Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Read Up and Smell the Flowers

Every now and then I like to wander into other genres, such as science fiction or chicklit. On these journeys, I often discover diamonds in the rough. Flowertown is one of these gems. 

I had the pleasure of reading this thriller back in the beta days, when fellow literary agency babe SG Redling was fretting about the ideas in her head and putting them to paper because she had to. Each chapter made me salivate for more, and as of this summer Flowertown was published for all of us to enjoy. 

As SG Redling knows how to spin a story and speak one as well (being a former top radio DJ in Huntington, West Virginia), I'm going to let her spill her story about writing and how Flowertown came to be a top-seller on Amazon.
Is writing your life, or do you live to write?
I’m happy to say that as of this month, I am making my living as a writer. Hooray! So in the strictest sense, yes, writing is my livelihood. Is it my life? Who am I kidding? Of course it is. As Gloria Steinem said, "Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else."
When did you first know you wanted to write? What did you enjoy writing at the time?
Like most big readers, I dreamed of being a writer. How can you resist it? But as a kid I really couldn’t imagine myself being able to pull off a book. It seemed too enormous an undertaking. Plots and subplots and characters and resolutions…oy! But somewhere in my 20s I gave a novel a shot. TERRIBLE. Trust me when I tell you it will never see the light of day. I still have it – it’s the Dorian Gray of novels, getting more and more horrible with every word I write. But I finished it and proved to myself the advice I give all aspiring writers. You learn more from finishing one craptastic manuscript than you do starting and abandoning a thousand masterpieces.
Did you start out writing long stories, or short?
I started with poetry (show me a 12-year-old girl who doesn’t). Wait, scratch that. To be truly accurate, I started much younger than that. In the summers, my friend Chrissy and I would start a story. We’d create characters, give them bios, she’d draw them (she was the artist) and we would spend the summers putting them through adventures and misadventures. If memory serves, these adventures mirrored The Three Investigators and Scooby-Doo pretty closely but we were kind of young.
I’m a late-comer to short fiction. Anyone who thinks that short stories are just warm-ups for novels is in for a big surprise. They are distinctly different art forms and for me, a pasture of 100,000 words to play in is much more liberating than the demands of short fiction. Well, read this post. Clearly getting to the point is not my strong suit. *grins*
How long did it take to write your first book?
Overlooking the aforementioned First Novel Which Will Not Be Seen, the first novel I wrote for serious consideration took about nine months. When I began it, I didn’t think I was writing with the goal of publication. I’d taken part in NaNoWriMo (http://www.nanowrimo.org/) and had a fabulous time but wisely, I took the pressure off of myself for my first real foray into novel-writing. I even named the document "Pulp" so I had permission to run amok with it. With no goal, no deadlines, no direction, the story ambled and grew but about halfway through it took on a life of its own. It became a real book. Unfortunately at the time I had no idea how to write a book so I just mucked around and threw stuff at it until it became an unwieldy beast. That was when I learned the beauty of editing. It’s like the do-over you never get in real life. That book, The Nahan, is the book that got me my agent and should finally hit the shelves this fall.
Since then, my process has sped up considerably and it takes me roughly four months to finish a solid first draft.
How did it go when you queried your first story? Please tell us about your experience.
Did somebody give you money to ask me that question??? For any of your readers who are preparing to query an agent, let me put their minds at rest. They’re probably picturing themselves crashing and burning during the query, certain they have doomed their careers. Worry no longer because I, SG Redling, have set the standard for The Worst Pitch in human history. I’ll spare us all a reenactment of it but, short of actually vomiting on my agent, it could not have been worse. My agent still teases me about it. And yes, as bad as it was, I still got the agent.
In my defense, and it’s a weak one, I didn’t know I’d be querying her. We met at the WV Writers Conference and the opportunity to pitch came up. Obviously I was unprepared but didn’t have the sense to let that stop me. By this point, I had been turned down by over a dozen agents that I’d queried by mail. *says silent prayer those people have deleted those abysmal queries* Maybe it was my ability to laugh at my own horrible pitch or maybe we just hit it off. Whatever the reason, Christine Witthohn took a chance on me. It took several years and several manuscripts before something sold but I kept writing and she kept pitching and it looks like we’re finally getting somewhere.
What are you writing now? Do you write full-time?
In a perfect example of turning lemons into lemonade, I do write full time. After a 15-year career in radio, I developed nodules on my throat and had to make a tough decision: have surgery and take a chance on losing my voice or leave my job, go on unemployment, search for work while writing my butt off. I chose the second option. I couldn’t know it at the time but not being able to get another job (this economy!) kept my butt in the chair and the words flowing. Flowertown sold and, for the time being, I’m able to keep body and soul together.
(Here's the official blurb for said Flowertown, kiddies!)
When Feno Chemical spilled an experimental pesticide in rural Iowa, scores of people died. Those who survived contamination were herded into a US Army medically maintained quarantine and cut off from the world. Dosed with powerful drugs to combat the poison, their bodies give off a sickly sweet smell and the containment zone becomes known simply as Flowertown.

Seven years later, the infrastructure is crumbling, supplies are dwindling, and nobody is getting clean. Ellie Cauley doesn’t care anymore. Despite her paranoid best friend's insistence that conspiracies abound, she focuses on three things: staying high, hooking up with the Army sergeant she's not supposed to be fraternizing with and, most importantly, trying to ignore her ever-simmering rage. But when a series of deadly events rocks the compound, Ellie suspects her friend is right—something dangerous is going down in Flowertown and all signs point to a twisted plan of greed and abuse. She and the other residents of Flowertown have been betrayed by someone with a deadly agenda and their plan is just getting started. Time is running out. With nobody to trust and nowhere to go, Ellie decides to fight with the last weapon she has—her rage.

In the gap between signing the contract for Flowertown and its release, I finished two manuscripts – one the third in the urban fantasy Nahan series (that of the horrific pitch) and a sci-fi stand-alone Thrum that is under consideration.
To be candid, it was an unsettling place to be. I really can’t say what my favorite genre is to write. My first to sell was a thriller and I felt compelled to get the sci-fi story written before Flowertown hit the shelves. Thrum is an odd story but one of those that made me purr while I wrote it. I didn’t know what to expect upon publication and it seemed to me my last chance to write with absolutely zero expectations. (Bear in mind, I was that kid who enjoyed standardized testing because someone told me I couldn’t study for it. In Sheila-think, that meant it had no consequences. It’s weird inside my head.) Up next, I have another thriller planned. And more in the urban fantasy series. (It’s also crowded in my head.)
Book plug - please tell us who, what, why, where and when!
Yay for the plug! My debut novel is Flowertown, from Thomas & Mercer. It came out in June 2012 and is available in all formats and hopefully at all retailers. I also have a collection of short stories called BRAID: Three Twisted Stories that is available only in e-book. God and technology willing, the urban fantasy Nahan series will launch this fall with the first (and cleverly) titled volume – The Nahan.

1 comment:

  1. I just love success stories. Thank you Julie!
    SG. I hate not knowing people's names. lol. I am so happy for your success and being honest about the process. The key factor is you must be a good writer-- then a bit of luck and lots of hard work.

    I enjoyed this interview and promo for your book. I'm on my way to get it now!