I am so pleased to share an interview with Harlequin MIRA author and SCWW member Barbara Claypole White. Barbara sweetly ignored the clumsiness of my first interview performed for this blog, and provided such great insight into her writing, and the craft in general. I hope you enjoy reading her responses as much as I did. Be sure to read through to the end, because Barbara has included a special opportunity to readers of this post!
Thanks so much for taking the time to appear on our blog today, Barbara. Could you start out by telling us a little about yourself?
I’m a Brit who has found her home in the forests of Orange County, North Carolina. When I was a child, I wanted to be the next Beatrix Potter, but I was never actively encouraged to pursue creative writing. Writing has always been a force in my life, whether I was penning poems in elementary school, entering writing competitions as a teenager, or working in promotions and journalism, but I didn’t realize my dream of becoming a published author until I turned fifty. I’m also a woodland gardener, the wife of a famous academic, and the mother of a brilliant young poet and musician who battles OCD. My son is my inspiration and the reason I write stories that find hope in the darkness of invisible disabilities such as obsessive-compulsive disorder or clinical depression.
Congratulations on your new release! What is the inspiration behind the plot of THE IN-BETWEEN HOUR?
There are echoes of my life in everything I write. The premise of my new novel—what could be worse than losing your child? Having to pretend he’s still alive—grew out of a dark what-if moment with my family. We were dealing with an aging relative who was suffering short-term memory loss, which mixed increasingly with anger. He telephoned constantly to yell and curse about his retirement community, and we were stuck in this horrible memory loop with him. The calls got more and more frequent and after one particularly traumatic evening, I decided life couldn’t get any worse. And then, because I have a twisted imagination, I decided it could. I thought, “What if something happened to our son and this relative forgot and we had to keep reminding him?” That seed grew into THE IN-BETWEEN HOUR.
Do your story ideas unfurl slowly in your mind, or do they tend to hit like a bolt from the blue?
I’m an intuitive, organic writer who really, really wishes she could be a plotter. A thought, nothing as formed as an idea, kicks me in the gut and I start researching. Then I follow threads that appeal to me and enter into a mess of research, crappy drafts, and endless re-writes that somehow become a novel. I do, eventually, pull back and force myself to create an outline, but I need the freedom of a raw, un-plotted first draft to get started.
How do you balance your personal life with the challenges of promoting already released works, and, on top of that, find time to actually write?
Badly. My poor garden is so neglected….
I’m never on top of anything and that’s WITH a supportive family including a husband who cooks. I’m an early-morning, write-every-day writer, which means I work in my pj’s until I’ve consumed my daily caffeine intake and achieved what I need to achieve on my work-in-progress. Then I switch to the business of being an author—because it is a business—and anything else that needs to be done on the home front (such as grocery shopping or scrubbing toilets). If I’m not writing by 6:30 a.m., the day’s already off the tracks. The secret for me is to have an overall plan—with self-imposed deadlines—but always work to a daily goal. Think small, people. It’s a lifesaver.
What has worked for you in terms of promotion?
Networking, engaging with readers, and reaching out to the local press. Most authors do 90% of their own promotion, even if they’re with a big publisher. Again, the trick is to think small; build the wall brick by brick. Will you be reviewed in the New York Times? Unlikely. But local media love local success stories. And one good interview can lead to other opportunities.
What do you find are the benefits of social media? What are the pitfalls for authors?
Social media is the easiest way to network and share news, so we have to use it. I concentrate on the two vehicles that work for me and ignore everything else. My attitude is do what you do well and don’t spread yourself too thin.
Twitter is a great way to broadcast upcoming events and support other writers. (I’m always being asked to share blog posts, launch dates etc., and I use Twitter for that.) Facebook feels more personal and can be a huge time suck. I try and limit Facebook interaction to once in the morning and once in the evening. If I ignore Facebook for too long, it gets ugly. The trick is finding the balance between promoting your work and engaging with others. I’m pretty open about personal stuff, because that’s my style, but if you’re not comfortable revealing private details, don’t. In my experience, social media works best when you’re being yourself.
The greatest pitfall is using social media for straight promotion and nothing else. Don’t bash friends and readers 24/7 with “buy my book.” I got a wee bit excited about being a Winter 2014 Okra Pick and blasted that news from the social media rooftops. To compensate in the days that followed, I deliberately scaled back on sharing reviews from my blog tour for THE IN-BETWEEN HOUR. I didn’t want to people to roll their eyes and say, “Is she still talking about that damn book?”
You’ve made reference in the past to that first unpublished manuscript that is tucked away in a drawer somewhere. Do you ever the get urge to revisit that novel now that the two of you have spent some time apart?
No, and thank God. Let it hang out with the dust bunnies.
Your website proclaims your work is “love stories about damaged people.” Why do you think readers are drawn to stories with the themes you’ve explored?
The invisible disabilities I write about are isolating and bring stigma. I try to show that while such issues can be crippling, they’re easier to manage with help. I love the themes that people who need each other, find each other, and that you discover hope in unexpected places. Families struggling with mental illness need stories of hope, which is why both of my novels are about healing.
James, the OCD romantic hero of THE UNFINISHED GARDEN, came from my darkest fear as a mother—that when my young son grew up, no one would see beyond his quirky behavior and debilitating anxiety to love him for the incredible person he is. Of course, time proved me wrong, and my son has largely overcome his OCD. But when he was younger and learning how to manage a life of obsessive thought and fear, I needed to believe that he could have a happy ending; that he wouldn’t end up alone. I think that message—you’re not suffering alone—has universal appeal. Often when I visit a book club the discussion verges on therapy and people say, “I’ve never told anyone this before, but…”
Every writer eventually is met with rejection, whether it be from agents and publishers or rogue readers with Amazon or Goodreads accounts. How do you handle it when you’re faced with it?
Rejection is part of the game, and you have to find a way to dull the pain. Drinking gin with girlfriends or watching a movie with my husband are my cures. Also, I remind myself that reading is subjective. Even though I write about hope, I tackle dark issues. That’s not everyone’s cup of tea. The hardest part is walking away with a smile, because you cannot engage negative reviewers. Hopefully, you perfected that smile while querying agents, which I always likened to being kicked to the ground then leaping up with a big, fat grin and saying, “Can I have some more please?” Another tip I’ve learned from other writers—a review that trashes your book, or takes a nasty personal tone, says more about the reviewer than about your book baby. And some bad reviews are just funny. Laugh when you can (and share with other writers who will have their own rejection horror stories). J
Many writers feel that their characters take on a life of their own at some point in the manuscript, surprising them with twists they hadn’t counted on as they began writing. Do you feel like you’re simply recording what the characters dictate, or do you keep a firm grip on the character development reins?
I rewrite endlessly until I find my characters’ voices. Once I have the voices, I know exactly what they’re going to do, but I also use stream of consciousness writing that often reveals surprising moments. My new hero just threw an heirloom glass pitcher onto his kitchen floor. I didn’t see it coming, but the action made perfect sense for the character.
How do you celebrate when you finally send off that completed, fully-edited manuscript to your editor?
Clean my office and spend time with my neglected family. And sneak in a few lunches with girlfriends. J
On your website, you encourage aspiring authors to find a writing support group. What’s your tribe like, and how do they help you through the ups and downs of life as a published author?
I have several tribes, ranging from other women’s fiction authors I’ve met on-line to local writers I’ve met through various groups including SCWW. My real comrades-in-arms, the people I turn to every day, hang out on a closed Facebook page called Book Pregnant. We started as a group of thirty debut authors, and because we’ve shared similar journeys for the last two years, we’re pretty tight. I haven’t met most of these people in the flesh, but they feel like family. We vent, commiserate, and seek advice in a confidential setting. We also blast each other’s successes to the world. It’s wonderful to say, “If you have a second, can you share this,” and then, as if by magic, it’s all over Twitter. Writers need other writers. The end.
As an active member of SCWW, what draws you to the organization, and how does it (and writing organizations in general) contribute to your growth as a writer?
Everything started to make sense for me when I went to my first SCWW conference. I began to see—first-hand—how the industry worked, and I loved the slush fests and the pitch sessions and the socializing. The last time I went, I wanted to attend craft sessions. Stephen Barr’s workshop on setting as character was fantastic. I still have a note from that class stuck on my office wall. It reads, “Settings tattoo the character.” That workshop sparked my imagination on the long drive home from Myrtle Beach to Orange County and had a huge impact on my work-in-progress, THE IN-BETWEEN HOUR. (Each of my characters has a specific relationship to the Orange County forest.)
Who are some of your favorite authors?
I tend to have favorite books, not favorite authors, but I buy every Jodi Picoult in hardback, every Marian Keyes I can get my hands on, and everything Irish writer Denyse Devlin/Woods produces. I’ve just discovered Jojo Moyes and have a feeling I’ll be buying everything she’s ever written, too…
Do you have that one novel you’ve read fifty times in your life already, and know you will read it at least fifty more?
Jane Eyre. Bury me with a copy.
What’s next for you?
I was thrilled to accept another two-book offer from Harlequin MIRA before Christmas, and I’m madly working on novel three to a tight deadline. This one has touches of dark comedy and is more about acceptance than healing. And, of course, there’s mental illness—plus the neurological disorder, Tourette syndrome. I’ve always wanted to write about Tourette’s, and then I was on a plane when someone had a medical emergency and I had another dark what-if moment: what if something happened to the full-time mother of a teenager with a soup of issues, including Tourette syndrome, and the detached father, a workaholic breadwinner, had to take over the daily and emotional life of the family. And then the writing cycle started over…
English born and educated, Barbara Claypole White writes and gardens in the forests of North Carolina. Her husband is an internationally-acclaimed academic; their son is an award-winning young poet / musician. His battles with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have inspired her to write stories that find healing and hope in the darkness of invisible disabilities such as severe grief or clinical depression. Her characters are quirky and damaged, but they always find the light through the trees (a recurring image in her writing). The Unfinished Garden, Barbara’s debut novel, won the 2013 Golden Quill for Best First Book. The In-Between Hour, her second novel, has been named a Winter 2014 Okra Pick by Southern Indie Bookstores.
Barbara has generously offered a signed copy of THE IN-BETWEEN HOUR to one of our members. Entry for this wonderful offering is simple: Leave a comment on this post!(Don’t forget to give us a means to contact you should you win.) Entrants must be U.S. residents only. I shall leave this drawing open until 11:59 pm Saturday, January 25, 2014. After that a random commenter will be selected as a winner.
A tremendous thank you to Barabara, once again, for appearing on the blog.