Friday, October 05, 2007

Here's the Deal

And I mean that literally! From Publishers Marketplace:

Allison Winn Scotch's TIME OF MY LIFE, pitched as Sliding Doors meets The Family Man in which a 35-year old with a seemingly pitch-perfect life is haunted by her "what ifs," and wakes up one morning to discover herself seven years in the past and granted with the chance to meet the mother who abandoned her, pursue the career she left behind, chase down the man she could have married, and answer all of her lingering doubts, to Sally Kim at Shaye Areheart Books, in a pre-empt, by Elisabeth Weed at Weed Literary.


(And can anyone please explain to me why blogger is only publishing half of a picture - per the below post? I have no idea what I'm doing wrong and want to fix it!)

GCC Presents: Judy Larsen and All the Numbers

Okay, I'm not sure what I'm more impressed with: the fact that Judy Larsen has five kids and still has time to write, or the fact that she was selected as Target's breakout author in September '06, when All the Numbers first hit shelves.

Here's the scoop on the book - how good does this sound?

Recently divorced and navigating the uncharted territory of single parenthood, Ellen Banks is a tough but loving teacher and a devoted mother to her two sons, Daniel and James. When they take their summer trip from their home in Madison, Wisconsin to their best friends’ lake house for weekend, she has no idea that her life is about to irrevocably change. While Ellen sits on a nearby dock, a teen on a jet ski shatters their perfect day when he hits James. Suddenly Ellen is faced with decisions that are every parent’s worst nightmare. Life support, organ donation. And then, a funeral. A grieving sibling who blames himself for the death of his brother. A distant ex-husband, friends and family who don’t know what to say or how to help, lawyers, judges and policemen—none who can make the hurt go away. Healing the empty space in Ellen’s heart and soul is almost too much to bear. But she is determined to see justice done for her son, and to heal the deep wounds in her family. All the Numbers culminates in a highly charged trial which, in an unexpected turn, leads Ellen and Daniel to a new beginning.

Lucky for us, Judy stopped by to answer all of my questions:

1) What’s the backstory behind your book?
Well, I was sitting on a dock at a lake in Wisconsin with my best friend, Her girls and my sons were playing in the water and a jet skier went by. And I just started thinking,
"What if?" What if the kids had been out too far? What if the jet skier hadn't been paying attention. What would that do to me as a mother, as a friend? The story flowed from there. I think, in a way, I'd been writing it ever since my kids were born. That's the biggest fear for most parents--losing a child. So I explored it through my character.

2) It seems that a lot of readers confuse fiction with real life, assuming that a novel must be an autobiography of the author as well. How many elements of your real life are reflected in your book?
I stole quite a bit from my real life--some have even suggested I cannibalized it, but I think that's a tad harsh. My main character Ellen is a single mom with two boys who teaches high school English. I was a single mom with two boys who taught high school English. She's pretty cluttered and likes wine. Me too. But, as you can see from my earlier answer, it makes sense that Ellen was like me. Fortunately, I have not suffered the loss of a child--and there were days I felt like I was tempting fate, (and my younger son did ask once why I killed him in the book) but I had to have that honesty, that connection to make it ring true.

3) A lot of my blog readers are aspiring or new authors. How did you land your first book deal?
My big break came 5 years into the process when I went to a week-long writing institute at University of Iowa. The editor who led my workshop really liked my first chapter and offered to introduce me to some agents. That's when everything fell into place. Two weeks later I had an agent and within 3 months we'd sold it to Random House.

4) I have a serious procrastination problem when it comes to tackling my fiction. What’s your routine? How do you dive it? Do you have any rituals or necessary to-dos before or while you write?
I'm right there with you. There's always another blog to check out or another game of computer solitaire to play. So, having a routine is really important. I try to write every morning (so I never make appointments in the mornings if I can help it). I need good coffee and legal pads and a couple good ink pens. And then I try to challenge myself to write at least 1000 words a day.

5) Clearly, your book will be optioned for a multi-million dollar film deal! Who would you cast as the leads, if you were given creative control?
Oh, Reese Witherspoon would make a great Ellen. And Bob Hansen should be played by Dennis Quaid (but only if I can be the kiss double!)

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

With Or Without You

I was sipping my coffee this morning, feeling like it was literally warming me from within, and mulling over this question: what are the outside elements that my writing can't live without? I'm not talking about an active imagination or moment-to-moment inspiration, but real, tangible things that I need to write well. In college, I couldn't work without music: everyone thought it was so strange that I'd read and write with background noise, but I truly couldn't get anything done without it, so my stereo was always on in my room or else my Walkman (remember them?) was always plugged into my ears in the library.

These days, here are the two I came up with:

1) Coffee. Yes, partially because I'm half-brain dead in the morning, but also because I think it has a psychological effect on me as well. I think that researchers have discovered this too (I'm nearly certain that I've read studies about this), noting that for many people, coffee is more than a physical stimulant, that it's also a psychological signal that it's time to be more alert and time to start your day. And certainly, for me, it is. I drink my coffee, and my brain says, "Hey, okay, let's start your work."

2) An organized desk. This one is maybe weirder. I'm not sure. But I think I have a teeny touch of OCD because I absolutely can't work on a cluttered space. So before I start writing, I have to straighten everything into perfect piles and if I see a smudge or a light coating of dust or whatever, I have to clean it off. My husband laughs at me because I'm the same way with the dinner table. (As I said, probably OCD..and not that OCD is laughable or funny, but he finds my idiosyncrasies amusing, in the way that spouses how I can't go to sleep unless the closet door is closed.) I can't eat dinner until the table is presentable. I mean, I truly can't stand to sit there - I'm anxious and antsy and bothered by the mess. My husband's idea of presentable means pushing the newspapers and mail and ipods and my son's cars and other crap into a giant, towering heap on one side of the table, and then, inevitably before I sit down to eat, I have to organize it into something neat and linear...and thus, I can actually enjoy dinner. Anyway, I've digressed, but much like our dining table, my desk needs to be palatably organized - as if a cluttered desk means cluttered work - before I can dive in.

So what about you? What can't you write without? Good light? Music? A picture of your family peering over at you? A daily run through certain blogs or websites?

Monday, October 01, 2007

It's Never Easy

So we're announcing the sale of Time of My Life this week. Yay! And I thought this would be a good time to tell you the story of the sale because, well, as the title of this post indicates, it's never easy. This career is never easy. Making it as a writer is never easy. Selling a novel is never easy. (Get the theme here?) And as I've said countless times before, if you're easily discouraged or have a thin skin, this ain't the career for you.

So here's what happened:

As I've mentioned in the past, I wrote a manuscript years ago that never sold, though it did land me an agent. In retrospect, it was a blessing. I mean, it just wasn't that good of a book, there was too much exposition, my conflict wasn't quite realistic, my characters were too get the point. Though the book wasn't great, I was still drawn to the themes behind it: friendship, betrayal, etc. So in January or so, I started to rework it, taking it apart nearly entirely, creating a different protagonist with different conflicts, and weaving in a few of the scenes from the old story because some of them still worked (and they weren't all bad) and as I said, I liked exploring these themes. This wasn't easy work: in fact, there were times when I thought it might easier to start from scratch rather than trying to rebuild something that was broken, not unlike a house remodel vs. demolishing and starting over.

But I kept at it. And at 150 pages, my agent read it, and we both agreed that we really liked it. Maybe we didn't love it, but we liked it well enough, and both felt that my writing had been elevated since The Department. We were anxious to nail down the sale of my second book, so the ms went out to editors. And the response was...fine. Fine, completely fine. Editors enjoyed it, and it looked like we would get three or four offers, but these weren't the big, frothy offers that we hoped for, offers that would slam-dunk my second book as a sure-thing. In fact, a few editors (who explicitly said that they weren't offering but who believed in me as a writer) set up phones calls and/or coffee with me, and all of them said the same thing, "You're capable of a bigger book. A better book. This one is too quiet. This one doesn't have a hook. Try something else, and come back to me."

Sigh. So my agent and I faced a decision: sell this one for less than we'd like (and risk that indeed, it would be a quiet book, which is industry-speak for "small print run and probably not a lot of readers"), but still register a sale (and hey, a sale is still a sale), or gamble and walk away from these potential offers, and try to come up with something new.

I went out for a run after having one of these decision-making conversations with my agent, and as I circled the running loop in Central Park, I was also replaying the words of these editors, editors who really wanted to work with me but who knew that I could deliver something better. And part of me knew that I could deliver something better too. And as I replayed their words, I was struck with an idea for a new book. It came out of nowhere, and bam - I already had some of the scenes and the characters and the conflict before I got home. I ran (literally) back to my computer, banged out 15 pages, and sent them to my agent.

She read them within the hour, and we both immediately knew that this was the book that we should be selling. It was what editors call a "big book," with a big hook, and with relatable, challenged characters...and their scenes and stories flowed easily every day that I sat down to write. It just felt so instinctively right, so much more so than my other effort which was agonizing and frustrating and not particularly enjoyable, and within two weeks, I'd written 100 pages. We sold it soon thereafter, and I wrapped my first draft last week.

That other manuscript still sits in the bowels of my computer - another lesson learned, another practice run for a better book. There's no shame in this for me. Instead, it's just proof that there is no ceiling on the learning curve for fiction writing: you can be as good a writer as your knowledge and effort and yes, some natural skill, allow. And it's also proof that even when you've established yourself in this industry, you have to keep proving yourself again and again. There's no coasting, there are no half-efforts, there are no assurances that because you sold one book to a publishers, you'll sell another.

It's like the old cliched adage says: try, try again. In our industry, that's the only way to succeed.