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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Shelving your First Novel: Author Interview with RomalynTilghman

When did you start your first novel? Was there any particular author you read that made you think, I could write like that? 
I didn't start my first novel until I'd had a full career in arts management. I've always read novels,
lots of them, and always hoped I might try to write one myself. Several things happened about ten years ago that move me forward to that goal. 

A friend of mine, Erin Hart, started writing mysteries and absolutely glowed with the joy of it all. I lost a major contract when funding didn't come through, and I decided to take one month to explore writing. I went up to UCLA for the Writers Faire and heard about their online extension program and that Gayle Brandeis, a most favorite writer, was teaching. When I shyly introduced myself, she called my bluff and told me she'd let me into her class without the prerequisites. A few weeks later I was hooked.

How long did it take you to write your first book? How many rewrites did you do on it? 
The book I wrote in that class got finished quickly, in a matter of six months. It's still in the drawer. My debut novel, TO THE STARS THROUGH DIFFICULTIES, took about eight years. It got workshopped in three more UCLA classes. I can't count the number of rewrites. 

Who helped you with the editing? Who encouraged you along the way? 
I'd decided to design my own MFA program, so I hired lots of people to take a look at my work-in-progress. Ann Hood, Heidi Durrow, Jennifer Pooley, and others. There's also a long list of friends who read and encouraged and critiqued. I'm luckiest in friends, who encouraged constantly. I'm not active with critique groups. Next time! It's so good to be able to get feedback in a timely way, as I did in the UCLA classes.

What is the hardest part of writing for you? Starting? Creating a scene? Dialog? Tension, etc?
Tension is certainly a challenge. For me, the flow of the novel may be the biggest challenge. That's where I usually see the biggest problems in first novels, and where I worry most for myself. I can write scenes forever. The trick is getting them to go from one to the next and to discard those that don't serve the story.

We have all experienced rejection. Give me an example of one you’ve had, and how you learned to write past it.
Rejection? Too much of it to remember and I've blocked it all! Just a few weeks before I decided it was time to let go of my book, a famous author asked if it was a first draft and suggested some novels belonged in drawers. It was actually helpful because I realized I was no longer willing to listen to negative input. 

The reviews for my published book have been amazingly strong. I woke up one morning and understood why I was so surprised. I'd had eight years of criticism so the post-pub praise seems sudden (and especially sweet!).

What has surprised you the most in writing/publishing?
In the decade it's taken me to get this far, the publishing business has changed so much. As is true in so many fields, the pressure to be BIG is enormous. It only makes sense for agents and publishers to look for the million dollar books. Debut novels are unlikely to be million dollar books. The alternative is to self-publish and sell a few hundred books, mostly to friends. There's very little middle ground, although I hope TO THE STARS will hit it.

What do you know now about writing that you wished you had known sooner?
In my role as a consultant to artists, I've always said: "Anything worth doing should never have been attempted in the first place." As much as I knew that on one level, I'm not sure I would have started down the writing path had I known how much time and money it would take. That said, I'm thrilled I made the journey.
What is some of the best writing advice that you’ve received or could give?
Never forget you're doing this because you WANT to do it. It's a choice. Either because it gives you joy, you have something to say or have a story you have to tell. Even on the bad days, it's your project, so wrap your arms around it and push forward. You'll be sorry if you don't. 
Are there any other points about writing that you would like to add?
You often hear how crazy-making the creative process is. I found it to be very healthy. I learned skills in stepping back, understanding what I could control and what I couldn't, skills I wish I'd developed a few decades ago. Which isn't to say there weren't crazy days.

Do you have another book in the works? 
Ideas are bubbling. I haven't committed much to paper yet. I may carry on with Angelina and Traci for one more book. Or I may do something with the Harvey Girls or I may pull out that first manuscript that has a protagonist, Viva, who is preoccupied with obituaries. Stay tuned!

That’s all for today’s interview. If you would like to learn more about Romalyn’s writing, here are some links to get you started.

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