Pam Stucky, whose books include Letters From Wishing Rock, talks about her approach to writing and her plans for the future.
Why do you write? Is it something you’ve always done, or always wanted to do? Or is it something that you started fairly recently?
I’ve always wanted to write, but I suppose for a very long time I was always too worried about not being good enough, about what people would say, about being so visible in the world. A few wake-up calls reminded me that we are not guaranteed anything, not even one more day on Earth, so if I was going to try to write, I’d better get started! So finally, just over three years ago, I put pen to paper to ensure I’d never get to the end of life wondering, “what if I’d tried?”
Writing for me is how I think best. I can organize my thoughts on paper (or screen) in ways I never seem to manage in person and on the spot. Unfortunately! And also, I am inherently extremely curious. I don’t know if I’m curious because I’m a writer or the other way around, but I think writers have to be curious and have to observe, extrapolate, think about possibilities and motives and alternatives, about the core of the human heart, about what makes us do the things we do. Putting all the thoughts and ideas and ponderings I accumulate down onto paper (or screen) is a way to unclutter my mind. If I couldn’t write, I’d probably go insane!
Tell me a little about your books.
I love my books! Is that wrong? Before I started writing, I looked around at the landscape of popular novels, and I saw a void. I mean, we love Oprah for making reading sexy again, but must all the books she picks be about traumatic childhoods, incest, abuse, all the pain in the world? I wanted to read something light, positive, fun, funny, engaging. My books are the books I wanted to read, but I didn’t find them out there, so I wrote them: books about community and relationships, written with wit and wisdom, with characters who are more or less positive and who I’d like to know. That doesn’t mean they aren’t complex (I hope) or that they don’t struggle. What it means is that I do my best in real life to stay away from negative people, so I certainly didn’t want those types congregating in my head! Someone described my books as “light without being frivolous,” and I think that’s about right. That was the goal anyway.
The Wishing Rock series so far includes two books: Letters from Wishing Rock (a novel with recipes) and The Wishing Rock Theory of Life (a novel with recipes). These books take place on Dogwinkle Island (I’ll stop here to say it’s so fun being able to name my own island!), in the little town of Wishing Rock, where everyone in town lives in the same building. I’d started writing it in the standard narrative format when on a long plane trip I read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and I loved that format. I knew it was right for these stories. I came home and completely re-wrote what I’d written in a letter format, but to make it modern I wrote emails instead of letters. Many of them are still quite long – longer than most people write – but I figured readers are smart and generally are willing to make some concessions for a story. If they’re willing to believe a wizarding world exists in order to enjoy Harry Potter, then I hope most readers can believe that some people write really long emails, in order to enjoy the Wishing Rock series!
The official short spiel is thus:
What would happen if everyone in town lived in the same building? Ruby Parker is about to find out. Her fiancé has left her and she needs a fresh start, so she moves to Wishing Rock, Washington, a small town on Dogwinkle Island in the waters near Seattle, where she meets a quirky cast of characters who quickly become family. Amidst all the action, Ruby manages to find passion and companionship, but will she be able to open her heart to love? Letters between the neighbors and their friends, interspersed with recipes from some of the town’s best cooks, make Wishing Rock come alive in this delightful and insightful look at life, love, relationships, and community.
The Wishing Rock Theory of Life, book two in the series, continues the story. So as not to spoil what happens in the first novel, I won’t tell you the plot of the second book just yet.
Are there any authors who inspire you?
Writers who can create not just a story but a world inspe. I think often about J.K. Rowling: What an amazing feat, building every intricate detail of her books. That’s amazing! I also am impressed with authors who are able to share history within their novels. History was always my worst subject in school. Most of the history I remember, I remember as a result of having read great historical fiction. The Poisonwood Bible comes to mind as one example. In it, Barbara Kingsolver brings one slice of history of the Congo in the post-colonial era into such poignant detail. I truly admire that ability.
How do you write? Do you make yourself write a certain number of words per day?
Right now I’m at the beginning of the third novel (third in the Wishing Rock series), so my process is more about idea-generating than it is about writing. However, when I’m in prime writing mode it looks like this: Since these books are in e-mail format, each night I’ll outline the next day’s emails – who is going to write to whom, and what the emails will cover. Then in the morning I get up and start writing! At this point in the game, when I’m in writing mode I need to be writing at least 1000 words a day (preferably 1500 to 2000) or I know I’m just being lazy/petulant. I don’t believe in writer’s block. I think writer’s block is not a problem of not knowing what to say (have you ever noticed writers always have something to say?), but rather a fear of not writing it right, or a fear of what people will think about what is about to be written. When I feel writer’s block, to me that’s a sign that I need to let go of the fears. The best way through writer’s block, in my opinion, is simply to write.
Did you try to get a conventional publisher or agent interested before you opted for self-publishing?
I did. I tried very hard! I got some very kind rejections, and a few requests for the full manuscript, but in the end no one was “excited enough” about my work. When I started I had absolutely no intention of ever self-publishing, but as it became more and more clear that my work might never be picked up, I started to explore the option. I’m so glad I did! It’s so much work – a thousand times more than I imagined – but I absolutely love it. Traditional publishing is right for some, but for me, with these books, self-publishing is the right choice.
What goals have you set yourself? Do you want to sell a certain number of books in 2012? Is there some way you measure success, on your own terms?
I’m not to the point where I’m making a living through my books. I do have a pie-in-the-sky goal for my book sales for 2012, but it’s pie-in-the-sky. I’m aiming high but with the knowledge that my goals are very likely next to impossible. That just makes me work all the harder to get there, though, because I love a challenge! Success has some relation to sales, but more than that it’s about living a life that makes me happy and fulfilled, that challenges me and interests me, a life I’m passionate about. Writing books has given me that. The past three years have been transformative for me in how I perceive myself, my life, my goals, and my dreams. And how I perceive what’s possible. I’m still learning so much but I definitely have an eye for what I want out of life in a way I never did before. That’s success. Continuing along that path, continuing to reach for my potential and achieve my goals, that’s continued success. Book sales are a part of it, but a small part. I’ve read that an author has to write four or five books before she’ll be “known,” so for now the goals and success come from writing quality books that people will love – whenever they eventually find them!
Away from Amazon, have you had much luck with other outlets? Do you use Smashwords, Barnes & Noble etc?
My books are available all over. They’re available both as ebooks and in print (via CreateSpace), and can be bought through Amazon, B&N (print and Nook), Sony eReader, iBookstore, Kobo, through my own online store, and a few other “select retailers” of the highest quality! I put my first book into a few independent bookstores, but what I’ve found is that’s really difficult to manage, both for the bookstores and myself, and unless I’m doing a book signing, it’s not the most effective. Independent bookstores are so important to me – I think they’re a community’s equivalent of the canary in the cave, showing the health of the community and letting people know if it’s thriving or dying. But I’m still working on finding a better way to work with them. Indie bookstores and indie authors need a better way to work together. I think about it a lot. Hopefully I’ll find the answer soon!
Do you worry about Amazon gaining a monopoly in the ebook market?
Mostly I worry about writing good books that people want to read. The rest will sort itself out. The writing is the only thing I can control.
What’s next? Are you working on anything at the moment? Do you have anything new coming out in 2012?
Nothing for 2012, but for 2013 I’m working on two (or three) books right now. My primary focus is on the third book in the Wishing Rock series. Books one and two came out in March 2011 and 2012, so I’d love to get the third out in March 2013. The marketing and promotions I’m doing right now for the first two books might stall that date a bit, but I definitely have book three in my sights. I’m so excited about what the characters are going to be facing in the third book. After having written two books with these characters, I suddenly have a delicious craving to put them through the ringer a bit more! I even pondered whether I could get away with killing off a major character – just for the fun of it! Ha! But I don’t think the time is right for that … yet!
The second book I’m working on is a book of humor essays. It’s a completely different genre, and writing humor is extremely challenging, so that one may take a while.
At the back of my mind I’m also re-working a book I started eight years ago. It’s a YA mystery-adventure-slightly sci fi book. Very fun. All the books I write, as I said, are books I totally want to read. I can’t wait until these books are all done because I’m so excited to find out what happens next!