After our one week hiatus, I can’t wait to resume our 2009 Debutante Interview Series. I mentioned Saundra last week following an article she sent to me about a new comic book imprint, but this is 10x better because she’s hear to talk about her own journey to publication!
Saundra Mitchell has been a phone psychic, a car salesperson, a denture-deliverer and a layout waxer. She’s now an author and screenwriter, and happy that she’s finally found her calling. Her debut novel, Shadowed Summer, comes out February 10, 2009 from Delacorte.
Nothing ever happened in Ondine, Louisiana, not even the summer Elijah Landry disappeared.
His mother knew he ascended to heaven, the police believed he ran away, and his girlfriend thought he was murdered.
Decades later, certain she saw his ghost in the town cemetery, fourteen-year-old Iris Rhame is determined to find out the truth behind “The Incident With the Landry Boy”
Enlisting the help of her best friend Collette, and forced to endure the company of Collette’s latest crush, Ben, Iris spends a summer digging into the past and stirring old ghosts, in search of a boy she never knew.
What she doesn’t realize is that in a town as small as Ondine, every secret is a family secret.
Shadowed Summer is your debut novel, so a big congrats on that. But can you give us a little statistical rundown on how long it took you to get to this point? How many books? How many rejections? How many days, months, or years?
I’ve been writing professionally for fifteen years, and I stopped counting rejections at 1180- the last rejection before Wonder Agent Sara Crowe sold Shadowed Summer.
Which “Call” thrilled you more? The call in which you landed an agent or the call in which you landed your book deal? Can you describe to us what it felt like?
As ecstatic as I was getting the book deal call, I have to give the edge to landing the agent! I’d been previously represented, and things hadn’t worked out. I lost a lot of confidence- not only was I afraid I’d
never sell a novel, I wasn’t sure I’d ever write another! It was such a dark time, I gave myself permission to quit- after I sent out one more query letter.
I spent a lot of time researching, searching for exactly the agent I wanted. I read the books on several agents’ lists, scoured the Internet for stories about them, about their styles, anything, everything. Finally, I decided that I would send my last query to Sara Crowe at Harvey Klinger, Inc. – who sold my debut four months after she offered to rep me!
And you know what it felt like? It felt like breathing again.
Wow. What a fantastic story. You must be meant to write. Throughout your journey as a writer, what resources have you found most valuable to your success? Websites? Books? Conferences?
What I find the most valuable is reading other writers’ work. I read, read, read- scripts, stories and books- non-fiction and fiction both. Not only does it help me understand the tone of the market, it teaches
me by excellent example. If I forget I’m reading and slip into a world someone else created- those are the words I read again and study, so I can find out how the author achieved it.
Great tip! We all know that writers go through hard times on their way to success. How have you handled rejection in the past?
When I get rejected, really, when I get any kind of bad news, I work harder. I don’t mean that in a philosophical way. For example- when a blurb recently fell through for me, I wrote notes to sixty local librarians introducing myself and my book, instead of my usual thirty. I really believe that success comes from the willingness to get kicked in the face and keep going.
I think that has to be the best way to handle rejection. No wonder you’ve succeeded. I understand you were/are a screenwriter? What lessons have you brought from screenwriting over to penning novels?
I was, and I still am- although now I’m moving into supervising other screenwriters instead of doing all the work myself! And I think one of the best things I brought from screenwriting to fiction is a good ear
In a screenplay, I don’t get to discuss how the characters feel, or what they’re thinking- that’s for the director and actor to decide! So I’ve learned to pitch my dialogue so it’s natural (since real people have to speak it,) but also meaningful- as that’s the only way I can get my point across in a script.
Through writing groups and during revisions, I’ve gotten compliments on how real my characters sound. That’s a huge honor, and I have to give screenwriting the credit!
Awesome. I’ve always pushed the idea of writing scripts to help your novel writing. Hopefully, you’ve won a few converts. This is Fumbling with Fiction, so I have to ask, in your writing career have you ever had a big “Oops!” moment?
Early on, an established screenwriter took the time to work with me on my scripts. She challenged me to excel, and when I finally produced a solid episodic (a script for a one hour television drama,)
she recommended me to her agent. This was a Big Deal, but I had never done a business call where I had to sell *me*.
When this agent asked me how I would describe myself, I said, “Oh, I’m just a little midwestern housewife trying to make good!” The call chilled after that, and you’re probably not surprised to find out that
he didn’t offer to represent me.
So that was a big oops, but it was also a great lesson. Never minimize your own ability or ambition. There are enough people in the world who will do that for you!
So true. The best person to sell yourself is you. Your short story “Ready to Wear” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize! Do you feel that writing short stories was necessary to your progressing to novels? (*I don’t mean progression in a value sense, just in length!*)
I do for me, absolutely! One of my biggest challenges is weighting a fictional world effectively. Like, knowing what’s important to include, and what’s not. Screenplays are sparse, and many of the details don’t
belong to me. So short stories help me bridge the forms. They’re compact, like a script, but narrative, like novels. They help me slip between the two worlds. Plus? I just really enjoy writing them!
Now that you are a soon-to-be-published author, seeing the view from the other side, what has been your favorite moment in the publishing process so far? What part of the process has most surprised you?
Every time something new happens, that’s my favorite moment. For serious. Getting my contract was my favorite. Then, getting my revision was my favorite. Then my ISBN. Then cover art. Then FPPs, then ARCs, even the tiny little leaf they used to separate paragraphs! It’s all so amazing; I am having a grand time with every little thing.
The most surprising part is how little I know from day to day. I bug my editor occasionally to find out where I’m at in the process. But mostly, it’s all wonder and mystery- like, I found out that my book had been
chosen for the Junior Library Guild… I didn’t even know it had been submitted for consideration!
On the downside, it’s bewildering to realize how much is out of my hands now. on the upside, every day that brings news is a prize!
Tell us a little about receiving your first editorial letter. What was yours like? How did you feel when you received it?
I was excited! Now, in the future, I’ll probably have a little dread, because fiction revisions are *hard*! But Sara sold my novel in January, and between my schedule and my editor’s schedule, we couldn’t get started on revisions until JULY. So there was a six-month stretch where I knew I’d sold a book, but I had that unreasonable fear it might all just disappear. That revision letter was proof it was really, really, real!
Finally, if you could have written one book previously published by another author, which book would it be?
Man, that is so hard. I like going to other people’s places, and I like going into mine- they’re such different things to me. But I think I’d love to claim Anneli Rufus’ “The Loner’s Manifesto.” It’s non-fiction, exquisitely written, and so immediate and real. I wish my words would resonate like that.
You stuck to one! I can hardly believe it.
Thanks for coming and chatting with me, Saundra. You were so fun to talk to and I can’t wait to read Shadowed Summer. Keep in touch and let us know what is happening with your writing life.