Yes, this week’s Debut Author Q&A is a day late, but is far from a dollar short (as my father-in-law likes to say). Big thanks to author Jane Roper whose interview today is thoughtful, enlightening and chock-full of truths about the writing life — I was nodding my heading in agreement the whole way through.
Name of book: Eden Lake
Book genre: Literary/Mainstream Fiction
Date Published: May 12, 2011
Publisher: Last Light Studio
What is your day job? I’m a freelance advertising copywriter. I’ve also got four-year-old twins, so being a mom is part of my day (and night!) job, too.
What is your book about? Eden Lake is about the family that owns a (fictional) nontraditional, co-ed kids’ summer camp in Maine. At the outset of the book, the charismatic founder and director of the camp is killed in a plane crash, and his three adult children and stepdaughter are faced with the sudden, unexpected responsibility of running the camp. As they muddle through the summer, dealing with the antics of counselors, campers and demanding parents, they also have to confront their relationships with each other and with their past. And figure out what’s going to happen to the camp in the future. And get a little nookie along the way. It is camp, after all.
What would you say is the most challenging part of writing a book? For me, it’s the sheer scale and scope of it. You’ve got all these different elements—character, setting, chronology, conflict, details and themes—that you’re juggling at once. It’s a big, huge, messy undertaking. You’ve got to go at it with the mentality that you will figure out a way to sort it all out, and make it work. But it’s going to be a long haul. You just have to take it one step at a time. Or “bird by bird” as Ann Lamott would say.
What motivates you to write? For me, writing is the most satisfying way of understanding and articulating truth, emotion, the world, everything. When I’m writing, I feel at my most aware and thoughtful and free. And that’s a good feeling. Tiring and painful at times, but good. Like exercise. And I’m kind of addicted to the high.
Did you experience writer’s block? There were certainly times when I felt “stuck” but I didn’t really think of it as writer’s block; just a rough patch that I needed to work through, either by taking a break or coming at things from a different angle. I guess writer’s block is really when people just can’t write at all for days or weeks or months at a time. And, no, I’ve never really experienced that. (Although I’ve certainly experienced times when I don’t want to write.)
How long did it take you to write this book? Eden Lake took me a little over two and a half years. I wrote the first draft in just shy of a year, before my daughters were born. I revised it over the following year and a half, while they slept.
How long did it take you to find a publisher? Also two-and-a-half years. I had an agent who tried to sell it to all the big publishers, and although we got close, it never happened. Then I tried approaching small presses, and in early 2010, I signed with Last Light Studio, a new, cooperative micropress.
I have a different agent now, who sold my memoir of parenting twins/dealing with clinical depression, which will be published next year by St. Martin’s. I do think that it’s vital to have an agent if you want to try to get your book published with a large or mid-sized traditional press. But if you’re open to publishing with a smaller press or some of the new, co-op or eBook presses that are cropping up, then no; it’s not necessary.
What is the biggest misconception about writing a book? I think the biggest misconception is that anybody can do it if they just had time. If there’s one thing that drives me nuts, it’s hearing people say that: “Oh, I’d love to write a book someday, I just don’t have time.” The fact is, most people who write and publish books don’t have time either. They make the time through discipline and sacrifice. And they work very hard—by writing and reading with purpose—to become good enough writers to create something publishable, or at least readable. It’s not something you can just toss off.
What was your favorite aspect of the writing process for this book? Eden Lake was inspired by the summer camps that my parents worked at and owned, and where I spent the first fifteen summers of my life. So for me, it was a lot of fun to dig back into my memories and remember some of the details, both physical and emotional, associated with my childhood summers.
What tools/methods have you employed to promote your book? What advice would you give to writers regarding promotion? I’ve done a lot with social media: Twitter, Facebook, blog guest posts and giveaways on book blogs and on Goodreads. I also had bookmarks made up, which I’ve given away to anyone who will take one. I promote the book on my blog, Baby Squared, over at Babble.com. I think these are all good ways to go. Generally speaking, I would advise writers to focus on building relationships—really engaging with readers, writers and friends about your book and other books and authors you like—rather than just touting yourself all the time. It’s a tricky balance to strike.
Is there another novel on the horizon? Yes! I’m in the taking notes and “letting it bake” stage right now. I hope to start putting pen to paper in earnest later this summer.
My favorite last question: Oprah has famously said that there is no such thing as luck, without preparation and a moment of opportunity. Would you agree or disagree with regard to your own success as a writer? I agree 100 percent with Madame O. that there has to be preparation. God knows, I worked hard writing Eden Lake and on honing my craft in the years prior to writing it. And I worked hard to build a readership and voice through my blog over at Babble, which helped me get my memoir book deal. So my success, such as it is, is certainly due in part to years of preparation.
But I’m not quite sure what Oprah means by “a moment of opportunity.” Isn’t it often a matter of luck whether or not you get that moment of opportunity?
Let me put it this way: I can rattle off the names of at least a dozen friends and acquaintances who are superb writers, who have written wonderful books, represented by fantastic agents, that haven’t gotten picked up for publication because the market for fiction is so tough right now.
All it takes is one editor to fall in love with your book. But there are hundreds of editors, and an agent can only submit to one per publishing house. And even if an editor does fall in love with your book, the editorial and marketing team has to approve that “love” for a book to get the green light. Which isn’t to say that people whose books get published and who become successful (not that the two always go hand in hand…) don’t deserve it. They do. But luck also has something to do with it.