Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Interview with author JL Fontaine

I recently read The Mark and was lucky enough to get the author JL Fontaine (aka: Judith Williamson) to answer a few of my burning questions. This is the first book Williamson has had published and I was so impressed by her ability to get me to empathize with her deeply flawed characters. I find it really interesting to hear other writers talk about writing. I hope you do too!

KO: My first question is one that hit me in the middle of the night. I think I read a review that suggested the title was a reference to the biblical ‘Mark of Cain’ and Liam’s struggle to overcome his complicated history with his brother. But as I was thinking more about it, isn’t Laura ‘the mark’ because she is so vulnerable to the con? Or is it both or neither or purposefully ambiguous?
JW: Yes, there are two meanings to the word ‘Mark’. One is the Mark of Cain which according to the Bible, God placed on Cain after he killed his brother. But, also, Laura could well be a mark, in the sense of a conman’s singling someone out to trick them. 
To read more, check out the full review on Today's Author.

Monday, July 27, 2015

I was right

Not long ago, I had a three book deal with a traditional publisher. Even though sales for the first book were great, they didn't do anything to promote my second book and I decided to get out of my contract with them.

In the months since I launched A Long Thaw on my own, I've wondered whether that was the smartest way to go. I wanted control over how my work was marketed but I didn't really know if I could do it by myself. Here's what I said back in March
"Getting that agent to help negotiate the contract may have been the best $100 I ever spent. Instead of allowing my publisher to hold the rights for my book for ten years, I get them back in two. This means I can rerelease A Long Thaw, the book my publisher didn't promote, and see if I can do a better job."
Well the reports are in: I've already sold more books in the past four months than the publisher managed to sell in an entire year. I guess I'm done wondering if I made the right decision.

If you'd like to take a look at my debut, Monsoon Season, it's being sold by Hachette. My next book, Finding Charlie, will be out in the coming months.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Never Fail Meatloaf Recipe

Meatloaf is one of those traditional dishes that everyone should know how to make, but I never did. The first time I made a meatloaf, it tasted like a hamburger in a meatloaf shape. My boyfriend said it was fine (cuz he's sweet), but I knew better. I got advice from my friend Debbie who is such an amazing cook she should have her own restaurant.

This is how I do it and the boyfriend admits it is really good now:

1 lb hamburger
1 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 packet onion soup mix  (If you're fancy, you can use a real onion. I am not fancy.)
1 egg
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup ketchup

I think the trick is getting the balance right so I try to stick pretty close to the measurements and mix evenly. I top it with a drizzle of ketchup that cooks up nice.

Bake @ 375 for 30 minutes! Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Interview with author Liz Hoban

I think it's so helpful to hear from other writers about their process and publishing experience, so I jumped at the chance to pick the brain of author Liz Hoban, who just had her second novel (third book) published last month.  Check it out!

I read your book awhile back for our women's fiction critique group. At the time, it had a different title- which leads me to my first question: How did the title change come about? Whose idea was it? How much input did you get?

Thanks so much for your interest in my latest book TheSecrets That Save Us.  The book was posted on Authonomy as A Fine Pickle – the odd thing about this title was I had it before I even had a story line for the book - a friend of mine had a later in life pregnancy and she said, “Well this is a fine pickle, isn’t it.” and from that point forward her baby’s nickname became Pickle.  And a storyline later took hold. 

After incredible feedback from the Woman’s Fiction Critique Group (WFCG) on Authonomy and with several other writers there believing the title was too light-hearted I was forced to consider a new title.  After making the editors desk in July 2014, I began sending queries out to agents and I received a very positive response from literary agent Elizabeth Weed.  She was no longer taking on new clients but gave me an encouraging critique of the first third of the book and when she commented that the title didn’t fit the heaviness of the material I knew I needed to change it. My son Ryan is my best reviewer and he had read the manuscript and suggested the title The Secrets That Save Us. 

The input from the WFCG was priceless and the book evolved from there.  The original story was written in first-person, POV from the two sisters but then after all the feedback from Authonomites and Elizabeth Weed I switched it to third person POV.  That took months of editing and even when I received the galleys from the publisher I found a few POV mistakes here and there.  It took a tremendous amount of editing but I am very happy with the outcome. 

Can you tell me a bit about your path to publication? This is your second book with this publisher so I'm assuming you're happy with them. How did you find them? How long did it take? Did you query many agents first or did you head straight to publishers?

I already had two other published books and had heard it was easier to get an agent with a bit of a writing resume.  Not true, I’ve learned, unless you have a best-seller.  I queried about ten agents, received excellent feedback but no representation.  In the end, I decided to go with my publisher for The Cheech Room since I knew they did nice work, paid a modest advance and work very closely with their authors. Part of the decision to take that easy route is because I have the attention span of a housefly and I really just wanted to see it completed and in print.  I find it very distracting to move on to a new writing project with loose ends of another hanging over my head.  Although I have several novels I’ve started – one is currently on Authonomy – Baby Mac -if the novel is completed, I am compelled to get it in print.  

I made a deal with myself years ago that I would never pay a publisher to publish my books and that the money would go only in my direction and not the other way.  Old LinePublishing is an independent publisher located on the East Coast in United States.  They print about 20 titles a year and as I mentioned they work closely with their authors.  When I was trying to find a home for The Cheech Room, I discovered a website called First Writer and it was there that I came across Old Line.  First Writer does charge a small annual fee but what I love about it is every day I get an e-mail from them with agents and publishers looking for new clients, along with contests, etc.   Not only did I get a publisher through them but I have since had a few short stories published with various periodicals – all from their daily recommendations.  After submitting the first time to the Old Line I heard back fairly soon – maybe a week.  With this second fiction book, The Secrets That Save Us, I heard back within a day but it’s probably because they already had me as a client.

After I finished the Cheech Room and prior to it being picked up by Old Line and way before I started The Secrets That Save Us, I got a writing offer I could not refuse.  My father had an amazing WWII/POW bomber pilot experience that didn’t come full circle until he was 92.  He had saved an Austrian village and in 2007 our family was invited to see the unveiling of a monument in the Alps in my father’s honor.  The whole thing was an unforgettable experience and I remember saying to him on the flight back from Europe how his story would make an excellent book and he said, “Well then write it.”  Of course, I am not a history enthusiast and have never attempted a non-fiction book but I decided I would spend the following year interviewing my father about the story and lo and behold I completed The Final Mission in two years (just so you have an idea - The Cheech Room took ten years)  Getting this book in print was like a writer’s dream come true because when I completed the manuscript I sent it out to ten publishers just to see if there was any interest and I received three phone calls that same day asking for the full manuscript.  We sold the book to Westholme Publishing because they offered the highest advance and seemed the most passionate about the project.  About a year later the book was in hardcover, paperback and e-book form.  It has currently sold over 10,000 copies and it is required reading for many colleges across the country as well as high schools. The best part of the book’s release was going to local Barnes and Noble bookstores and finding it on their shelves in the front of the store.   

The opening of The Secrets that Save Us is such a great hook. I dare anyone to read it and not need to read on. Tell us what the book is about and what genre it would fall under.

Although the book is fiction –contemporary literature genre - this book is very much steeped in the collapse of the World Trade Center.  My brother was a first responder – he survived that day and then the next day was able to get me to Ground Zero because I have a military ID and a medical license.  The devastation I saw 24 hours after the collapse changed my life and I knew that someday I would figure out a way to write about it without trivializing the experiences in a fictional account. 

The Secrets that Save Us is about two sisters who miss their train to their jobs in the World Trade Center’s North Tower on the morning of September 11th 2001.  Both are harboring deep secrets that will radically alter their lives.  The storyline revolves around the aftermath and there is a twist at the end the reader will not see coming which of course links to the start of the book you mention in your question. It was selected as One To Watch by Harper Collins whose editors described it as “…shades of Gone Girl and Before I Go To Sleep.”  The Cheech Room had also been a One to Watch and the nice thing about that is even though Harper Collins didn’t take-on either book – I was able to use the editors comments on the back cover of both books.    

I've heard rumors that your first book, The Cheech Room, might be made into a movie. Can you talk about that?

The Cheech Room was released in 2012 and is now in the process of being written as a screen play through my publisher – eventually it will go to auction and bidding in Hollywood.  It would be very nice to see this book made into a movie but that process takes years.  I was fortunate with The Cheech Room, (even though it took ten years to complete) that it was released the same year as The Final Mission so it sort of sailed on those coat tails. 

How long have you been a writer? How much time do you typically spend working on a book? How do you know when it's done?

I have always loved writing – kept journals as a teenager but it wasn’t until my sons were born that I began to get paid for writing.  For several years in my late twenties and early thirties as a stay-home mom I wrote magazine articles and newspaper columns. It wasn’t a lot of money but enough to make me feel good about what I was doing. 

Of course, my boys became teenagers and in 2000 I began writing The Cheech Room which is based loosely on something tragic that happened in my neighborhood.   The Cheech Room took a decade, The Final Mission was two years in the works, and The Secrets that Save Us was about three years.  It is difficult to say how long a book takes to write because so many other things can get in the way like employment, raising kids, family, etc. My goal at this point is to write one novel a year. I have a Young Adult series I am working on currently however my personal yearly deadline is December and I am behind schedule.  I try to write at least a page a day but occasionally fall short. 

Finally, here's a more philosophical question to end with: Why do you write?

It is very difficult to spend so much time on something and not see it in print and/or make any money so why do we do it? I write because I don’t know how not to is probably the best answer.  I was at a lake party this past weekend and there was a constant niggling in the back of my head that I needed to get home and get writing. I do not watch television although The Voice is my guilty pleasure.  I have a full-time job as a nurse practitioner at a college so there is no way to get any writing done at work which relegates the evenings and weekends.  It is easy to get distracted with writer’s sites and forums, etc.  I allow myself a half hour a day to surf writing forums and such but then I get down to business.  I also am an avid reader which makes writing a bit easier because it is studying the art of writing when you read other’s works.  I have a commute everyday so I do audio books, about two a week.  If I hear a turn of phrase I really like or I wish I wrote, I pull the car over and jot it down. I have written things on tissues with an eyeliner and even went as far as to write on my hand if it is something that inspires me. Unfortunately, writing is a very lonely business but if you are compelled to do it, you will carve out the time.  I am sure over the years my family got tired of seeing me behind a computer screen while they were having fun but just the other day I was thrilled when my oldest son who just turned 30 told me he had written a short story he’d like me to take a look at.  I wanted to say something like, “Are you sure you want to venture down that highway?”  But I told him I’d love to read his work – after all, if he’s been bitten by that bug there is only one cure - to write.