Your book is the flagship for this new line. How are you handling the added pressure?
Thanks for reminding me … the butterflies in my stomach are rather large. I didn’t expect the nervousness – not only at being Abingdon’s launch novelist but also at being a fiction writer overall. I have great respect for the people at Abingdon and heartfelt gratitude for their choosing Gone to Green. How amazing is it to be part of something new like this? I am working hard on my end to get the word out and trying to remember my own advice to “worry less.”
How much marketing has been done in preparation for the launch of this book? What have you found has worked particularly well?
I’ve been marketing as much as I can – and always wish I could do more. Even though I sometimes wonder what Eudora Welty would say about Facebook and Twitter, I feel strongly that authors have to spread the word about their books.
Abingdon has hired a publicist to work with me and done a steady amount of marketing on their end, thank goodness. On my end, I’ve tried everything from e-newsletters to a book trailer to having “Green News-Item” pencils imprinted. I depend on the amazing support of friends and family to spread the word, and that probably has the greatest impact – and gives me much-needed courage.
I also accost strangers on the street, including Billy Bob Thornton’s mom, who sat next to me on a flight to L.A. not long ago, and a woman in the waiting room where I was about to have a root canal.
Tell us a little about your latest release:
Gone to Green is about a corporate journalist at a big newspaper who winds up owning a twice weekly in rural North Louisiana. She expects this charming little town full of friendly people, but Green is shabby without the chic. She encounters prejudice and financial corruption – and meets some great characters along the way.
It’s a story about a woman changing a town and the town changing the woman and is the first of a three-part series set in Green.
How did you come up with this story? Was there a specific 'what if' moment?
My years in newsrooms large and small and my life as a southerner shaped this story. The what-if moment came several years before I actually started on the book, and I began to store ideas in my brain. I jotted observations and clipped articles and watched the premise unfold.
For decades, I knew I wanted to write a novel set in the South. I am always thinking about book ideas, carry a notebook with me everywhere and keep a variety of journals.
Tell us a little about your main character and how you developed him/her:
I got the main character started, and she developed herself – which is part of the theme of Gone to Green. I enjoy knowing and reading about strong women who struggle on life’s journey – and grow along the way. That was my goal for Lois. I thought about what her house looked like, what was in her office, what she snacked on and how she would react to a person or situation. I wrote a profile of her to get going, and then her personality took over.When I began, I did not know if the book would be in first-person or third-person, but Lois has a strong, clear voice, and it quickly became clear that the story would be told in first-person.
And, no, she isn’t me!
What did you enjoy most about writing this book? Least?
Most: I absolutely loved getting drawn into the story, inventing a town and people and watching them take shape. My husband would call my office and ask, “How are things in Green?” When a character or plot twist surprised me, I was giddy. The joy I got out of writing this book is almost embarrassing.
Least: Not knowing what I was doing. I had been a successful journalist and nonfiction writer and suddenly I was embarking on a different path. I didn’t know what POV was or an ARC or even back-story …
What made you start writing?
Is it too corny to say I was born to write a novel? I love words. I love books. Like many writers, I’ve been writing since I was a child. I really wanted to capture a slice of life in the South that I think is under appreciated and to write about how most people have something special to offer the world.
What does your writing space look like?
Most of Gone to Green was written on an old laptop on a TV tray at a little cabin on Lake Bistineau in Louisiana. That was a great place to focus and tackle the challenge of writing a novel.
However, I needed something closer to home, so I now have a fantastic writing space/consulting office – a small standalone cottage with a built-in corner desk, a view of our backyard and a porch with a one-person porch swing. One wall is filled with books – including all my favorite how-to-write books – and a “Bionic Woman” lunch box and an old typewriter. My desk is cluttered with notebooks, dictionaries, file folders and a box of giant index cards where I constantly write possibilities for future novels, dialogue, characters, etc.
I have a quote from Anna Quindlen taped to my printer: “… Well-written stories with interesting characters manage to find an audience.” And perched on my desk a quote from Kimberly Willis Holt: “The only one who can keep you from writing is you.”
What kind of activities to you like to do that help you relax and step away from your deadlines for a bit?
I try to take my own advice every single day – slow down; enjoy life more. I sit in the porch swing, walk in a nearby park, go to used bookstores, and scout flea markets for primitive antiques, preferably painted green. And, of course, I read, and write in my journal. I have a fun husband and great friends and family, am always up for a good meal and a movie, and have discovered “30 Rock.”
What's the most difficult part of writing for you (or was when you first started on your novel journey)?
Getting started on my first novel took me way too long. When I turned 50, I promised myself I would finish a novel before I turned 51. Why didn’t I do that when I turned 30 or 40?
When I sat down and started Gone to Green, I was surprised at how scared I was. I have this very clear memory of sitting at my laptop and being totally frozen. I had all these grand plans to write novels, and I didn’t know what the heck I was doing. Once I got going it was quite a lot of fun.
The other challenge: Weaving fiction writing into my schedule. Now that I’ve seen how much I enjoy this, I want to do it all the time.
What message do you hope readers gain from your novel?
This is a tough question because I think individual readers take unique messages from novels, depending on where they are in life. I’m quite curious about what readers will say they got from the book. I do hope it encourages readers to see life as an interesting adventure and to take a leap of faith or two along the way.
Briefly take us through your process of writing a novel—from conception to revision.
It’s fun to look back at this:
Finally committed to write a novel. Chose one idea from the tons floating around in my brain and focused. Let it gel, taking notes when details hit me. Decided how the book would start – and basically how it would end. Wrote a plot summary and profiles of key characters. Also, wrote a detailed description of the setting – the town of Green, La.
Sat down and started writing. Began to flounder and read Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. Wrote notes on large note cards and shuffled them around. Put more words on paper. Re-read and revised. Asked two friends to read it for me and incorporated their feedback. Sent it to my agent. Took to heart her excellent ideas.
What do you wish you’d known early in your career that might have saved you some time and/or frustration in writing? In publishing?
I wish I had known how much I could learn from a writers’ conference -- about the craft and the business of being a published writer (pitching to an editor, for example).
And I really wish I had developed a consistent fiction writing discipline much sooner, made it a habit like brushing my teeth or eating lunch.
Tell us what we have to look forward to in the future. What new projects are you working on?
Next up: Novels 2 & 3 in the Green series.
I’m nearly finished with No. 2: Goodness Gracious Green, due out in 2010. Green Through and Through will be out in 2011. I am crazy about Lois and the other characters in the Green series, and I hope readers will be, too.
I have several other fiction ideas I am constantly prioritizing in my brain or journal, and I certainly hope they’ll appear on the heels of the Green series. (Please go to your library or friendly bookseller and ask them what they have new from that Judy Christie woman.)
On the nonfiction front, my Hurry Less, Worry Less series continues, with Hurry Less, Worry Less at Work out in Fall 2009 and Hurry Less, Worry Less for Families out in Spring 2010.
Do you have any parting words of advice?
Sit down and write. No one else in the world has your voice. Pick a project that matters to you and get started on it. As my agent says, “Guard your writing time.”