Name of book: The Bird Sisters
Book genre: General Fiction
Date Published: April 12, 2011
What is your day job? I teach literature and writing at Fontbonne University in St. Louis to a great group of students, although my family is about to move to LA, so I will be searching out another job. Wish me luck!
What is your book about? It’s about two elderly sisters, Milly and Twiss, who live in their childhood home in Spring Green, Wisconsin and how they arrived at this point in their lives. A good part of the novel traces back to the summer when the girls were fourteen and sixteen—the summer their lives went one way when they could have (should have?) gone another.
What would you say is the most challenging part of writing a book? For me the most challenging part of writing a book is being able to sustain hope that it will see the light of day when you are finished. Because The Bird Sisters is my debut novel, I didn’t have an agent already or a publisher. It’s difficult for writers, I think, to keep going under these conditions because it can feel a little like you’re writing in a black hole. Having faith in myself was a challenge, but I’m so glad that I pushed myself to remain positive and finish the book even though so many unknowns—and heartbreaks!—were ahead of me.
What motivates you to write? I love to tell stories, so writing is very natural for me. Whenever I feel stuck in my real life, I open my laptop and write my way out of whatever emotional corner I find myself standing in. Writing, for me, is a great way to be an adventurer when in my real life I am a mom, a wife, a teacher, a chauffeur, a cook, a laundress—you name it on the home front, I am it.
Did you experience writer’s block? I have never experienced writer’s block exactly, though there are times when I feel more connected to my prose than others. Sometimes, because I am distracted, I completely miss the mark and have to press the delete key with a heavy heart and start over again.
How long did it take you to write this book? About seven months.
How long did it take you to find a publisher? About seven months. (Odd parallel, isn’t it?)
Do you have an agent? I do have a wonderful agent, Michelle Brower of Folio Literary Management.
Do you think it’s vital for first-timers to have one in order to snag a publishing deal? I wouldn’t say it’s impossible to get a publishing contract without an agent, but it’s nearly impossible. Finding an agent was hard work. Every time I got a rejection, I sent another query straightaway. Often I went to the mailbox with a tissue in my hand. That’s the key, I think, in procuring a New York agent. Listen to agents’ advice and critiques, adjust the manuscript, and keep sending it out.
What is the biggest misconception about writing a book? Ah, that once you finish the book your work is done. It’s just beginning actually. I have spent more hours working with my publisher on promoting the book than I did writing it. I’m being completely serious. These days, a writer is expected to work the publicity angle, which is completely fine with me because I love meeting new people and making new friends, but it isn’t natural to everyone.
What was your favorite aspect of the writing process for this book? I love when I am alone with my work, and I am still the only one who has read it. There is something magical about typing the last words of a novel late at night, when your husband and daughter are asleep upstairs. At those moments, the accomplishment belongs only to me. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about the book. It matters what I think.
What tools/methods have you employed to promote your book? What advice would you give to writers regarding promotion? I am actually working on a guide for debut authors right now because the process can be so daunting. I want to help others in any way I can, and perhaps save them a little bit of heartache along the way. Briefly though, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and the book bloggers have been my very best friends.
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 think I agree with that in terms of the book world. I have had a lot of lucky things happen to me, but only because I was already out there shouting about my novel and someone happened to hear me. Being prepared and alert to the realities of the book business can be a little bit depressing, but it can also give you back some of the control most writers are looking for. As with anything in life, if you want something you have to really go for it. You don’t have to jump off a cliff, but you have to be close to the edge.