*Looking for a heartwarming book to read? Check out this exclusive interview with Maddie Dawson. This week you’ll have a chance to win a copy a hardcover copy of Maddie’s novel, The Stuff That Never Happened!
Maddie Dawson grew up in the South and is from a family of outrageous storytellers. Before she made her debut into the publishing world, Maddie was busy writing columns, magazine articles, and raising three children. Her novel, The Stuff That Never Happened, follows an older married couple as they attempt to adjust to their empty nest and each other. But older events wriggle back into their lives reminding them of the stuff they were determined to forget.
1) Was the road to publishing your novel, easy and fast, or long and difficult?
I would have to go with easy and fast, compared to how it has been for some people. Of course, it took FOREVER to write the novel—to come up with the characters and the premise and then to get the thing actually down on paper in between working, cooking dinner, and checking my horoscope to see if it would be a good day to write—but I was lucky in that things went relatively smoothly once I did get it finished. I have a wonderful agent and she put it in the right hands, and things went well. Unexpectedly well!
2) What surprised you most about the publishing industry?
I think I’ve been surprised by how much work goes into the marketing of books. It’s not so easy to get your book noticed when there are over 200,000 books published in this country alone each year. I don’t want to whine about the whole process, because it’s really very fun and interesting—but I was surprised at how much time it can take to get reviews for authors these days. It’s really not enough to write the book; you have to be willing to put yourself out there as a public person on facebook, twitter, blogs, web sites. Of course that stuff can be fun, if you like to do it (I’m pretty social, so I do), but it’s a lot to keep track of sometimes!
3) What has been your favorite author experience so far?
There are so many good experiences, beginning with that phone call when you get the news that they’re buying the book. That’s one of the coolest moments in the whole process—possibly in your whole lifetime. In my case, my editor called and left a message on my cell phone, and I heard it on the train coming back from New York. She was screaming into the phone, “I love love love LOVE your book!” I sat there smiling the whole way home. Another stupendously great moment is when the books actually arrive at your house, and you take them out of the box and just feel overwhelmed with joy at the sight of those REAL BOOKS that have your name on them. And then of course…there was the day the People magazine gave the book a good review, and then the bookstore reading in my hometown when 100 people showed up and lined up outside to hear me read. All of those are just wonderful moments that I’ll never forget.
4) What has been the hardest thing so far as an author?
I’d have to say time management. Once the book is out there, it’s like a little baby that needs tending all the time. I want to be getting to work on the next one (really, my characters are saying, “Come ON, already! We’re TALKING TO YOU!” and I’m running around doing publicity things for my first baby.
5) What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Write every day. Keep a little notebook with you in which you write down impressions of things that happen to you: snippets of conversations, descriptions of things you see, moments you want to remember. When you write every day (whether you feel like it or not) you open your mind and your heart to whatever is there, and your characters will move into your head and speak to you faithfully and truthfully. But if you only do it a few hours now and then, you can’t hold onto the thread of your work long enough to make it emerge into something real.
6) Can you describe what it’s like for you to write a novel from start to finish?
When I’m starting a novel, the first thing I know is who the main character is. It’s a voice inside my head, beginning to tell me a story, and to describe herself or himself. I listen and pay close attention over the first few days, and then I start jotting down little notes, and then slowly, ever so slowly, the story starts to take shape in my head. In the beginning I don’t know everything there is to know—it’s a little like meeting a new friend for the first time. You wait and learn as you go. But soon I see what the plot will be, and I start writing, letting the character fill me in on details as we go. Much of the early stuff doesn’t end up in the book at all; it’s just information I need to know. But then once I know the beginning and have the voice of the main character, the work really starts to take off. I write without knowing where I’m going until about page 50 or so, and then I stop and rewrite because by then I have learned so much more about the book I’m writing. Usually I can finish the first draft then, and then starts the lengthy re-writing and revision process, which is actually my favorite part. I would rather rewrite than write any day!
7) Describe your writing space:
I have lots of different writing spaces, depending on what phase I’m in. Right now I write on my screened porch which overlooks a garden with a lilac bush, a dogwood tree, and farther back, the woods. It’s peaceful and quiet except for all the chirping birds who keep me company. Other times I’m at the dining room table, or even at Starbucks with my laptop and my headphones. The last place I’m probably writing is at my official writing desk downstairs—too claustrophobic. I like to have things around me to stimulate me as I’m writing. Sometimes writing at home is the worst place for me because I find myself wandering away from my laptop and cleaning the bathtub or scrubbing the kitchen floor. I wrote most of my first novel in Starbucks because being out in public kept me in my seat for long periods of time, since there was no bathtub to clean or floor to scrub. On some days of writing, anything looks more fun than trying to move the plot along, even cleaning!
8 ) What do you do when you’re not writing?
I am a feature reporter for a newspaper, but when I’m not doing either that or writing my novel, I talk on the phone to my friends, walk 3 miles a day, do some gardening, knit, talk on the phone to more friends, go out to lunch, hang out with my kids. I love reading in the bathtub, so I’m often doing recreational bathing with a glass of iced tea and a good book. (Tough on books AND on dry skin, but it’s lovely relaxation, and I get a lot of good ideas there.)
9) Tell me about your debut book, The Stuff That Never Happened:
THE STUFF THAT NEVER HAPPENED is the story of Annabelle and Grant, a couple who has been married for 28 mostly happy years, but who find now that the children have moved out that they perhaps never got over a devastating secret at the beginning of their marriage. Now that they don’t have their rambunctious family to anchor them, Grant has thrown himself into his work, and Annabelle has discovered that she’s possibly still in love with another man from their complicated past. Is it inevitable that marriages, even good ones, simply wear out over time? And what exactly does a person owe one’s children once the raising of the family is done? This book deals with feminism, the 70s, sex, art vs. family life, mother-daughter relationships, and of course the love we depend upon to hold us together throughout our lives. People Magazine called it a “deceptively bouncy, ultimately wrenching novel that grabs you from page one.”
10) What’s in store for your next novel?
In between kids, facebook posts, blogging and publicizing, I’m working on a new novel about a woman who finds herself suddenly and unexpectedly pregnant, just as she and her lover are breaking up. It’s another story about family and finding the people in our lives we are meant to be with, and discovering that sometimes the changes in our lives that we didn’t predict (and perhaps wouldn’t have chosen) take us on the most interesting, compelling journeys.
11) You’ve just won the lottery what would you do?
I’d keep doing just what I’m doing. I love my life!