Thursday, September 28, 2006
I’ll tell you something surprising.
Three years ago I didn’t know a single novelist – now I reckon I know about thirty. And only a couple of those are people I’ve met at readings and other events, most of them are real-life, down-to-earth, working writers, whom I’ve come into contact with at workshops or through critique groups.
I’ll tell you something else. The greatest thing about rubbing up against (in a metaphorical sense!) writers whose work is nothing like your own, is you learn a huge amount about what makes writing sizzle on the page and what doesn’t. So when I met a sizzler, in Ellen Meister, I know she was going to be a success.
Ellen’s first novel is out, and it’s a hoot; a really zipalong read that balances humour with the kind of experiences that many of us, as mothers and wives, struggle with. I managed to persuade her to take her hand off George Clooney’s thigh (you need to read the book to know what I’m talking about) for long enough to describe the process of writing Secret Confessions of the Applewood PTA …
How did you get into fiction writing?
The dream is almost as old as I am. But I carried it with me through college and a career in marketing and copywriting. It wasn't until I was an at-home mother with three children that I finally found the gumption to stop procrastinating and start writing. It was probably my version of a mid-life crisis. I just woke up one morning with my own mortality staring me in the face and thought, when the hell am I going to do this? I could drop dead without ever having pursued this dream. And so I began.
What’s the best thing about being a novelist?
When a stranger writes to tell me I've made them laugh or cry or touched them in some way, it brings me to my knees.
And what’s the worst thing?
The worst thing is obsessing about the sales figures.
What’s the one mistake you made, when starting out, that still haunts you?
I certainly made a lot of mistakes when I started out — and still do. But I'm not sure there's anything in particular that haunts me. I'm not one for regrets, because I think things have a way of working out the way they should, even if it takes a long time to become apparent.
Who do you most admire as a writer, and why?
I admire everyone who sits down in front of a blank screen or a blank page and eventually writes those two words, "The End." Writing a novel takes a special kind of mental and emotional endurance, and I'm hugely impressed with anyone who does it.
What advice would you give somebody who is thinking of trying to get a novel published?
Don’t even think about trying to sell it until you've polished, shined and rewritten it so many times that you know the thing is as perfect as you can get it. Then you have to take off your writer hat, stuff your pride in it, hide it behind your desk and start thinking like a business person. You now have a product and it's your job to sell it.
What part of the publishing process has been most surprising to you as a first time novelist?
Even though I had been told that the writer has a lot of responsibility for selling the book, I still wasn't prepared for how much would fall on my shoulders. Essentially, if you want to be a successful novelist, you have to take an incredibly aggressive approach to marketing and publicity.
On a more personal level, the single most surprising thing that happened in this journey was that Lisa Kudrow, who did the audiobook narration for SECRET CONFESSIONS OF THE APPLEWOOD PTA, plugged the book on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
Is there something else you can see yourself doing if you weren’t a writer?
Before my children were born I was a copywriter and eventually ran my own small sales promotion agency. If I wasn't a stay-at-home mom/novelist, I could see going back to that world. I really did enjoy it.
If you were abandoned on a desert island, with just one book for company, what would it be?
Depends. Is George Clooney there to keep me company? Because that's how I've been imagining it …
Seriously, part of me would want to take along one of J.D. Salinger's slim volumes, which I can reread ad nauseam. But if I'm going to be stuck on the island for a long time without (cough cough) company, I'd probably be smarter to take along one of the fat books I enjoy re-reading, like Richard Russo's Empire Falls or John Irving's A Widow for One Year.
Ellen’s book is available through Amazon in the UK or direct from the publisher Click for William Morrow