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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Road to First Publication: Author Interview with Camille Di Maio

This is your first novel. When did you actually start writing? What made you decide to write a book inspired by the Beatles song, “Eleanor Rigby”? 
I have wanted to write for as long as I can remember, and wrote stories when I was quite young. As much as I wanted to write a whole book, I didn't believe that I had it in me. Then, I was driving one day, and out of the five thousand songs that shuffled through my iPod, "Eleanor Rigby" came on. I have always loved that song, and my dad used to call it "The Two-Minute Novel,"

This particular time, I thought about the characters - Father McKenzie and Eleanor. Who were they? What if they knew each other? What if they had a history? This last question really sparked my imagination, and I wrote down fifteen plot points, fleshing out the beginning of a full story. Ultimately, the book is not "about" the song - the names of the characters are different, but the story of a priest and this older woman created the idea behind it. And, it is set in Liverpool.

Prior to writing this book, what other writing credits do you have?  
I have written a few things here and there for magazines, but I don't have much by way of a writing resume. I suppose I decided to go big the first real time out!

How long did it take you to write the first draft? Who encouraged you to write?
The first draft took six weeks to write, staying up until 3 and 4 am every night and drinking lots of Dr. Pepper like a good native Texan girl. We have four children, and my husband, Rob, was a champ changing diapers, doing dishes, and losing me to writing during that time period. 

Other supports beside my husband were my parents. My mom lived through my early short stories and drilled a good vocabulary in to me. Some of the most fun on this journey has been sharing it with my dad, who wears his heart on his sleeve.

How many rewrites did you do? 
Now, in its published form, I'd say it's about fifteen drafts in, and I learned so much with each one. 

Did you have beta readers? Who helped you with the editing? 
Although many of my friends beta-read it, it was all self-edited until I got an agent, and she referred me to a great freelance editor named Catherine Knepper. After Lake Union Publishing purchased it, it went through the standard developmental editing process with an editor named David Downing. It was very interesting to have their different perspectives, but both were very insistent on it still being my voice.

How did you go about finding an agent? How many sources did you pitch? What type of feedback did you get? From the time your manuscript was delivered to the publisher, how long did it take to get an acceptance?
I made some rookie mistakes early on. Of course, I thought my first draft was all wrapped up and ready to go, so I started sending it out to many agents. After about forty rejections, I had to face the fact that it was not, in fact, ready to go, and that I had a lot to learn. Most of my rejections were the standard, canned email responses. "Not a fit for me." I set out to attend several writing conferences and classes, really learning the craft. I also learned that I had gone about querying agents in the wrong way - I had just sent email after email without really researching the person. 

What did you do next?
Once I had the manuscript very polished - this was several years later - I decided I was ready to query agents again. I took my time to research six of them, and two asked for full manuscripts! What I did right this time was to read their bios, see if they represented my genre, tell them why it was a fit, how it was like other books they represented, etc. I also decided to sell myself a bit - I have had great success in my real estate business, which has a lot to do with marketing. So, I told them that I was confident that I could take that experience and turn it in to successful selling of my book if they would take me on. 

How did you finally get your agent?
I ended up getting a contract from Jill Marsal of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency in California. She has had great success with both fiction and non-fiction, and I was sure that we would "click". I was very excited when she asked for the first fifty pages, then a full, then she called me with an offer for a contract! It was one of the best days of my life. I think the rejection rate from agents is about 94%, and I believe that it is harder to get an agent than a publisher. Because, it's hard to get a good agent. But, if you do, it's because they're confident that they can sell it. That's the hardest door to get through in my opinion. Jill was an amazing partner through the process - I took her suggestions to heart, and it was only a couple of months before we knew that several publishers were interested.

Tell me about the process. How many changes did you have to do?
There were a lot of changes from first draft to finished product. The biggest change came after someone close to me committed suicide - the feelings there helped me explore the darker side of emotions, and I realized that my manuscript was lacking that particular depth. I worked through those feelings and changed the beginning of the book from something quite flighty to something with a lot of gravity. 

Another big change was my agent pushing me to rewrite something in the book that depended on a rather large coincidence. So, while on a walk with my husband, I bounced some thoughts off of him, and he said something that really broke open what I needed to do to change that scene - and it is so, so much better for it. 

The final big change was the ending. I'm a fan of tragic British books, Jane Eyre being a favorite. Again, my agent pointed out where my original ending needed some work. The new ending came about at breakfast with my dad - again, I was bouncing ideas off of him, and we had a great brainstorming session. In fact, that's one thing I learned more than anything else - writing is not a solitary event. I may be the one with my name on the front cover, but much has come from inspiration that others gave me. I now understand the reality of Acknowledgment sections at the back of books! In fact, it's the first thing I read when I start a book.

How do you write? Did you do an outline first? Did you do individual character development before doing the full plot?
I have a basic idea of where things are going in a story, but I'm not a plotter. I see picture boards of some of the walls of post it notes that authors far more organized that I am create. I just can't work that way. I need to feel things as I write them, and some of the best things I've written were not part of anything I'd originally planned. I also tend to be story-driven rather than character-driven. So, I write the story, and then go back and see how I can fill in the characters and give them greater dimensions.

What type of publicity do you expect your publisher to do in promoting your book? 
This will be a new chapter for me, so to speak! My agent told me that Lake Union Publishing (an imprint of Amazon) is particularly great at marketing, and based on other authors I've spoken to, this really seems to be the case. The book will be released in May, so we'll be having more serious publicity discussions in the next few weeks. 

What plans do you have to promote your book? How active are you with social media? 
I have gotten very active on social media - Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc., and had someone build a website for me. I've also printed 5x7 cards with information about the book so that I'll have that to hand out if I end up in conversation with someone about it. Just the other day, I got in to conversation with a cashier at Trader Joe's, and he wrote the name of the book down because he wants to order it for his girlfriend. Same with a new hairdresser I went to. It's natural for people to ask what you do for a living, and there seems to be some sort of fascination when you tell people that you're a writer! I like that kind of publicity. Just visiting with people, face to face.

What do you know now about writing that you wished you had learned sooner?
I wish I had known more about the craft of writing, although I would caution other young writers to find their voice before "learning" too much. I think you can also take so many classes that you kill your own creativity trying to follow "the rules". I wish I had known how much authors struggle. This image of having daily inspiration and words just flowing from your fingers is a myth. 

The VAST majority of the writing process is staring at a blank screen, struggling over a particular word, feeling like a failure, wanting to trash your own work. Then, there are those brief and glorious moments where you type out something brilliant and you love what you do again. But like anything else, writing is hard, hard work, and takes a lot of dedication. 

If I had known this earlier on, I would have written more sooner. I thought that since I wasn't just full of inspiration, then maybe I wasn't really a writer. What I was missing was the component of just being committed to it regardless of how I was "feeling".

Is this a stand alone book or are you planning a sequel or prequel for any of your characters?The Memory of Us is a stand-alone book, although there are two minor characters whose stories have been almost begging me to tell. So, maybe that will come along in the future. In the meantime, I've turned in book #2 to my agent and editor, so I'm waiting to hear if they're going to pick that up! I should know very soon. It's set in Texas and is a book about two sisters. I have an idea for book #3, and I can't wait to get started on that one. It's set in New York, and follows a family through an important part of that city's history. That one is just an idea, though, for now.

What is the best advice you’ve been given about writing or that you’ve learned that you would like to pass along?
The most encouraging thing I ever heard is from a very successful writer of historical fiction. She said that each of her books goes through about thirty drafts. It helped me realized the commitment that a writer must have, the humility to make mistakes and receive critiques, and the patience it takes to get it done. 

My other inspiration was reading about Stephenie Meyer, who wrote the Twilight series. She wrote that while at swim team practice with her kids. I have four children. It was a turning point for me where I said, "If she can do it, I can do it."

That's it for today's interview. If you would like to pre-order the book, here's how to do it

Other links for the author
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Instagram: camilledimaio_author
Twitter: camilledimaio

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