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: Eva Seyler

Meet Eva Seyler
Eva Seyler was born in Jacksonville, Florida. She left that humidity pit at the age of three and spent the next twenty-one years in California, Idaho, Kentucky, and Washington before ending up in Oregon, where she now lives on a homestead in the western foothills with her husband and five children, two of whom are human.

Eva is the author of The War in Our Hearts, out today!

The War in Our Hearts opens in France, 1916. Estelle Graham faces a nightmare. Expecting to meet her beloved husband and bring their newly adopted daughter home to Scotland, she instead finds him gravely injured and unconscious in a casualty station. As she fights for his care, she takes solace in his journals and letters.

In a farmhouse in Somme, Captain Jamie Graham is forever changed when he meets young Aveline Perrault. Both of them broken and walled off from the cruel and cold world around them—made even crueler and colder by the Great War—the pair form an unlikely bond. She finds in him the father she never had, and with her love, he faces the pain from his own childhood.

Readers will discover the depth of love and faith in the face of brutality and neglect as these characters learn to live while surviving World War I.

Let’s get to know Eva and her debut novel!

Where did you get the idea?
I’ve felt for a long time that there wasn’t enough WWI fiction out there, and as I was thinking about what I should write, I got a visual in my head of a red-headed girl standing in a barn. That was Aveline, and when she had some trouble, Captain Jamie Graham came to her aid.

What’s the story behind the title?
My best friend came up with the title and it stuck! I was able to tuck in a line to neatly tie the title to the story after she came up with it, too, which was super awesome.

No spoiler, but tell us something we won’t find out just by reading the book jacket.
There’s a sixteen-year-old runaway fisherman’s son named Willie Duncan who’s pretending to be twenty, and he’s kind of adorable and I’d like to write more about him someday.

Tell us about your favorite character.
I have incredible fondness for Estelle Graham, my MC’s wife, who is gorgeous, graceful, and sweet, yet doesn’t take sh*t from anyone. But my very favorite is my MC, Jamie Graham, who wasn’t even originally supposed to BE the main character, but he completely took over in spite of all my intentions.

If you could spend a day with one of your characters, who would it be and what would you do?
I’d pick Estelle, definitely. She has a mischievous streak that would make her a Tremendously Fun Friend.

How long did you take to write this book?
It took almost exactly nine months from writing the first words to beginning the querying process, and another six months to complete the edits and proofreading.

What kind of research did you do for this book?
Honestly, I felt like I was drowning sometimes, but the upside is that I’ve learned so much I can continue to write about WWI and already have the basic history of the era covered in my head. For The War in Our Hearts particularly, I needed information about trench warfare more than anything else. Eye-Deep in Hell by John Ellis and Hot Blood, Cold Steel by Andy Simpson were both amazing resources.

What did you remove from this book during the editing process?
Mostly self-indulgent snogging scenes that didn’t do anything to move the plot forward. I also took out a lot of rambling and irrelevant nonsense about Captain Graham’s time training troops in Aldershot.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Pantser. When I have a solid idea where the story is going, then I make my detailed timelines and write my character sketches and all that technical jazz.

What is your favorite part of your writing process, and why?
I like the polishing part, when I have the bulk of the story in place and I get to rearrange and reword and weave everything together into a harmonious, well-crafted whole.

What is the most challenging part of your writing process, and why?
Turning it over to beta readers before it’s reached a state of perfection.

Can you share your writing routine?
I write whenever and wherever I can. I use Google Docs, so I can (and do!) write on my phone or iPad in the car, sitting around waiting for people, relaxing the the bath, whatever. I also try to make time at my computer at least once a day for concentrated writing time with an actual keyboard under my fingers.

I write by hand sometimes early in the process, and I take most of my notes and do my character sketches by hand too. Usually about halfway through writing a novel, I’ll print out the initial draft and annotate it by hand (adding scenes, indicating rearrangements, making notes of things that are still needed and where they should go) before completely re-typing the work from scratch.

Have you ever gotten writer’s block? If yes, how do you overcome it?
If I can’t think of anything new to write that’s relevant, I’ll go back and do some editing, or draw pictures of characters/scenes, or pick my friends’ brains for ideas.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Probably I would tell it, “Someday you’re going to write fan-fiction and it’s going to change your life. You think that’s something to scoff at now, but you just wait and see.”

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
I have two completed works besides The War in Our Hearts: an old novel called Hide, which I will never go back to, and a novel-length fan-fiction. As far as unfinished works, I have four at the moment: a fictionalized memoir, a post-WWII novel, a novel about Belgian refugees in WWI, and a book set during the summer of 1925 in western Oregon near where I live.

Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a stay-at-home, homeschool mom to my two daughters. I overextend myself constantly trying to do ALL the things, because I enjoy so many things. I hate washing dishes, I’m very disorganized, and my brain retains pointless information from, say, the 1980s, whilst simultaneously filtering out 96.6% of anything someone said to me five minutes ago.

How did you get into writing?
I’ve been writing since I was little, but I never really FINISHED anything until roughly 2008, when I wrapped up a novel I’d started a couple years prior, and after that I quit writing completely until 2016, when I got sucked into writing fan-fic and realized I missed writing a lot and wanted write my own book.

Share something about you most people probably don’t know.
The wider world probably doesn’t know how actively I despise summer, sunshine, and being hot. I have reverse seasonal affective disorder (yes, reverse SAD is an actual thing).

What are you working on right now?
I’m working on my post-WWII novel, because it’s the closest to completion. It is a very ambitious and complex piece of work that isn’t coming together as easily and magically as The War in Our Hearts did, but I think it’s totally worth the extra trouble.

Where can we find you?
Twitter: (I’m most active here!)