The Interview Part I

Tell us about your writing process:
When I taught art, it was easier to write in the evenings. I don’t know why, but I had mental clarity. Now that I teach general ed, I just can’t. I write on weekends and in the summers. Right now, I’m taking a one-semester leave of absence because I knew I couldn’t do it all. My fourth book is due October 1 and then October 2, HOW I CAME TO SPARKLE AGAIN is launched, and with it, a month full of tour stops. By the time I return, my editor may have returned edits, and I’ll rewrite for the next couple of months. That’s a lot. There’s no way I could have done that AND taught.

Describe your road through the publishing process over your three published (and one soon-to-be-published) novels:

In the beginning, gosh, back in May of 1998, I went to the library and checked out THE WRITERS’ MARKET and HOW TO GET HAPPILY PUBLISHED. I believe I sent out a couple hundred queries and five completed manuscripts. Unity Press picked me up and then dropped me, because someone high up decided CHURCH OF THE DOG was too controversial. Fair enough. 

After that, I was looking at a bookstore to see who published my favorite books. The owner suggested the small press that eventually published my first two novels. That happened easily for me. I was lucky. Just two weeks after my second book was released, the owner decided to retire the business, and bookstores returned those books just as fast as they could. A distributor that the owner had been working with offered to keep my books in stock for a fee, and I said no, I couldn’t afford to risk going into the red. It was a hobby and I was finishing in the black. I told them to shred the books. But that distributor came back with an offer to take a larger percentage of what was sold instead of charging me a fee, and that was fine with me. 

I knew my second book was really good and that it would find a place in this world. I sent out a bunch of queries and got a bunch of rejections. When I first began working in Easton, I loaned my copy to a co-worker who was going through a hard time. I thought it would help her fall asleep happier. She asked if she could loan it to her mom and I said yes. Well, it turned out that her mom organized the PNW Writers’ Conference at the time, and she offered me a list of names and addresses of the agents and editors who had been there that year. I wrote to all of them and got rejected by most of them. But that is how I found my agents, and wow, what a difference good agents make. I can’t believe the doors they opened. So yes, Penguin re-published both of those books. When I got that deal, I cried like a game show winner for a whole day. I could not believe it. Now I’m at St. Martin’s Press working with a rock star editor who edits for Janet EvanovitchKristen Hannah, and a dozen other best-sellers. I’m hoping I’m next!

Your work is very character-driven, are your characters and their relationships to each other drawn primarily from your imagination? Personal experiences? Other literary or dramatic characters?

Mostly, my characters are parts of me. People are so quick to think I’m Mara or Jade (in my first two books), but the people who know me well know that I’m also Earl and Grandma Pearl. 

Check Back Oct 15th to Read Part II!

Elena Hartwell

Author and developmental editor.