Today’s featured debut author, Colleen Oakley, is a former editor of mine! Her articles, essays and interviews have been featured in The New York Times, Ladies’ Home Journal, Marie Claire, Women’s Health, Redbook and Martha Stewart Weddings. She lives in Atlanta with her husband, two painfully cute kids and a huge lapdog named Bailey. Her new book, Before I Go, is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound, and at your favorite local bookstore.
What is your day job? I’m a writer. Focusing on my second novel now, but I also still write for a few magazines and websites.
What is your book about? A 27-year-old woman who’s dying of cancer decides she needs to find her brilliant-but-charmingly-helpless husband a new wife to take care of him after she’s gone. So, you know, an upper.
Why did you want to write this book? I’ve always wanted to be a novelist, but this book I wanted to write in particular because I wanted to explore what happens in young, desperately-in-love relationships when one person gets that devastating diagnosis—that they’re not going to be able to live happily ever after. Sure, it’s a theme that’s been done before, but I wanted to put my own spin on it. Specifically, I wanted to find the funny and highlight the irony in this tragic circumstance so it wasn’t just your typical sobfest.
What would you say was the most challenging part of writing this book? To find that balance—to be funny without being flippant, and to hit the real emotional depths without being too maudlin.
What was your favorite aspect of the writing process for this book? I really fell in love with my characters and enjoyed bringing them to life (even under such dire circumstances).
Did you conduct any kind of research in order to write this book (visit certain locales, etc.)? I interviewed an amazing radiation oncologist (multiple times) to make sure the vocabulary, diagnoses, treatments and side effects would be authentic. I also spoke with a vet student at UGA in Athens (the college and campus where my book is set) so I could better understand what it’s like to be earning a dual Ph.D. in veterinary medicine (the degrees my character Jack is pursuing).
Did you experience writer’s block? I did! And I’m insanely jealous of writers who don’t. I know a lot of people recommend keeping your butt in the chair and just fighting your way through writer’s block, but that doesn’t work for me. I have to step away—take a shower, go for a run. One day, I even replanted the flowers by my mailbox. I find when I’m doing other things I’m often struck with my best ideas.
How long did it take you to write this book? About six months. But I had gotten the idea three years prior to writing it and wrote an entirely different book in that time that never sold. So when I sat down to write this book, I’d essentially been living with the idea and characters for three years, which is why I think I was able to do it so quickly (well, quickly for me).
Tell me about the publishing process. Was it easier or more difficult than you thought it would be? Easier and more difficult. I’ll explain: When the first book I wrote was out on submission for three months and then six months and then nearly a year and I realized it wasn’t going to sell, I was devastated. It can be a very soul-sucking process. So when I finished Before I Go I decided I needed to start fresh with a new agent (my old agent was very good, but not necessarily a good fit for me). It was frightening to go out on submission cold, not knowing if I’d even land an agent the second time. But I ended up getting my top pick within two weeks, and she sold the manuscript a week and a half later to Simon & Schuster/Gallery. A thrilling chain of events in any circumstance—but especially so in relation to what I’d been through with the first novel that never sold.
How far along are you with the second book? I’m currently about a third of the way done with my next book. It’s also an unorthodox love story—my favorite kind of book to write!