Friday, December 14, 2007

GCC Presents: Eliza Graham and Playing With The Moon

I'm thrilled to present Eliza Graham today and her fabulous-sounding novel, Playing With the Moon. First of all, I'm just enamoured with the plot and concept. Second of all, read below to hear how she got published - what an inspiring story. After two thrwarted attempts, she did things on her own terms, which is just the type of gusto we like around these parts.

Anyhoo, here's a bit more about the novel, which World Book Day just nominated as a "Hidden Gem.":

Shattered by a recent bereavement, Minna and her husband Tom retreat to an isolated village on the Dorset coast, seeking the solitude that will allow them to cope with their loss and rebuild their foundering marriage. Walking on the beach one day, they unearth a human skeleton. It is a discovery which will plunge Minna into a mystery which will consume her for months to come.

The remains are soon identified as those of Private Lew Campbell, a black American GI who, it seems, drowned during a wartime exercise in the area half a century before. Growing increasingly preoccupied with the dead soldier's fate, Minna befriends a melancholy elderly woman, Felix, who lived in the village during the war. As Minna coaxes Felix's story from her, it becomes clear that the old woman knows more about the dead GI than she initially let on.
Here, she answers my usual questions:

1) What's the backstory behind your book?
Some years ago I visited a small village on the south coast of England--Tyneham. Tyneham had been evacuated in 1943 so that Allied troops could use it for D-Day practice. The inhabitants had never been allowed to return. I was spellbound. The village, with its gently decaying houses, cottages, church and manor house, seemed to reach out and pull me to itself.
Then I read--or saw--something about African-American GIs in Britain during WW2 and how many young British women were attracted to them, finding them gentle, humorous and kind boyfriends. My brain started to make connections between this and the fictional coast village I'd started to create in my imagination.

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've noticed that very little of my own experience has made it into my books. Perhaps because I've had a fairly settled kind of life (touch wood) I've searched outside for inspiration, finding that I'm drawn to periods of turbulence and upheaval such as war. Although I note that Felix in PLAYING WITH THE MOON is like me in not having enjoyed school and hating hockey!

3) A lot of my blog readers are aspiring or new authors. How did you land your first book deal?
Having been agented for two earlier efforts that didn't sell I was delighted to see that Macmillan had launched a new imprint: Macmillan New Writing, which didn't need you to submit via an agent. You could also send them your ms. by email--extraordinarily modern and convenient for the world of publishing. So I sent of PWTM and a synopsis and four or five months later they got back to me, saying they liked the book in principle but had some editorial suggestions. Once I'd rewritten elements of the book they sent me the contract.

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?
A lot of web-surfing and emailing friends occurs before I can start writing. I seem to need to warm up first. Then while I'm writing I keep jumping up and down to make coffee. I have a rebounder (mini trampoline) and sometimes go and have a bounce to get the blood up to my brain again. Or I go for a walk with my dogs.

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?
I think Dame Judi Dench for the senior Felix, the woman who lived in the village as a child and knows what really happened the night Private Lew Campbell died. The part of Lew himself is important (though he isn't in the book for much of the time)--he is a young, gorgeous African-American GI. I think I'd need to attend a lot of auditions for Lew. It would mean looking at lots of handsome men and would be tough, but for the sake of the film I'd force myself to do it.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Asking the Big Questions

Today, I'm over at Writer Unboxed, getting all philosophical and posing the question about why we write.

Check it out!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Finding the Perfect Expert

Before we begin, a few shots from vacation, as promised on Friday!

Question of the day: I'm new to the freelance community. I got my first article published last month! I came across your blog and enjoyed the information. One burning question I have regarding feature articles is how do writers find "Experts" to quote in their articles? If you could shed some of your ultra pragmatic light on this, I would appreciate it.

Sure! Of course. Finding the perfect expert can make or break your story, and certainly, I've been in the position of interviewing someone and feeling like, "Eh, this isn't quite right," which sucks big time because then you have to start all over.

A few places that I start:

1) Amazon. I like to head here first because more often than not, I interview book authors, and well, for obvious reasons, Amazon is a good place to find them. From there, if I find someone who might work, I head to...

2) Google. Again, not ground-breaking, but I google an author and if he or she isn't easily reachable, I often go back to point A. Or, alternatively, I also use google as a starting point - hunting down experts with very specific search terms.

3) I also use PubMed, especially when I'm looking for study authors or researchers. If I can find the exact study that fits into my story, I'm always keen to interview the person who performed the research behind it. Similarly,

4) NewsWise serves more or less the same function but with less medical terminology and a wider-span of press releases.

5) I'll also put out a query on Profnet if I can't find anything on my own. This usually yields me far more sources than I can use, and often times, they're not really what I had in mind (because they're coming from PR reps), but it doesn't really hurt, and often does land me a good source.

6) And finally (not always last, in terms of when I do things), I'll head to PR reps at various organizations that fit my needs. If, for example, I'm writing a story on something parenting-related, maybe I'll lob a call into the AAP or if I'm doing a story on nutrition, the ADA. That type of thing.

So, where do you guys find your sources? I'm sure that there are other bastions of info!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Turn Off, Tune Out

So a funny thing happened on my vacation: I fell out of love, just a little bit, with my Blackberry. And that's a good thing. A very good thing.

Here's the deal - in my normal life, I'm almost always connected and reachable. My agent needs me while I'm at the gym? No sweat. My husband wants to track me down while walking the dog? I'll pick up. I suspect that I don't need to elaborate because many of you relate. On one hand, this is wonderful; in fact, in the earlier days of my career, editors marveled about how, regardless of hour, I could respond to just about any and all emails. But on the other hand, it means that I am always available, like a 24/7 convenience store, and the truth is, which I didn't realize until my vacation, that I don't like being on call.

Here's what happened: while in Anguilla, I made the decision to leave my Blackberry in the room all day. Which meant that I checked it when I woke up and checked it again at night, and other than that, emails could clog it up to no end, and I wouldn't touch it. I thought that maybe I'd feel anxious, wondering about what I was missing, wondering if the world were imploding without me, but guess what? What I found instead was serenity. (The beach and the waves at my back door probably helped too.) But in all seriousness, I enjoyed myself SO MUCH MORE because I wasn't connected or reachable. In fact, my husband toted his Blackberry around all day, and beyond the fact that I found this incredibly annoying and made more than 5000 passive-aggresive remarks about it, eventually I moved past my irritation at him and just felt sorry for him. I mean, here we were, in arguably one of the most beautiful places on earth, and he couldn't let go of work! And yes, I'd be dishonest if I didn't say that I recognized a small part of myself in that.

When I returned home, I logged on to more than 300 emails. And it turns out that about 3 of them were semi-urgent. The rest were easily satisfied by my out-of-office notification, and I answered them at my leisure throughout the day and this past weekend. The world still spun on. The industry didn't collapse in my absence. Really, no one missed me too much. And that's a good thing. In fact, it was so good that these past few days, when I've taken the dog out for a walk or headed to the gym, I left the Blackberry at home. I need those few moments to myself, and everyone else can wait.

So tell me, are you addicted to your Blackberry? Or have you found strategies to put it down just like I have?