A Little Author Love With Sarah McCoy and The Baker’s Daughter

When Sarah McCoy and I chose Valentine’s Day as the day for her to come back to Women’s Fiction Writers, it was her idea to make this interview like two friends getting together for a glass of champagne and chocolates.  Have I mentioned lately that she is brilliant?  Not only have Sarah and I been connecting online since before our first interview on Women’s Fiction Writers, but we’ve found we share a love of dogs and a certain disdain for laundry.  Sarah’s new book, The Baker’s Daughter, was released by in January by Crown.

Please show Sarah McCoy some Women’s Fiction Writers love — and today we toast to all of you, our lovely writerly sweethearts!

A Little Author Love With Sarah McCoy and The Baker’s Daughter

Amy: Happy Valentine’s Day, Sarah!  Congratulations on the release of your second novel, THE BAKER’S DAUGHTER.  Since today’s theme is love, please share with Women’s Fiction Writers what you just *love* about your new book (beside the fact that it’s awesome) — maybe something about one of the characters or the plot or setting — something readers can look out for so they can love it too!  

Sarah: Thanks for the kind words and for being my blogger Valentine, my dear! Such a pleasure. I’m sliding that box of virtual chocolates your way.

To your first question: It’s hard to pick a solitary thing you love about one of your book babies, so I’ll choose an aspect unique to THE BAKER’S DAUGHTER: there are a dozen of Elsie’s recipes in the Epilogue. Recipes in novels are not revolutionary, but as a reader, I’ve always found it thrilling when a story-related recipe was included. There’s something magical in that fiction-to-reality crossover. Readers can make Elsie’s German delicacies and taste for themselves the items described in the novel. It’s like a spell: mix flour, water, yeast, and spices, and suddenly, Elsie is alive in your kitchen. You can see her rolling and kneading as you work the ingredients, feel her in the give of the dough, hear her in the clink of the mixing spoon to bowl, and smell her in the baking. You can flip back to the chapters where the characters eat that baked good and taste it with them—tangibly live the scene. I love that about THE BAKER’S DAUGHTER.

Amy: What part of writing a novel do you just *adore* and — although I hate to ask — what’s your least favorite part?

Sarah: I adore the creative process of weaving the narrative together. Finding the right material and matching threads. Piecing it together like a beloved quilt. It drapes over you as you work, keeping you warm and comforted. Sure, you encounter needle pricks, thread tangles, and places where the fabric puckers so you must go back, undo the stitching, and try again. You get frustrated that a yarn is just a shade off, and must be pulled completely out. No choice. It takes time and energy. Your body aches. Your eyes burn. You grow haggard and age without realizing it because all of you is being given to creation. You bleed into it and lose friends to it. The edges are tear-stained. But in the end, when you stand back and stop fussing over the microscopic, you realize, holy, wow, look at that—I wrote a book. It’s a crazy, often OCD-inducing occupation that you either wholeheartedly adore or you stay far, far away from.  I’ve already developed the weaver’s hunchback and so, am not fit for anything else. It is what I do—what I must do.

Amy: Being an author in 2012 means more than writing books — it means social media, social media, social media.  People seem to have a love/hate relationship with Facebook and Twitter and all the others.  What works for you?  And why?

Sarah: Lord have mercy, I’m not sure anything really works! I just jump on the Internet and race back and forth between Twitter and Facebook chatting with as many friends and readers as possible. My social networking has no strategic rhyme or reason. I simply tweet/Facebook for as long as I have available after writing and spending QT with my family (husband and fur-babe, Gilly). I try to keep a social media-writing balance. It’s hard. But I feel guilty when I neglect either for too long.

I took a 2-week hiatus from all social media a few months back and found it awfully difficult. I’d be sitting on the couch after a long day of writing and my inner Twitter chick would chirp, “You could be tweeting right now. You’re too brain dead to work anymore so what are you going to do—watch TV? How is that better than talking to your book friends?” See, the birdie is quite convincing.

I do advocate for the social network blackout when I’m in the midst of writing. I can’t write a stitch when my mind is pinging across Twitter feeds, Facebook threads, and blogs. For the past many months, I’ve been lucky in that I haven’t been in novel-topia, so I’ve been able to chat a lot more than usual. I hope y’all will understand and know where I am when I’m not as present in the social media spheres… it means I’m under that quilt I talked about earlier, eyeballs to my new novel’s seams.

Amy: Is that next for you? Are you writing – or have you finished – book #3? What do you love about book #3? 

Sarah: Yes, I am writing book baby #3! I’ve been working on the first draft in the hours not devoted to THE BAKER’S DAUGHTER release. I’m leaving for my East Coast book tour in two days so I won’t be able to get back to my third book’s characters for a bit. Hopefully, I’ll have some uninterrupted time in the spring/early-summer when THE BAKER’S DAUGHTER tour schedule has eased up. Truthfully, I don’t think I could wait much longer. I already miss that story so terribly. I dream about it and wake up frantically scribbling down conversations and connecting narrative threads. The story has become my new obsession. I don’t usually like to give plot previews of my works-in-progress in case the characters’ story takes a 180-turn or I have to rip the stitching apart and start anew! But I’ll break my own rule for you. It IS Valentine’s Day, and the subject matter seems to beg revelation in honor.

My third novel is consumed by the concept of nurturing—the definition of being a nurturer. What lengths my main characters will go to fulfill their parental desires; what happens when traditional paths fail them; can they forgive and accept one another enough to redefine their dreams? A setting I absolutely adore and a carousel of lively characters help them come to decisions that ultimately govern their future.

Aw, even talking about it makes my heart quicken.

Amy: How do your novel or character ideas come to you? You can tell us if it’s an arduous process – or if you love it!

Sarah: To be totally truthful, I have absolutely no idea how my ideas come to me. I wish I had a more erudite answer instead of the pudding head, “I dunno.” They show up like the seasons.

I have a big oak tree outside my writing office window. It being perpetual summertime in West Texas, I often catch myself staring at in late-August wondering when the leaves will change. September comes. Then October. And with Halloween around the bend, there it stands—green as a holly bush. I start to think the oak tree getup is a masquerade. Then one morning, I look out and voila! It’s head to toe yellow. Autumn. It inexplicably arrives with no forewarning. One day it isn’t and the next, it is. I don’t try to understand the daily miracles—why or how or when they come. I just accept them with appreciation and gratitude. 

Amy: What do you love doing when you’re not writing — although having seen photos of that scrumptious puppy of yours, I think I know at least one of the answers!  

Sarah: Oh, you better believe it, sister. I’m a dog devotee. In fact, tomorrow is Gilbert’s 10-month puppy birthday! He was born April 15, 2011, and I think he’s perfection in fur. As his momma, I’m biased, of course. So, yes, taking care of and spending time with him is one of my favorite non-writing activities. 

I also enjoy traveling with my husband. By my nature, I’m more of a homebody. My husband is the true explorer. He could throw together a backpack in an hour and be ready to hit the road. I’m grateful for his sense of adventure. He’s a wonderful travel mate because his easy-going personality makes even the highest mountain surmountable. While I love discovering new places, what I love even more is the homecoming. But you can’t experience the bliss of coming home unless you’ve left it, right? Each new town I visit and each kind stranger I meet inspire my fiction, so I consider the neurotic pack-n-go process a necessary evil for a grander good.

I also enjoy cooking, theater performances, jogging, Pilates and yoga, watching anything on Turner Classic Movie channel, reading (of course), hmm… what else, what else. Oh, and in the last year I’ve developed a fondness for arts-n-crafts, particularly those dealing with stationery: wrapping presents, creating personalized notes and card stock, embellishing with monograms, etc. It’s incredibly nerdy and bookish. Yet, I’ve found myself drawn to the paper aisles in Michael’s and Hobby Lobby time and time again. A couple Twitter friends (@TooFondofBooks and @Bookgirl96) introduced me to Curly Girl Design stationery, and my world will never be the same.

Amy: The most surprising thing to me about this industry I learned the moment I sold my novel, is that while it would *seem* we are each other’s direct competition, we are each other’s biggest supporters and cheerleaders.  If you could share one thing YOU love about the wide world of traditional publishing, at a time when these publishers (and some authors) are being bashed as they find their way  — what would it be? 

Sarah: Congrats again on your debut novel being published! That’s such a monumental accomplishment. I can’t wait to wave my pompoms overhead for you, Amy Sue!

You’re right about fellow authors. We are each other’s champions! We’ve got to be, especially as women writers. Our writing community is wonderful. I’m daily awed by how much love, support, and genuine friendship I find therein. You, my dear, are certainly a case in point.

Another aspect I cherish in the book business—and this may not be the most PC thing to say living in a read-it-fast, instant download lovin’ world— but I love the paper and glue of traditional publishing. In a recent New York Times Book Review Podcast, Sam Tanenhaus said that publishers are witnessing a resurgence in the popularity and sales of hardcopy books. I kid you not, I was walking Gil through our neighborhood when I heard it and said hallelujah out loud. I appreciate, respect and recognize the luxury of e-books, but there’s nothing like holding your book baby, smelling the ink, feeling the weight of paper, flipping the pages. Those tangibles make it… real.

Recently, another Twitter friend became a mother, and we threw her a virtual book shower. I immediately picked the most gorgeous copy of The Velveteen Rabbit I could find. That story is one of my childhood treasures. A line that never ceases to give me goosebumps is when the Skin Horse tells the Velveteen Rabbit: “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

That sums up how I feel about paper books. I love publishing for feeling the same and being a bastion for literature—palpable and virtual.

Amy: Thank you so much for spending time with us again, Sarah.  I’m going to pop the cork on another bottle of bubbly — and find more of those chocolates I love that are hiding around here somewhere! (I like the dark chocolate vanilla creams!) 

Sarah: Thank you for being a sweet Valentine hostess, and please, I’m extending my champagne glass. Pour some of that honey sparkle over here, girlfriend. Cheers!

SARAH McCOY is the author of the novels THE BAKER’S DAUGHTER and THE TIME IT SNOWED IN PUERTO RICO. THE BAKER’S DAUGHTER released on January 24, 2012 and was praised as a “beautiful heart-breaking gem of a novel” by Tatiana de Rosnay, international bestselling author of SARAH’S KEY and a
“thoughtful reading experience indeed” by New York Times bestselling author Chris Bohjalian. THE BAKER’S DAUGHTER is a Doubleday/Literary Guild Book Club selection. Sarah has taught writing at Old Dominion University and at the University of Texas at El Paso. The daughter of an army officer, her family was stationed in Germany during her childhood. She currently lives with her husband and dog, Gilbert, in El Paso, Texas, where she is working on her next novel.

Website: http://sarahmccoy.com/

Blog: http://sarahmccoy.wordpress.com/
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2770941.Sarah_McCoy
Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/SarahMMcCoy
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorSarahMcCoy.FanPage

Author Sarah McCoy Says “Write The Story That Keeps You Up At Night”

Sarah McCoy is one of those authors you meet (online) and then feel like you always known her. She’s generous above-and-beyond the writerly call of duty — although I must admit I’ve met only a few authors since starting this blog who aren’t generous in one way or another.  Sarah’s advice about taking what she knows and allowing it to “walk its own path” really struck a chord with me, as did reaching into unknown subject territory. For some writers that might mean culture, time and place; for others it might mean something other-worldly; for others it means tackling unusual subject matter or quirky characters. 

And that’s when you know someone is imparting good advice for writers — when it’s personal and specific, yet at the same time, universal.  (Thanks for that, Sarah!)

Please welcome Sarah McCoy to Women’s Fiction Writers.  It’s so exciting to have her here — and to know that her new book will be in my TBR pile this Spring!

Interview with Author Sarah McCoy

ASN: The Time It Snowed In Puerto Rico was your debut novel.  Can you share your writing and publishing journey?

SM: I had the opportunity to write my debut novel while swaddled in a wonderful creative writing MFA program at Old Dominion University. The Time It Snowed In Puerto Rico was my thesis work. I wrote it under the mentorship of the incomparable Sheri Reynolds (A Gracious Plenty, Rapture of Canaan, The Sweet In-Between). I learned so much from her and all my ODU writing professors. Within weeks of graduating from the program, my husband received orders for Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. So we packed up our Virginia house and moved 2,000 miles to the Tex-Mex border. I sent out query letters to New York City agents from there. It took nine months to secure an agent and two months to find a publisher. So roughly a year of searching for a publishing home after the manuscript was written and polished in my program. I finally held my first book baby about eighteen months after I signed the contract. Publishing is the tortoise’s race, for sure. While my first book was on the Random House conveyor belt, I was at home writing my second, The Baker’s Daughter.

ASN: We’ve talked a lot on the blog about using real life to influence fiction.  What bits of your own real life did you incorporate or tweak for the book?  Was it easy to separate fact from fiction?

SM: In my fiction, I use environmental and historical facts to anchor the characters, but I allow them to walk their own paths. So while, yes, my personal connections to Puerto Rico, Germany, El Paso, etc. do influence the landscape of my imagination, I never try to force myself (the author) on my characters. As in real life, sometimes the facts get slightly fictionalized by time and flawed human memory, and sometimes the emotions of fiction ring truer than all the history books. Some authors hold fast to the mantra, “Write what you know.” I believe that works beautifully for some stories, but others ask us to write what we do not know—to dig a little deeper, research, investigate, and step into the shoes of people of a different time or place or culture and discover something new. It’s the author’s calling to have an open mind and a listening ear to what the story is trying to tell us. Not necessarily what we are trying to tell in the story.

ASN: Do you have any writing rituals? What’s the first draft process like for you?

SM: Oh, yes, I have far too many writing rituals. First off, I’m a hermit writer. Some folks are able to write lovely prose in coffee shops, bookstores, libraries, little cafe’s and such. I’ve never been one of them. I must be completely alone, walled up from the world, in my same chair at my same desk with my journal, Post-It notes and cup of tea at hand. I can’t have television or music or phones around. I need quiet solitude to hear every word the characters are saying. It’s a lonely process—a kind of self-exile that baffles some people, but it’s how I work best. I’ve tried being the social butterfly writer—sitting down with other writers at a communal space with serenity music playing overhead, and I can’t get a good word down. My first drafts are messy muddled things. I write out the basic plot in my journal, diagramming the first chapters into scene and summary outlines. I use Post-It notes as action options, sticking them here or there as reminders and ideas that may or may not flush out on the page. These items are my road map, but the writing does the actual driving. I try never to be afraid of the garbage either. I’ve trashed chapters and even whole books. Yes, I have novels no one will ever see because they simply don’t work for me, and I want to be the first to admit that. So, needless to say, my first draft process is fierce. I’m incredibly self-critical. My writing is a kind of crazy romance. It’s manic, frustrating and completely spellbinding, yet even as I bang my head against my laptop, I’m grateful because I love it.

ASN: Can you (will you?) tell us what you’re working on now?

SM: I don’t usually talk about my works-in-progress—not because I’m superstitious but because I view books like babies. They need their time in the womb, safely hidden from even the most loving glances, to grow strong and full. So if we were to put a sonogram wand to my current novel, I could tell you the basic shape and theme. It’s about characters exploring what it means to parent, the various avenues one can mother/father besides the obvious act of being a mother/father. They experience great loss and great joy as they embrace different modes of nurturing individually and together.

ASN: What is your definition of women’s fiction?

SM: I’m a huge advocate of female writers, but to be honest, I’m not sure I buy into the masculine and feminine qualifiers for fiction. A good book is simply a good book. The author’s sex is peripheral. The characters and story are the heart. I aim for men and women readers to gain new understanding and perspective from my novels. I believe that should be the goal of all writers, perhaps even more so for women since critics are quick to label our work. Personally, I’m waiting for the sign to go up on a bookstore aisle reading: Men’s Fiction. Even things up a bit.

ASN: What is your best advice specifically for aspiring authors of women’s fiction?

SM: My advice to aspiring female authors is to never be afraid to reach into unknown subject territory. Go there. Bravely. Write the story that would keep you up at night and would make you sing its praises from the rooftops. Write the story that you’d want your best friend to read, your husband, your mother and father, sisters and brothers, neighbors and coworkers… because they will, and you’ve got to believe that. You’ve got to have your vision set and not be deterred by failures along the way. And most importantly, read! Read as much as your eyeballs can take. You can learn so much from your favorite authors. You’re so wonderful to have me on your blog, Amy. Your readers inspire me. I love empowered women!

Sarah McCoy is author of the novel, The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico. She has taught English writing at Old Dominion University and at the University of Texas at El Paso. The daughter of an Army officer, her family was stationed in Germany during her childhood. Her second novel, The Baker’s Daughter releases from Crown/Random House on January 24, 2012 and is available for preorder. She currently lives with her husband and dog, Gilbert, in El Paso. You can read more about Sarah and her books on her website (www.sarahmccoy.com) or hang out with her on Twitter (@SarahMMcCoy), and Facebook.