1) Welcome, Deborah! I've just finished reading your books, A Small Fortune and Carry Yourself Back to Me, both published in 2011. I'd read an earlier version of A Small Fortune, and I must say that the newer version is even better than the first. Wow! Your writing is exceptional, and I enjoyed reading both books very much. Your first novel, A Small Fortune, is suspense fiction, which I found thrilling, while your latest book is literary fiction, which held my rapt attention. Why did you decide to write books in two different genres?
DR: I've been writing literary fiction for years and never tried my hand at mystery or any other genre. But in 2009 the publishing industry was in complete flux with most of the houses imploding and it was so difficult to get published as a new writer, especially in fiction. After reading an article about genre books weathering the recession, I decided on a whim to try my hand. I'd enjoyed books by Kate Atkinson and Benjamin Black and Lisa Unger, to name a few, so I gave it a shot. The result was A Small Fortune, which came to me very quickly and is, coincidentally, about a book editor who has gone from editing literary novels before the recession, to having to edit romance novels, as this is the only work she can find. As for Carry Yourself Back to Me, this is a novel long in the making, and a large piece of my heart.
2) Why did you write your first book, A Small Fortune, under a pen name (or nom de plume--it sounds so elegant in French), Audrey Braun, instead of using Deborah Reed?
DR: Originally, I used a pen name in case the book was a flop. That way no one would know it was me. Silly, for so many reasons, I know, but thank goodness the sales are doing great. And now that I have two books out in two different genres the pen name helps to differentiate between the two. A reader knows what to expect when they see Audrey Braun has written the book, and the same goes for Deborah Reed, who writes (now I'm writing about myself in third person--this can get a little confusing) character driven stories in a more careful prose style with a bit of southern Gothic thrown in.
(Deborah, your fears were unfounded. You can't go wrong with passages like this one in A Small Fortune :
"I've been an ungrateful, neglectful wife to Jonathan. A resentful mother to Oliver. They'll never know how sorry I am, how much I wish I could make it up to them. I'll never be able to tell them how in that moment my love for them wrenches my insides more violently than the fear of what might happen next.")
3) Of course, I usually assume that female protagonists are at least partially based on the character of the writer who brought them to life. How is Celia Donnelly from A Small Fortune like you? How is Annie Walsh from Carry Yourself Back to Me like you? Both characters are real and likable and strong women, and I rooted for them throughout the books.
DR: Celia Donnelly from A Small Fortune is like me in the sense that we're both raising a teenage son (I already have a former teenager out the door) who can be a challenge at times, and who wears ear buds all the time and plays the drums. I know all too well the stresses she feels while juggling being a mother and a wife and a professional. But I'd like to think her lack of self-awareness is not something we share. I do like how she takes the reins in this story and kicks some butt. I could do that. I think I could. I've also spent time in Puerto Vallarta and Zurich, and of course, I live in Portland, not far from where Celia used to live in the story.
As for Annie Walsh in Carry Yourself Back to Me. Oh, Annie. I love her. She is in so many ways, the me who went in another direction. The one who followed her love of music and stayed in Florida after all. She is very much me from an emotional standpoint. Her sense of loss and melancholy, her take on nature and love and music. All of those things are a huge part of me. But I would also add that most of the characters in this novel are a part of me too. Flawed, fumbling, trying to do better, asking for forgiveness. That's me, but I guess it's all of us, too.
(I think you're right, Deborah. Like your protagonists, we fumble and we stumble, and we keep on trying.)
4) Which genre did you prefer writing, if either?
DR: Both are pleasurable in their own ways. Suspense is way more fun in the sense of entertaining myself. My imagination runs wild and I don't have to hold it back. It's great fun and the writing comes quickly. Literary fiction, however, is a lot harder to write. It's more time consuming, and painful, trying to get at the truth of something in a more meaningful way. It's more character (instead of plot) driven, and requires very close attention at the sentence level. But it is also more satisfying. The intent is that all the hard work should create something beautiful and meaningful and illuminate a truth or two. At least that is what I strive for.
(Your writing in Carry Yourself Back to Me is beautiful. Here's an example from early in the book:
"Cold fog quiets the birds and shifts like hot steam above Lake Winsor in the east. Minutes earlier hailstones sliced past Annie's bedroom window and skipped off the ground like pearls on concrete, escaping in all directions. The timer on the coffee pot had already gone off, and Annie dressed quickly in a fleece and jeans, her red rubber boots with the knobby black soles. She emerged onto the porch as if from a cave, coffee sloshing down her wrist, Detour stumbling at her heels the way old dogs do, scared old dogs, with no direction."Gorgeous prose. I'm compelled to accompany literary fiction with a generous helping of ambiance, a cup of tea or cinnamon-scented coffee, a lit candle, and a pet or two nearby for quiet company. And when I read literary fiction, it incites me to improve my own writing.)
5) I think what made both books work for me is your exquisite attention to detail, which brought the characters and situations to life, but never became tedious. How did you achieve this?
DR: One of my favorite aspects of writing is portraying a sense of place. I love to immerse myself in the detail of the scene. I travel a lot and have lived in many different places in the world, and the detail of place always inspires me--the sounds and smells and sights--I try to make a point of absorbing it all in real life for my own satisfaction, and then recreating these things in my writing for the reader's satisfaction. And since I don't get to travel as much as I'd like, spending time in other places inside my head can be the next best thing.
6) Do you have a writing schedule or certain portion of the day or night allotted for writing? Are you a disciplined writer? Please share a photo of your work space with us.
DR: I'm an extremely disciplined writer. Mornings are best for me. My mind feels ready to go from the moment I wake up. It's a deeply ingrained habit to sit down with a cup of coffee and go. My mind and body expect it and respond to it as a natural part of the day. In fact, when I don't write I get a little cranky, and the whole day feels thrown off.
Deborah's work space is clean and classic, with a mid-century design. According to the author, it's no coincidence that the Swiss bank lobby in A Small Fortune features some of her favorite furniture designs. The dog you can see a bit of here always seems to get into Deborah's photographs. His name is Lou. Lou Reed.
7) What advice do you have for aspiring writers, particularly women?
DR: I wish someone had told me long ago that it's alright to write horribly. That most of what initially comes out isn't very good. I would have stopped beating myself up sooner. My advice is, let it out and then shape it into the thing you want it to resemble more closely. Rewrites are key to getting the manuscript right. Also, perseverance. It takes a long time to learn this craft and even when you're halfway decent there's still more to learn. Be a student of writing, always, and read, read, read.
(As for the second part of the question, Deborah didn't address my query specifically about women writers. In her words, "I tried to, but it just kept getting longer and longer. I could write an entire essay on that one, which says to me that it's best for another interview on such a hot button topic that fills me with frustration. In other words, don't get me started...;)")
8) Is there a new book in the works, and if so, can you can tell us something about it?
DR: There are two new books in the works. My Audrey Braun novel is close to finished. It's about the same characters in A Small Fortune, several years later. This one takes place in the south of France--a place I just went to for the first time earlier this year. The story focuses on Benny, Benicio's nephew. The novel is due out next year, but we'll see. I need to hurry up with it! The other project is a literary novel by Deborah Reed, and, like Carry Yourself Back to Me, it takes place in Central Florida, where I used to live. It's the story of three generations of estranged women and how an incident decades earlier changed the lives of everyone in as many ways. Family secrets, a cantankerous grandmother, and two adorable little sisters figure prominently in this one.
I'd hoped there' d be a sequel to A Small Fortune! And more literary fiction sounds wonderful! Thanks very much for doing this interview with me, Deborah. I truly enjoyed our conversation, and think my readers will, too.
Exciting news! The author is very generously offering a giveaway for a signed copy of both books, A Small Fortune and Carry Yourself Back to Me, to one reader (U.S./Canada only).
- To enter this giveaway for both books, simply leave a comment.
- For another chance at winning, become a follower of this blog, or let me know that you're already a follower, or that you subscribe in Google Reader.
- For an additional chance, post about this contest on your blog, Facebook, or Twitter.
- For one more chance, answer this bonus question: what is your favorite genre (or genres), and why?
Enter by 5PM PDT on Monday, October 17. One lucky winner will be randomly chosen and announced on Tuesday, October 18.
Thanks for reading!
Special thanks to Deborah and Jessica for providing advance reader copies (ARCs) of these books. The passages quoted above may differ slightly in the final versions of these novels.