Retiring the Blog

Hello there, blog. Remember me?

I’ve been spending a lot of time so far this year over on other people’s blogs talking about my debut novel, We Hope for Better Things. And other people have been spending time over here on my blog as I’ve shared interviews with other debut authors. And, of course, I’ve been sharing my new podcast episodes here. And if you get my email newsletter, you know I’ve been spending a fair amount of time on that for about two or three years.

All of this has added up to a lot less time and brainpower spent on blog posts. Perhaps that’s all well and good. People aren’t reading blogs as voraciously as they used to. They’re spending more time on Instagram and Twitter and podcasts. And those who are still reading blogs are less interactive than they used to be, because we’re all reading on our phones far more than on our computers, and that’s less conducive to typing out comments.

I must say, I miss the time I used to spend in this space. It has been, in one form or another, a part of my life for more than a decade. A decade during which I struggled to decide what it was I wanted to say and what I wanted to do with my time. It used to go by other names: Stuff No One Would PublishThe Consummate AmateurA Beautiful Fiction. It had several different faces and two different web platforms. I’ve written about nature, gardening, seasons, travel, Michigan, family, sewing, quilting, and my long and determined trudge toward publication.

And now, here I am. All of that practice and all of that striving has paid off. And that means that I have less time than ever to muse in this space. Most free moments must be put to use in the creation and promotion of my novels (and there are more coming). I’ve set myself a rather punishing schedule with a weekly podcast and a monthly newsletter, one which I feel I must pull back from a little in order to give myself more time for novel writing.

All of this to say, I think it’s time to retire the blog, or at least put it on hiatus. I won’t delete the content. But it will be moving to a less prominent place on my website in the near future. Sort of a digital spring cleaning, if you will.

So if you like hearing from me now and again, may I suggest signing up for my at-the-moment monthly (though likely to become quarterly) email newsletter? And if you like more frequent glimpses into my life and mind you can follow me on Facebook or Twitter. And if you like photos, you can follow me on Instagram.

Just as the seasons change, life changes. What we once valued and took time for falls by the wayside, replaced by something better. And that’s just the point I am in my creative life right now. I hope you’ll join me in one of those other spots. Until then, I’ll be writing my next novel.

Thanks for reading. Really. My sincerest thanks.

Debut Author Interview: Martine Fournier Watson

Meet Martine Fournier Watson, author of the literary historical novel The Dream Peddler, which releases today from Penguin Books

Martine Fournier Watson is originally from Montreal, Canada, where she earned her master’s degree in art history after a year in Chicago as a Fulbright scholar. She currently lives in Michigan with her husband and two children. The Dream Peddler is her first novel.

Welcome, Martine!

Tell us about your book.

Traveling salesmen like Robert Owens have passed through Evie Dawson’s town before, but none of them offered anything like what he has to sell: dreams, made to order, with satisfaction guaranteed.

Soon after he arrives, the community is shocked by the disappearance of Evie’s young son. The townspeople, shaken by the Dawson family’s tragedy and captivated by Robert’s subversive magic, begin to experiment with his dreams. And Evie, devastated by grief, turns to Robert for a comfort only he can sell her. But the dream peddler’s wares awaken in his customers their most carefully buried desires, and despite all his good intentions, some of them will lead to disaster.

Where did you get the idea?
I was a huge fan of L. M. Montgomery growing up, and my favorite heroine was Emily of New Moon. Emily wants to be a writer, and in the final book of the trilogy she writes her first novel but is unable to sell it, so she burns it. All the reader ever knows about this book is that it was a modern-day fairy tale called A Seller of Dreams. Since I could never know any more than this, my curiosity about the burned book eventually led me to write my own version.

Are your characters based on real people, or do they come from your imagination?
It’s a bit of a mixture. Characters come to me already formed, and I get to know them better as I write, so they’re not based on anyone I know. But I often throw in little bits and pieces from real people when I’m rounding them out, either as personality traits or backstory. For instance, Evie Dawson, my protagonist in The Dream Peddler, hates to be laughed at, and that’s modeled on my own mother’s feelings.

How long did you take to write this book?
The first draft took about six months, and then I spent maybe another eight months or so getting feedback from beta readers and revising. Finding an agent took a long time! Over eighteen months and a grand total of one hundred and nine queries. Once on submission, it didn’t take dreadfully long to sell—maybe about five months.

What kind of research did you do for this book?
My research was in two parts. I wanted to know as much as I could about the dreaming process and what kinds of things are possible in terms of influencing our dreams and remembering them. This was fascinating, because I discovered all the things I’d written that felt far-fetched to me are actually quite plausible!

The other branch of the research was understanding farming communities and how they operated during the early part of the twentieth century. Not quite as scintillating, but in order to make the characters and their way of life tangible, I really needed to have all the details, even down to what crops would have been planted or harvested at which time.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I am a pantser all the way. The process of discovery is what makes writing so joyous for me. I think if I always knew exactly where my plot was going, I would grow bored.

What is your favorite part of your writing process, and why?
Definitely the drafting, although it wasn’t always that way. I was in my thirties before someone enlightened me about how first drafts are supposed to stink. Once I started drafting more quickly instead of stewing over every word, it became my favorite part of the process. I love the feeling of a great idea for a scene popping into my head and rushing to get it all down.

What is the most challenging part of your writing process, and why?
It depends on the book, but editing is always hard for me. Once I’ve written the book, I’m afraid to look at it again, to be overwhelmed by the mess, and I really have to talk myself into it. With my current project, I also did myself the great disservice of writing it out of order as scene ideas popped into my head, having only a vague idea of how they’d fit into the storyline. Organizing that jumble of scenes into a coherent narrative, linking them up with new writing, is the hardest thing I’ve ever done as a writer.

Can you share your writing routine?
I don’t have a routine, and I write anywhere and everywhere. I have to keep paper and pen handy everywhere I go! I love best to write outside, usually sitting on our back porch, but if it’s too cold you’ll usually find me on the living room sofa.

Do you have any writing quirks?
I don’t know if this counts as a quirk, but I detest typing. I draft everything longhand in notebooks and then transcribe. There’s something about typing that deadens the writing for me—I don’t know how else to describe it. Everything feels more vivid when I’m putting pen to paper and scribbling furiously to try and keep up with my mind.

Which book influenced you the most?
I’m not sure I can narrow it down to just one, but certainly one of my all-time favorite books is one that I happened to be reading around the time I was writing The Dream Peddler: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski. His writing is everything I could hope mine to be, and his agent was one of the first I queried. I also read everything by Donna Tartt—she is brilliant.

What are you working on right now?
I recently finished a readable draft of my second book, so I’m waiting to get feedback from a few kind writers who have agreed to critique for me. It’s another adult literary effort, this time about two eighth-graders who become friends without realizing that one of them has found something precious the other recently lost.

What’s your favorite writing advice?
Ignore all the advice and trust your instincts.

What are you currently reading?
Right now I’m reading The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker and loving it! I wanted to read it because it’s about a small town overtaken by a mysterious sleeping sickness that seems to cause powerful dreams, and I was curious about what it might have in common with my own book. I’m so glad I discovered it, because the writing is beautiful and the story completely absorbing.

Where can we find your book?

Where can we find you?

Thanks for chatting, Martine! We wish you success with your debut!

Debut Author Interview: Meet Christie Grotheim

Meet Christie Grotheim
Christie Grotheim is a New York-based writer whose stories have been featured in Salon, The New York Observer, and Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood. Grotheim studied creative writing at the New School and the 92nd Street Y, where Marjorie Moore was conceived, and birthed a few years later as her debut novel. More of her published writing can be found on Follow her at @cgrotheim on Twitter and @christiegrotheim on Instagram.

Christie is the author of The Year Marjorie Moore Learned to Live, out today!

Forever searching elsewhere, Marjorie Moore is consumed with wanting, or in her opinion, needing. Feeling trapped by her town and her family, she escapes through obsessive shopping, pill popping, and fantasizing about a possible affair with a friend from high school with whom she reconnects on Facebook. Her growing credit card debt “forces” her to sell prescription drugs—which she secures at her

receptionist job at the local hospital—to her dysfunctional friends. As her web of lies at home and work unravels, Margie wrestles with whether she is capable of becoming present in her own life.

Marjorie’s insatiable desires and misguided antics shed light on our own search for escapes—and search for self—and perhaps that is why we cheer her on wholeheartedly.

Let’s get to know Christie and her debut!

Where did you get the idea?
Marjorie Moore is a flawed protagonist who is always searching elsewhere, for otherness, and I have known people like that in my life both in Dallas and here in New York. I feel it’s a very unhealthy outlook, and I wanted to explore this theme through Margie’s search for fulfillment. I wanted to create a satirical character that we could laugh at a little—but relate to, and I found myself relating to her more than I cared to admit: my way of rationalizing things, my own search for escapes, my own struggle to be present in the moment.

What’s the story behind the title?
I came up with the title early on, and it just stuck! I liked the alliteration, and it became even more meaningful when I realized at the time I wrote the novel, I too was learning how to live. I was reevaluating how I spent my time and who I spent it with; where I find joy, and what I value. There are a lot of ways we relearn to live, and Margie’s story is just one of them, but I believe it will resonate with many different people on many different paths.

Tell us about your favorite character.
My favorite character, if of course, Margie herself: I tried to create a character who was human, quirky, and real. The challenge was creating a flawed protagonist who was a bit desperate and delusional, but still relatable, so it was important for me to make her authentic and give her depth.

Are your character based on real people, or do they come from your imagination?
I do find I can create more realistic characters by pulling from people I know: the mannerisms of one, the looks from a couple of others, certain characteristics of another. I use the amalgam as a starting point that is then evolved and is developed until they become their own being, and I as a writer have a complete unique image of them in my mind. Marjorie Moore really came alive for me, and then took on a life of her own, driving the character-driven plot forward.

Tell us about why you chose the setting of your novel.
I feel that my novel could have taken place almost anywhere—in Middle America or New York City—but I chose a place I know well as a kind of homage to Texas. I grew up in Longview, went to college at TCU in Fort Worth, and lived in Dallas for a few years before moving to NYC. Until recently, my sister lived in Flower Mound, which the suburb Prairie Mound is based on—but unlike Marjorie Moore, I found it quite charming. I wanted to be able to recapture and describe the landscapes, the smells, and other details that reminded me of my childhood.

How long did you take to write this book?
The entire process has taken about five years. The saga of Marjorie Moore started as a short story in a 92Y workshop with Adam Langer. The class’s enthusiastic response inspired me to write a few chapters of a novel after the workshop ended, which I then set aside to focus on graphic design—and paying the bills. I picked it up a year and a half later—and liked what I read—and felt the novel had momentum, and that the message was relevant enough to continue. I pushed forward full-force, taking another class at the 92Y with Sandra Newman, where I continued developing the novel and workshopping chapters. I worked hard on the novel the entire year until I had a tight manuscript to query. The query process took nine months, and while I mostly queried agents, I approached one small press, Heliotrope Books, who took on the project—and we finally signed a book deal in November 2017. The publication process took a year and a half, leading up to the thrilling release date of April 2nd!

What kind of research did you do for this book?
Not much deep research was required of this book, other than referencing visuals of the towns mentioned, like Paris, Texas. Prairie Mound is a fictional town, combining two suburbs I know well: Grand Prairie and Flower Mound. And I had to double-check pop culture referenced in the book, to make sure it was in keeping with the timeline of the book, since Margie is a few years younger than I am myself.

What did you remove from this book during the editing process?
While certain scenes were certainly streamlined and cut down, I did more building and expanding than removing, for example, adding depth of character through more backstory and specific memories from Margie’s troubled childhood.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I’m a little bit of both. I’m not into methodical plotting because this is not the main draw for me when I read. I can read about any subject and be carried through any plot if the prose is beautifully written. But when I write I do have a sense of the ending, and the themes I want to convey. And I do utilize outlines of chapters, and scenes and objectives within each chapter, which helps me with pacing, character development, and the character-driven plot.

What is your favorite part of your writing process, and why?
I like getting into the zone and writing for hours uninterrupted, getting lost in a scene or description as I conceive it. I also enjoy refining on a sentence and paragraph level, massaging the language when I already have something on the page to play with. I don’t mind further edits because I like how it can lead to something new—a new line of funny dialogue or a better metaphor. For me writing is like reading: I love getting lost in another world, but it’s even more exciting because it’s one that I am creating.

What is the most challenging part of your writing process, and why?
I believe the most challenging part of writing, like any art, is knowing when it’s complete. Knowing when continuing to edit no longer improves it, trusting when you as an artist feel that it’s finished, and having the confidence to let it go and release it into the world.

Can you share your writing routine?
Since I’m a freelance graphic designer, I can’t write every day. But my ideal routine is getting up relatively early and diving in, before the stress of the day is allowed to enter my mind, and writing at least four hours, which for me is ideal, sometimes extending to six or eight if I’m really in the zone. I try to write in blocks of time, blocking off three days or a week in between design projects.

Have you ever gotten writer’s block? If yes, how do you overcome it?
I rarely get writer’s block, and I have found the best way to overcome it is to force myself to sit down and continue, knowing that I will almost always get past it within fifteen or thirty minutes.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
I never thought I could write a novel. Perhaps because of the great literature that I read and love, I felt maybe I wasn’t intelligent enough, that my vocabulary wasn’t broad enough. At the time I started writing I was obsessed with David Sedaris, Jonathan Ames, and Augusten Burroughs. And I had an epiphany: this is not rocket science—they are merely putting one sentence after the other, using language within my capacity. They had a voice and a point of view. Since I felt the personal essay form was more approachable, I allowed myself to write, word by word, sentence by sentence, and found that I too had a voice. So I would tell myself: Christie, push past your fears and insecurities, and allow yourself to write.

Which book influenced you the most?
There is no one book that influenced me the most, but some of my favorite writers are: Martin Amis, John Irving, David Sedaris, Jonathan Franzen, Jeffrey Euginides, Vladimir Nabokov, Milan Kundera, Anthony Doerr, Barbara Kingsolver, David Foster Wallace, and Marilynne Robinson—to name a few! I have been moved and inspired by so many writers over the years.

What are you working on right now?
I’m working hard on my second novel, A Ballad in Cobalt Blue. I’m deep into it and kind of obsessed with it right now; it’s my very heart and soul. I find pouring myself into it relieves the anxiety I feel about marketing my current book. It uses a completely different energy, so it allows for balance and an escape from this exciting but intense process!

What’s your favorite writing advice?
One of the best pieces I received, from Jonathan Ames who was kind enough to read one of my essays when I was just starting out after I randomly sent him an email. His thoughtful response: “I really enjoyed your story. Keep writing! And remember to make every sentence entertain!” I have taken that to heart, and feel it’s great advise. There is no room and no place for a boring sentence.

What are you currently reading?
Right now I’m reading advanced reader copies of noels from fellow debut authors with books coming out this year, and I’m really enjoying them. There are so many unique and talented voices coming out this year! Of the books I read this summer, my two favorites books were Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan and Wild by Cheryl Strayed, and my absolute top two books that I’ve read in the last five years are The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver and All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. And I try to squeeze in some classics; the last two that struck a chord with me were 1984 and The House of Mirth.

Where can we find you?

Rumors of a Past Life

It’s crazy, isn’t it? That it’s already April? One fourth of the year is gone, never to come again. We leave behind the snow (for the most part) and the cold (comparatively) and as we look forward we think of what we’ll be doing this summer. Yet there are things to remind us of what is past. There are still piles of melting snow at the edge of parking lots. Still plenty of evidence of the season we’ve just left when you look around the yard.

I was recently reminded of a time past, when an old name floated from someone’s lips…