Can you tell us about your latest novel, “The One That I Want”?
Sure! Tilly Farmer is thirty-two years old and has the perfect life she always dreamed of: married to her high school sweetheart, working as a school guidance counselor, trying for a baby. Perfect.
But one sweltering afternoon at the local fair, everything changes. Tilly wanders into a fortune teller’s tent and meets an old childhood friend, who offers her more than just a reading. “I’m giving you the gift of clarity,” her friend says. “It’s what I always through you needed.” And soon enough, Tilly starts seeing things: her alcoholic father relapsing, staggering out of a bar with his car keys in hand; her husband uprooting their happy, stable life, a packed U-Haul in their driveway. And even more disturbing, these visions start coming true.
Suddenly Tilly’s perfect life, so meticulously mapped out, seems to be crumbling around her. And as she furiously races to keep up with – and hopefully change – her destiny, she faces the question: Which life does she want? The one she’s carefully nursed for decades, or the one she never considered possible?
How was writing “The One That I Want,” different to writing your previous novels?
The honest answer is it was much harder.
To begin with, I felt a lot of pressure to live up to both readers’, as well as my own, expectations after Time of My Life, and for the first few drafts, I think I was a little paralyzed by that pressure. The second obstacle was that the structure of this book ended up being more akin to a thriller than anything I’d written in the past, and because I write without an outline or any real idea of what’s going to happen next…I simply couldn’t figure out how to write the book. What I mean by that is that my heroine starts seeing into her future, but the truth was, I didn’t know what was going to happen in her future, so essentially, I needed to intuit where she was going to go (along with the rest of the characters) well before she got there. And given my writing style, this was just very, very difficult.
I tend to let my characters lead from start to finish, and I couldn’t do that in this case, so I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to write an organic book without using what I feel is my most organic process. (Which sounds very high-brow, and I don’t mean it to but don’t know how else to explain it!)
How did you first connect with your literary agent?
The same way that most writers do: blind query. I had recently parted ways with my first agent who didn’t want to represent the manuscript that became my debut published novel, so I got right back on the agent horse and started querying. She answered my email almost immediately, and though I had a few offers of representation, I accepted hers within the next few days.
What are your most/least favourite aspects of the writing process, and why?
As simple as this sounds, my least favorite is starting, and my most favorite is finishing. 🙂
In all seriousness though, I do find the initial blank page quite daunting, especially after I’ve plowed through my excitement that comes with starting a book. So those first 5k come pretty easily, and then – ugh – the daunting part starts. Once I hit about 150 pages, then I slide into a comfort zone of knowing that I’m actually going to finish this thing. And then, those last 50 pages or so – when everything comes together, and I’m just working off the momentum of the previous pages – is what I really love. I just ride the energy that’s already been put into motion.
Be honest: how do you really feel about the first drafts of your novels?
It really depends: with Time of My Life, I actually came pretty close to getting it right from the onset, and I had a decent sense of that. But with The One That I Want, I knew that I wasn’t even close to being satisfied with what I was putting down – and I think after you’ve written a few manuscripts – you can gauge that.
I’m also the kind of writer who can take her manuscript to a certain level, and then I really want and need a second pair of eyes to point out what’s working and what’s not. So with The One, for example, I then passed it off to my editor knowing that this was the foundation of what the book would become but was in no way at the level that the final product would be.
What were the biggest mistakes you made as a new writer? Is there a piece of writing from your past you’d be ashamed to admit was your own?
Yes, my first manuscript that landed me representation (as noted above – the one with whom I parted ways) but never sold. OMG, in hindsight, it was AWFUL! Just awful. And to that end, I think my biggest mistake was believing that I was good when I had so far to go.
I think that a lot of writers fall into this trap: a completed manuscript does not mean that it’s a good manuscript. There is a constant learning curve in our industry, and I always tell aspiring writers to keep pushing themselves and to listen to constructive criticism from those who are wise about these sorts of things. I did, and I’m so grateful for both the critiques and that my ears were open to their advice.
You’ve said you treat writing as you would any other job, and that you have a fabulous babysitter. Do you have any advice for writer-moms who don’t have child care, or those who work outside the home?
Honestly, I think doing this full-time is or would be very difficult without finding a way to have quieter moments in your life. Maybe that means that you turn the TV off or log off of Facebook at night and give yourself 30 solitary minutes to write. Or you learn to ask your spouse or your parents or your neighbor or your local high school student to watch your child for an hour each weekend day.
I’m a big advocate of moms taking a little sliver of their lives for themselves, and if you don’t ask for something, no one is going to offer it. But if you take ownership over your aspiration – and then take direct action – those 30 minutes a night or few hours on the weekend can add up to 500 words a night, which can eventually be a finished manuscript.
Can you tell us about any other novels you have in the works right now?
I’m just wrapping up my draft of my 2011 book, The Memory of Us, which is about a woman who survives a plane crash but loses her memory in the process and has to piece her life back together with the stories told to her from folks around her. I’m really enjoying it and think it’s a nice companion piece to Time and The One. Sort of a middle ground, in terms of tone and feel.
So now, I’m always curious to hear from readers: If you were given the ability to see into the future, would you take it? (I wouldn’t!) Where would you envision yourself five years from now?