Author interview: Edward Ahern

Today is the last day of National Poetry Month. To mark the occasion, I am interviewing an award-winning local poet, Edward Ahern. His book, Irregular Images, is his latest published volume, and it differs from his014 others, because it’s poetry. Ed may seem like an unlikely poet, because he’s a prolifically-published writer of a novel, The Witches’ Bane, and stories laced with dark humor and a touch of the surreal. Many of the poems in this volume reveal a more metaphysical outlook, yet some of my favorites are those that tell a story, like The Wake, in which a man tells another, silently, how much he despises him, and Telling a Fortune, which reveals the fortune-teller’s point of view. And, as ever, the humor comes through too, in The Urchin Response and O’Leary’s Drive-Thru. I wanted to know more about his poetry.

GC: I know you as a prolific author of short stories, which have been published in journals, anthologies and collections. When/why did you decide to add poetry to your repertoire?

ed ahernEA: It was curiosity that subverted the fiction writer. I‘d been reviewing poems for Bewildering Stories for a couple years, some of them pretty good, some of them clotted chewing gum. I wondered if I couldn’t write poems equally bad or maybe a bit better. So I read into poetry writing, dabbled in a couple on line courses and started writing poems. They got accepted, so I wrote more. And more. I think that writing poetry requires a hopeless infatuation with words, and that it dramatically improves my fiction writing.

GC: Writing poetry tends to be a solitary experience. How do you get feedback on your poems before you submit them?

EA: I cheat, often submitting poems before another human has read or heard them. If a poem is rejected say seven or eight times I assume it stinks and rewrite it. It’s usually accepted thereafter. (I use the editor’s pass/fail vote as feedback on the poem’s quality. Saves me anguishing about whether or not the poem’s any good.) People in poetry groups are often too nice to tell me it stinks, although I encourage them to do so.

GC: You’ve had many poems published by now. Where would you suggest poets submit to begin with? Are there any publications more open to new poets?

EA: I started with low expectations, submitting to publications that accepted fifty percent or more of the subs. Too many writers of both fiction and poetry assume their raw poetry has undiscovered greatness and submit to the top magazines, which accept only one or two percent of unsolicited submissions. They’re rejected, get dejected, and stop writing. There are hundreds of receptive publications out there, including Bewildering Stories.

GC: Irregular Images is your first poetry collection. What prompted you to publish it, and how difficult was the process?

EA: All credit for the Publication of Irregular Images goes to Alison McBain, who went through the Amazon publication anguish. She’s not guilty of the poems’ DNA, but she delivered them. Peculiarly, a different assortment of twenty of my poems, will be published as a chapbook by Prolific Press, titled Dirty Handed Graspings. I’ll need to treat my children lovingly but uniquely as they develop.

GC: How did you choose which of your poems to include, and in which order?

EA: The selection process was painless. Of a hundred thirty poems written so far, eight or so are so bad I euthanized them. Another five are variations on the same theme. Another ten or fifteen, despite being published, are not how I want them to appear, and need cosmetic surgery. Irregular Images could be described as a ‘what’s left’ volume.

GC: In that case, it’s an advertisement for effective pruning!

You can follow Ed on Facebook and Twitter. He is also co-organizer of The Poets Salon Meetup, which meets once a month in Fairfield, CT.

 

 

 

The Storyteller’s Press – a new publisher in Connecticut

Lisa Melikian NatcharianLisa Natcharian launched the Storyteller’s Cottage in a beautiful Victorian house in Simsbury, CT, in 2017.  It began as a venue for various literary activities and events for children and adults—book clubs, author readings, Harry Potter and Dungeons and Dragons Clubs, literary parties (1930s Murder Mystery or WWII Blitz party, anyone?) and plenty more. (Check the writers’ Calendar page on this site.) In addition to all of this, Lisa offers writing coursesSix Months to Your Manuscript, Intro to Journalism and Picture Books 101 among many others. Recently she 750 hopmeadow lightinstalled a writer-in-Residence, C. Flanagan Flynn, who leads workshops and one-on-one coaching, as well as writing for Inkling, (below) the beautiful quarterly literary magazine published by Storyteller’s Cottage. With all this going for it, it’s small wonder that ST is so popular with writers.

Full disclosure: I’m one of four authors featured in an evening called Book Odyssey Night on May 9, but that’s not why I asked Lisa for this interview.

Inkling Spring 2019 coverRecently Lisa added to her impressive list of offerings, by launching The Storyteller’s Press. So far, they’ve published three authors, and I wanted to find out more.

GC: What made you decide to begin such a time-consuming project?

LN: In the two years that we’ve been active in the writing community, we have been privileged to meet scores of aspiring authors.  As we spoke to them in the context of our writing classes and social events, we heard over and over about the difficulties new writers have trying to make an impact as tiny fish in a gigantic sea.  We saw a need for a small, hometown, supportive press, where new children’s authors can launch a career with personalized, caring support.

GC: How does an author get published by you? Do they require an agent?

LN: No agent is required.  Prospective authors may send us a summary of their story idea by email and we’ll respond back with a request for more information if the concept is a good fit for us.  For the first year of our operation as a publisher, we are limiting our range to children’s books.  As we grow, we plan to add additional genres.

813TmqvutuLGC: What makes publishing with The Storyteller’s Press different from traditional or self-publishing?

LN: We fit right in the pocket between traditional and self-publishing.  As a small press that focuses on personal service, we provide a hand to hold on the beginning of the publishing journey.  Whereas self-publishing requires a significant up-front investment on the part of the author, publishing with The Storyteller’s Press does not.  And while traditionally published authors may receive an advance on sales, or may be asked to travel to promote their work, the Storyteller’s Press instead operates on a smaller, more human scale.  We publish small initial print runs and rely on a print-on-demand model after the initial run, reducing financial risk for all involved. Focusing on our local contacts to promote new books, we work to get new authors into local independent bookstores as well as national chain stores.

Truly cover to edit-2GC: Does The Storytellers Press help with marketing the books?

LN: Definitely. With the Storyteller’s Cottage at the core of our local writing community, we are able to quickly garner name recognition for our new authors by promoting them on all our established communication channels, including our website, direct mail, social media, online magazine, etc. New authors are featured in our on-site bookstore, and at a variety of special events, including a launch party, storytime, writing workshop, community fairs and more.  We help authors create a website, blog, Facebook page, YouTube book trailer and any other personal marketing vehicles that they can then maintain. Our staff promotes new authors to the media with regular press releases to our established contacts in the area, and will also submit authors’ names to respected online directories and for a variety of author awards.

GC: This is amazing! And finally, most important for my readers, are you currently looking for submissions, and if so, in what genre(s)?

LN: Yes we are.  We would love to see submissions from local children’s book authors, especially those that have a self-confidence or educational component.  Our current roster includes Amanda Bannikov, whose three books featuring Tippy the Dragon and Kimothin the girl knight all encourage children to get comfortable with uncomfortable situations; Lana Bennett, whose two books featuring Truly the Fairy use mystery-solving to build self-confidence; and Kati Mockler, whose book about magnets teaches children how positive behaviors can attract joy in life.

You can connect with the Storyteller’s Cottage at their website, on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram

 

Westport Writers’ Rendezvous – July update

I wasn’t able to be at Wednesday’s get-together, but I understand members had lots of positive happenings to report, which is fantastic. Alex McNab hosted in my place, and did a great job, I’m told. Thanks, Alex. A local storytelling … Continue reading

Author interview: Leslie Chess Feller

coverWith the rise of self-published books, it’s hard to know which books are worth buying. So when I find one I think is excellent in its class, I like to give them and their authors a shout-out. One such is Monster In My Lunchbox,  an illustrated book of family-focused rhyme. The poems are by Leslie Chess Feller and the illustrations by her late sister, Shelley. I asked Leslie how the book came about and her answers were quite unexpected. Read on to find out why.

GC: Can you tell us something about the book?
LCF: Monster In My Lunchbox is a collection of light verse that celebrates family. It includes simpler poems for early readers and others for kids in elementary school and beyond. But it’s also for Moms, Dads, Grandmas and Grandpas. I like to say that anyone who has ever been a kid will get a laugh out of these poems. They are meant for the whole family to enjoy together. Here’s a sample:

SCHOOL DAYS, RULE DAYS …cartoon 1
Bells ring! Books slam!
Papers shuffle! Yes, Ma’am!
Raise your hand! Get in line!
Hurry up to be on time!
Quiet please! Do your work!
Don’t be idle! Do not shirk!
Reading, writing, number stuff …
Sometimes I’ve had quite enough.
Even when I’m pleased as punch,
I think my favorite subject’s lunch

GC: How long have you been a poet?
LCF: I grew up in Brooklyn, NY, the second of five siblings. My sister Shelley, older by 15 months, was the alpha sibling and with three younger brothers there was never a dull moment. Our father was a physician who loved the poet Ogden Nash. Whenever he had something to say to our mother, a psychologist, he would do it with a clever Ogden Nash-ian rhyme. And my mother would rhyme right back.

lcf kids

Leslie (L) and Shelley

You could tell anybody anything in my family, even our father, if you did it with a poem. Every occasion became a poetic roast. Like my siblings, I began to rhyme as soon as I could write. So when my daughter Dania brought home Shel Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic in the fourth grade, I looked at it and said, “I can do that.”

GC: How did you get your first poems published?
LCF: In 1985, a few of my Kidstuff poems ran in a local newspaper and attracted the attention of editors at a Westport, CT, magazine, Profiles. As soon as I found out they wanted me to do a monthly column and were open to me bringing in an illustrator, I called Shelley. By then, she was the world’s best middle school science teacher. But as a student, she used to get in a lot of trouble for cartooning all over her schoolwork. “Hey, Shelley,” I said. “I’m getting these poems published! Maybe you could do some cartoons?”

GC: Did you continue to publish poetry?
LCF: I did two other light verse columns for Profiles. Both Rhyme or Reason and Poetic License won Connecticut Press Club awards, but ran without illustrations. Soon my editors started assigning me articles which put my writing career on a different track. I went from local articles to the New York Times to national magazines as a freelance journalist for almost thirty years. Writing in light verse became something I enjoyed doing for family events.

GC: What made you decide to publish your poems now?

lcf sis

Leslie (L) and Shelley

LCF: This book is also a celebration of a very special sisterhood. Over decades, my sister and I cheerfully perfected the art of never, ever agreeing with each other – except that we didn’t want to fight. Agreeing to disagree was our solution, the catalyst for what became an extraordinary friendship. Shelley died of leukemia two years ago. It was a terrible loss.
Six months afterwards, I was standing in my living room feeling very black. For no reason, I opened a cabinet door. Something fell on the floor in front of me. It was a xerox copy of fifty of my poems with fifty illustrations done by my sister. I had forgotten ever writing them. The fifteen Kidstuff poems in my writer’s portfolio were what I remembered. But at some point, decades ago, I had given more to Shelley and she had chosen to illustrate them.
I felt her right beside me. “Publish these,” Shelley said. The words were sweet. I threw everything out of that cabinet in a mad search for the pen and ink cartoons. Eventually I found 110 of my poems, each with the perfect cartoon. My sister and I disagreed about everything, but clearly we shared the same sense of humor. Monster In My Lunchbox is a collaboration that includes eighty of my favorites.

GC: How are you promoting your book?
LCF: Monster In My Lunchbox was published in November, 2015.
The website is http://www.monsterinmylunchbox.com On the website, you can listen to me read the title poem. Then click links to videos of other poems in the collection.
And I’ve been giving talks and readings at libraries, and for parent groups among others.

You can see the promotional video here. And to connect with Leslie, follow her on Facebook or Google +, and Vimeo where you’ll find links to more videos.
The book is available from Blurb.

Give someone a Tangerine for the holidays: 1

As my regular readers know, some of my personal essays and a poem were published recently in a great little book. Great, because the writing is good, and little, because, well, it’s small. A perfect size, in fact, for a holiday gift for a hostess, mother, stocking stuffer or just for fun. (Only $8.35!)

To give you some idea of the kind of book it is, I thought I’d share some of the pieces with you between now and Christmas. The book’s available at Amazon in either paper or digital form. Here’s a sample of writing from the editor, Lisa K. Winkler, my internet friend. Here you go.

There’s nothing like an ice cream cone.  And this summer, there are more flavors than ever to choose from. Creative expression has pervaded ice cream, exposing our palates to culinary experiences akin to dining in ethnic restaurants.

Cheeses- feta, goat, ricotta or blue can be found mixed with fruits and vegetables. Savory spices such as paprika, basil, rosemary, curry, pepper and even garlic are offered next to traditional chocolate, vanilla and strawberry.  In New Jersey, the Garden State, I’ve seen “Fresh Corn.”  For those who skipped breakfast, maple syrup and bacon flavors abound, and for those thinking salad, there’s olive oil.

Then there are the flavors invented by creative vendors whose names tell the customer nothing. Why don’t the stores tape an explanation of these flavors to the front of the case? Instead, customers have to ask what each is, wasting the scooper’s time and annoying the impatient Little League team waiting in line.

One stand offers a flavor named for the town’s zip code.  And “Special Flavor,” which changes all the time. Last visit, it was peach.  And the imaginative names, like Dirty Diaper, Elephants Never Forget, and Kong. 

GC: Wow – buy the book to read the rest – which includes a recipe for chocolate fudge sauce. Yum.

You can find Lisa on her website, on Facebook and on her blog

Interview with author Lisa Winkler – editor of Tangerine Tango

In addition to writing a regular blog, Lisa Winkler is the author of On the Trail of the Ancestors, A Black Cowboy’s Ride Across America.  She’s also the editor of a new anthology of writing by women called Tangerine Tango (yes, of course I’m in it!) and I was impressed with the energy and dedication she brought to putting the project together, so I asked her about it.

GC: Congratulations on publishing Tangerine Tango. Is this the first book you’ve produced?

LW: Thanks, Gabi! I’m so proud of the book. This is my second book.  On the Trail of the Ancestors: A Black Cowboy’s Ride Across America was published last February. That is a very different book than Tangerine Tango. It tells the journey of a teacher I met from Newark, NJ who rode his horse from New York to California to honor the contributions of African-Americans to US history.

Tangerine Tango is a collection of essays and poems by 12 women writers.

GC: Tell me something about how you found your authors.

LW: Most of the writers I have befriended through blogging and I asked them to contribute.  By reading and commenting on each others’ blogs I feel as if I have all these wonderful friends!

GC: The book is attractive looking. Did you design it yourself, or did you have help?

LW: I had help. I am so lucky to have met Solveig Marina Bang. She is a designer and copy editor, based in India, who turns my word documents into art!  We go back and forth debating grammar as well as design.  She created 9 covers for me to select from—I loved this one immediately.

GC: Which parts of the publishing process did you handle yourself? (ISBN numbers, editing, etc)

LW: I have self-published with CreateSpace, Amazon’s publishing company. They assign the ISBN. I edited the essays and shared the edits with the writers. Then Marina and I pored through the entire document scores of times, and the writers proofread it too. I think there were over 20 drafts before it was ready to submit for publication.

GC: Was publishing the book pretty straightforward?

LW: Well the paperback was unavailable for a few days because of some glitch between Amazon and CreateSpace. In order to solve the formatting problems I had to wait for them to fix the issues with the Amazon paper copies. People who ordered from CreateSpace directly weren’t affected, but it was a nuisance from a promotional point of view. On the bright side, while it was unavailable, Amazon was advertising used copies for $999!

GC: Is the problem cleared up now?

LW: Yes, thankfully, and it’s been selling well.

GC: What piece of advice would you give to other indie authors looking to publish?

LW: It’s a risk and investment. There are tons of paper books being published both traditionally and self-published. Then there are eBooks. There’s a lot of competition. Don’t expect to make fast money. There’s no guarantee even if you’re traditionally published.
GC: Would you be prepared to do it again? Is volume 2 in the works, for example, or do you have something different on the horizon?

 

LW: I’d love to do this again! It would be another title; maybe with themes, maybe not. I’d love to double the size of the book and the number of authors. I think I’ll wait at least a year though to see how this one does, and if I do another book, I want to research other companies.

Mslexia – a magazine for women who write

I’m not sure where I came across Mslexia, but I’m very glad I did. It’s an online and paper quarterly magazine for women who write (but I don’t suppose they object if men care to read it too). They’re based in the UK, but their readership is global. Whether you’re published or not, there’s something here for you.

Among the many reasons I found them intriguing is that in addition to interesting and useful articles by other writers, Mslexia provides many chances for new writers to be published. They run high-profile contests for poets, novelists and short-story writers.  Among the articles in the current (Summer 2012 issue) are a request for submissions to a women’s short story competition, an investigation into the lack of new gay women novelists, and an article on how to be a great reviewer. This last one interested me because I always feel my book reviews on Goodreads and Amazon are woefully lacking in analytical brilliance. Not only do they tell you how to write a good review, they then say they’re looking for good reviewers, so there’s a chance to actually use your new skill.

Another article was about what it takes to become a professional proof-reader/copy editor.  Here’s what one of the editors they interviewed thought was important:

‘Prerequisites for the job? A fanaticism about perfection, an excellent knowledge of the relevant language and grammar, patience to work with the same material for hours on end and willingness to set aside your own creativity and voice to work on someone else’s.’
CLAIRE ELLIOT, freelance editor

They also list events and workshops for writers. Here are a few of the current ones:

A writing and yoga retreat in a beautiful old slate cottage just a mile from the sea in south Cornwall. 26-31 August.

A writing retreat on the beautiful wild island of Tanera Mòr, Summer Isles, North West Scotland, led by poet and novelist Mandy Haggith. 1-7 September 2012.

FictionFire offers creative writing day courses, mentoring, critiquing and editorial advice with novelist and experienced writing tutor Lorna Fergusson in Oxford.

Residential Courses at Ty Newydd Writers’ centre, Wales, include Creative Nonfiction with Horatio Clare (the writer-in-residence I wrote about) and Helena Drysdale (13-18 Aug); The Short Story with Patrick Gale and Salley Vickers (20-25 Aug); Storytelling Retreat with Hugo Lupton and Eric Maddern (24-29 Sep).

Skyros Writers’ Lab on the island of Skyros in Greece offers creative writing courses in Greece for writers, thinkers and dabblers including: The First Novel with Shelley Weiner (11-21 Aug, £995); Life Writing with Monique Roffey (21-31 Aug, £945); A Life Full of Stories with Amanda Smyth (1-11 Sep, £895); Your Writer’s Voice with Crysse Morrison (11-21 Sep, £845).

Almàssera Vellain Alicante, Spain offers low season retreats in their casa rural annexe as well as residential writing courses. 2012 tutors include: Jane Draycott, Mimi Khalvati, Judith Barrington, Mario Petrucci, Jo Shapcott, Nancy Shapiro, Simon Barron & Rosalind Brady, Christopher North and John Hartley Williams.

I think they’re worth a second look, and even a subscription, which I’ve just taken out.

Not sure how to end your novel? Part 2: Coliloquy has a solution

Yesterday I mentioned Ernest Hemingways’ 47 attempts to finish A Farewell to Arms. If you’re having the same problem, you could turn to a relatively new website called Coliloquy for inspiration. It’s an eBook publisher with a twist. It refers to its publications as “active fiction specializing in reader engagement and serial storytelling.” Essentially, you get to choose the ending that you’d prefer for the book you’re reading. I can’t hope to paraphrase this correctly, so here’s what the founders of Coliloquy say about it:

Coliloquy was founded on the belief that digital fiction can push the boundaries of how we think about narrative and storytelling.We publish all of our books as active Kindle Fire (and now Nook and Android as well) applications, rather than static files, allowing our authors to build ever-expanding worlds through episodic, serial storytelling and engagement mechanics, like choice and voting, branching story lines, re-reading loops, and personalized content. The result is an incredibly fluid and immersive story-telling experience…

At the moment they have eight titles, mainly, it seems to me, aimed at YA audiences (apart, I assume from the erotic novel…). They require their authors to be published already, then they help and guide them in producing this different style of fiction.

Tawna Fenske

I bought one of the books (which you buy as a Kindle Android app, not a Kindle book, which is not interactive) and enjoyed it. But I found a bit of a problem with Coliloquy’s take on their books. They aren’t selling a series of books, where the main character has various stand-alone adventures. What they sell is a serial – a different kettle of fish altogether. I purchased Getting Dumped, having read a couple of sample pages and deciding that the style and subject matter would be fun. Author Tawna Fenske is a terrific writer and I laughed out loud at several places in the book. She has a great way with words, and this was reminiscent of the Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich. The Evanovich books are a series, however. Getting Dumped was not. After paying $4.99 for the book, I read it in a couple of hours and the realized that I was only halfway through it. In order to find out what happened I had to pay another $4.99. And although there was one place in the book where I could choose from three alternative scenarios (heroine calls one of three possible love interests) the subsequent chapters were all identical. I know, because I tried all three. Essentially, what you get is identical plot development with three different ways of delivering the same information to the reader.

If I’d bought the first volume of the book when it first came out, I would have been very irritated to find that I hadn’t purchased a whole book. And I’d have had to wait several months for the second half.

When I asked founder and CEO Lisa Rutherford about this, here’s what she said:

You are correct that the choice in GETTING DUMPED PART 1 takes the reader to one of three different scenes, before reconciling the story. It’s actually one of the simplest uses of our technology (compared to some of our other authors), but arguably the most powerful, both in terms of reader behavior and how Tawna uses the data. (She uses it to help plot the next half of the book GC)

With regard to series/serial, we had early feedback that it was more confusing to refer to some titles as series and others as serials, particularly since the two words are often interchanged in common American usage. 

I guess that’s fair enough. Point is, this is an interesting new way to use technology to craft eBooks. I think it’s worth keeping an eye on. Maybe they’ll start a subscription service. How about unlimited installments for a fixed annual fee? I could see myself going for that.

Author interview: Lisa Winkler – On the Trail of the Ancestors

Lisa Winkler is the author of On the Trail of the Ancestors, A Black Cowboy’s Ride Across America. It’s the story of Miles Dean, a Teacher from New Jersey, who rode his horse from New York to California to celebrate the contributions African Americans had made in the settling of the United States. I first came across her through her blog, and decided to interview her about the book, in particular because I wanted to know more about how Lisa became a published writer.

GC: Could you give us a brief summary of your writing career?

LW: I worked as a newspaper reporter and magazine journalist for years. When I became a teacher, I continued to write for professional journals and have had study guides published for Penguin Books. I write now for Education Update and have assignments for JerseyMan Magazine.

GC: Your latest book, On the Trail of the Ancestors, is about a black ‘cowboy’ riding across the USA on a horse. It’s an unusual topic, to say the least, particularly since it’s non-fiction. How did you come across the story? And what made you decide to write about it?

LW: I met Miles Dean while I was working as a literacy consultant in Newark, NJ. He taught at one of the schools I visited.  As a teacher, I’ve witnessed how little young people know of history. In urban areas, youth learn about slavery and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and a few more facts during Black History Month. Yet they have little if any connection with these historical figures. When I began my own reading after meeting Miles, I became fascinated with these people whose contributions to the development of the US are largely unknown. Most adults haven’t heard of these people. American history needs to include all races and genders to truly demonstrate who built this nation, their struggles and sacrifices and stories.  From my research, I couldn’t find any records of other African Americans who have ridden a horse across the country with this purpose in mind. A cross- country journey is a story in itself. I loved the idea of Miles growing up watching western movies and television shows and dreaming that he too could become a cowboy.

GC: My readers are always interested in the process of writing and publishing. Can you tell us what was involved in researching and writing this book?

LW: I read a lot of books that I found in libraries or bought. These included biographies, geography and books about horses.  I consulted maps and also interviewed some of scholars Miles met on his journey. I pored through the Internet. I read Miles’ website and transcribed the podcasts he did for the Star-Ledger and interviews he conducted with people he met.  I spent hours and hours interviewing Miles.

GC:  And what was your publishing process? Who edited the book? How did you decide on pricing, design etc?

LW: I nearly quit a few times. I submitted to about 100 agents before deciding to self-publish.  I researched the self-publishing companies and chose CreateSpace. For the most part, it was efficient. I hired a book designer who also is a copy editor and that is crucial to anyone considering self-publishing. We’d exchange emails six times a day, debating proper grammar usage, sentence structure, etc.  I priced it low as an eBook – $2.99 – and played around with the paperback price. $12.95 seemed fair for the size of the book.

GC: How can readers find you? Are you available to give talks?

LW: Yes! I’d love to talk about the book to any groups, bookstores and libraries that will have me. I’m available to present the book to all ages, and especially to educators who will use the book in their classrooms. The study guide gives a range of activities, including writing, literature, drama, math, geography, and research topics. It is available via my website. Readers can reach me via my website, and the book is available in all formats from Amazon etc)

Interview with Nichole Bernier, author of The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D

I’m always fascinated by authors who find the time to write and publish their work, even when they clearly have a very full life in addition to that of writer. Nichole Bernier is author of the novel The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D, and has written for magazines including Elle, Self, Health, and Men’s Journal. She wrote for Conde Nast for 14 years, is a founder of the literary blog Beyond the Margins and has taught at Grub Street , the second largest creative writing center in the US, in Boston. As if this weren’t enough, she has five children and a husband.  She’s a staunch supporter of independent bookstores and local writers near her Massachusetts home, something I heartily endorse. She was kind enough to give me an interview recently, telling me what made her write this particular novel, when she first started writing (7th grade!) how she moved from magazine writing to novel writing, and how she has published and promoted the book. You can find and follow her on Twitter and Facebook. Read the full interview below, while I go buy a copy and start reading…

GC: Tell us something about your novel.

NB: The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D is about a woman who inherits the journals of a friend, and realizes she didn’t know her friend as well as she thought, including where she was really going when she died. Set in the anxious summer after the September 11th attacks, this story of two women —their friendship, their marriages, private ambitions and fears — considers the aspects of ourselves we show and those we conceal, and the repercussions of our choices.

I wrote about 2002 because that year was such a fascinating time. It was both terrifying and numbing to watch CNN because you never knew what you might hear; I think many people felt for a while that anything was not only possible, but likely. Most of us moved on from that paralyzing fear, but it was fascinating to me to create a character who became quietly obsessed with protecting her family from so many unknowns, and could not move on.

GC: At what age did you first start writing?

NB: I remember really writing with intention in 7th grade. An English teacher gave us a year-long assignment to keep a journal, and I never really stopped. Over the years it became a place where I processed thoughts and explored writing styles. And yes, this is a plug for the value and lasting impact of teachers.

GC: You have a background in journalism, so what inspired you to write a novel?

NB: I’d been a magazine writer for a decade, and though I love reading fiction, I’d never had an urge to write it. But after I lost a friend in the September 11th terrorist attacks, there were things I couldn’t work through in my regular ways of writing. One day in early 2005, shortly after the birth of my third child, I wrote a dream sequence about a woman imagining her friend’s last moments. It didn’t occur to me that that would be anything more than a bit in my journal, but that sequence became the beginning of chapter three, and it’s never changed.

GC: How long did it take from first word to final publication?

NB: Six years.

GC: Can you tell us about the process of getting the novel published? How did you come to be published by Crown?

NB: For two years I wrote nights and weekends, and when it was clear this odd bit of writing wasn’t going away, I started siphoning off hours from my babysitter time meant for freelance magazine work. As I got close to finishing the first draft, I found I really loved studying the business side of fiction and querying, which I found fascinating and altogether different than magazines.

But my big rookie error was in querying immediately after I finished the first draft. My mental timeline was still that of a freelancer: finish, publish, paycheck. I wasn’t used improving something slowly and tortuously with no one in the world even waiting for it. We’d just moved to Boston and I was expecting my fourth child, and eager to cross “Get Agent” off my to-do list. There were some requests for partials and fulls, all leading to rejections in the end.

So I threw myself into revisions. I developed a writing community. I revised for a year and a half. When I felt ready to query again I received three offers of representation, for which I was endlessly appreciative, and I felt a strong connection to agent Julie Barer. Julie worked with me for a year, urging me to streamline my story and weave more closely the timelines of my two main characters. After she sold it to Crown, the trajectory of the process suddenly made sense, all the necessary steps and hard work.

GC: I understand your book is available as an eBook. Current wisdom (and I realize this applies largely to genre fiction) suggests that the best way to build readership is to have a steady stream of books available once you’ve hooked your readers. Are you planning another, and if so, how soon do you expect to have it out there?

 NB: I am on fire with two ideas, and can’t wait to start ripping into one that I’ve already outlined. But after all these years writing and revising, I feel strongly that I owe Elizabeth D the time to focus on promoting it, reading from it, meeting people and talking about why this story means so much to me. I think I’m a one-book-at-a-time kind of person, especially since my family consumes so much of my non-writing time. But the next book won’t be long off. I love writing fiction.

GC: How did you manage to get the great ‘advance praise’ comments for the book? Did you know these writers already, or did Crown organize that part of it?

NB: They were people I’d already admired and had come to know. Jenna Blum, Randy Susan Meyers, Robin Black, Courtney Sullivan, Vanessa Diffenbaugh, Dani Shapiro… I was very fortunate and grateful to have their early support.

GC: How much of the promotion of the book do you have to do yourself these days?

NB: I think it probably depends on the author, but I’m a fairly hands-on person, so I initiated a lot of the tour schedule, and my publicists and fantastic marketing team at Crown ran with it, booking television, newspapers and radio, and helping me get into independent bookstores I respected tremendously. There’s no doubt an author has to do a lot of the legwork. But I love seeing Random House appreciate it, and back it up.