Hi, Ann. Thank you for inviting me to join you.
I know that you spent a good part of your life in Japan. Has growing up as a missionary kid in Japan influenced your writing?
I think spending my childhood in Japan has given me a global view. I've always been interested in other people, cultures, and countries. Both my elementary and high school had kids from all over the world. I love to travel. My novels have an international scope to them even though they are all set in North Carolina. For example, the one coming out this October, Hatteras Girl, has a Korean-American as the main character.
Do you ever cook Japanese food at home?
Since I spent so much time in Japan, my favorite foods are Japanese. I love sushi—the real Japanese kind without the cream cheese and avocados. Yes, I will make several dishes that are sentimental to me. My husband and kids like using the Japanese bowls and chopsticks when I make sukiyaki, nabeyaki, or udon for dinner.
Alice, I recently attended one of your “Writing the Heartache” workshops. Did your writing journey begin with writing your heartache? Did becoming a writer come from your need to do this or have you always had that “writer” somewhere deep inside you?
Ever since I was six in a plaid skirt and red tights, I wanted to write. I used to write stories and illustrate them with stick figures. Then I’d staple the pages together. My first grade teacher had me read the stories to the rest of the class and even to the third and fourth grade classes.
Before my son Daniel died, I had some pieces published in Standard Publishing’s devotionals, the Upper Room, and a short story in a David C. Cook publication called Sprint. But after he died in 1997, my writing took on a new level. I wrote to keep sane and was amazed when told that my articles and poems helped others in their grief.
How did you transition from writing about Daniel and the heartache to writing novels? And when did you begin your first novel? How long did it take you to write Rain Song?
Rain Song was a work-in-progress for about eighteen months. I started it in 2004 and worked on it off and on. I changed it from first person to third and then back to first. In 2006, an agent said she loved the novel and wanted to represent me. Ever since I was little I wanted to write a novel. So this has been a life-long dream for me.
Most writers attend writers conferences to learn how to improve their craft and to pitch their books to agents and publishers. Did you pitch your books at a writers conference? Would you like to recommend your favorite conference?
I have never been to a writers’ conference. I found my agent online; I’ve yet to meet her in person. I sent a query email to her at the end of August 2006 and she said she liked the story line and asked to see the first three chapters. After she read those, she wanted the whole novel. I had to rewrite it quickly as it was not yet completed in the new version. My agent called two weeks after receiving the entire manuscript to say she loved Rain Song and wanted to represent me. I was contracted nine weeks later for a two-book deal with Bethany House.
Your books are written in first person. Since I have found few books written in first person, I was eager to read Rain Song and How Sweet It Is. Why did you choose to use first person?
One of my favorite authors, Elizabeth Berg, writes in first person. I guess you often write what you enjoy reading. Amy Tan wrote the Joy Luck Club in first person—that is another of my favorite books. First person is the easiest and most comfortable style for me to write in.
Your latest book, Hatteras Girl, comes out in October. Is it also written in first person?
Yes, and my fourth novel due out in October 2011 is also in first person. I guess I’m just a first person type of gal.
What gave you the idea to write Hatteras Girl?
I love my time spent each year on the North Carolina coast. The Outer Banks is especially meaningful to me. Part of me has wanted to run a bed and breakfast, except I think I'm probably too lazy to do a good job. So I let Jackie and her friend Minnie, have the desire to run one—the old Bailey House—located in Nags Head. The house is not without its problems and the handsome realtor does not help in the long run. There is romance in the novel, because I think when you are on the North Carolina coast, it's always romantic.
Tell us a bit about your novels.
My first novel, Rain Song, is set in Mount Olive, NC, home to the famous Mount Olive Pickle Company. The title was taken from a Japanese children's song because the novel has a connection to Japan. How Sweet It Is takes place in the Smoky Mountains, right in Bryson City, NC. All my novels deal with special recipes because cooking and eating well are important aspects to living well. That’s what Virginia Woolf said and I agree with her.
Since you are a North Carolina author and your books so far have been set in NC, I’m sure you are a big seller in your state. Personally, that’s one of the things I loved about your books; I knew all the settings very well. Does the setting of a novel matter a great deal with regard to who buys it?
I think people generally like Southern fiction. Southerners find it comforting and northerners find it nicely peculiar.
You told me that you are facing a deadline with another book. Would you like to share something about what we can expect or do you plan to surprise us?
The tentative title for my fourth novel is A Wedding Invitation. This novel takes place in Falls Church, VA, Winston Salem, NC and the Philippines. It’s a story about second chances. Samantha, the main character, spent a year in a refugee camp in the Philippines as a teacher, and when a student from her past meets her again in a cemetery in Winston Salem, all sorts of interesting things happen.
The journey to publication is often a struggle and can be very discouraging. Is there a word of advice or encouragement you’d like to pass along to beginning novelists who are trying to get published?
Write often. Read the authors you like. Edit, edit, edit. Try to avoid as many clichés as you can. Stretch your vocabulary and observe the world around you to get a handle on realistic dialogue. Keep striving for your goal. It can happen. Hang around those who encourage you and believe in your dream.
Alice, thank you so much for sharing about your writing journey. Every time you share, you help other aspiring writers.
Come back next week to learn more about Alice and her
Writing the Heartache ministry.
And the Winner is...
Alice will give a copy of How Sweet It Is to the winner of the September contest. Be sure to leave a comment to enter the contest. Become a follower and you can enter twice. Tell your friends to visit http://write-pathway.blogspot.com/ and enter the contest. Winner will be drawn September 30.