Welcome back to my author interview series! Today I am speaking with Indie Eden Book Club member Alice Longaker about her book, Wren. It is a middle-grade novel about a young girl who goes to stay with her grandparents while her mother is battling breast cancer. Let’s see what Alice has to say about the book, and about writing in general.
Hi Alice! First of all, what is the one question that you wish people would ask you about Wren? (And what is the answer?)
What is the difference between Wren and mass-market, commodity fiction? First, I believe there is a place for commodity fiction. I like reading it – it’s fun and is profitable for author and publisher. The difference is in why a book is written. Is it written for a market, to follow a successful trend? Is it published because of a famous name? Or is it a work of the heart, and is it a story that I was compelled to write? Wren is the latter – driven more by character than plot, and a labor of many years.
On the flip side, which typical author interview question do you hate the most?
I don’t recall really disliking any particular question, but in the past there has been the question “How do you do it all–balance a family with writing career?” On one hand, that is a compliment – a perspective that I am “successful” in several arenas. On the other hand, no one asks men that. I like to quote former Rep. Pat Schroeder who quipped when asked the same question, “I have a brain and a uterus, and I use both.”
I love that quote! :D Can you give us a short description of your book?
Wren is a soon-to-be eighth-grader whose summer is a mix of good and bad, and one can’t be separated from the other. Told in short journal entries that are simple, poetic, sad, and hopeful with all the insecurities and enthusiasm of a typical teenager in summer. While written from this perspective and for girls the same age, there are themes and situations that adults can enjoy and discuss.
Is there any famous author that inspires you, or that you admire?
Oh, so many! From Ernest Hemingway to Louise Penny. The Brontes. J. K. Rowling. John Steinbeck. Toni Morrison. Jane Austen. I also love poets and find their words influence me a great deal – from Kaveh Akbar to Shakespeare. I believe a good writer will read as much or even more than they write.
Wow, you have a lot of great inspiration to work from! Your own book is in the middle-grade fiction genre. What drew you to this genre? Do you also like to read books in this genre?
As the character of Wren unfolded, I knew she would not fit into the children’s spectrum and not in YA books either. If I had written a book for a market, I certainly would not have chosen such a narrow audience: not just Middle-Grade, but mostly Middle-Grade. I like to read books of all genres. I do like kid’s lit and read some in that area – including picture books. I love YA too. Middle-Grade fiction is a relatively new category for those in-betweeners. I am not a market or commodity writer, I can’t write for a particular age – it’s just a story that grew. I like the purity of the age of those readers – the stirrings of puberty, the high drama of each emotion, their “push me-pull you” relationship with parents.
Who is your target audience for this book? What do you think will appeal to them about your book?
Well, as I stated before, Middle-Grade girls, but it is also a great book for teachers, parents, and librarians. There are several themes that bring safe, worthwhile discussions. I think readers will see something of themselves in Wren. She is an ordinary girl–not the smartest or the prettiest or the favorite. She struggles to establish who she is. She is afraid. And while young teens will identify with Wren’s adventures, I have found adults connect as well.
I am reading this book right now myself, and I can say that it really does have a bit of something for everyone.
Moving on to your writing process now, when you write a book, do you plan out everything beforehand, or do you let the story follow its own course?
I sketch out vignettes that I want in the book. I write through the first draft letting the characters grow and tell the story. Sometimes there are complicated themes that develop, and I may write out the sequence to keep things straight. These books for young readers are every bit as complicated as a 300-page, adult Sci-Fi novel, but things need to appear simple and smooth.
Do you have any quirky writing habits?
I really can’t type. It is excruciating. My fingers fly but hit all the wrong keys, and I am left with hours of proofing and editing beyond the norm. Nothing has remedied this weakness. For shorter writing like essays and poetry, I write things longhand first. On longer works, I write at the keyboard.
I’m sure a lot more authors can relate to that than you would expect! That is what editing is for, haha. ;)
What would you say is the best way to market your book? With which method have you had the most success so far?
First write a good book. Emphasis on good. Word of mouth is the most rewarding. For me, book signings have provided the most exposure and sales. Blogs and interviews have also been helpful in getting the word out. For Indie writers, I think it is important to experiment and use what is comfortable. While I am comfortable with social media, I don’t find it particularly helpful in marketing except for events. It has also helped to connect with other authors and see their ideas.
Great advice. How did your book come to be published? What was your journey to publication like? Did you get a lot of rejection letters before you finally saw your name in print?
Wren is a traditionally published book through an independent publisher. I submitted the manuscript to major publishers, agents, and indie publishers. Rejections and some questionable contract offers helped me realize that an Indie Press would be perfect for me. Others may choose to self-publish or a hybrid contract. I figure if I do not go in the hole, I am ahead. I am used to rejection letters after many years of writing and submitting poetry. I think the manuscript process is easier and smoother. I think my family and friends were more excited about book publication than I was…to me it is just part of the process.
Is being a published author everything you dreamed it would be? If not, how is it different? Is there anything you would change about it?
Thirty years ago, my concept of success was NY Times bestseller list and book tours. Making money. As years passed, I became more comfortable with myself, and found success and fulfillment in the quality of writing. I find author events exhausting. Writing is work and a job. It is not magical most of the time. The journey has been a long one for me. I have not compromised or settled–but my definition of success has deepened and broadened. For me it has been the perfect journey.
That is a great way to put it. Thank you for sharing your story with us, Alice!
About the Author:
A self-professed late bloomer. I wandered through a library career—the solitude of cataloging, the austere aisles of a research library, and a boisterous children’s library.
I taught research, composition, literature, and Intensive English to college and university students throughout Colorado. Currently I dabble in tutoring international students, and heeding the ‘call of stories,’ I write. New projects include a collection of lyrical essays, poetry, and perhaps sequels to Wren.
About the Book:
In just one afternoon, Wren’s gleeful mood crashes with the news of her mother’s diagnosis of advanced-stage Breast Cancer. Soon Wren is sent to spend the summer with her not-so-typical grandparents (aging hippies) in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas. With goats, chickens, and alpacas as companions, Wren finds adventure and ordinary days on trails and porches. Happiness comes with finding new friends, increased independence, and acres of woods to explore. Chiggers bite, and spiders lurk. Wren’s nemesis, Aunt Char, returns. An owl calls outside of Wren’s window. Sometimes Wren gets scared, and when she really should be alarmed, she instead befriends a man with cruel intentions. Late summer turns tragic, Arkansas teaches harshly and gently, and Wren learns that things don’t have to be perfect to be good.