Welcome to the one hundred and thirty-third of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short stories, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with novelist, writing instructor and blogger Terri Giuliano Long. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here.
Morgen: Hello Terri.
Terri: Thank you so much for inviting me to visit, and allowing me to share my thoughts!
Morgen: Oh, you’re very welcome. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Terri: First and foremost, I’m a wife and mom. My husband, Dave, and I have four adult daughters, two married, and three grandchildren, with on one the way. Professionally, I lecture at Boston College, where I’ve taught creative and nonfiction writing for 15 years. I’ve also written copy for marketing, advertising and public relations, edited technical articles for trade journals, and edited a small trade magazine. In Leah’s Wake is my first novel. These days, other than teaching, or doing occasional marketing or editing work, I spend my time writing. I’m currently at work on a second novel. I’m addicted to chocolate and shoes, and I have absolutely no sense of direction.
Morgen: I worked for a chocolate co. for 4 years but was never a chocoholic and shoes? I grew up with an older brother, no sisters, so I’m certainly no Carrie Bradshaw. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Terri: I write family stories. Families fascinate me. While my stories differ—I’m currently working on a psychological thriller with a historical twist—they always tie back to the family, the ways we love, yet often hurt one another, the grief, the sorrow, the revelation, the joy. I think people connect with these stories. I’ve heard from so many readers – family, friends, reviewers, readers I’ve never met. They tell me In Leah’s Wake feels real, the problems complex. They’ve been there – as a parent or a teen. They feel like they know these characters, and they care about them. This connection, for me, is the most important reason for writing.
Morgen: Absolutely, so important. What have you had published to-date?
Terri: My first novel, In Leah’s Wake, was published in 2010.
Morgen: Yay! How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Terri: I’m very hands-on with marketing. In 2009, 288,355 books were traditionally published, 764,448 indie or self-published. This was before the e-book explosion, so I can only imagine the numbers now. For your book to stand out, you have to make noise. While this is changing, it’s hard for indie publishers to garner reviews. My traditionally published friends were interviewed on radio and reviewed in places like USA Today and People. A radio spot or review in a large circulation paper or magazine generates interest and gets people talking. Few indie publishers land those major spots or reviews. If you don’t promote or market your book, it will languish.
Morgen: You do have to jump up and down and say “pick me” but be subtle too… a fine line. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Terri: In Leah’s Wake received the Coffee Time Reviewer’s Recommend Award, in recognition of outstanding writing style. In Leah’s Wake was also named the Book Bundlz 2011 Book Pick. Once your book has received an award it is legitimately an “award-winning book.” While it’s impossible to quantify a connection between this sort of award and sales, I do believe it bears on the reader’s perception. Book Bundlz begins promoting the Book Pick in August; I do think promotion makes a big difference.
Morgen: Another “yay”. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Terri: That’s a tough question. No, I don’t currently have an agent. Indie authors don’t need agents, of course. For writers who hope to publish with the big houses, an agent is an absolute necessity. A good agent will sell your book, shepherd you through the publishing process and help you think through your new projects. This is an invaluable service. A great agent is worth his or her fee in gold.
Morgen: I’d say so, yes. You mentioned eBooks a minute ago, is your book available as an eBook? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Terri: Yes, In Leah’s Wake is available as an eBook. I created the eBook as part of the publishing process, so it was painless and easy. Yes, I do read eBooks.
Morgen: “Painless and easy” I like the sound of that. I’m still at the cover stage. What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Terri: My short story, “You Belong to Me,” published by Think Magazine, was my first acceptance. Sure, acceptance is always a thrill. It means someone loves your work, which feels a lot like loving you. You feel that same initial energy you feel in a new relationship. As I’ve gotten older – I’ve been writing for 16 years – I’ve learned to take my career into my own hands. While I’m still excited by acceptance, I no longer need it to sustain me.
Morgen: Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Terri: LOL – yes, sure. I don’t know a writer who hasn’t. I try to separate myself from my work. A short story or novel I’ve produced is my work; it’s not me. Readers are subjective and taste idiosyncratic. The most successful – as well as the most artistic – work receives both good and bad reviews. You can’t expect every reader to love your work. If you look at rejection from this perspective, it’s a lot easier to accept.
Morgen: The best way to think about them. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Terri: I’m currently working on a contemporary psychological thriller with a historical twist. Nowhere to Run takes place in the White Mountains in northern New Hampshire. A year after the brutal murder of her six-year-old daughter, Abby Minot, formerly an award-winning writer, accepts her first assignment—a profile of the philanthropic Chase family, kin of the popular New Hampshire senator and presidential hopeful, Matthias Chase. In her initial research, Abby glimpses darkness under the Chase family’s shiny veneer. Digging deeper, she uncovers a shocking web of lies and betrayal, dating back to the nineteenth century. Abby soon finds herself trapped—between an editor obsessed with uncovering the truth and the town and family who will stop at nothing to ensure it stays hidden. I hope to complete the novel this fall.
Morgen: You had me at ‘writer’. Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Terri: Ideally, I blog in the morning and either write or edit the novel I’m working on from early afternoon until dinnertime. This schedule doesn’t always work. We just finished the school year at Boston College; during crunch time, when I’m busy editing and grading students’ papers, my own work falls by the wayside. I’ve neglected my novel for the last month, and I’m eager to dig in again. Typically, it takes me a few weeks to catch up and get back into a regular routine. In the past, I insisted that students write every day. I believe now that rules are counterproductive. The right way to do anything is the way that works best for you. Life with the best-laid plans. You can fight it or go with it. I try to go with it. Of course, I don’t always succeed.
Morgen: What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Terri: Yes, occasionally. I’m only ever truly blocked—I can’t string words together at all—when I’m anxious, if I’m worried about someone I care about. When I first sit, I sometimes feel blocked, the nasty editors on my shoulders heckling: You think you’re a writer? Seriously? Nine times out of ten, I dig in; the writing may be choppy at first, but eventually I regain fluidity. When the demons get too loud to ignore, I read. Reading, like meditation or yoga, sends me to my happy place. In my experience, years working with professional and emerging writers, a block is almost always caused by self-doubt. The trick is to find a way to settle your mind, calm yourself, get those nasty editors off your shoulders. For me, reading provides an escape. For others, walking, meditating, listening to music can help.
Morgen: As long as it’s something different. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Terri: Writing the first draft of In Leah’s Wake, I had no idea where I was going – in writing programs, organic writing is often encouraged. In the revision process, I looked for and developed themes. In Leah’s Wake is character driven, so outlining would have produced in a different book. I think it’s helpful to know who you are and what your goals are. For literary fiction, the goal is to develop and understand character. I hope I’ve done that. The goal of genre fiction is to entertain. I’m not saying you can’t break rules – plot lit fiction or write character-driven genre novels. But there are conventions. If you break the rules, you may lose readers. We as writers need to understand that – break the rules, but prepare for the consequences.
My novel-in-progress, Nowhere to Run, is a psychological thriller, so I’m approaching that differently. I’ve mapped out a partial outline, which I’m using as a marker, and writing organically. While I certainly recognize the benefits of outlining or plotting, I feel that sticking to either too firmly limits the writer. Allowing yourself some freedom opens you to new ideas and possibilities. Of course, it also makes the writing a more difficult and messier process.
Morgen: But maybe more fun… and more freedom for the characters to take over. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Terri: I’m in the process of developing a series on creating believable characters. Please watch for it on my blog.
Morgen: Ooh great. What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Terri: I probably should have a ritual – I’m sure it would help – but I don’t. The only thing I routinely bring to my desk is a jug or bottle of water. This is embarrassing to admit (please don’t tell anyone, OK?)…
Morgen: Your secret is safe with me.
Terri: I’m easily distracted. I need to write in a small space, with no Internet access. When I first sit, the nasty editors on my shoulders often heckle me - A writer? Hahaha Seriously? Usually, I ignore it and dig in; the writing may be choppy, but eventually I gain fluidity. When the demons get too loud to ignore, I read. Reading sends me to my happy place, provides an escape. For some writers, as you suggest, walking, meditating, or listening to music helps. For ADD types like me, those activities turn into distractions – even with reading, I have to be sure I don’t fall into a rabbit hole. That’s why, for me, sitting alone, in a quiet, isolated space – and just going at it – works best.
Morgen: Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Terri: I do both. Most of the time I write on a computer, but I do some of my best work on planes, and that’s always on paper.
Morgen: What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you tried second person?
Terri: I’ve written in first and third. I’ve also done second, but that’s a more experimental form and it doesn’t lend itself well to my style or genre. For In Leah’s Wake I used a multiple third person pov. For me, this book isn’t about any one character. I wanted to tell the story of this family; to do that, I needed to give each person a voice. We tend to live and remember shared events differently, from our own perspective. By using multiple points of view – sometimes overlapping stories – I hoped to show this. Also, by telling their individual stories, I hoped give readers greater insight into the characters.
Morgen: It is less restrictive than first. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Terri: I love the process, so my favorite part of writing is the writing. For many writers, the worst part of writing is facing a blank screen, revising, dealing with rejection. I struggle with these things, too, to varying degrees. For me, sustaining belief—not in the project, but in myself—is, by far, the biggest challenge. I constantly second-guess myself, wonder if I’m on the right track: as a result, I spend a lot of time spinning my wheels.
Morgen: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Terri: Believe in yourself. I know wonderful writers whose first, second or third books, really good, strong books, were rejected. To deal with the rejection, boot your computer, day after day, when it seems as if no one cares, the stars misaligned – to self-publish in a world that still privileges the traditionally published – you have to believe in yourself. Writing is a lonely profession. Most of the time, we’re alone with our work. The loneliness can wear on you, and cause you to question yourself. A few supportive writer friends can help and encourage you. Hold onto your dreams. You can make them happen. Don’t ever give up!
Morgen: I won’t be. It sounds like you read a lot, what do you like to read?
Terri: I’m an eclectic reader. I love short stories, novels, memoir, humor, nonfiction. Good writing is good writing – I enjoy it all. In my genre – The short story writer Andre Dubus wrote some of the most thoughtful, moving stories I’ve ever read. Although my work pales in comparison, his stories influenced mine. Jessica Treadway, winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction for her latest collection, Please Come Back To Me, writes haunting, stunningly gorgeous family stories. Primarily short story writers, both, in my mind, are grossly under-appreciated. Most readers I talk with don’t know who they are. That’s the business, unfortunately; still, it feels terribly wrong that such brilliant work reaches the hands of so few readers. Elizabeth Strout hooked me with Abide With Me and Olive Kitteridge. I also love Susan Straight’s elegant work.
Morgen: I LOVE short stories; my favourite form (which is why I’m going back them). Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Terri: I have a list of wonderful resources for writers on my website.
Morgen: Oh great, thank you. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Terri: I’m on number of sites, but most active on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads. I’ve met a lot of wonderful, supportive people on these sites. With the exception of Goodreads, I don’t think writers necessarily find an audience on social networking sites, but writing is a lonely process, so the support – finding & connecting with people like you – can be just as important. Twitter drives a lot of traffic to my blog, and that keeps me writing and producing new work. For me, that’s invaluable.
Morgen: I’ve heard good things about Goodreads, I must check it out. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Terri: I blog about writing, writing tips and inspiration, with occasional musings thrown in: http://www.tglong.com.blog. Interested readers can find information about the book on my main site: http://www.tglong.com. I’m also active on Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads.
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Terri: This is an exciting time for both readers and writers. The gatekeepers no longer hold all the power; today readers can choose from a rich selection of traditionally and indie published books. Writers whose books might never have been published under the old system are enjoying phenomenal success. I’m awed and encouraged by this. That said, self-publishing is by no means easy. The logistics of self- publishing aside, you have to work tirelessly to promote yourself, and not everyone has the stomach for that. I haven’t heard anyone else say this, so I may be out to lunch, but I also see a disturbing trend among some traditionally published writers to denigrate self-publishers. We’re in a brave new world of publishing. No one knows how this will shake out. I think we should remember that we’re all is this together. We need each other – writers are avid readers, after all – and we should, to the best of our ability, respect and support one another.
Morgen: I think most do… writing seems to be unlike any other profession that I know of… and I love that about it. Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Terri: In Leah’s Wake, my debut novel, tells the story of a family in collapse. Sixteen-year-old Leah, a star soccer player, has led a perfect life. When she meets a sexy older guy, attracted to his independence, she begins to spread her wings. Drinking, ignoring curfew, dabbling in drugs—all this feels like freedom to her. Her terrified parents, thinking they’re losing their daughter, pull the reigns tighter. Unfortunately, they get it all wrong, pushing when they ought to be pulling, and communication breaks down. Soon, there’s no turning back. Twelve-year-old Justine caught between the parents she loves, and the big sister she adores, finds herself in the fight of her life, trying desperately to pull her family together. Will this family survive? What happens when love just isn’t enough? Jodi Picoult fans often tell me the book reminds them of hers. I’m not sure she – or I – would agree, but we both write topical family stories. And it’s a lovely compliment. Morgen, thank you so very much for giving me this opportunity to reach out and connect with your readers. And thank you – all of you – for your interest in my book. Time is precious. With the millions of rich, entertaining, beautiful books to choose among, I feel honored that you’d spend this time with me, reading about mine.
Morgen: You’re very welcome, Terri. Thank you for taking part.
Terri Giuliano Long is all-too-happy to share her love of stories with others as a novelist and as a writing instructor at Boston College. She blogs about writing and the writing life at www.tglong.com/blog or connect on Twitter: @tglong and her website is http://www.tglong.com and Facebook page.
2011 BOOK BUNDLZ BOOK CLUB PICK
Recipient of the CTRR, Reviewer Recommend Award
The Tyler family had the perfect life – until sixteen-year-old Leah decided she didn’t want to be perfect anymore. While her parents fight to save their daughter from destroying her brilliant future, Leah’s younger sister, Justine, must cope with the damage her out-of-control sibling leaves in her wake. Will this family survive? What happens when love just isn’t enough?
Jodi Picoult fans will love this beautifully written and absorbing novel.
IN LEAH’S WAKE by Terri Giuliano Long
Format: Paperback, Kindle
Website: www.tglong.com In Leah’s Wake
A busy lady.
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