Author Interview: Joylene Nowell Butler

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 I’m delighted to have Joylene Butler as my guest today.  Joylene and I met as a ‘happy coincidence’ when she discovered my pen name on the Federation of BC Writers’ website and followed the link to my blog.

We continue to be surprised by things we have in common: we’ve both lived in Langley and Maple Ridge, BC, both now have homes on beautiful interior BC lakes (well, truthfully, mine is just a cabin), both suffered through the loss of children, both lean heavily on our faith for sustenance, both love the natural world around us, both are passionate about writing… indeed, we’ve decided our meeting was no coincidence at all! 

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CG:             Welcome, and congratulations on the imminent release of BROKEN BUT NOT DEAD, Joylene. This is your second novel. Can you please tell us a bit about the story?

JB: First of all, thank you for having me as your guest today, Carol. I’m grateful to call you my friend even though we haven’t met, and I’m appreciative of all you do for our community.

As for my new novel, because I’m still so terrible at summarizing my stories, I’m going to cheat and copy the blurb from the back cover. Yes, shame on me!

Brendell Kisêpîsim Meshango is of Métis heritage and a PhD university professor in Prince George, British Columbia. When Brendell resigns from the university and retreats to her isolated cabin to repair her psyche, she is confronted by a masked intruder. His racial comments lead her to believe she is the solitary victim of a hate crime. However, is all as it appears? After two bizarre days inflicting a sadistic captivity, the intruder mysteriously disappears. 

Taught by her mother to fear and distrust the mainstream-based power structures, and with her stalker possibly linked to a high level of government, Brendell conceals the incident from the police. But will keeping quiet keep her safe?

Then her beloved daughter, Zoë, is threatened — and Brendell takes matters into her own hands. To save Zoë, Brendell searches for the stalker and confronts not just a depraved madman but her own fears and prejudices.   

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CG:            Where did the idea for this story come from?

JB:            It was an onslaught of hot flushes. The story’s premise began as a question: Could a menopausal woman lose control and kill someone to protect a loved one? From there I met 50-year-old Brendell, a broken but not dead woman who felt overwhelmed by her history. As her secrets were revealed, I got a sense of who she was, and that brought me to the opening of the story. From there I jotted down what happened to her. Sounds easy, but in reality it took years.

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CG:            Everyone has a story about “how I found my agent/editor/publisher.” Can you share a bit of the journey that led you to Theytus Books?

JB:             Not until after everything happened did I realize my story is unique. I self-published my first novel. Overwaitea Foods got hold of a copy and asked me for more. I didn’t have more, so they introduced me to Hignell Book Printers in Manitoba, who introduced me to Sandhill Books, who in turn suggested I query Theytus with my next manuscript. Theytus bought the book. It was all surreal and exciting, but to sum it up in one word, I’d have to say: Providence.

CG:            How long did it take you to write BROKEN BUT NOT DEAD compared to your first novel, DEAD WITNESS?  Was the first draft close to the finished product or did it go through multiple revision transformations?

JB:             Dead Witness was my second novel, and took me three months to write, then five years to edit. My first manuscript was a learning tool that took seven years to write. Broken was a challenge, but it actually took me less time to write because of raging hormones. The first draft was finished in three months, then I spent three years editing. I’m one of those writers who is never satisfied. My biggest problem is to know when to stop.

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CG:            Are you a writer who plots and outlines first, or do you dive in and figure things out as you go?

JB:             If/when I get stuck, I do a thorough outline. Otherwise, I start at the beginning and work my way slowly to the end. I use the 3-Act play formula eventually to make certain I’ve created a strong foundation. When I suffer from writer’s block and can’t seem to go forward, I read everything and anything. Finally, I visualize the book as a video in my mind with my finger on the replay button. At the rough spots, I keep hitting replay while I’m vacuuming, gardening, experiencing insomnia, during hockey intermissions, and waiting at the doctor’s office. Eventually, the story plays itself out in my head, then I race for my computer.

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CG:            Do you have support in your writing… a mentor, critique group, etc.?

JB:             I belong to DeadlyProse, an online writers critique group. Great bunch of writers. I also work with a small intimate Alberta writers group through Skype. I’m the only one from BC. And I work one-on-one with a very talented American historical writer. I’m fortunate to know some great authors who have supported my work since the mid-90s.

CG:            Give us a glimpse of where you do most of your writing.

JB:             My computer is positioned in the corner of my dining room at a picture window that overlooks Cluculz Lake. That way I can keep track of the eagles, loons, and kingfishers. When I need to focus, I close the blind. We live in an open-concept log and stick house. During the cold winters it’s hard if I have family home, but I’ve learned to tune them out when I have to. I can edit anywhere, even during hockey intermission, but if I’m writing something new, I need complete quiet. Early morning works best, or after midnight.

 

Joylene's view of Cluculz Lake

CG:            Were there doubts, low times or obstacles for you along the way? How did you overcome them?

JB:             More doubts and low times than I can number. I quit writing once, for an entire year. I hit bottom a few times and bounced back only to have something happen that sent me into months of writer’s block. I started writing novels in 1984 and didn’t publish until 2008. That’s a long time of supposedly paying my dues. Being pigheaded helped. I kept reminding myself how could I teach my sons to never give up if I did.

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CG:            Do you have any advice for writers who are a step behind you in their pursuit of publication? Anything that you wish you’d known before you waded in yourself?

JB:             I’m sure you’ve heard it a million times: write. But please know that being published is not going to fix anything that’s wrong with your life. It’s only going to give you new experiences. It’s not a replacement for the love of family or their health and welfare. But because I’ve been where you are and can remember someone trying to tell me this, I would urge you to learn your craft in earnest. Know your grammar to the best of your ability. Understand POV. Study the 3-Act Play. Learn to give and get critiques. It’s amazing what a wonderful tool critiquing is. Though others will tell you it’s your story and you know what’s best, don’t assume you do. Educate yourself. You have access to the internet? Use it. And read. Read everything in your genre that you can. Study why you love your favourite authors so much. Then get back to writing. Oh, and don’t forget to be stubborn. It helps.

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CG:             What is your role in the marketing and promotion of your books? Do Theytus and Sandhill Books have specific distribution plans?

JB:            I’m about to learn exactly what Theytus’s marketing plans are. Luckily I made a lot of contacts with my first book. I’ll put out the word and sign up for as many readings and signings that I can this summer. My local radio station has been very supportive, and I’ll do readings for their storytelling nights. I’ll blog regularly. I’ll keep in touch with Friends of the Library. I’ll attend the northern conference again this winter. I’ll sponsor book giveaways on my blog. I’ll tour as a guest online. I do know Theytus will enter my book in applicable contests. Sandhill will take care of making certain it arrives at the stores before I do. That in itself is a big load off my mind. And I’ll keep writing more books.

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CG:            Where can people buy copies of BROKEN BUT NOT DEAD and DEAD WITNESS?

JB:            Any independent bookstore in Canada, plus Chapters/Indigo, Books & Company, Amazon.ca, and online at http://www.theytus.com.

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CG:            What’s next? Do you have other stories in the works?

JB:            I’m almost finished the sequel to Broken But Not Dead, titled Omatiwak: Woman Who Cries. I have another completed manuscript called Kiss of the Assassin, which I’ll probably edit some more. I have a WIP called Wrong, or Dead Wrong, I’m not sure yet. And I’m working on a children’s illustrated book about a spirit eagle.

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CG:            Anything I haven’t asked you that you’d like to take the opportunity to mention? 

JB:             I don’t know where the need to write came from, but I’m very grateful I write novels that people actually pay money to read. If I could do it for free, I would. Thank you to all those readers who took time to read my novels. You’re the reason I’m able to keep doing this.

As for news, an e-book version of Dead Witness is due for release through MuseItUp Publishing this summer. I’ll post information on my blog when it’s out.

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Joylene Nowell Butler, Metis, was born in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, grew up in Maple Ridge, and raised her children in Prince George, BC. She began writing in 1984 after the death of her father. Her first novel Dead Witness, published in 2008 is distributed across Canada by Sandhill Books. Her current works in progress include a political thriller, a children’s book, a suspense thriller, and the sequel to Broken But Not Dead. Joylene, her husband, and their three stray cats live in Cluculz Lake in central BC. They are expecting their ninth grandchild in September. In her spare time, Joylene teaches Tai chi.

Websites:
     Blog – http://cluculzwriter.blogspot.com
     Webpage – http://joylene.webs.com

Interview: Author Christine Lindsay

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Today I’m pleased to share an interview with debut author Christine Lindsay.

I discovered just recently that Christine and I are almost neighbours. We both live in BC’s Central Fraser Valley just outside Vancouver, which is on the Pacific coast of Canada, about 200 miles north of Seattle.

Christine says it’s a special time in her life as she and her husband enjoy the empty nest, but also the noise and fun when the kids and grandkids come home. Like a lot of writers, her cat is her chief editor.

She writes historical Christian inspirational novels with strong love stories. She doesn’t shy away from difficult subjects such as the themes in her debut novel SHADOWED IN SILK, which is set in India during a turbulent era. Christine’s long-time fascination with the British Raj was seeded from stories of her ancestors who served in the British Cavalry in India. Shadowed in Silk won first place in the 2009 ACFW Genesis for Historical under the title Unveiled. Shadowed in Silk is being released by WhiteFire Publishing in two stages this year, first as an eBook on May 1, 2011, and as the printed version September 1, 2011.

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Christine has kindly offered to give away of a copy of SHADOWED IN SILK in either the ebook or paper format to someone who comments on this post before 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, May 3rd. If the winner chooses the ebook it can be claimed this week. If the winner’s choice is a paper copy, a coupon will be issued for when it’s available in print.

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CG:             SHADOWED IN SILK is your debut novel. Please tell us about the story.

CL:  After the Great War, Abby Fraser returns to India with her small son, where her husband Nick is stationed with the British army. Nick hasn’t written in four years, and when Abby finally catches up with him, she discovers that he has become a cruel stranger.

Major Geoff Richards is broken over the loss of so many of his men in the trenches of France. While Geoff is a devoted Christian, he struggles with anger over the way his British peers treat the Indian people he loves. Geoff also can’t help but notice that Nick Fraser is mistreating Abby and her little boy. Meanwhile Geoff is ordered to search out a Russian spy, throwing him into Abby’s social circle.

Abby discovers that Tikah, one of the servants, is more of a wife to Nick than she is. This other woman is Muslim, and she also is mistreated by Nick.

Amid growing political unrest within India, and threats from Afghanistan, tensions rise.

Abby and Geoff, caught between their own ideals and duty, stumble into the path of the Russian spy, and straight into the fire of revolution.

Shadowed in Silk deals with—and I think delicately—a tough subject, spousal abuse. It’s about how women are often mistreated in eastern cultures as well as western.

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CG:            Where did the idea for this story come from?

CL:            I’ve always loved novels set in India, especially those by the great MM Kaye. But the story of Abby came about from watching my mum who was abused by my father when I was growing up. However, I want the readers to know there are no overt graphic scenes of violence in the book. In fact I’ve been told that I deal with the subject in a delicate manner. And there is so much more in the book. There is romance, and great adventure, as well as true historical events that shook the British Empire.

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CG:            This isn’t your first published work, is it? Would you like to share a bit about your contribution to THRIVING AS AN ADOPTIVE FAMILY? 

CL:            I contributed to the non-fictional book compiled by David and Renee Sanford who are adoptive parents. I am a birthmother—a woman who relinquished her child to adoption. Adoption changed the way I look at everything, especially how I view God. I wanted to show how birthmothers often feel invisible.

It used to be that a great many birthmothers couldn’t even talk about their experiences, or the pain of giving up their child. Most birthmothers relinquish their child out of tremendous love for their baby. I wanted people to understand that.

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CG:            Everyone has a story about “the call” and “how I found my agent/editor/publisher.” Can you share a bit of the journey that led you to your publisher, Whitefire Publishing?

CL:              Shadowed won the 2009 ACFW Genesis under the title Unveiled, and that garnered a lot of buzz for me and my book. But most of the CBA houses passed on it. At the same time, my agent decided to leave the business, and another very well known agent was ready to sign me up.

But after I gave this new agent the bad news, that about six of the major houses had already turned SiS down, she had to back out of her offer. I was pretty devastated. I’d been writing seriously for about ten years.

So there I was about two years ago—agent-less, and with a book no one wanted. I went on a missions trip to India, and was willing to give up my desires for a fictional career in order to do non-fictional work for free. That was when God seemed to bring my dead and buried fictional book back to life, and I got the call from WhiteFire. It just goes to show that you can’t out-give God.

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CG:            How long did it take you to write SHADOWED IN SILK?  Was the first draft close to the finished product or did it go through multiple revision transformations?

CL:              Multiple revisions for sure. I was working full-time when I first started researching this setting and era.  And the actual writing took a while because of my job. It probably took about four years in all, on a part-time basis. But I’m glad I didn’t give up on it. As people are reading it, they are delighted with the exotic setting and historical detail, and I’m pleased with how it all turned out.

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CG:            Are you a writer who plots and outlines first, or do you dive in and figure things out as you go?

CL:             I outline first, but as I write I often find the story takes on a life of its own, as I’m sure you’ve heard before. The characters start to come alive. So I am a bit of both—an outliner, and a seat of the panster.

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CG:            Give us a glimpse of where you do most of your writing.

CL:             In our new townhouse there is a nice little office that overlooks a pasture. I sit on our old couch and tap away on my laptop, usually with the dog at my feet, and the cat beside me.

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CG:            Were there doubts, low times or obstacles for you along the way? How did you overcome them?

CL:            Oh my goodness, were there doubts, etc. Many, many times. But each time I would relinquish my hopes and ambitions to God in the same way I surrender myself to Him as a living sacrifice each day. What’s the sense in banging your head against the wall, if something you want isn’t God’s plan for your life?

So I was always willing to give up my dream if the Lord wanted me to do something else. But each time I asked Him if I should quit, He would do something amazing to encourage me to keep on. One year He arranged for me to win a scholarship to the ACFW conference.

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CG:            Do you have any advice for writers who are a step behind you in their pursuit of publication? Anything that you wish you’d known before you waded in yourself?

CL:             It will probably take you a lot longer than you think to polish your craft, and for the Lord to set up certain things for you to be noticed, to be in the right place at the right time. It will cost you much more than you realize in time, energy, and maybe even cost you financially. To become a writer can often mean giving up things in order to follow that calling. It’s not about making money. In fact you could make more money at your old day job. Ask God first if He wants you to do this. And surrender yourself to Him every day, and keep in mind—it’s all about Him. Nothing else is worthwhile.

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CG:             I understand SHADOWED IN SILK is being released as an e-book now, and then in book form in September 2011. What are your marketing and promotion plans.

CL:            Promotion is harder than writing the book. Very uncomfortable. WhiteFire will use every connection they have—and they have many. Because it’s a small traditional press just starting out, they have a small line, and can easily promote each of their books fairly.

As for me, I am getting the word out on a more personal basis. Naturally, I’ll do all I can online to make Shadowed be noticed. But at the same time I never want to be pushy. It’s my desire that in every communication I have with readers, that I encourage them in some manner. It’s not about me just selling my book. I want to remain true to my prayer—to help others come to know God better. That means my book may not sell very well. But the Lord will provide my daily bread.

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CG:            Where can people buy copies of SHADOWED IN SILK?

CL:            The paperback format will be released September 1st but is currently available for pre-order at Amazon.com. The ebook version is available now in all formats from eBookIt and in Nook format from Barns & Noble.

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CG:            What’s next? Do you have another story in the wings?

CL:            I have two—one is the sequel to Shadowed in Silk, and it’s called Captured by Moonlight. It will continue on with two of the characters from SiS, and will have lots of danger and suspense as well as romance.

The other book I’m working on is a historical romance set in Washington State in 1910. I call it Sofi’s Bridge for the time being. It’s about a young woman who feels duty-bound to ignore her artistic gift. And in 1910 it wasn’t very acceptable for a woman to want to design bridges.

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CG:            Anything I haven’t asked you that you’d like to take the opportunity to mention?

CL:              Like I said before, you can’t out-give God. After my reunion with my birthdaughter, I began to relive the pain of giving her up in the first place. God comforted my heart by encouraging me to write. So my birthdaughter became my muse. Through no planning on my part, it just all sort of happened quickly, the Lord arranged for my daughter to be the model on the front cover of my debut novel. Only a tender-hearted Father would do something so intricately kind.

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CG:          Thanks for sharing your publishing story with my readers, Christine. I wish you God’s continued blessings  and much success with SHADOWED IN SILK.

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If you have any questions for Christine, please leave them in a comment below. And don’t forget… someone who comments will win a copy of Christine’s new release, SHADOWED IN SILK. 🙂


          Christine’s email: Christine.lindsay.writer@gmail.com

          Websitewww.christinelindsay.com

          Contributor to: International Christian Fiction Writers Blog

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I’m somewhere else today

I’m not here today because I’m there… there being Keli Gwyn’s “Romance Writers on the Journey” blog, where Keli and I are having a cosy chat. Please click on over and join us. There’s virtual popcorn to munch as you read, and at the end of the interview there is a draw. Keli will draw the name of one lucky person who leaves a comment on her blog by midnight September 14 (Pacific Time) and that person will win my “Writing on the Run” kit. I hope it’s you! 😉

Update: I’ve been advised by Keli Gwyn that the winner of the draw is a fellow Canadian, Tricia Saxby. Congratulations, Tricia! I’ll be sending the writing kit off to you shortly.

Not Yet… Noooooo!!!

We wandered the gardens this morning, the dog and I. He caught up on wildlife scents while I checked out how things had survived the weeks of our vacation abandonment.

There weren’t a lot of blooms on the potentilla and I was surprised to find the dogwood leaves fading and the ‘Autumn Joy’ sedum heads already blushing early hints of what later will become a rich rusty red. That’s when it happened.

My next step caused a crunch and I discovered the leaves. The sheltered half of the recently mown lawn, spread green in the shade of hemlock and alder, was sprinkled with fallen leaves. My heart rejected what my eyes couldn’t deny. It seems we’re going to have an early autumn this year and I’m so not ready, even though it’s my favourite season.

There are good things about changing seasons but I never manage to accomplish everything intended before it’s time to move on.  I had goals for this summer – to polish a final draft of one novel and seek agent representation for it, get a contest entry ready for submission and resume working on a suspended w.i.p. I made it only half way through the list. Drat!

I’m happy to have the novel ready for submission, but the agent I planned to approach is currently not accepting queries so I’ll have to decide whether to sit on it for a while or look elsewhere. Maybe I’ll drag it along with me and pitch it at the conference I’m attending next month. I did meet the contest deadline with not one but two entries, but the other unfinished novel is still waiting for attention. Did you have goals for this summer? Did you reach them? If not, what got in the way?

Officially summer isn’t over until the Fall Equinox, which arrives this year on September 23rd. That means I have two weeks yet. I’m taking part in Shari Green’s ‘Back to the Books’ challenge with a declared goal of BIC (Butt in Chair) for two hours a day, five days a week. There’s no telling how much I could get written on that w.i.p. in twenty hours if I start right now, is there? I’m off to find the file.

Oh, but I can’t go quite yet. I promised more info about next week’s interview with Keli Gwyn on her Romance Writers on the Journey website. Keli interviews both debut and aspiring authors and she was kind enough to invite me into her realm for a chat. I’ll have a link to the interview on Monday along with a picture of what I’m donating for a draw. It’s a “Take It With You” writing kit for writing on the run. It’s everything you need  for those creative times away from your computer… a zippered case containing a writing journal, notebook, pens, pencil and highlighter, index cards, sticky notes – even a bar of organic dark chocolate to tempt the muse.

Some lucky person who stops in at Keli’s blog and comments on the interview will win the kit, and I hope it will be you. (You’d love it; I know you would!) Hope to see you there on Monday.

Where Was the Beginning?

Paranormal isn’t my genre but I recently came across a video interview with Stephenie Meyer that captured my attention. She talks about the beginning, the start of her writing career before she ever realized it was going to be a career.

Writers are often asked where their ideas come from. Stephenie’s TWILIGHT story began as a dream. When she awoke in the morning she wrote it down so she wouldn’t forget it. Some time later she shared it with her sister but never intended anyone else to read it or expected it to end up as a published book.

Some might say, “Yeah, sure,” but I find myself believing her. Think back. Whether you are now a published author or an aspiring one, where did your writing begin? Were those initial words intended for public viewing?

I’ve written poetry since my childhood but always for myself. I didn’t have a sister to share it with. Even as an adult most of my poetry has remained private. My first magazine article wasn’t queried for submission  but was written at the request of an editor. So what changed? Why have I had magazine articles published over the past decade, devotional pieces shared and multiple novels written or in the works with the dream of publication?

I believe the prodding to write has always come from God. It’s an inner stirring anxious to be expressed. The idea to write my first novel came from a conversation with my best friend… a seed planted after a week-long visit during which we had talked about her writing and her dreams. But God has patiently (or maybe not so patiently) wooed me away from the path I initially chose. I was reluctant to change but when God has something in mind it’s hard to ignore Him. I’ll save more on this topic for a later post, but right now I’m focusing on The Beginning.

Where was your beginning in writing? I don’t mean why you write or where you get your ideas. What do you remember of your earliest writing and why did you embark on it? What was its purpose?

Interview with YA Author Jennifer R. Hubbard

As promised, today Jennifer R. Hubbard joins us to answer questions about her writing experience and her debut YA novel, THE SECRET YEAR, which is being released today by Viking Press (Penquin). Jenn is represented by agent Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown Ltd.

Jenn lives and writes near Philadelphia.  She is a night person who believes that mornings were meant to be slept through, a chocolate lover, and a hiker.  She has been writing since the age of six, when she used to write and illustrate her own picture books.  She will read almost anything, but prefers to write short stories and young-adult novels.

THE SECRET YEAR may be Jenn’s first published novel but she’s no stranger to online readers and writers who follow her blog, writerjenn.

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CG:            Welcome, Jenn. Thanks for doing this interview. THE SECRET YEAR is your debut novel. Your publisher describes it as ‘Romeo and Juliet’ mixed with ‘The Outsiders’. Please tell us a bit about the story.

JH:           Seventeen-year-old Colt has been sneaking out at night to meet Julia, a girl from an upper-class neighborhood unlike his own. They’ve never told anyone else about their relationship: not their family or friends, and especially not Julia’s boyfriend. When Julia dies suddenly, Colt tries to cope with her death while pretending that he never even knew her. He discovers a journal Julia left behind. But he isn’t prepared for the truths he discovers about their intense relationship, nor to pay the price for the secrets he’s kept.

CG:            Everyone has a story about “the call” and “how I found my agent/editor/publisher.” Can you share a bit of the journey that led you to your agent, Nathan Bransford, and Viking Press?

JH: I first found Nathan Bransford through his blog—although of course I’d heard of the agency, Curtis Brown. At that point I wasn’t looking for more blogs to read, but Nathan had good information, presented in a very entertaining manner, and I became a regular reader.  I was researching agents then, and more and more he began to seem like someone I wanted to work with.  I read some of his clients’ books and did additional research, and then queried him. He asked to see the manuscript and called me when he’d finished it.  We discussed the manuscript and my writing in general, and asked each other questions.  When he offered representation, I had a good feeling about it already, but I gave myself a little more time to make sure.  I would encourage any writer looking for an agent to do those things: research, ask questions, and at least sleep on the decision.  Good agents will welcome your questions and won’t demand an on-the-spot decision.  Because an agent has an ongoing financial stake in any project he sells for you, you want that relationship to be as solid as possible.

I’ve been very happy both with my agent and with the home he found for my book at Viking (Penguin).

CG:            How long did it take you to write THE SECRET YEAR?  Was the first draft close to the finished product or did it go through multiple revision transformations?

JH: I work on multiple projects and I wasn’t really keeping track, but I worked on this book for at least a couple of years.  Your second question makes me laugh, because I rarely produce a first draft that’s nearly finished.  Once in a great while, I write a short story that needs very little revision, but 99% of my work goes through many, many drafts.  The Secret Year went through many, many drafts before my agent saw it.  It went through two more revisions after that.

CG:            Are you a writer who plots and outlines first, or do you dive in and figure things out as you go?

JH: I start with an idea and a voice.  I usually do a very sketchy “outline” that consists of ten phrases roughing out where I think the book is going.  I typically deviate a lot from that plan, and I just write whatever comes out.  After a couple of drafts, I often do a scene-by-scene outline to help me with the pacing and plot.  So for me, outlining is mainly a revision tool.

CG:            Give us a glimpse of where you do most of your writing.

JH: My writing room is a spare bedroom in our house.  My desk faces a window through which I can see the top of a birch tree and some white pines.  The desk is covered with my computer, phone, water glass, empty chocolate wrappers, and scraps of paper on which I’ve written story ideas and notes to myself.  Also in this room: a bed (because this room started out as a spare bedroom; but the bed is now used for reading, or a place to store things); a dresser (also used for storage); file cabinets; two bookcases; piles of books; and piles of papers.

CG:            Were there doubts, low times or obstacles for you along the way? How did you overcome them?

JH: I’ve never doubted that I wanted to write, and that I would write, no matter what.  However, I sometimes thought about giving up on the publishing angle.  I actually sold a short story when I was seventeen—it was something like the fifth piece I’d ever submitted for publication.  But I didn’t sell another story for a long time, and I did get discouraged during that dry spell.  Ultimately, though, it was exciting to have stories out there on submission, being read by someone, with always the chance—slim as it was—of an acceptance.  Sometimes when I would wonder if I was kidding myself about my ability to write anything that other people would want to read, I pulled out my “acceptance letters and nice rejection letters” file.  After reading encouraging letters from several different editors, none of whom were related to me, I would decide that maybe my work did have a place in the market, and I could keep submitting.  And while I’m on that topic, I want to thank the editors, editorial assistants, and readers who take the time to write those encouraging notes.  They really help.

CG:            Do you have any advice for writers who are a step behind you in their pursuit of publication? Anything that you wish you’d known before you waded in yourself?

JH: The first essential for any writer is to read a lot, and write a lot.  Revise like crazy.  In the publishing world: do your research.  Go to conferences, use the internet, read multiple sources of information.  When approaching anyone professionally, be professional.  Be polite to people and don’t act from a sense of entitlement.  Simple courtesy and doing your homework will get you a long way.

One thing that’s been invaluable for me is getting to know other writers, through conferences and the internet.  The debut author communities of Debut2009, Tenners, and the Classes of 2k9 and 2k10 have helped me prepare for my book’s release.  Sometimes it’s because we share practical tips and learn what to expect from the publishing process, but much of the time it’s just nice to know others who are going through the same emotional ups and downs at the same time.

CG:             As THE SECRET YEAR is released what are your marketing and promotion plans or will your agent and publisher coordinate these?

JH: It’s a team effort.  Everyone does something.  Writers hear a lot about this through the grapevine, about how we have to promote ourselves.  I’m very active online, with blogging and social networks such as Twitter.  The good news is that there are so many opportunities—school visits, social media, conferences, and so forth—that I think people can focus on those that come naturally.  If you’re just forcing yourself to do something for the sake of trying to sell a book, I think that comes through and isn’t effective.  I honestly enjoy the networking I do, and I like it to be a true interaction, not a one-sided sales job.

CG:            Where can people buy copies of THE SECRET YEAR?

JH: It’s available online at the major sites: IndieBound, Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s, and so on.  In January you can get it at your local bookstore.  I have a post with the links here.

CG:            What’s next? Do you have another story in the wings?

JH: I always have projects in the works.  I can’t be specific yet, but I see myself staying with contemporary young-adult fiction for a good while.

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Thanks, Jenn. I’ve really enjoyed having you here to share your story with my readers. I wish you heaps of success with THE SECRET YEAR.  For those who would like to follow Jenn, here is her contact info:

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Interview with Canadian Author Laura Best

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Laura Best

Laura Best

I’m delighted to welcome Laura Best to my blog today. Laura has lived in the small community of East Dalhousie, NS her entire life. She was a contributor to Christmas in the Maritimes: A Treasury of Stories and Memories and A Maritime Christmas: New Stories and Memories of the Season, and her fiction has been published in literary magazines across Canada, including The Antigonish Review, Grain, and Room. In 2003, her short story “Alexander the Great” was nominated for the Journey Prize. Released by Nimbus Publishing on October 1, 2009, “Bitter, Sweet” is her first novel.

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CG:             Laura, you’ve just launched your first YA novel, BITTER, SWEET. Tell us a bit about the story.

LB:  The story is about a family who move into a small community in rural Nova Scotia in the 1940’s. They are barely settled in when their father abandons the family. Soon afterward their mother becomes ill and eventually dies. While she is sick, their mother prepares them for her death making them promise that they’ll do everything they can to keep the family from being sent to foster homes. But when the authorities eventually show up the children are forced to do whatever they can to ensure they stay together.

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CG:            Where did the idea for this story come from?

LB: The inspiration for the story came from a newspaper clipping, an incident that I thought would make an interesting scene in a story. When it came time to write, the oldest daughter, Pru, gave me the first line, “After she died, we buried Mama behind the house.” The rest of the story came together quite easily after that.

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CG:            You live in Nova Scotia and I understand that’s the locale for the story. How closely did you adhere to real people and places for your characters and setting? Did you ever worry that friends, family or neighbours might feel you were writing about them?

LB: I wanted to make sure that the places, such as the Anglican Church, the Dale Post office (which by the way was a little room in the house I presently live in), Lake Torment, rang true. I knew it would be important for the readers who were familiar with the community. My characters are all imagined and I never once thought anyone would compare them to real people, especially since it was set twenty years before I was born.

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CoverCG:            Was there ever a concern that having a Canadian setting might limit its publication potential, or did you always expect to have it published in Canada?

LB: While I was writing “Bitter, Sweet” I concentrated only on the story that was crying out to be told and not what would happen in terms of publication once it was written. Writing a story is one thing, having it published is a totally different story altogether. I’ve never, in the past, considered publication in any other country other than Canada. I’m not really sure why, I just haven’t.

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CG:            Everyone has a story about “how I found my agent/editor/publisher.” Can you share a bit of the journey that led you to Nimbus?

LB: I was published in two Christmas anthologies that Nimbus put out. I also knew they are the largest publisher in Atlantic Canada and prefer to publish stories that are relevant to this area. Since “Bitter, Sweet” is set in Atlantic Canada I thought it was worth trying them.

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CG:            How long did it take you to write BITTER, SWEET?  Was the first draft close to the finished product or did it go through multiple revision transformations?

LB: I’d say I worked on “Bitter, Sweet” for about three months. I never sit down and write a first draft. I tend to edit as I go so that when I finally reach the end the story is pretty much where I want it to be. I did make changes later to the first two chapters once I was finished but it wasn’t anything substantial.

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CG:            Did you do a lot of research before starting? Are you a writer who plots and outlines first, or do you dive in and figure things out as you go?

LB: While writing “Bitter, Sweet” I needed to do a bit of research on plants since the use of healing plants native to Nova Scotia is present in the book and of course the deadly night shade plant or bittersweet from which the title comes. I knew a bit about the subject myself, since my father was knowledgeable about these things as was common for people from that generation who live in our area. I often remember him digging out gold thread from the ground to steep into tea.

As far as plotting goes I tend to dive in and figure things out as I go, although I can see how working with an outline might be beneficial and could be something I might use in the future.

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CG:            Will you describe your favourite writing spot for us?

LB: I have an office where I do a lot of my corresponding but I find I use that area less and less for writing fiction. I also have a laptop and often write in an armchair in my living room.

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CG:            Were there doubts, low times or obstacles for you along the way? How did you overcome them?

LB: I think most writers have doubts from time to time especially when the rejection slips keep coming in. It is difficult to have faith in your ability as a writer during those times. I’d sometimes wonder why I was putting myself through this torture but those times were short-lived. I never allowed myself to become discouraged for anymore than a day or so and sometimes only a few hours. Being a self-taught writer I knew I had/have so much to learn. I try to look at writing as a learning process. It helped that family and friends were so supportive.

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CG:            Do you have any advice for writers who are a step behind you in their pursuit of publication? Anything that you wish you’d known before you waded in yourself?

LB: The only bit of advice I have to offer anyone seeking publication is to write and rewrite. It’s not enough to write the story. You have to try and make it as good as you possibly can. Be true to who you are. Write what’s important to you, not what you think is trendy. Last of all, don’t give up. Stay determined. Many talented people drop out before seeing their work published because they can’t stand rejection.

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CG:             What are your plans for promotion and marketing or does your publisher look after these? Where can people buy copies of BITTER, SWEET?

LB: Nimbus has set up signings for me with Chapters and Coles store in the area for the month of November in six different locations. Articles have already appeared in two of our local papers to promote the book. “Bitter, Sweet” can be ordered directly through Nimbus publishing or from Amazon.ca, Chapters.ca and, of course, bookstores.

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CG:            What’s next? Do you have another story in the wings?

LB: There is always another story in the wings, Carol. I presently have one under consideration but I have several others in various stages of completion.

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CG:            Anything I haven’t asked you that you’d like to comment on?  🙂

LB: I’d say you’ve pretty much covered everything although I would like to say thank you for setting up this interview! It’s been fun!

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Thanks, Laura. It’s been a treat to learn more about you and your novel. I’m so glad you agreed to this. I wish you much success with BITTER, SWEET!

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