My interview today is with Elise Stephens who was a quarter-finalist for the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. When she’s not putting pen to paper and letting her creativity flow, she enjoys live theater, swing dancing, singing, and painting. Sounds like this lady has a flare for the arts! One of her favorite sweet tooth cravings (which we share in common) is Dilettante’s chocolate-covered fruit medleys.
While you were still in college you won an award for your fiction writing. Could you give me a description of that story that won?
I received the prize for a short story called Clay Myth about a girl who is hired by a sculptor for a supposed assistant position, and finds out she has been hired as a model/muse. She falls in love with the artist, only to find she must tear herself away and face the truth that it’s not enough to be admired for her beauty, she wants real love.
Once you won that award did you think it would be smooth sailing for your writing career?
The award was a huge boost of encouragement, but I knew I had quite a ways to go before I could count on “regular” income from writing.
Was Moonlight and Oranges your first novel? Or did you stop and start on others? What prompted the idea for that book?
I wrote two fantasy novels in high school, but I did not feel they were ready for publication. This makes Moonlight and Oranges my third novel-length project. I fell in love with the idea behind Moonlight and Oranges when I read the myth of Cupid and Psyche. It’s a tale of young love gone awry, and a new bride’s quest to redeem the love story she destroyed, all the while facing off against a wicked mother-in-law. It was a quest and a love story, and I felt it needed a modern day adaptation.
How long did it take you to write that book? How many rewrites did you do on it?
I wrote the entire novel, then threw away the manuscript and started over. The rewrites were many, and the process took me five years.
How did you go through the process of finding a publisher? How many sources did you pitch? Did you pitch any agents?
I pitched many (over ninety!) agents and worked very hard on my query letters and marketing materials. A friend of mine, who was a published writer and who knew my level of dedication to writing, offered to introduce me to his publisher. The publisher read my manuscript and offered to publish it, to my great joy. I had been trying to sell the novel for about one year before I signed a contract with Booktrope.
Can you explain what the process is like in working with Booktrope?I was connected with Booktrope through my author friend who made the introduction for me. Booktrope is a small publisher with a strong emphasis on giving a lot of creative control to authors (something many authors with bigger publishers never receive) and creating a team aspect to publishing. I interact with my editor, my cover designer, and my book marketing manager throughout the process of getting the book published, and then afterwards, I stay in touch with my book manager as we continue to work and strategize sales of the book.
You’ve now published two novels, but you also published a very short book called Tightrope which would be considered an extended story as it is only 30 pages long. What made you take on that type of publication? What is the demand for that type of format?
That particular short story is one of my favorites. The nice thing about short stories is I can put more of my work out there to the public without waiting the lengthy process (years) that it takes to create a novel. I can’t speak precisely to the demand of short stories in themselves, but I would say that the more work an author tends to have available, the better it is as she finds fans who want to read more work.
How do you write? Did you do an outline first? Did you do individual character development before doing the full plot?A huge lesson that my first novel taught me was to create in-depth character back stories for my entire cast. I love plots, especially ones with lots of suspense, so my default is to write out the main thrust of my story (it ends up looking pretty hot and messy, but quite exciting) and then adding more depth and layers onto it afterward.
What do you think you learned from writing your first novel that helped you in the second one?
I wrote the first draft of Forecast, my most recent novel, in seven months, then went back and developed my characters with more precision and history. I did start with an outline, but once I had enough momentum, the only thing left for me to do was write and hope that the remaining gaps in my outline would get filled in as I went. I prefer to plan as much as possible, then cut loose and write as fast as a possibly can. My usual technique when I sit down to write is to have a pen and paper ready, then set a 30 minute timer. My pen is not allowed to stop moving while the timer runs.
What type of publicity do you do to promote your book? What has worked best for you in generating sales?I maintain a presence on Facebook and Twitter in order to meet people who decide they enjoy me and would enjoy my book. I also participate in blog tours to get the book reviewed and into the hands of readers. Throwing a launch party for friends and family is a great way to start the buzz. I continue to explore various ways to generate sales and get my book noticed. I recently had the success of discovering that the local library had ordered three copies of my book, which is very exciting.
What do you know now about writing/publishing now that you wished you had known sooner?I almost said that I wish I’d known how much marketing I’d have to do for my books, but if I’d known that earlier, I might have been discouraged from the passion of just getting my manuscript finished! J I’d say, it would have been helpful to understand the power of a carefully planned first-draft—it saves so much time in later drafts and revisions!
What is the best advice you’ve been given about writing or that you’ve learned that you would like to pass along?
Finish what you write, then bring the finished work to a critique group. This is technically two things. Finishing my projects keeps me focused, and makes me much less likely to start a story that’s ‘going nowhere.’ Everyone needs a critique group in order to improve. I just can’t edit my own work well enough on my own. So I think all writers with serious aspirations would do very well to commit to finishing their projects, even when they lose interest in them, then do the bold thing and join or form a critique group to improve those finished works.
Here's some details on her stories and the titles highlighted with links to buy them'
FORECAST (YA URBAN FANTASY) A fifteen-year old boy embraces the magical ability to see into the future in order to save his family.
MOONLIGHT AND ORANGES (YA ROMANCE)- A timeless tale of young love. A Greek myth romance set in contemporary Seattle.
TIGHTROPE (SHORT STORY) Thomas’ quest for an interesting summer job leads him to a touring circus that masks a wretched darkness beneath.