Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
First and foremost, I’m a wife and mom. My husband, Dave, and I have four adult daughters, two married, and three grandchildren, with on one the way.
Professionally, I lecture at Boston College, where I’ve taught creative and nonfiction writing for 15 years. I’ve also written copy for marketing, advertising and public relations, edited technical articles for trade journals, and edited a small trade magazine. In Leah’s Wake is my first novel. These days, other than teaching, or doing occasional marketing or editing work, I spend my time writing. I’m currently at work on a second novel.
I’m addicted to chocolate and shoes, and I have absolutely no sense of direction.
When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book?
I can’t imagine not writing. I’ve been a writer, in one form or another, my whole life. As a child, I entertained myself by making up stories and acting in my own improvisational plays. In high school, most of my hobbies and activities involved writing. One day, brazenly, I walked into the editor’s office at the town paper and asked for a job. For a while, I covered sports and general high school news. Eventually, the editor gave me my own column. I was sixteen. That column was my first paid writing job. I earned about a dollar a week – and I knew then that writing was the only job I’d ever want.
I can’t say I’ve always been driven to write novels. I was happy writing news articles and features. Unlike some writers, I actually enjoy writing marketing copy. My bio says, in an alternate life I might have been an international food writer – and that’s very true too.
In grad school, I focused on short stories. My second year, I took a novel writing course and developed some of the ideas that came together in my first novel, In Leah’s Wake. A year later, I finished the first draft as my master’s thesis, and spent the next five years revising.
How did you choose the genre you write in?
Families fascinate me. While my stories differ—I’m currently working on a psychological thriller with a historical twist—they always tie back to the family, the ways we love, yet often hurt one another, the grief, the sorrow, the revelation, the joy. I think people connect with these stories. I’ve heard from so many readers – family, friends, reviewers, readers I’ve never met. They tell me In Leah’s Wake feels real, the problems complex. They’ve been there – as a parent or a teen. They feel like they know these characters, and they care about them. This connection, for me, is the most important reason for writing.
Do you ever experience writer’s block? Do you work with an outline, or just write?Yes, occasionally. I’m only ever truly blocked—I can’t string words together at all—when I’m anxious, if I’m worried about someone I care about. When I first sit, I sometimes feel blocked, the nasty editors on my shoulders heckling: You think you’re a writer? Seriously? Nine times out of ten, I dig in; the writing may be choppy at first, but eventually I regain fluidity. When the demons get too loud to ignore, I read. Reading, like meditation or yoga, sends me to my happy place. In my experience, years working with professional and emerging writers, a block is almost always caused by self-doubt. The trick is to find a way to settle your mind, calm yourself, get those nasty editors off your shoulders. For me, reading provides an escape. For others, walking, meditating, listening to music can help.
Writing the first draft of In Leah’s Wake, I had no idea where I was going – in writing programs, organic writing is often encouraged. In the revision process, I looked for and developed themes. In Leah’s Wake is character driven, so outlining would have produced in a different book. I think it’s helpful to know who you are and what your goals are. For literary fiction, the goal is to develop and understand character. I hope I’ve done that. The goal of genre fiction is to entertain. I’m not saying you can’t break rules – plot lit fiction or write character-driven genre novels. But there are conventions. If you break the rules, you may lose readers. We as writers need to understand that – break the rules, but prepare for the consequences.
My novel-in-progress, Nowhere to Run, is a psychological thriller, so I’m approaching that differently. I’ve mapped out a partial outline, which I’m using as a marker, and writing organically. While I certainly recognize the benefits of outlining or plotting, I feel that sticking to either too firmly limits the writer. Allowing yourself some freedom opens you to new ideas and possibilities. Of course, It also makes the writing a more difficult and messier process.
Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
In 2006, the book was under contract with an indie publisher. Shortly before the release, serious problems arose. Soon after (unrelated to me), the company folded. I sent the book to a handful of agents, received lovely, complimentary responses, but no offers. I really believed in this book. I’d received so much encouragement over the years, from agents, editors, readers, writer friends—I’m grateful, truly grateful to all of them—that I had a hard time letting go. For years, I tried to revise. Eventually, I realized I was writing in circles. The book had changed, but it had gotten no better. Reluctantly, I put it away.
Last year, after several false starts, I finally gained traction on a new novel, my psychological thriller, Nowhere to Run. Like In Leah’s Wake, Nowhere is a family story at heart. I anticipate finishing the new novel this fall. I knew I’d need a platform for this new book, and hoped that self-publishing In Leah’s Wake would help me build one.
A lot of people self-publish today; for me, the indie route was a new, and scary, avenue. It’s been bumpy ride – and the best thing I’ve ever done for myself.
If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you would change?
I’d market aggressively from the start, before the book came out.
In 2009, 288,355 books were traditionally published, 764,448 indie or self-published. This was before the e-book explosion, so I can only imagine the numbers now. For your book to stand out, you have to make noise. While this is changing, it’s hard for indie publishers to garner reviews. My traditionally published friends were interviewed on radio and TV, and reviewed in large commercial publications like USA Today and People. A radio spot or review in a large circulation paper or magazine generates interest and gets people talking. Few indie publishers land those major spots or reviews. The reality is, we can promote our work or watch it languish. By the time I finally started to promote the book, it had been out for close to six months. This gives the impression that the book is a loser, when I never really gave it a shot.
How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre?
As I’ve hinted in the previous question, I’m a case study in what not to do. Until this March, I had my website and I’d placed two ads; otherwise, I relied entirely on word of mouth. This is embarrassing, because it’s so silly—I was too self-conscious to promote. I placed ads, with links to my website, and my husband, Dave, sent books to a few people. In December, my daughter Natalie, bless her heart, put a link to my site in her email signature. Gradually, friends and family heard I’d published a book. My sister Audrey posted a link on her Facebook page. My cousin Amy did the same. Two amazing women—I am hugely indebted to both! My parents (I hadn’t even told them) spread the word to extended family, friends.
In March, I activated the Twitter account I’d registered in 2009. On Twitter, I met Emlyn Chand, president of Novel Publicity. Impressed with Emlyn’s blog, I contacted her for help with social networking and social media marketing. Emyln is so creative and smart, incredibly knowledgeable in all aspects of social marketing, and her enthusiasm is positively contagious! I also have a wonderful traditional book publicist, Stacey Miller, who’s working the traditional avenues – sending press releases to news papers, pitching radio shows and so on. Putting he pieces in place takes time, so it’s only now that the book is being actively marketed.
Honestly, maybe because I’m an indie author, by far my best PR has come from bloggers. I’m currently on a blog tour with Novel Publicity. Bloggers like you, Jen, who open your blogs, give me space, allow me to talk about my book, share my thoughts – are invaluable. I’m awed and amazed by your generosity. I can’t even begin to tell you how truly grateful I am.
Can you tell us about your book?
In Leah’s Wake tells the story of a family in collapse. Sixteen-year-old Leah, a star soccer player, has led a perfect life. When she meets a sexy older guy, attracted to his independence, she begins to spread her wings. Drinking, ignoring curfew, dabbling in drugs—this feels like freedom to her; her terrified parents, thinking they’re losing their daughter, pull the reigns tighter. Unfortunately, they get it all wrong, pushing when they ought to be pulling, and communication breaks down. Soon, there’s no turning back. Twelve-year-old Justine caught between the parents she loves, and the big sister she adores, finds herself in the fight of her life, trying desperately to pull her family together.
If there was one lesson you wanted someone to take away from In Leah’s Wake, what would it be?
The epigraph, from The Grand Inquisitor, says it best:“everyone is really responsible to all men for all men and for everything.”The Tyler family is far from perfect, but they love one another, deeply. Our flaws make us human and that humanity connects us. While I hope readers enjoy In Leah’s Wake, and read the story for pleasure, it’s important to me to share this sense of connection—and hope.
Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?
Years ago, I wrote a series of feature articles about families living with drug and alcohol-addicted teens. The moms talked candidly about their children. Their heartbreaking stories stayed with me.
My husband, Dave, and I have four daughters, all now adults. When I began writing In Leah’s Wake, our children were adolescents. Most families struggle in some way during their children’s teenage years. We’re no different – though, thank goodness, we experienced nothing remotely like the problems and challenges the Tylers face. As a parent, I knew how it feels to be scared, concerned for your children’s future. All of this came together and became the driving force behind this story.
That’s where real life ends. Readers have said, and reviewers have noted, that the book feels real and complex. People say they understand this family because they’ve been here – as a parent or a teen. They feel like they know the characters, and they care about them. This is a wonderful compliment, and I’m thrilled – but because the characters seem real, people assume they are real.
Dorothy, the designer and creator of the bracelets Zoe buys for herself and Leah, and Bob Sullivan, owner of Sullivan Farms Ice Cream, are people I actually know – and I’ve tried my best to capture their spirit.No major character is real. Like all fiction writers, I borrow habits and physical characteristics from real people – for the runaway arm, I owe my youngest daughter, KK; and my husband is a physical stand-in for Will. People who know us notice similarities, and this also sometimes results in unfortunate or embarrassing assumptions. I’m lucky – I have a good-natured family who puts up with my thievery, and – I’m grinning – claims not to mind.
What project are you working on now? Will you have a new book coming out soon?
I’m currently working on a contemporary psychological thriller with a historical twist.
Nowhere to Run takes place in the White Mountains in northern New Hampshire. A year after the brutal murder of her six-year-old daughter, Abby Minot, formerly an award-winning writer, accepts her first assignment—a profile of the philanthropic Chase family, kin of the popular New Hampshire senator and presidential hopeful, Matthias Chase.
In her initial research, Abby glimpses darkness under the Chase family’s shiny veneer. Digging deeper, she uncovers a shocking web of lies and betrayal, dating back to the nineteenth century. Abby soon finds herself trapped—between an editor obsessed with uncovering the truth and the town and family who will stop at nothing to ensure it stays hidden.
I hope to complete the novel this fall.
What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
I’ve been fortunate. Gosh, should I say this? I have yet to be bashed. Taste is largely individual, so I don’t expect everyone to love the book. In Leah’s Wake is fast-paced for literary fiction, but it’s not a plot-driven book and doesn’t move at break-neck speed.
I’ve had wonderful reviews; the most moving was the blogger who said this: “Speaking to women who have read the book I have seen a lot of emotional and personal connection. It gave me a lot to think of both in my marriage and with raising my kids. Did you ever think that the book would make such an impact?”
Every writer hopes to connect with readers. I hoped people would recognize themselves or their friends, and that this might encourage a closer sense of community. I really believe, as Dostoevsky says, that we’re all responsible to one another. But I wasn’t at all sure how readers would feel or react. These words, hearing that my book had an impact, moved me deeply.
Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?
Believe in yourself. I know wonderful writers whose first, second or third books, really good, strong books, were rejected. To deal with the rejection, boot your computer, day after day, when it seems as if no one cares, the stars misaligned – to self-publish in a world that still privileges the traditionally published – you have to believe in yourself.
Writing is a lonely profession. Most of the time, we’re alone with our work. The loneliness can wear on you, and cause you to question yourself. A few supportive writer friends can help and encourage you.
Hold onto your dreams. You can make them happen. Don’t ever give up!
Where can readers get a copy of your novel?
In Leah’s Wake is available as an e-book or paperback through all the major online bookstores – Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, and others. If you’d prefer to support your local bookstore or borrow the book from your library, please ask the person in charge to order a copy. Early this summer – I’m excited about this – In Leah’s Wake will be available as an audio book.
Is there anything that you would like to say to your readers and fans?
Thank you! Time is precious and you have millions of rich, entertaining, beautiful books to choose from. Thank you for reading mine. I hope you enjoy the book. I’d love to hear from you!
Chocolate or Vanilla?
Chocolate, hands down
The light side or the dark side?
I live on the light side; to entertain me, take me to the dark side
If you were a superhero (or villain!) what would your power be? Would you wear a cape?
Well, I’ve always wanted to fly – maybe a flying police woman. In my book, In Leah’s Wake, the only non-family member with a voice is Jerry Johnson, the policeman. I see him as the connecting force in the novel and for this family. Though flawed, like all of us, he takes his responsibility for others to heart. I very much see police this way – as the connecting force in communities. To me, they’re heroes.
Do you have deep dark secret? How about a shallow grey one?
Hmmm, not that I can admit on the Internet (she says, laughing). Shallow grey – I’m a shoe whore. If you gave me $ 50 and forced me to choose dinner or shoes, I’d go with the shoes.
What sort of coffee would you order? Simple coffee, complicated soy-non-fat-extra-espresso-half-caff-nightmare?
Triple skim milk latte with an extra shot of espresso. I like my hair to stand up.
Drink of choice?
Champagne or white wine
If you could live off of chocolate would you? What kind?
Heck, yes. Dark chocolate with caramel and nuts.
If you could visit any world ever written about, where would you go?
Someplace magical – Narnia, maybe.
Jen, thank you so much for giving me this time and space to share my work and connect with you and your readers. It’s an honor – and a privilege – to be here!
Terri Giuliano Long grew up in the company of stories both of her own making and as written by others. Books offer her a zest for life’s highs and comfort in its lows better than anything else can. She’s all-too-happy to share this love with others as a novelist and as a writing instructor at Boston College. She blogs about writing and the writing life at www.tglong.com/blog Or connect on Twitter: @tglong
IN LEAH’S WAKE
Terri Giuliano Long
Format: Paperback, Kindle
Website: http://www.tglong.com In Leah’s Wake