Interview

Put Your Hands Together For Write Meg!

The following is a fun question and answer session with Meg from Write Meg! . The silliness of the questions is totally my fault. Her answers, however, are all on her. Allow me to welcome the blogger that was shortlisted for the Best Eclectic Blog for BBAW, the wonderful, the amazing, the crafty and dog loving………..MEG!

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1. Why book blogging? I mean you write for a living, and I see that you even have an etsy store for your crochet pieces, what drew you to book blogging?

I’ll have to admit that I fell into book blogging! Back when I started write meg!, I was working full-time as an editor with a part-time job as a bookseller. After I got tired of the long hours working two shifts a day, I quit Borders — and desperately missed having an outlet in which to socialize and talk about books. I started my blog as a way of talking about my life and chatting about random stuff, but quickly discovered that many other bloggers were writing about books exclusively. That really piqued my interest and, once I was familiar with the whole community, write meg! became pretty book- and writing-oriented. (But I still love to crochet a good scarf and talk about myself, for which I now get paid. And that’s awesome.)

2. I was recently doing some major maintenance on my blog and realized that my reading selections have REALLY changed thanks to becoming an active book blogger. Has it changed you? If so, how?

When I started blogging, I rarely read anything from the young adult genre — and still clung to the misguided belief that YA was “just for teens.” That couldn’t be less true, of course! A good book is a good book, and it doesn’t matter in which genre it’s categorized. Reading about so many great YA authors and books on other blogs, I developed a new taste for them through the course of blogging. Having a forum in which to write about books, and get feedback from other readers, has really opened my eyes to all sorts of wonderful reading out there — and so many of the books I’ve loved, like Justina Chen Headley’s North Of Beautiful, aren’t ones I would have picked up on my own.

3. What do you find most challenging about book blogging?

Probably having to write a lukewarm or negative review of a book when I’ve developed a personal repertoire with an author. It’s against my nature to hurt anyone’s feelings, and I really dislike having to say anything unkind about novels — especially since I write myself, and know how tough it is to put your heart out there and have someone reject it. Still, my primary obligation in book reviewing is to be honest; I owe it to myself and anyone who comes across write meg! to tell the truth. It’s just tough telling the truth and then having to email an author or publicist and say, “Hey, I read your book – and it was horrible! I posted my gut-wrenching review here for the whole reading world to see!”

But, you know, that’s the way it goes sometimes.

4. You predominately review Women’s Literature on Write Meg! Do you ever cheat & read other genres, but not review them?

Good question! With very, very few exceptions, I can honestly say that I review every book I read. I know which book genres and authors tend to get the most hits and comments, though, and sometimes know ahead of time that my review of a certain book, particularly non-fiction, won’t grab the interest of many readers. But it’s no worries; those reviews are still fun to write!

5. What was your absolute favorite part/moment of the Book Blogger Convention?

Oh, goodness — it’s probably cliché, but getting to meet so many bloggers face-to-face! I’d well publicized the fact that I would be wearing my “Power Dress,” a little fuchsia number I wear when I need to empower myself, and many people called out, “Meg! Hi! I knew you were from your dress!” That made me feel awesome. And everyone was so kind and interesting, just the way you’d expect them to be from reading all about them on their blogs.

6. Your posts on online dating not only made me laugh, but also brought back a lot of memories. Why do you think that it is so hard to meet the right person these days?

We’re all busy these days, I think it’s just tough to meet anyone in a “traditional” way — at school, a bar, church, through family, etc. — because we don’t always have the time and energy to put into exploring those avenues. For me, online dating became absolutely necessary when I realized that most of my “traditional” avenues just weren’t going to work out. I love my coworkers, but most of them have children my age — or are already in committed relationships. I knew I was going to have to do something different to meet someone, and online dating was the logical step. And like so many others, my dating story has a happy ending — and for that, I’m very thankful!

7. You recently tweeted “I just petted my first cow last weekend, so I’m feeling pretty good about the whole farm fest thing!” My question is…..did you like it? Would you do it all over again?

You know, I did like it! I was pretty scared at first, having never been around livestock, but this cow in Chautauqua County, Pennsylvania was pretty friendly. I’m a big animal lover, too, so getting to meet any new friend is all right by me.

8. Tell me about Rudy. Are you still having to save him from the Zombie-Vampires in your dreams thanks to The Passage?

Rudy is my loveable, dopey, hilarious and sleepy golden retriever, and a dog I affectively refer to as my “bud bud.” We got him from a horse and dog rescue group in Delaware when he was about a year and a half old and severely undernourished by his previous owners. Considering he came home right before Christmas and has a pink nose, we named him “Rudolph” — or “Rudy” — and he’s definitely a part of the family! And about 50 pounds heavier than his terrible low weight when we brought him home. I’m also happy to report he hasn’t been the star of any zombie-vampire dreams lately, though I’m going to never read The Passage to ensure he’s kept out of harm’s way. It’s the least I can do.

Meg not only has a blog that was new to me, but she held my hand through this whole process. She made it easy. If she wasn’t on the other coast, I would give her a high five….maybe I will just have to send Rudy a dog treat. Thanks Meg!

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How to Get an Author Interview

So, your blog is growing and you want to start having some interaction with authors. Congratulations and I bet you are wondering how to go about getting the authors to clamor at your inbox for interviews, right?

You want in on the secret? The big secret? Come over here, I don’t want the person sitting next to you to hear…….You have to ask. It is often that simple.

Now, hold on dear book blogger, you have to ask nicely and tell them a bit about yourself and your blog. Don’t gush, telling them that you would dance naked, just die if they agree, or that you sacrifice animals nightly on the altar where you store their book. Authors, for the most part, like to hear from readers/bloggers. Point out something that you really liked about their book; what touched you. Then tell them about yourself and your blog and ask if they have a few minutes to do an interview. It shouldn’t be a long email, just a few sentences. After all, we want them to be working on their next book, not our novel of an email.

**Big learning note here-It is a good idea if you already have some basic questions in mind before you ask. I can’t tell you how many times I have not been prepared, assuming that they would say no, only to have them say yes, get the questions to me ASAP.

Oh, are you like me? Not so sure what to ask?

Well, what do you want to know that someone hasn’t already asked them? Do your research. Look at their website, FAQs if they have them, bios, other interviews they have done, other books that they have written. You are a cub reporter now. You must do your research.

For the best interview, in my opinion, you MUST be original and flexible. An interview that I read recently at Rose City Reader with Audrey Braun has fast become one of my favorites. It was fun to read and made me feel like I was sharing drinks with friends. Even better for the author, I wanted to go out and buy her books.

A Note on Timelines

Authors, just like us bloggers, have lives and can’t drop everything to respond to you immediately. If they don’t respond right away, give it some time. It isn’t all about you. Also, once they agree and you send them questions, give that some time too. They often have book tours, kids, laundry, writing contracts, etc., and all of those things that take a back seat to answering your insightful questions. I suggest to them that they get back to me within 3-4 weeks. They often come back much sooner, but this allows me some time to schedule it in my editorial calendar and them some breathing room.

Let’s recap before we move on and tell you to stay tuned for the rest on Thursday

  • What interviews? Don’t be afraid to ask.
  • Keep the request simple and succinct.
  • Do your research & be original without being weird or campy.
  • Let the author take their time. Don’t expect it to happen overnight.
  • Remember to leave out the creepy gushiness that you are really feeling. You are a confident semi-pro blogger, not a crazy woman at a rock concert tossing your underwear at them.

Still with me? Let’s chat again on Thursday and don’t forget to check out the other great participants in Armchair BEA!

Gabrielle Burton, author of Impatient with Desire, Part II

Catch up with us will you? Check the review of Impatient with Desire & Part I of Gabrielle’s post.

What follows is the rest of my chat with Gabrielle Burton. This is her story.

In Feb. 2006, despite having a screenplay made into a movie, winning prizes for another screenplay, writing fiction and non fiction steadily, some published, some not, I felt my career was at a dead end.  I took out the draft of our CA/Oregon Trail trip and was sick to see that my editor’s last notes were in 1988!  Where had the time gone?  Oh, I could tote it all up–that was the year my daughters, husband, and I traveled from Branson, MO to Juneau, AK with our movie, Manna from Heaven, that was the year my mother, sister, and dog died, those were the two years I went to film school, that was the year my husband had open heart surgery, that was the year we moved…  But although my life was rich, full, and blessed, I had not achieved what I wanted to in writing and felt the pressure of time, alone, and very sorry for myself.  After a day of feeling bad, I talked sternly to myself, Look, G, this is a dead end track.  No one is going to knock on your door.  Anything that happens you have to make happen.  Don’t expect it to be easy.  Nobody cares about your writing as much as you do and you’re doggone lucky to be in a position to do something about it.

Then I wrote down what I wanted to do:

“1. write the trip book,

2. write the Tamsen movie, and

3. a distant 3rd, might be fun to write a Tamsen and George novel.”

And followed that with what I had going for me:

“drafts of 1 & 2 (dozens of them), people who will help me if I ask,

time, if I discipline it, enough money so I don’t have to stop to do something else, health.”

Then I listed in order all the things I needed to do.  Read good non fiction to avoid indulgent writing.  Exercise.  Work hard.  Believe in myself.  Ask for help.

By the end of 2007, University of Nebraska Press had accepted the trip book, Searching for Tamsen Donner.  I had also rewritten the screenplay, gone to Africa, and written the novel, Impatient with Desire, which was sold May, ’08.

It sounds smoother than it was, but it was pretty amazing.  19 agents gave rave rejections to Searching for Tamsen Donner–“Love it, but who’s the niche?”–before I found the perfect home.  I said to my husband more than once, “If no one ever publishes this book, I’m going to publish Tamsen’s 17 letters myself and drive to Donner Pass and get the museum to sell them.”  After U of Nebraska took it, almost a year passed of going through readers, committees, and boards and one more rewrite before the deal was sealed.

The hardest, scariest part was that after writing intermittently about Tamsen and the Donner Party for decades, I wasn’t always sure what was fact and what was my imagining. I pored over dozens of Donner books to make sure I hadn’t taken someone else’s words years before and now thought they were mine.

Kristin Johnson, the Donner Party scholar, who I met on the web, generously helped me update what was known at the time of our trip to what was known now–and incorporating “then and now” in a graceful way was challenging.

The book was nearly in galleys when randomly surfing the web one day, I came upon two letters by Tamsen I hadn’t known about.  Yikes!  Mark McLaughlin, the Storm King, generously let me have them for my book.

I’m an incredibly lucky woman. More than one person has said, Cream always rises to the top, and it makes me wince.  A lot of people are talented but for a variety of reasons they don’t or can’t persevere in their art.  Or maybe they do persevere and luck doesn’t come their way. Cream does not always rise to the top, and it’s arrogant and ungrateful to think so.  A lot of cream curdles.

Tell your luck.  Try to hold on.  Help each other hold on.  That’s true for writing and it’s true for life.

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I love that line about cream curdling.

So what are you waiting for? Go buy Impatient with Desire and please join me in thanking Gabrielle Burton for her story.

Gabrielle Burton, author of Impatient with Desire, Shares Part I

Yesterday, I reviewed Impatient with Desire and shared that I had talked with the author, Gabrielle Burton. I asked her how she first learned of the Donner Party, what was it about Tamsen Donner that intrigued her, about the intense research she did had to do, and about how hard it was to get published.

Her very gracious response was a story in itself and rather than get all crazy and edit it, I have decided to let her story do all of the talking. (I am going to split it up into two posts though)

Take it away Gabrielle Burton….

In 1972, I went to Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference with a small sheaf of poems–the first time I had been away from home alone since I married ten years before; I weaned the baby from breastfeeding in order to go.  One day a writer, William Lederer, said, “Last night, I dreamt you were going to write a book about people eating each other to survive.” “What does that mean?” I asked.  “Most people eat each other to survive,” he said.  “You’re going to write a book that shows a different way.”  “How do I do that?” I asked.  “How would I know?” he said. “It’s your book, not mine”.  I didn’t tell anyone that story.

Months later, I was writing a short story about a cross-country trip, and my husband was helping me with the geography. “You’d have to go over Donner Pass,” he said.  “What’s that?” I asked. “You know,” he said, “where they ate each other to survive.”

This was the first time I had ever heard of the Donner Party and, when I got out books on them, Tamsen Donner leapt off the page.   I was drawn to her initially because she had five daughters and so did I.  She was a remarkable woman and I was looking for heroines for myself and for my daughters.  I’d always been interested in survival stories, wondering how I would fare in a similar situation.

I wove a little bit about Tamsen and her lost journal into the story I was writing, which became a 550 page novel and consumed the next seven years.  During those years, I went–with my husband and five daughters–to all the places Tamsen had been: her birthplace in Newburyport, MA, North Carolina where she taught school, her farm in Illinois, as well as retracing the Oregon Trail. She was still a small fraction of the novel, but I wanted the research to be accurate, and I was so drawn to her.  She practically became a member of our family.  Even our dog was named Tamsen.  The novel, however, was the occasion of so many raised and dashed hopes that I put it away and started another (Heartbreak Hotel, which took another seven years and twenty eight rejections to be published.)

In 1987, Heartbreak Hotel just out, we were living in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I transcribed all the tapes I’d recorded nine years earlier the summer we retraced the CA/Oregon Trail, and wrote a first draft of our trip.  My editor wanted more family in it, but I didn’t want to write about my family in depth, because I’m private, and I secretly feared that if I wrote about how extraordinary my family was, something terrible might happen. I tried a couple more drafts, then turned to other things.

In 1997, because my family badgered me, I went to the Donner Party Sesquicentennial and everything I knew about the Donners came flooding back.  I realized that over the years, without any intention, I had become an expert on the Donner Party.  Through luck and persistence, I gained access to some of Tamsen Donner’s letters that the family had just given to the Huntington Museum, seen by few outside her descendants.  Those letters filled in many missing parts of my research and I felt, without getting woo-woo about it, that Tamsen Donner was speaking to me.

I was in film school at the time and I wrote my 2nd screenplay on the Donner Party.  Now there are 87 characters in the D.P. and it took countless drafts and some years for me to realize that I didn’t want to write about the Donner Party, but about Tamsen Donner, and not in a historical way but to be true to her spirit.

Part II tomorrow and we get to learn about she got herself back on track and not only got the book finished, but published!

Part II

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