern) has to sift through all the submissions. I know from experience that a crap submission gets a form letter response saying “Thanks but no thanks” and we will not discuss the crap I submitted to earn such a soul crushing letter. It’s just too soon.
If a manuscript shows some promise, it gets passed to an actual editor for review. My manuscript made it to this stage at Holt and Penguin (and I think Simon & Schuster) where an editor sent me a letter with lots of non-committal statements that complimented the work but still amounted to “Thanks but no thanks”.
My last conversation with someone at Penguin tentatively approached the outline of a development deal (and only because I indicated that I had four finished manuscripts at the time). Deals like this are not as awesome as they might sound. Basically you get two years to work with the editor to “finesse” your book, you may or may not get picked up after those two years and countless rewrites, there’s no advance so you don’t get paid for those two years and if they do pick you up, your royalty rate hovers around 7% which means you get .70 for every $10 book.
Thank goodness for artisanal publishing. Amazon and KDP Select have been great. I cover some costs and they cover some costs. I keep my creative control and they keep me from sounding like a crazy, grammar challenged, story killer.
I have three finished manuscripts that I’ll probably use Kickstarter to crowd source the funding for their publishing. One of the three, which I hope to have available this summer, is the first of my Dead Husbands Series. You’ll recognize some of the characters but the story is quite different. The series leans more towards realistic dark comedy but in the same voice as my first two books. It was a lot of fun to write and all the credit for coming up with the Dead Husband Series goes to my husband who does not lack a sense of humor, thank God. Someday I’ll tell you about my many failed attempts to murder him. (I keep using the same method so I think he’s on to me.)