Friday, June 10, 2011

Author Diane Chamberlain ~ Interviewed

Tell us a bit about THE MIDWIFE’S CONFESSION.

The Midwife's Confession is a puzzle in which the reader will constantly be wondering "what's really going on?" It's a story of friendship and the corrosive power of secrets. It's the story of mothers and daughters and the relationship storms that test the bonds between them. And it's the story of a midwife whose suicide leaves behind a trail of clues she hoped no one would ever follow.

We are all about journeys...unique ones at that. How convoluted was your path to your first published book? Share some highlights or lowlights from your path to publication.

I've been published now for more than twenty years, but I'll always remember that first journey from idea to printed book. I was working as a hospital social worker and at first I viewed working on a novel as a hobby. It gradually became an obsession, though, and in a few years I had a 700+ page manuscript. It was way too long and the structure was pretty bad, but I adored every word. I queried twenty agents and one was willing to take me on. She suggested I make some changes to the manuscript--getting rid of several characters, numerous subplots, and shifting the focus to the romance between the two main characters--but I was young and green and wanted to keep every single hard-won word. The book collected rejections for a year, after which I realized my agent was right. I completely revamped the novel, focusing more on the romantic angle. Once I made the changes, Private Relations sold right away and went on to win the RITA award for the best single title contemporary novel of that year, which was a huge thrill. The lesson I learned? Be open to suggestions from agents and editors. We're all on the same team.

What is your favorite source for finding story ideas?

When I begin thinking about a new book, I’m like a sponge. I soak up everything I see and hear and let it percolate it my imagination. I’ve found story ideas everywhere, from newspaper articles to long-buried incidents in my memory to overheard conversations in coffee shops. The idea for The Midwife’s Confession came to me in a dream. I wish that would happen more often!

What is the first thing you do when you begin a new book?

I visit the office supply store. I love office supply stores the way many women love shoe stores. There, I load up on notepads, index cards, and pens--and one special notebook that will be dedicated to that book and that book alone. In the notebook, I write character sketches, a list of people who help me with research, ideas for scenes, etcetera. In short, the notebook becomes my bible for the ten months or so during which I'm writing that particular book.

Then I start napping! There’s something about that “almost asleep” stage that triggers engrossing scenes and plot twists.

Have you ever had one of those awkward writer moments you’d like to share with us, the ones wherein you get “the look” from the normals? Example, you stand at a knife display at the sporting goods store and ask the clerk which would be the best to use to disembowel a six foot man…please do tell.

I just returned from a research trip to a coastal North Carolina town where part of my work-in-progress is set. The character who lives there is named Robin, and I explored every inch of that little town, imagining Robin in the shops and walking through the streets. On my last night in the town, I went to a nice restaurant for dinner. The waitress came to my table and said, “Hi, I’m Robin.” My chin hit the table and it took me a minute to recover. Of course I had to explain why I was looking at her as though she had two heads!

What is the most difficult part of pulling together a book? Ex. Do you have saggy middles, soggy characters, soupy plots during your first drafts…if so, how do you shape it up?

My first drafts are hideous. I would never let another soul see them. I know many writers who polish their work as they go, but for me, first drafts are simply a way to get the story down on paper. Once that's done, I go back and revise. This is the only way that works for me, because no matter how precisely I outline a story, it changes as soon as I start the first chapter. That's why I don't polish as I go. Why polish something I will most likely be changing? Writing the first draft, though, is definitely the hardest part for me. It's creating something from nothing, and that's always a challenge. I have a good writing friend who reminds me "You can't revise what you haven't written," and when I feel blocked and as though I can't write a single word, I remember her words and just start typing.

Writing rituals. Do you have to sit somewhere specific, complete a certain number of words, leave something undone to trigger creativity for the next session? Some other quirk you’d like to share?

I work best in coffee shops. There may be other people around and a sort of white noise to deal with, but there are no dogs begging for attention, no laundry waiting to be washed, no chicken breasts to thaw for dinner. I can turn out a dozen pages in a coffee shop in the time it takes me to write two at home. I also find I work best in one hour uninterrupted chunks of time. After an hour, I can reward myself with some time on Facebook or play a game for a few minutes. Then it's time to start the next hour. I try to write about ten pages a day.

Have you received a particularly memorable reader response or peer honor? Please share.

I hear from my readers all the time about how my books touched them and that means so much to me, but there is one response that will always stay with me. A few of my books have been published in Japan, and a Japanese reader emailed me the following: "Your books make me believe that life is beautiful even when it is also filled with pain and rage." She summed up exactly what I'm trying to say through my stories.

What one issue ignites your passion? Does your passion fuel your writing? What would you do with your life if you didn't write?

I was formerly a social worker and I still care deeply about social issues: poverty, equal rights for all, child welfare, etcetera. If I didn't write, I would still be a social worker. I feel lucky to have had two careers that I loved and that enable me to touch others in a positive way. The thing that I loved about being a social worker, particularly in hospital settings, was seeing how courageous people could be and how they overcame adversity with strength and dignity. Those qualities inspire me as I create both my characters and my stories.

Parting words? Anything you wish we would’ve asked because you’ve got the perfect answer?

I'd like to say a word about the midwife in The Midwife's Confession. She pushes her way into everything, so why not this interview as well? She is a larger-than-life, strong, impassioned woman who cares deeply about the people she loves. When I started the book, I expected her to have an important role, but she soon became the catalyst for everything that happens. She is a good example of what I spoke about above--the story changing from the outline as I begin to write. Noelle even took over my computer. One day, I was typing a chapter when I noticed every proper name in my entire manuscript had been changed to "Noelle". It was frightening in more ways than one and took me a long time to straighten out! But that sort of behavior fits the midwife to a "T". Noelle lives on for me and I hope she will for my readers as well.

Diane Chamberlain
is the best-selling author of 20 novels. Her books, frequently set in the
southeastern United States, are complex stories about love, compassion and forgiveness with a touch of mystery and suspense. Diane was born and raised in Plainfield, New Jersey, and attended Glassboro State University.

She also lived for many years in both San Diego and northern Virginia. Diane received her master’s degree in clinical social work from San Diego State University. Prior to her writing career, she was a hospital social worker and a psychotherapist in private practice, working primarily with adolescents. Diane’s background in psychology and her work in hospitals have given her a keen interest in understanding the way people tick, as well as the background necessary to create real, living, breathing characters.

More than a decade ago, Diane was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, which changed the way she works: She sometimes types using voice recognition software. She feels fortunate that her arthritis is not more severe and that she is able to enjoy everyday activities as well as keep up with a busy work and travel schedule. Diane has three married stepdaughters, three grandchildren, and two shelties. She lives with photographer John Pagliuca in North Carolina where she's at work on her 21th novel.


Kelly Klepfer said...

Thank you for sharing your journey with us, Diane.

Ane Mulligan said...

Excellent interview, Kelly and Diane. I think I need to get The Midwife's Confession.