Hope your week has been lovely! I’ve thought it was one day later each day, aka Monday felt like Tuesday, etc. I feel like the universe is repeatedly telling me to get some work done! I have been reading like a fiend lately–I’ve torn through five books this week already. No one can stop my awesome and terrible reading power–mua hah haaaaah. What have y’all been reading this summer?
Now for the good stuff–my interview with Jessica! We had a great talk about writing, her novel, the publishing process, and her advice for novices (like me). It was really stimulating and I hope you enjoy it! (Also, you can read the page-turner for yourself here: http://www.amazon.com/Driving-Backwards-Jessica-Lander-ebook/dp/B00KJLJYA2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1406826357&sr=8-1&keywords=driving+backwards
LD: So, in your lovely book, “Driving Backwards”, you meticulously and lovingly chronicle the goings-on of Gilmanton, NH, a town where you’ve spent many years. How did you decide to take this project on?
JL: Almost twenty years ago, when I was seven, my family bought a house in the village of Gilmanton Iron Works. I spent my childhood summers growing up in the town, but it was only after I went away to college and returned that I began to look at the town from the perspective of a writer.
LD: How much time did you spend doing research?
JL: I wrote and researched Driving Backwards over the course of five years. Some of that time I was still in college and I would put the book away for nine months when I went off to school, picking it up again come summer.
LD: So, it’s been a long time coming, then. I really enjoyed the charming illustrations scattered throughout. Did you do those?
JL: I did. My mom is a practicing artist and there has always been art in my house. I began having my own public art shows when I was in high school – using the medium of artist books. More recently my creative energies have been consumed by writing. In Driving Backwards I didn’t want to use photographs, but it seemed fitting to capture moments and places in the town through ink and paper.
LD: I agree. What struck me as I read the book was how it is extremely specific to one place (Gilmanton), but at the same time, it could be any American small town. It reminds me of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town”—how the experiences of one town shows us something universal about human life. Were you conscious of that as you were working on the book?
JL: Indeed, I really do feel that Gilmanton is every-town. Sure the stories and vibrant lives that are captured in the book are specific to this one town in central New Hampshire, but you can find the same kinds of stories in any small town – if you slow down enough to look and to listen and sometimes ask. I have found this to be true as I have given readings up and down the East Coast. People will come up to me and say “this reminds me of my hometown in Arkansas” or Minnesota or California. I’ve been delighted at just how much people from across America have connected with the underlying threads of the story of this town. But perhaps it is because Gilmanton holds this dual role – at once being briefly the most famous town in America and at once just a small town – like any other.
LD: One of my favorite stories was about the woman who made the goat cheese. As a city girl myself, when I think about farmers, I think of the Old McDonald burly male types. I also didn’t realize that there was much farming going on outside the South. Can you tell me more about that?
JL: Farming in New Hampshire, and I would guess in most places, is a mix of perseverance and creativity. Valerie is a great example. She started farming back when there were few women farmers in New Hampshire and people were telling her it couldn’t be done. But that kind of talk was exactly what spurred Valerie (who in addition was homeschooling 10 children) to try harder. When she first got goats she had no intention of making artisanal goat cheese, but she found herself with excess goat milk and started experimenting. And so she taught herself how to make cheese and now her cheeses are sought after in restaurants and farmers markets throughout New England.
LD: Learn something new every day! So, publishing a book about your hometown must have been nerve-wracking, particularly knowing how people turned on the other famous author from Gilmanton (Grace Metalious, author of the 1950s scandalous novel Peyton Place). Was there anything in particular you were concerned about people reading?
JL: Absolutely! Of course Grace Metalious wrote a book that mixed stories, gossip and fiction, yet readers took most of the writing to be true, particularly the most salacious stories. They came to town and accosted residents for the truth – which did not endear the world to Gilmanton. In writing Driving Backwards there was no one part that I was concerned about people reading. Truly the book is a love story to the town. But naturally as a writer, a journalist, and an inherent worrier, I fretted about the reception of the book. One of the most exciting aspects since the book was published has been hearing all of the great responses from people in Gilmanton.
LD: Whew! So, this is both a book reading blog and a book writing blog, as you know. Can you tell us a little bit about the publishing journey you took with Driving Backwards?
JL: As most authors know, the process of publishing is long and littered with rejections. Over the course of two years I pitched the book to 31 publishers and agents. And I got 31 rejections. Some presses would not even respond, leaving one to wonder whether the manuscript was simply free-floating in cyber space. But I had help from many friends and fellow writers who made connections and offered suggestions. In the end, the rejections forced me to return again and again to the text to rework it – getting the book to what you can read today. Then, just before I was about to put the book away in a drawer, I sent it out to a few more presses, and two publishers wrote to me – within a week of one another – wanting to publish Driving Backwards.
LD: Now that you’re a published author (YAY!!!), is there anything you wish you would have known starting out?
JL: I write for a number of magazines and blogs, but those pieces are between 300-3000 words. Shaping a book of 200 pages is a completely different beast. Over the course of five years I have learned a lot about how you construct and sustain the structure of a book length piece of work. And of course I have come to realize I have much more to learn, which is why I’m particularly excited to start my next book project.
LD: What’s the best piece of advice you got? Worst piece?
JL: Best Piece of Advice: Write what you know
Worst Piece of Advice: A rejection letter saying they thought the book was too parochial – people wouldn’t be interested in small town NH. From readers saying the exact opposite, and indeed drawing connections to their own towns across the country, I’m very glad I ignored the comment, kept writing and kept sending the book to publishers.
LD: What’s the one thing you want aspiring authors to know?
JL: Don’t be afraid to edit. From the intimate position of a writer looking at her work, it can be difficult at times to examine sentences critically, indeed to examine whole chapters critically. But editing is where a piece of writing or a book really takes shape – often in unexpected directions. Chop down sentences, chop up chapters and move them around. Read voraciously. And don’t let rejections stop you from writing.
LD: Thank you so much, Jess! It’s been an honor to have you on the blog.
So there you have it!! Get your copies of Driving Backwards and enjoy! I hope you all have a wonderful weekend, and see you next week! Hopefully I will have heard from Nonbinary Review about the Frankenstein piece I submitted (and desperately, DESPERATELY want them to publish), and I may have met a Very Famous Person and I will spill all!!