Yes, this is really what Salt Cay looks like.
Remember last October? When I went to the Salt Cay Writers Retreat in the Bahamas and workshopped my novel with Robert Goolrick, Amy Einhorn, and other amazing publishing peeps, and swam with dolphins? Where I made friends that will last a lifetime, and had my writing transformed? I’ve good news: the Salt Cay Writer’s Retreat is now offering a scholarship sweepstakes.
Entering is uber-easy: Simply sign up for the SCWR mailing list on their website and refer your friends for a chance to win. One winner chosen at random will receive a full scholarship to attend the retreat ($3000 value, not including airfare and hotel). Twenty others will receive a $500 discount.
For more information and the fine print, visit here.
In parting, here’s some snippets of wisdom I took home from the Retreat:
Agent Jeff Klein (Folio Literary) on marketing a book: “A book for everyone is a book for no one.”
Author Robert Goolrick (A Reliable Wife) on what is literary fiction: “It’s a bogus term. A book is either a good book or a bad book.”
Editor Chuck Adams (Algonquin Books) on the ideal reader: “Once you know the story you’re going to write, you need to imagine the reader you’re going to write it for.”
Agent Michelle Brower (Folio Literary) on point of view in a novel: “The choice you make brings you closer or further from character. Point of view is a tool for suspense and tension.”
Editor Amy Einhorn (Flatiron Books) on novel endings: “You don’t want the ending to be exactly where it appears to be going, where the reader can figure it out. A SIMPLE PLAN has a great ending, where we have no idea where the author is taking us.”
Thanks to everyone who participated and left such nice comments on my recent interview with novelist Jennifer Laam! Without further ado, the winner of the autographed copy of Jennifer’s THE SECRET DAUGHTER OF THE TSAR is….
Congratulations to Christi Craig! I’ve just sent you an email with information on how to claim your prize. I know you’re going to enjoy it!
For more information about THE SECRET DAUGHTER OF THE TSAR, Jennifer Laam’s official author site offers excerpts, reviews, and information about the historical events inspiring her novel. She can also be found online at Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Pinterest.
Photographed recently at the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum in New York City.
In other news, tomorrow marks your last chance to enter our book giveaway for Jennifer Laam’s fabulous new novel THE SECRET DAUGHTER OF THE TSAR. In it, Jennifer seamlessly braids together the stories of three women: Veronica, Lena, and Charlotte, and imagines an alternate history for the Romanov family—one in which a secret fifth daughter, smuggled out of Russia before the revolution, continues the royal lineage to dramatic and unexpected consequences.Learn more here.
I am so excited to welcome for today’s Creativity Friday debut author Jennifer Laam whose novel THE SECRET DAUGHTER OF THE TSAR (St. Martin’s Griffin) has just been published. In it, Jennifer seamlessly braids together the stories of three women: Veronica, Lena, and Charlotte, and imagines an alternate history for the Romanov family—one in which a secret fifth daughter, smuggled out of Russia before the revolution, continues the royal lineage to dramatic and unexpected consequences. Pam Jenoff, international bestselling author of The Ambassador’s Daughter, writes that “Laam has not only created a captivating tale, but has woven a delicate and resonant fabric from the timeless threads of love and loyalty, betrayal and redemption.”
Jennifer earned her master’s degree in history from Oakland University in Michigan. She has traveled in Russia and Europe, worked in education and non-profit development, and currently resides and writes in Northern California. She also has an active social media presence: you can find Jennifer on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Pinterest.
In our interview, Jennifer and I discuss writing process, her fascination with the last Romanovs, and her upcoming novel about Catherine the Great’s “boy toy” Potemkin. But wait, that’s not all: Jennifer is generously giving away one autographed copy of THE SECRET DAUGHT OF THE TSAR. Information on how to win is at the end of this post.
Kris Waldherr: What was your initial inspiration for THE SECRET DAUGHTER OF THE TSAR? Can you describe the moment that made you say, “I must write this”?
Jennifer Laam: This is my second book. Around the time I realized my first book wasn’t coming together as I’d hoped, I developed a keen interest in the last Romanovs. DNA evidence showed that the most famous “Anastasia,” Anna Anderson, was an imposter. However, in James Lovell’s book on Anastasia, there was a story about another possible missing Romanov. I don’t want to give away too much for fear of spoilers, but this story provided the first spark of inspiration. As I began to play around with ideas and multiple time lines, I knew I had found my next project.
KW: THE SECRET DAUGHTER OF THE TSAR ambitiously presents three stories from three eras — Veronica Herrera, an aspiring historian living in present-day Los Angeles; Lena, a servant in the late imperial Russian court; and Charlotte Marchand, a former ballerina living in occupied Paris during WWII. In some ways the structure of your novel reminds me of Kate Forsyth’s BITTER GREENS, a historical fiction reimagining of Rapunzel that also juggled three plotlines. What were the challenges of writing three storylines? Advantages?
JL: The biggest challenge was to keep the three timelines in synch with each other. In each story, I wanted to make subtle references to the other plot lines so the reader would trust that everything would connect together in the end. At one point, I created a huge, multi-colored timeline to make sure everything stayed consistent in the world of the novel. It was a challenge, but also fun. Working with multiple plot lines also appealed to my impulse to multi-task. If I felt blocked in one plotline or frustrated with a character, I could always work on another plot and deal with a different character.
KW: Historical novelists are known for their obsession with research. What was your research process like? Was there anything you uncovered that surprised you or make you rethink aspects of THE SECRET DAUGHTER OF THE TSAR?
JL: Honestly, my research process was messy. Eventually I created an outline for this novel, but in early drafts I tend to fly by the seat of my pants. As a result, my research isn’t necessarily methodical. I read tons of books and made notes, but I could have done a much better job of organizing those notes. My process is more streamlined now.
One of the things that surprised me as I researched: my choice of nursery colors was possibly anachronistic. I ran across an article that suggested pink was more associated with boys than girls around the turn of the twentieth century. I fretted over this for a while, and then decided to stick with blue for boys. I felt I couldn’t introduce the information smoothly and it would feel too jarring for a modern reader. This was an interesting moment because it put historical research and literary needs at odds with one another.
KW: On your website, you describe your childhood obsession with recreating the recipes and toys and clothes from Little House on the Prairie. Did you find yourself doing anything similar when you immersed yourself in the world of the Romanovs?
As amazing as that sort of immersion sounds, between writing and working full time, I don’t have much time left to squeeze in those types of creative projects anymore. I miss being a kid! Even so, though, the writing process itself is an incredibly joyful immersion into another world. I can’t imagine living without that experience.
KW: Can you tell us a little about your creative process for your writing? Are you a “pantser” or a “plotter”? Do you have any special tools, writing programs, or rituals?
JL: I am definitely a “pantser.” I’ve tried to plan and plot and outline in advance, but I only get impatient and dive right in regardless. My process starts when I read or hear of an idea or person that intrigues me. I read a little and think a little and daydream and listen to good music. I used to think this was wasted time because I wasn’t writing or making word count goals. Now, I appreciate how important that germination time is to the final product.
When the idea begins to take the shape of a general plot, I spit out a first *crappy* draft. Then I read it and hate it and hate myself a little. I think that’s about as close to a ritual as I get. Once I recover, I talk myself into returning to the draft. I start to edit and do more research and maybe even jot down an outline. At that point, along around the third draft or so, I begin to feel the plot makes sense and the characters might even be interesting. And then I want to keep returning to the manuscript so I can make it better. I feel like I owe it to the novel at that point.
KW: Now that you’re officially published, what’s surprised you the most about being on the other side of things?
JL: This should have come as no surprise at all because I’ve heard many published writers talk about it. But the biggest surprise for me was how little things changed. It’s amazing to see my book out in the world, don’t get me wrong! But I think as pre-published writers, we see publication as the Holy Grail. At least I did. Ultimately, though, you’ll want to write another book, which means starting from scratch. I think I enjoy writing more than I enjoy being published. I want readers and I love hearing people talk about The Secret Daughter of the Tsar, but mostly I want to write.
KW: What advice would you give to beginning fiction writers? What do you know now that you wish you’d known then?
JL: Take yourself seriously as a writer. Join professional groups. Network with other writers. Self-promotion does not come naturally for me, but I wish I had engaged it in earlier. Be aware of your own brand, but also think about how you can contribute and help others at a similar career stage. Keep writing but attend to the business end of things, just as you would with any other career. I am playing catch-up with all of this.
KW: Finally, what are you planning for your next novel? On your blog you describe it as starring “Prince Potemkin: Catherine the Great’s famed advisor and former boy toy.” Inquiring minds (or at least *this* inquiring mind) want to know more!
JL: This story is set toward the end of Potemkin’s life, when he was dealing with a challenge from Catherine’s latest lover, a much younger man named Zubov. I haven’t written in a male voice in a long time and I love it.
Catherine the Great is amazing, of course, but I made Potemkin the central figure for several reasons. He was open-minded and tolerant. He was decadent and ambitious, but also deeply spiritual. He suffered from periodic bouts of depression, but seems to have very effectively managed his low moods. Finally, his relationship with Catherine is sweet. Even when they separated and started sleeping with other people, they were so loyal to one another. He wore a medallion with her picture. That kind of devotion appeals to the romantic in me.
Thank you, Jennifer, for a wonderful interview! As I mentioned above, she is giving away an autographed copy of THE SECRET DAUGHTER OF THE TSAR to one reader of this blog. To enter the raffle, leave a comment on this post by midnight, November 21, 2013. Only one comment per person. Winner will be chosen at random and announced here on Friday, November 22, 2013. The small print: U.S. mailing addresses only, please.
To leave a comment, click here and scroll to bottom of the page. Good luck to all!
Without further ado, congratulations to:
Kirsten McElroy and Sveta
Their favorite fairy tales were Cinderella, Tatterhood and the Twelve Dancing Princesses. I’ll be sending them an email within information on how to claim their copies of Carolyn Turgeon’s THE FAIREST OF THEM ALL—I know they’re really going to enjoy it!