Recently, I posted a Call to Writers, asking my fellow author bloggers to allow me to interview them for guest-spots on my blog. (If you are interested in participating, please contact me.) I asked everyone thirty-five questions — some were basic, and others were multi-part inquiries — and I asked them to answer only what they wanted to or what was applicable. My friend and fellow-blogger, Ellen Hawley, had some very interesting responses which I’m sure will captivate you, as well. After you read her interview, please be sure to hop on over to her blog and follow her for a regular dose of her charm. And now, heeere’s Ellen…
1. Please tell us your name (or pen name) and a little bit about yourself:
I’m Ellen Hawley, and I’m an American living in Britain. I’m a native New Yorker but lived in Minnesota for many long, cold winters. I’ve worked as an editor, a teacher of writing, a cab driver, an assembler, a waitress, a janitor, a file clerk, and for four fun-filled hours, a receptionist.
2. Please provide the link to your blog (and website, Facebook fan page, Twitter, etc.):
My blog is at http://www.notesfromtheuk.com. I also have a website at http://www.ellenhawley.com and tweet (very sporadically) as https://twitter.com/ellen_hawley. Of the three, I recommend the blog, which isn’t a traditional author blog but about the oddities of living in Britain.
3. How many books have you written? please share the link(s) to purchase them:
The Divorce Diet is due out on December 30, 2014, from Kensington http://www.kensingtonbooks.com/book.aspx/30520. Open Line was published by Coffee House Press http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/open-line-ellen-hawley/1101159805?ean=9781566892094 and Trip Sheets by Milkweed Editions.
4. Did you self-publish or use traditional publishing? Why?
All three books are traditionally published. I prefer that, in part, because I’m not good at publicizing my own books. I’m working like hell to publicize my blog (which I started in part because I hoped it would give me a platform from which to publicize my book, although to my relief it’s taken on a life of its own), and that’s hard enough. Publicizing a novel is much harder. At least for me.
But my experience with publishing is that my work gains a lot from the traditional publishing process. If you find a good editor, it’s like having someone suddenly step in and sing harmony when up till then you’ve been singing alone. In the shower. The song gets richer. Notes take on resonances they didn’t have before. Enough of the metaphor: A good editor can see possibilities in my work that I could see in someone else’s but not in my own. Yes, if you self-publish you can hire an editor, but an editor who works for you works for you. I’ve done that as an editor, and no matter how much I tried to rise above that relationship, I couldn’t entirely.
5. How old were you when you started writing? When did you know you wanted to be an author?
I didn’t start writing until I was around 30. Not long before that, I’d been driving cab, and a cab-driver friend who wrote poetry sometimes sat in the back seat of my cab and read me his work. And because of that, something I’d always known to be true became true in a new way: Every book I’d ever loved (and all the ones I hadn’t, while we’re at it) had been written by a real, living human being. And with that, it became possible for me to do it.
6. What is your preferred reading method? (i.e., Kindle, Nook, paperback, hardback, etc.) Why?
I like paper. Real, physical books. I don’t care if they’re paperback or hardback. I also love bookstores, and used bookstores, and browsing.
7. Do you “always read” or do you take breaks between reading books?
I’m always reading something. Books, newspapers, magazines, toothpaste tubes. But I always have a book I’m reading or about to start.
ABOUT YOUR CURRENT BOOK::
8. What is the title of your current work-in-progress or the most recent manuscript you’ve completed?
The Divorce Diet will be out on December 30, 2014. Now that my part of the work on it is done, all my writing time is going into my blog. I hope to pull a book out of the blog at some point, but that’s a long way off.
I also have a novel I haven’t been able to finish—I suspect because there’s something fundamental wrong in the way I set it up. I’ve tried to walk away from it several times and I keep going back, so at this point I’m hoping that being away from it for a while will allow me to reimagine and finish it.
9. What is your novel’s genre? Would you say there is a sub-genre? What makes yours different than other books in the same genre?
I don’t think in terms of genre when I write. The Divorce Diet is being marketed as women’s fiction, but I wrote is simply as fiction. My earlier books were marketed as literary fiction, but again, I wrote them simply as fiction.
10. What inspired the current or most recent story you’ve completed?
I started The Divorce Diet to make a friend laugh when her marriage broke apart. I showed her the early chapters and she did laugh, so I kept writing.
Oddly enough, the title came before the story. She was going through all the hard times that anyone does during a breakup, plus all the loneliness and economic struggles a suddenly single mother faces, but she’d lost weight and she was happy about that, and one of us made a joke about the divorce diet.
“That’d make a great title,” I said. And after trying seventy-four alternative titles, the publisher agreed.
11. What is your target audience’s age, gender, etc.?
I can think of two ways to answer this: Who I wrote it for and who it can be sold to.
When I was writing it, my target audience was my friend. Now that it’s about to be published, I’d like to see if offered to everyone: Here’s a book and if it interests you, read it. But book marketing segments the reading public by age, by sex, by ethnicity, and by seventeen other categories I haven’t even thought about—and yes, I made up the number there. Because it’s about a woman and her family, it’s considered women’s fiction. If it was about a man and his family, it would be considered fiction.
Does anyone notice something odd about that?
12. Do you want to tell us a little bit about your story?
Abigail is an involuntarily single mother, advised by an invisible weight-loss guru. Yes, I know. In the context, it all makes perfect sense. In an out-there sort of way. She’s struggling to support her daughter and make enough money to move out of her parents’ house.
Her most immediate conflicts are with her soon to be ex-husband and with her parents, who she loves and respects but who have a gift for turning her back into a teenager. But—never one to shy away from the impossible—her underlying conflict is with the way the entire world is organized: Her husband has kept their house, since she couldn’t afford to, while she and their baby are living in her childhood bedroom. He has a new girlfriend while she can’t call up the thinnest wisp of a thought about sex. He’s still going to work in a clean white shirt while she’s waiting tables, because even though she’s a gifted cook he wasn’t enthusiastic about her getting any formal training and she thought, Well, a woman has to sacrifice something if she wants a marriage to work. On top of which, if she’s very careful and saves every penny of her tips, she’ll be able to afford her own place in forty years. Maybe. She’d work up a theory about all that, but she’s too busy and she couldn’t afford the upkeep on it anyway.
ABOUT HOW YOU WRITE::
13. Do you do your own editing or send it to someone else?
I’ve worked as an editor and I do a lot of the editing on my own work, but I’m never as good with my own work as I am with someone else’s. I’m too tied into the decisions I already made, even when they’re getting in my way. I often trade manuscripts with writer friends, but at other times, when I’ve taken a manuscript as far as I can but know it’s not ready to send out, I’ve paid someone to take an ax to it and been grateful when she did. It’s a different, and more ruthless, kind of help than writer friends have been able to provide.
With my blog, I write, edit, and post. It’s an entirely different experience, but then those are short pieces, not novels.
On the smallest level of editing, I don’t know anyone who can proofread their own work effectively. We can catch a few mistakes, but we know what we think we wrote, so our eyes turn the words on the page into what we expect to see.
14. What is your method of writing? (i.e., Do you write the entire manuscript, then go back and make changes? Do you plan chapters as you go along or write the story then go back and add chapters? Do you re-read as you go along or after you are done with the first draft?)
I’ve never been able to outline a book ahead of time, although I envy people who can. For me, story grows out of character, and until the characters are in motion, the story can’t unfold. For Open Line, I had a one-page summary that helped at the beginning, but the story quickly found its own direction and left it behind. The Divorce Diet fell into my head almost whole, although that didn’t mean I knew what was going to happen next.
I write a rough draft for as long as I can and when it begins to lose energy, I go back and rewrite until it’s strong enough to propel me forward.
15. Do you have any “must haves” to help you write? (i.e., a full cup of coffee, a view of the ocean, etc.)
I don’t. When I lived in Minneapolis, I wrote in coffee shops, and I loved that. I had tea, something sweet, and a table, and I wrote longhand, in a spiral-bound notebook. Whatever chaos went on around me, I didn’t have to do anything about it, and I felt free to lose myself in the story.
Moving to a village in Cornwall meant moving away from coffee shops, and that’s been an adjustment. I work on the computer, for the most part. It’s faster and more efficient, but I miss my coffee shops.
ABOUT YOUR WORK::
16. If you have written more than one novel, which is your favorite and why?
So far, my favorite is always the one that’s about to come out, or the most recent one that has. So at the moment it’s The Divorce Diet.
17. If you could be one of your own characters for a day, who would it be and why?
That’s a question I never thought to ask myself. I think I’d be Abigail, from The Divorce Diet. I’d snuggle my daughter, argue with my invisible guru, cook something wonderful, and have a good cry. Then I’d eat what I cooked, snuggle my daughter again, and try to get some sleep before getting up at silly o’clock to go to put in another day’s work.
18. What is the oddest thing you have ever researched for one of your books?
This wasn’t for one of my books but for my partner’s. She was in the early stages of working on a thriller, Owl of the Desert, and I was with her when she walked into a gun shop in Texas and asked, with no explanation, “What sort of gun would you use if you wanted to rob a bank?”
The clerk hustled us out of there faster than I would have believed possible and she had to recalibrate her research methods.
Thank you, Ellen, for allowing me to interview you. I hope everyone else has enjoyed learning about you and your work as much as I have.