I have a novel, The Embers, that was just published by Henry Holt. Here is the description of the book I wrote up with my editor:
A once-charmed family is forced to confront the devastating tragedy that struck it years ago in this fiercely tender tale of betrayal and reconciliation.
We love to hear about your journey to publication.
The Embers actually started as a screenplay. I was editing my first feature film, Seventy-Five Degrees in July, and in a restaurant one day, I saw a precocious looking New York adolescent girl wearing an oversized men’s blazer and carrying a stuffed animal backpack.
Somehow, from the very beginning, the whole concept felt more like a novel than a film. But since I was a filmmaker, I brushed that idea aside and went ahead with the screenplay, all the while writing notes in the margins-“If a novel….”
In the end, the screenplay didn’t work at all, and so I figured I had nothing to lose.
Once I started writing the story as a novel, it was tremendously liberating. I had no page-limit, and I could delve much deeper into each character. Soon, the friendship between Joe and this young stranger, Ingrid, turned into more of an exploration of the relationship between him and his daughter, Emily. As Emily and the rest of Joe’s family began to spring up around him, the Aschers took over the novel.
I spent 7 years writing the book. For the first few, only my husband, who is a screenwriter/director, was allowed to read it. Then, at a certain point, I decided I was ready for some objective, professional feedback, and I gave it to a couple of friends of friends—who I did not know (that was important for me)—and they gave me notes, which I worked off of for a while, editing and reshaping the book. When I had gotten it to a point where I felt pretty happy with it, I then gave it to another friend of a friend, who was an editor, because
I wanted it to be in the best possible shape before submitting it to agents.
What is one weakness you have as a writer and what do you do to overcome it?
I often get stuck trying to get sentences to read perfectly even though I’m so early on in the process, I should just be moving forward and fleshing out a rough first draft. Especially early on, there’s a good chance that a “perfect” sentence will get thrown out anyway. When I was writing The Embers
I made a rule that I was never allowed to go backwards and look at something I’d already written.
What is one strength you have as a writer and to what do you attribute your success in this particular area?
From what people tell me, one of my greatest strengths is being able to write believably about characters who are much older than I am or much different, and have experienced things I never have. I think this comes from the fact I don’t like real-life conflict, and so I’ve always tried to see things from everyone else’s point of view in order to keep from arguing or fighting with them.
If you could go back to the young writer you were when you were just beginning, what advice would you give yourself?
Throw out the thesaurus.
I don’t think I’ve ever had to look up a single word while reading Carver, but the power and beauty of his writing is breathtaking.
What’s one publicity tip you can share that you’ve gotten a good response with in promoting your work?
Twitter! I was so reticent to join. I wasn’t even on facebook. But I’ve found such an incredibly supportive community of authors, booksellers, bloggers, and readers on Twitter. Several interviews and reviews have stemmed from it. And it’s so nice to connect with other authors—many of whom are launching their books right now too, and we’re all cheering each other on.
What do you to improve as a writer?
I’d like to take a lot less than seven years to write a book. I’m shooting for two years for the next.
What are a few of your favorite books not writing by you?
Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson (in fact, I count all three of her novels among my favorites)
Monkeys and Evening by Susan Minot
The Hours by Michael Cunningham
Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson
Anything by JD Salinger or Raymond Carver
Have you received a particularly memorable reader response?
There was an incredibly touching letter my publisher received from a woman who said reading has always been her favorite form of relaxation and she could not put my book down. She wrote: “Her descriptions were so vividly conveyed, I felt as if I were a part of the book almost like a relative or close friend who interrupted a private family moment.” I will never forget that letter—especially because it’s from a complete stranger, and I don’t think she even intended it for me.
What’s your favorite part of being a writer/least?
My favorite part is just writing. I feel so lucky that I’m able to spend my time that way. I’m not a tortured writer at all—I just really love the process. My least favorite part occurred when I was waiting for the book to come out. I felt so excited and nervous about it, I couldn’t work on my next book, and not working just made my anxiety worse. Now I’m on book tour, and I really love doing readings, but I’m also eager for the tour to be over, so that I can start writing again.
What has surprised you most about this industry?
Thank you so much, and I hope to be back before too long to talk about my next book!