Monday, January 28, 2008

Author, Foodie, Rockstar

Despite all the skeptical anonymice on this blog, we are starting a book corner, in which newly published authors like Felicia Sulivan (who is also a prominent editor-type, so be nice all you purists) discusses her own persona victory in the publishing world. In Felicia's case, The Sky Isn't Visible from Here, is a memoir about her "volatile, beautiful, deceitful, drug-addicted mother, who disappeared on the night Sullivan graduated from college, and has not been seen or heard from in the ten years since." It promises to be a fascinating read; I've already got my copy on order, and so should you.

When did you start writing the book?
I started working on Sky in 2004, although I had been writing and reworking the first chapter, “Fighting Shoes,” since 2003.

What prompted your interest in it?
In some way or another, I’ve always written about my mother. When I was eight I published a haiku that likened my mother’s voice to thunder. She’s always been my subject – I can’t really recall a time in which my work hasn’t revolved around her – the one person I couldn’t, but desperately wanted to, understand. For years I was working on a novel of lifeless, unlikable characters that did mildly interesting things. I was writing a safe book because I was afraid to commit my memories, this horrific life lived, this very unsafe book, to paper. I was ashamed of my past, of living in poverty, of a mother who loved and terrorized me. I had lived a life of my own invention for so long, I couldn’t imagine otherwise. At one point the weight of these two lives – the accomplished, in-control professional and the frightened child who never really mourned the loss of her mother – were becoming difficult to bear. Something had to give. One afternoon a friend of mine and I were trading stories about our mothers and we realized that we had both been shamed into secrecy. We were made to feel shame by our mothers, our impoverished upbringing, and a culture where not loving your mother is unthinkable. And in 2004, I felt brave enough to start Sky.

How long did it take to finish the first draft?
It took seven months to write the sample chapters for my proposal submission and an additional five months to finish the first draft of the book.

How many revisions did you write?
I have literally lost count. Three significant rewrites, however, some chapters required upwards of ten-fifteen revisions.

Who read your drafts?
In the early stages, a select group of friends read some of the chapters, however, my editor was the sole reader of Sky at its various stages.

How did you decide which comments were important and which you didn't need to heed?
I wholly believe that the editorial process is an organic and intuitive one. I knew which comments were right for my book and which are appropriate to discard. However, for the most part, my editor’s suggestions made for a better book, but it was an ongoing conversation, which made the editorial and revision process that much more challenging and exciting.

What was your overall rejection experience with this book?
To be honest, it wasn’t particularly traumatizing. Some editors didn’t connect with the story or the way I felt it needed to be told, and conversely, I didn’t connect with certain editors and the way in which they felt the book should play out. So the “rejection” went both ways. But I think finding the right editor for your work isn’t really about rejection (which, for me, has a negative connotation) or acceptance; it’s about finding the right partner for your project. Ultimately, I feel I made the right choice with Algonquin Books and my terrific editor, Amy Gash.

Did you already have an agent? Or did you use this project to get one?
I already had an agent and we worked on preparing the proposal and sample chapters for submission.

How long did it take for you to get an agent?
Six months.

How many agents passed on the project?

Once you got an agent, how long did it take to find a publisher?
We sold Sky within a month of submission.

How many editors passed on the project?
Two before the pre-empt. I don’t remember exactly, to be honest. The whole process was a bit of a surreal blur.

Where were you when you found out the book had been bought?
At work.

Who was the first person you told?
My boss at the time who is also my mentor.

Has your philosophy on getting published changed? Would you do anything differently now?
I’ve learned to be patient. Years ago, one of my writing teachers encouraged me to slow down, that there no rush to get my work to an agent to inevitably sell to a publisher. No one is waiting with bated breath for your book, she said, so take the time writing the best book you can possibly write at this particular time in your career, and spend the time finding the right agent for your project and, subsequently, the right publisher. My teacher also once said that she believed it takes seven years from a debut book’s inception to publication. For me it’s been five, so I feel pretty lucky.

What's your view of the rejection experience now?
I never take rejection personally. From enduring the publication process and all its electric twists and turns, and also working on the other side for a major publisher, there are so many factors at work, behind-the-scenes, regarding how projects are selected for publication. Also, not everyone will be the audience for your work or will embrace it, and you have to be prepared for that as well.

What words of advice would you give to a writer, rejected on the journey toward getting published?
Keep writing. Keep revising. Keep reading.


Anonymous said...

What does this interview prove? That editors publish one another's work? Her rejection history seems pretty mild, but maybe that's what happens when you work in the business. I'm not sure why you would start with an editor's work. Seems like a cop out to me.

Maybe she was the only one you could get. But even so, I'll probably buy the book, read it, and like it. (Sigh.)

smallspiralnotebook said...

Hey there!
Thanks for posting the interview!! I'm quite honored to be your guinea pig.

Anonymous- thanks for leaving a note! To clarify, I was an editor of the literary journal, Small Spiral Notebook,rather than an editor in book publishing. Although I presently work in publishing, I had sold my memoir a year prior to entering into the publishing industry. Hope that clarifies. Although, to be honest, I don't think it's any easier to sell my book because I work in publishing - in fact it's more vexing because I know precisely what goes on behind the scenes, however, that's a whole other interview :)

Cheers, Felicia

Writer, Rejected said...

It's a great interview, Felicia. Don't mind the bitter bobs. And hanks for the clarification.

Anonymous said...

The sound of your sucking up hurts my ears, Rejected.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Hanks for Nothing.

Writer, Rejected said...

LOL. Settle down, little mice.

x said...

Ah, the things mice can get away with saying. It's wierd, there are so many of them and they are interchangable. I'm anonymous but only sort of. Having blogged for six months I now feel totally identified with my blog and in that sense not anonymous at all. I may have to close shop just to join the mice.

Eileen said...

I found this to be a great story- and the book looks very interesting. Everyone's path to publication is unique- crawling naked over broken glass shards is not required. IMHO.

Anonymous said...

I'll only read yet ANOTHER book about a damaged and damaging mother because you say so. (But, really, next topic, please.)

Anonymous said...

Anyone can be a mouse! I have a blog and you might recognize my real name, but I clicked that little button on the box and voila! Instant anonymity!

Try it! Hey, if LROD is anonymous, you know it's the cool thing to do.

Anonymous said...

Hey, that's cool. I'm in the mouse club too! When do I get to meet the celebrity rodent Ratatoulle?

Anonymous said...

THIS is what you meant by a "Happy Book and Story Corner"?

Writer, Rejected said...

This is part of what I meant. Do I disappoint you?

Anonymous said...

Yes, I am. This type of interview is commonly found in places that I don't care to visit (such as Writers Digest).
I expected better of you. But, then, you have your reasons for doing it.

Anonymous said...

oh, mousey. don't be so ratty.

Anonymous said...

To catty: Don't address the content of the criticism, just make a flip comment of dismissal.
You might consider a career as a political advisor, now that Karl Rove has moved on.

Writer, Rejected said...

I do think it would be a little more considerate if we actually commented on Felicia's interview. Or maybe we should all get her book and read it. I just got my copy yesterday.