Thursday, October 29, 2009

Author Interview ~ Sandra Byrd

After earning her first rejection at the age of thirteen, bestselling author Sandra Byrd went on to publish more than three dozen books including her widely-acclaimed adult fiction debut, Let Them Eat Cake and it’s sequels Bon Appétit and Pièce de Résistance. Keep an eye out for her forthcoming young adult fiction series, London Confidential. A former textbook acquisitions editor, Sandra is also an accomplished non-fiction writer and author. Her articles have appeared in numerous publications such as Radiant, Focus on the Family's Clubhouse Magazine, Christian Parenting Today, Today’s Christian Woman, Pockets, Decision, and Guideposts. During the past eight years Sandra has mentored hundreds of students through the Christian Writer's Guild. Sandra resides in Seattle, Washington with her husband Michael, a chaplain, their two teenagers, and a circus dog named Brie.

Sandra Byrd Online:

Hi, Sandra. Welcome to Novel Journey. Why don't you start by telling our readers what made you start writing?

When I was a kid I wanted three careers: to be a hair stylist, to be a waitress, and to be an author. After I mohawked my Barbie I knew I wasn’t cut out for the hairstylist career. I actually was a waitress in a Jewish deli when I was a teenager, and I worked for a caterer. Writing, however, was the real passion. And it stuck!

We're very glad it did! What's the most difficult part of writing for you (or was when you first started on your novel journey)?

The hardest part of anything is getting started. Getting started with a new book, a new chapter, a new page, or just sitting down at the computer and staying there till I've done my word count. Once I get about 300 words down on paper, I'm on a roll and I can stay in the zone. Those first 300 are hard, though.

Those are tough for me, too. Especially when I'm struggling to get the story idea down on paper. So, at what point did you stop juggling suggestions and critiques and trust yourself (as a writer)?

I have a pretty well-established process: I think through the concept and ask a few questions of my focus group, which consists of likely readers. Then I outline and then I write. I send the manuscript to the focus group and when it comes back I make corrections. My rule of thumb is that if one person suggests a change I may or may not do it depending on how I feel about it. But if two people mention something, I clearly need to address it, whether I feel like it or not.

After this rewrite I am comfortable sending it to my editors. I think too many "voices" giving direction can be confusing and undermine a writer's confidence. So I have a very few people I trust to read. I listen to them. But I also listen to my "gut."

Tell us a little about your latest release:

Piece de Resistance is the third novel in the French Twist series. Having earned her chef’s hat, Lexi Stuart bids au revoir to her glamorous and deliciously satisfying pastry mentorship outside of Paris and returns to her hometown of Seattle, Washington.
There, she finds life unexpectedly complicated.She’s put in charge of a high-end catering bakery called Bijoux, which should be her dream job, but there’s a catch: She has to make this lavish bakery into a successful business in just a few, short months, which will require more than her ability to make an amazing wedding cake. Stir in a complicated relationship with her French beau Philippe and his daughter, Celine, then add a dash of romance with down-to-earth lawyer Dan, and life suddenly contains more ooh la la than Lexi can handle.

I was sorry to leave Lexi and all the rest after three books. But I believe I've left all of the characters in a good place, so I can peacefully move forward knowing they are okay. :-)

Sounds like a great book! Your main character is struggling to find some direction for her life. Did you put yourself into this character, and can you share a time when you found yourself facing some of the same struggles?

I think we each struggle with this from time to time. First - what to study in college. Next - what career. Marriage? Kids? Career change? I always wanted there to be one, big gut wrenching decision in life and then be done with it, have everything settled. But it doesn't work that way. I've had to return to the Lord time and again for wisdom as new situation crop up. And I've come to have peace with that process. Part of the trick is to be careful about making a decision, but once you do, don't second guess.

How did you come up with this story? Was there a specific 'what if' moment?

I'd been writing for teens for years and many of them kept in touch and shared with me their "quarter life crisis" moments. I felt for them, and identified with them. I melded that with my love of baking and love of France et voilà! A series is born.

Much of this story revolves around food. Do you like to cook? What kind of research did you have to do while writing this book?

I do like to cook and bake! I got my first serious cooking instruction book, by Jacques Pepin, when I was 17 years old. La technique. My first "real" job was for a caterer, and I've been a home cook and baker every since.

For the book, I went to France, of course. You feel bad for me, don't you? I also job shadowed a baker at a French bakery here in town. And I visited a baking school for a day. It was great fun, but I also so how very hard they work. The physical endurance required of bakers and chefs is amazing. Something we lay people don't often think about.

Now that's research. Maybe I need to write a book set in France...:-) Tell us what you enjoyed most about writing this book? Least?

I loved everything about writing this series - France, baking, testing recipes at home (over and over again!) with my family. I had an amazing editor who helped the books be the best they could be. Least enjoyable was that I was very sick for months, even in bed for weeks, while writing Piece de Resistance. It took my OWN endurance to finish on time. But I did!

This book is geared toward the Chick Lit crowd, right? So what message do you hope this target group of readers takes from your novel?

I'm not sure it's geared toward Chick Lit crowd, though it definitely has many elements that would qualify it for that. I hope women of all ages take away that God has planted dreams in your heart, prepared good works in advance for you to do, and HE will fulfill them if you'll rely on faith and not fear. I want them to see that life is fun. Enjoy it!

What does your writing space look like?

Just reorganized, with a little help from The Unclutterer. I have one big, bare wall that is eagerly waiting for my trip next spring to London. I'm going to bring something back for it.

What kind of activities to you like to do that help you relax and step away from your deadlines for a bit?

I tend to work in pulses. When I'm writing, I'm really writing, and I write fairly fast because the story comes so quickly once I'm ready. I don't like to step away from it for too long because I drop the threads. But then I take a couple of weeks to rest : cook, read, garden, spa, hang out with my husband and my kids and my friends. Then I start in again!

I listen to music while writing, too. It both soothes and energizes. I'm glad I live in the ipod age!

Briefly take us through your process of writing a novel—from conception to revision.

I dream for a few months and let things knit together in my head and heart, jotting down notes as necessary. Then I throw some queries to my focus group readers and close friends. Then I outline - religiously. Next, I write, a word count per day, every day, till the first draft is done. I send it off to the focus group readers and beg them not to give me any comments for at least a week while I gather my marbles back together and take a long nap.

When the comments come back, I tweak the manuscript. Then it's off to my editors, where I await round two!

What is the first book you remember reading and what made it special?

I read the Bobbsey Twins books at about age 6, I think, and loved them. I read all of the Little House on the Prairie books as a girl, too. When I first earned some royalties, I bought all of the Little House books in the first edition. It was a real treat to myself!

I've also been/am a huge historical reader. As a teenager I read everything by Victoria Holt and all of her pseudonymns. Each of theses books has definitely influenced me to enjoy reading, and writing, character-driven, popular fiction. I want to like the people I'm reading about, I want to be able to get wrapped up in their world. I like romance. I like fast paced. I like happily ever after. I read for pleasure, so I hope to write for others' pleasure.

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?

That most writers aren't rich. And most writers aren't going to get rich. That writing is emotionally difficult and intellectually challenging but satisfying in a way that nothing else ever will be. You have to be, as Eugene Peterson once said, ready for a long walk in the same direction.

Tell us what we have to look forward to in the future. What new projects are you working on?

My next series, London Confidential, is for teens and tweens and will debut next spring. After that will be my new series for adults, Ladies in Waiting. The books each take place during the Tudor Time period, are historical fiction based on fact. The first book is about Anne Boleyn and her best friend, from childhood till just after Anne's death.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Here are some lyrics from a song my kids called "Remember The Name," by Fort Minor (clean version, of course!). They were written about a kid who writes rap, but honestly, I think the same percentages are true for all writers. Of course in the case of Christian writers, the Name we're interested in people remembering is not our own.

You ready?! Let's go!Yeah, for those of you that want to know what we're all aboutIt's like this y'all This is ten percent luck, twenty percent skillFifteen percent concentrated power of willFive percent pleasure, fifty percent painAnd a hundred percent reason to remember the name!

As a special treat, Sandra has included a recipe card from her book, Piece de Resistance. With the holidays approaching, we can all use some new recipes, right? What are your favorite holiday recipes, and do they have a special memory attached? We'd love to hear from you!


Angela Folds Fox said...

Great interview. Sandra, how did you assemble your focus group? Do you pay them? What incentive is there for them?