Monday, February 14, 2011

(Not) Live From Vermont!

As promised, this blog is on fire with postings now! So here is my exclusive, one-of-a-kind, only on this blog interview with Sara J. Henry! (And that's us at last year's LA Times Festival of Books). And you, yes YOU, have a chance to win an autographed copy of her book, Learning to Swim, see details below!

My interview with Sara:

Teresa: Sara, you've read the blog enough to know this was readers, soon to be your readers, will definitely need to know what wine to be sipping when they curl up with your book. And then, what wine should they drink as the book concludes?

Sara: I’m going to let our mutual friend, writer Reed Farrel Coleman, answer this question, as my method of choosing wines (it does have to be red wine) is usually Oh, that’s a pretty label or Oh, there’s a bicycle [or dog] [or kangaroo] on the label.
Reed says: “To sip as you settle down to read Learning to Swim, I would suggest the 2008 The Boxer, an amazing Mollydooker (yes, spelled that way) Shiraz. To celebrate a great reading experience at the completion of the book, I would suggest one of the finest values in sparkling wines, a bottle of Gruet from New Mexico.”

T:  In your other interviews you mentioned this manuscript sat lonely in the bottom of a drawer before you dusted it off and the good folks at Squaw Valley convinced you it needed to see the light of day. For those of us with dusty, lonely manuscripts ourselves and for whom the squaws of Squaw may not yet be calling, what advice do you have? (At least this isn't one of those wide open-ended questions!)

S:  Hmmmm. I’d say, apply to Squaw Valley Writers Conference, seriously. It’s a fantastic place, you get admitted (or refused) on the basis of the first 5,000 words of your manuscript, and it’s open now for applications. It’s fairly reasonably priced, as far as week-long conferences go, and they offer scholarships and cheap housing.
Failing that, I’d say join a writing group, virtual or real-life. (I also belong to Backspace, a $40-a-year forum with lots of published author who will critique pages and query letters.)
But what you really have to do is decide if you can let the manuscript go. If you aren’t passionate about at least parts of it, it may need to be abandoned. The fact was I loved my characters and my setting and the core theme of my book, and I had pretty much the same opening chapter you see now. But the middle of the book was pretty bad, with a meandering plot, cardboard characters and absent ones, and a languid pace (not a good idea for a book that turned out to be a thriller). I knew it was bad (the folks at Squaw never got to see the middle) but didn’t know how to rewrite. For this I literally blockaded myself, a trifle more severely than I first intended: I broke my fifth right metatarsal, had it pinned back together, got on a plane a few weeks later for a five-week house-swap near Sydney, Australia, at the beginning of their winter. And there, doggedly and painfully, I learned to rewrite.
Reread, revise, rewrite. And repeat several times. And read it aloud, too. It's very very hard work, if you want a good book at the end of it. Worth every minute.

PS The drawer is metaphorical - it was on a computer disk. Yes, back in the olden days when we used disks.

T:  Writers, particularly published writers, often say the key to writing success is keeping your butt in the chair. My (totally imaginary) personal trainer says I need to get my butt out of my chair. My butt, and my brain, find this confusing. Please advise: Who's right?

S: They both are. Seriously. I get my best ideas and work out all sorts of scenes while walking, riding my bicycle, or – try not to laugh – painting walls. I love painting walls (what I hate is the tedious prep work, because I’m a perfectionist). The rhythm of moving the roller or paint brush lets my brain run, and I find it oddly relaxing. And if you aren’t living life, you have nothing to write about, and you’ll lose the spirit that makes you want to write.
But you also have to write – and realize there are times it is not fun – and make yourself do it.

T:  There is, as there must be, a dog in your novel. How important is the dog and why isn't it a beagle?

S: It’s not a beagle because it is modeled after the best dog in the world, my now-deceased German Shepherd-golden retriever mix named Tiger. I still remember the ad I answered to find her: Mother pure-bred golden retriever – father traveling man. Six of the pups clearly had a German shepherd father, four had a black lab father. Oops! But now Tiger will live on forever, in this novel and the sequels.
She’s important because she is the boon companion of our heroine, Troy Chance – providing comfort and love, as dogs do.

T:  What was the best and the worst day you had in this books' journey to publication (we'll accept answers anywhere from the imagining of the story to the moment you type your answer)?

S:  I can’t boil it down to one day, but I can to one feeling: that horrid sick feeling of knowing I’d written a novel that wasn’t salable and lacking the gumption or confidence to actually do something about it – and sometimes taking it out and glumly looking at it and and having NO idea how to rewrite. Or looking at book reviews and knowing that I should have my book done and out there, and I didn’t. Turning point: when a friend's 24-year-old son got a lovely novel published. At 24! Nothing to get you going like that.
The best was probably the day my to-be agent, Barney, called me. I was traveling and had just plugged in my Ooma phone device to a phone without caller ID, so I had no idea who it was when I answered, so I was quite relaxed. And it was one of the best agents in the business – who of course I had never really expected to hear from – who had read my query and opening pages and wanted me to email my manuscript so he could read it that holiday weekend. It was completely unexpected and unexpectedly perfect, and a moment where my life changed forever. (And he called me back the following Sunday to tell me he liked it and to offer to represent me.)

T:  Will we be seeing you at the LA Times Festival of Books this year and if so, how do you feel about its controversial move from UCLA to USC? Is this important to folks outside California??? Where else can your fans flock to see you live?

S:I’m sad to see it move because we had such a great time there last year, I’d learned my way around, found several fun restaurants and built some nice memories, and it was within walking distance of a nice and reasonably priced hotel! Even with just one visit, it felt like home. Plus there was The Mystery Bookstore there, now sadly closed. (Note to readers: independent bookstores are closing at an alarming rate - go now to your favorite one and buy something!)

I’d love to come to the LATFOB this year but I think with other book events that I won’t be able to make it. But I have a bunch of events planned and more to come – I'll launch Feb. 23 in NYC and will return to Squaw Valley for a panel and reading Aug. 9!

T:  And finally, who do you feel is the next up and coming "dog and I both had cancer" memoir-ist? And how excited are you to see his/ her manuscript published?

S: Ah, Teresa, you know it’s you! I found you through your cancer blog (because I was looking for someone who might be going to a specific writing event) so was reading your blog while you went through much of this – and met you when you still had your post-cancer rather short haircut! And I will be stupidly excited to see your book published! And will be cheering madly from the sidelines.

Phew. I'm glad she got that last one right. And Reed did an excellent job on the wine selection as well--the New Mexico Gruet sparkling wine is incredible! (Chris uses it in one of his Forgotten Grapes's that for unprompted coincidence?)

And now it's your turn. Run out (or online, if you are a "butt in the chair" kind of person) and buy her book! It's a great read. Like Sara says, support an Indie and order the book from an independent this one:  Powell's or this one Vromans or heck, just find one near you by using this link to Indie Bound. Just buy the book, people.

Oh, and Sara reads the blog. So feel free to leave her questions, comments or rave reviews below in the comment section. In commenter will be randomly selected by Seamus, to receive an autographed copy of Sara's book! Just leave a comment before February 22nd and you are in the running! (Sorry, US residents only...the shipping gets a little crazy otherwise!) Seamus claims he cannot be bribed, but he will accept offerings of steak. Also, toast.

Happy reading!


  1. Thanks, Teresa! Oh, and if the person Seamus chooses would rather have a Kindle or Nook version, we can do that. But I just can't sign it.


    Teresa, your questions crack me up. I'm in love with your humor and the way you always bring that across no matter what you're writing. I'm a journalist, and last year in college I was asked to interview a 2008 Pulitzer Prize winner on campus (and I totaaally felt like Barbara Walters and loved every minute). He commented that out of all his interviews, he felt that my questions were the most fun and unique. I was honored! Such a special day :-) Yet still when I read the things you say, I think, "Daaarn it! Why didn't I think of that?!" You are so witty and downright talented. I will be purchasing your big seller in time, can't wait!

    And to Sara: Congrats on all your success! I have a question for you- when you started your book, did you already have a clear idea of where it would go and how it would end? You said you changed the middle section, but did the story end the way you imagined it would?

  3. Sami, I'm not sure at what point I realized how the story was ending, but it was fairly early on - in a way that's why the original middle was such a muddle - I was impatient to get to the end! I seem to have a pretty clear vision of how books start and end, at least with this one as well as the one I'm finishing now. It's the rest of it that takes a lot of work!

  4. This is a wonderful interview and a wonderful blog! Thanks to Sara for sending me over.

    Teresa, I will be back :D Your questions and humor are marvelous, entertaining and enlightening. I would never have thought to pair wine with books. I'll be considering what I wish to have enjoyed with MY books :)

    Sara, I LOVE what you said here: "And if you aren’t living life, you have nothing to write about, and you’ll lose the spirit that makes you want to write". Too many times we hole ourselves away with hopes of a magic idea to settle. This happens sometimes, but more often than not, those magical ideas hit is when we're out in the world, living life. That way, they can sneak up on us and catch us totally unawares :D


  5. Cant wait to read this book. Following the learning to swim giveaways has brought me to some very interesting places now. And i love q&a's so I'll be back to this one

  6. Teresa, what, are your fans bashful?!? We are offering a lovely hardback, autographed book, suitable for a wide range of readers! (Perhaps they all just want to BUY it!)

  7. @Sara--are you trash talking my readers??? Maybe they're just illiterate...,oh...wait.... ;-) I'm pretty sure my people are all hungover from Valentine's day. They'll get around to commenting, I have faith! And if not, Sami, Leah and Jen each have a 1 in 3 chance of winning said lovely book!

  8. And for those of you who actually want to know what the book is about (huh. So my telling you it's great isn't just enough???), there's this summary/review over at Women of Mystery: where, lo and behold, there is another giveaway you can enter!

  9. Yeah, but their giveaway is for a used advance copy (paperback) and yours is for a signed, personalized hardcover! :-)

  10. Still cracking up after this slightly-less-serious interview with Sara. :) Thanks for finding her over on What Women Write, too, Teresa! (And please don't include me in the contest -- I already have a well read copy!)


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