Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Therese Fowler's Souvenir

I've been following Therese Fowler's publishing story for over a year now because she is the type of author who is willing to let the rest of us know what this whole process has been like for her. Over at her blog Making it Up, she has shared nearly every step of the process and now we faithful blog buddies get to share her book with the rest of the world.

I was fortunate enough to receive an Advanced Reader Edition of Souvenir on my Barbados trip last November. I had a briefcase full of final papers to grade for the plane ride home. Only two papers in I decided I needed an entertainment break and picked up Souvenir for a short interlude. Let me put it this way. I never graded the rest of the papers on that flight. It took me two chapters to get hooked, but once I was hooked, I couldn't put it down. I teared, blew my nose, sniffed through the whole last part of the book. Afterwards, I was still too emotionally involved in to the characters to even think about grading silly final papers.

To be perfectly honest, I was surprised that I liked Souvenir as much as I did for it is not the type of book that I would normally pick up. I'm not a Nicholas Sparks fan, I don't read chick lit, and I am sort of the anti-romantic. Not that I don't like a good love story, I do, but it has to be really well done and not make me roll my eyes. Oh yes, I am a big eye roller. And I will have to admit, no offense Therese, that at the beginning of Souvenir, my eyes were rolling just a bit. Why, do you ask, when I clearly liked it so much? Let me explain. The concept of the book is that the MC, Meg Powell loves her high school sweetheart, Carson McKay, but in order to save her family's business (horse farm), she marries a rich guy. Conveniently, she sleeps with Carson on the day of her wedding, rejects him and refuses to tell him why she is rejecting him. So right off the back we know we have to deal with the big Misunderstanding. Yes, my eyes were rolling because I hate the big Misunderstanding. You just want to reach in through the pages of the book and smack her silly for being such a matyr. Listen, if it was me, I would have married for money, told Carson all about it (cause he's hot) and then insisted he wait for me for a couple of years. Then I would have divorced the rich fart and been with my true love. But then there would be no real story, right? Well that is why Therese wrote this book and not me. But I do admit that I felt like the ugly old crone in The Princess Bride. I wanted to yell at Meg "Boo, boo! You had true love and you threw it away like it was garbage. That's what we should call you now, the Queen of Garbage!" But here you can see just from my reaction that I had already begun to form an attachment with Meg from the way I was yelling at her, (all in my head, of course). And this is where Souvenir ultimately became such a winner for me.

This book is all about Meg, and to some extent her daughter, Savannah. Carson pops back in as a rich and famous rock star (oh yeah, my eyes went a little haywire there) and even the deadbeat rich husband has some importance in the story. But the book, for me is all about Meg and she is really a character that you grow to love, respect and really admire. Just as Carson is popping back into her life, Meg is diagnosed with a terrible disease. (By this point, the only thing my eyes were doing were leaking sympathetic tears.) The decisions she makes and how she carries herself through the rest of the book had me crying and smiling in admiration. I loved Meg. I respected her. I liked Carson only because he made Meg happy. Her story as sad as it is, is also uplifting and I grew to really care for her character. And I think that is high praise to give any author.

The BookReporter has an excellent interview with Therese that answers alot of the basic "How did you become a writer and how did you write this book?" type questions. But I wanted to ask Therese just a few more that she was gracious enough to answer for me. So here they are:

Me: Hi Therese! Congratulations on your remarkable debut and also for how well Souvenir is doing. Souvenir is a Random House hardcover bestseller and you must be incredibly thrilled. I know I am excited for you. So now that you are a published author, I have to ask, what would be the best piece of writing advice you could give to a non-published writer?

Therese: This is really more "business" than "writing" advice, but it's essential: Don't make the mistake of submitting work to agents too soon. Often we're so eager to go agent-shopping that we start sending out queries before the work has been vetted by someone who can be objective about it, before it has been revised and polished. With most agents, you get ONE shot to entice them to request your full manuscript, and ONE shot to wow them with it once they do. So even though simply finishing a novel feels like an accomplishment worthy of winning representation, resist the urge to query right away. You don't want to blow your chance to land your first-choice agent. When the work IS ready, be both selective and realistic in deciding who to query. A good match is crucial to having a good publishing experience.

Me: What part of the publishing process has been a pleasant surprise for you? What has been an unpleasant surprise?

Therese: Pleasant surprise: that someone like me, with no prior publishing credentials and no connections, could land a great agent and be so well published right out of the gate. When we're in the aspiring stage, we tend to focus on the sale of our manuscript to a single publisher, so I was amazed by the foreign, audio, large print, and book club rights sales that followed my primary sale in short order--well, preceded it, in the case of my German and Italian deals. I never expected my first book to be my publisher's lead title. I certainly didn't imagine that Barnes & Noble would choose Souvenir as a Book Club selection (coming up in May)! All of this makes for an auspicious start, as one reviewer noted--but I would not have believed it could happen to me. It just goes to show that the "secret" to getting published (at any level) is NOT "who you know," it's "what you write."

Unpleasant surprise: my PW review! Whoever reviewed Souvenir for that publication came up with an opinion that was SO contradictory to what I've heard and seen elsewhere that it still stymies me. Among other things, the review claims that, "unfortunately Fowler does little to create narrative tension," and yet I had been hearing--and continue to hear--from readers and other reviewers those wonderful words, "Impossible to put down." PW claims the characters aren't well-rendered, and yet I regularly hear from readers who care about them deeply. In the most marked of contrasts, Library Journal gave the book a starred review. There's no telling whether the reviewer who gets your book will be truly skilled at the job. The trade reviewers are freelancers and, in the case of PW and Kirkus, anonymous, which means you can't track them for quality or consistency. There are editors overseeing things, of course, but that's no comfort to the scores of authors whose books get not only panned (often erroneously) but sneered at too. Forget the author's feelings: no bookseller's or reader's interests are being served by such a review. John Grisham noted in a recent interview how wrong it seems that ordinary writers are reviewing other writers' books for major publications; as he pointed out, film critics aren't filmmakers; music critics aren't songwriters. Book critics ideally should not be writers who are earning $50 a review as a side job. Really good freelance reviewers do exist, but they are not the norm. I'm quite open to any fair and well-considered review, but now I know that's not always what I'm going to get.

Me: Well regardless of what that PW reviewer thought, Souvenir is doing really well and it has had such high expectations from the start. It sold in auction and in ten foreign territories right off the bat. It's a lead title for Random House. All of this makes me wonder if while writing Souvenir, did you ever get a sense that this might be it? That this might be the one to get published? Something that felt perhaps righter about Souvenir than your previous two books?

Therese: Not definitively, no. I was aware, though, that the writing came more easily than with my two previous attempts. And I did feel I'd honed in on my target market better. The question of whether or not my agent would agree, though, was a nail-biter. In fact, after I'd mailed off the manuscript I was sure that what I'd written was crap. It wasn't until after my agent started reading and gave me some preliminary feedback that I dared to imagine that Souvenir would make the cut.

Me: I know that for me, what I took away from Souvenir is the importance of having lived a meaningful life. What do you hope is the one thing that readers should take away from Souvenir?

Therese: THE one thing? That's tough...but perhaps the most central and useful take-away is that we should all strive to live consciously.

Thanks Therese. And now get back to work on book 2 as I am now anxiously waiting to read a second Therese Fowler book.


ChristineEldin said...

Great interview!!! This is on my summer list. I've popped over at Theresa's here and there, but mostly as a lurker. It's incredible to be witness to a writer's journey from the beginning!

Many congratulations to Theresa for her success!!!!

Lisa said...

We SO have to get together the next time I'm in DC. Like you, I normally don't read any women's fiction or romance. Having said that, I found myself totally behind Meg and I was also very drawn into Savannah's story. I blew off work (ssshhh) for several hours after I'd read until after 2 a.m. so I could find out how the story would end. I really couldn't put the book down. I could not help but be wowed by the way Therese managed a multiple POV story. She is incredibly talented author and this is a great interview.

Therese said...

Thanks a bunch for the review, Ell!

I'm glad that even though it isn't the kind of thing you usually read, you gave the book a chance.

Here's something funny, but true: while a very long time ago I read a lot of romance, I haven't, now, for years and years. I didn't read NS or many of the top women's fiction authors before writing this book, because as a reader I'm more like you--a skeptic, an eye-roller. As a writer, though, I liked the idea and the challenge of raising the genre bar.

Writing an emotional story was horizon-broadening for me--and I get the most remarkable fan mail, which is an unexpected treat and rewarding beyond all.

Thanks again for sharing the Ello take on SOUVENIR.


Patti said...

i am late to this party, and to theresa's book, but this is one i will read. how could i not when those i respect are saying wowee?!

Melissa Marsh said...

LIke you, I normally wouldn't read a book like Souvenir, but I'm so glad I did. It's excellent!

spyscribbler said...

A great book! I read and loved it. Any book that can inspire me, make me think, and make me cry, is a great book in my, er, book.


Mary Witzl said...

I haven't read this book yet, but after reading your review I want to.

I'm an eye-roller too. A romance has to be very deftly, realistically done before I'm willing to suspend disbelief and not snort with disgust. This one sounds like it fits the bill.

Larramie said...

Ello, I had the same experience as you did but that, in itself, gives credit to Therese's skill, talent and success!

J. L. Krueger said...

Ok Ell, based on your post I'll actually read this book.

You might find this hard to believe, but I actually read and liked "Little Women"...can't believe I'm admitting that.

Every now and then I pick up one of these kinds of books. Too often I can't make it through, but every now and then one hits even me. This one may.

Thanks for putting this out there for us.

Demon Hunter said...

Great interview, Ello! :*) I've been lurking on Therese's blog as well. It's great to see how this all worked out. Congratulations, Therese! :*) Even though I don't read this genre, I'll definitely check your book out.

Sherry ~ Cherie ~ ms. herbes de provence said...

I loved this. I'm hoping to read this book shortly, and the way you described your reaction -- initially is pretty much how I am about books of this "genre" -- so to hear you say it was well worth staying, and the initial eye rolling, I think I'm going to enjoy this one!