Monday, January 12, 2015

Courtney Rice Gager, Tess in Boots

Author: Courtney Rice Gager
Title: Tess in Boots
Publisher: Anaiah Press

Please tell us about yourself.
I'm thirty. Let's just get that out there, because maybe if I say it enough times it will finally feel real. I am married to a man who is truly too fantastic to put into words. I am a mom to an amazing little girl who's two, and by the time this interview goes live, I'll hopefully have another awesome little someone (expected to arrive in January 2015). I picture this new baby sleeping really well and never crying. And while we're fantasizing, I also picture myself losing the baby weight in about a week and celebrating with a vacation in Maui where I will sit with my toes in the sand while refreshing my iPad to track my chart-topping Amazon rankings. Wait - what was the question again? Oh, yeah. I live in Southern New Jersey, which is nothing like reality television would lead you to believe. I'm a Christian, coffee-lover, awkward-wedding-dancer, and crust-first-pizza-eater. I tend to joke around a lot; so much so that when I was in labor with my daughter, they sent me home from the hospital because I was "too happy" to be in real labor (#HappyPeopleProblems). I am from a small town in Virginia that is not so small anymore, and I graduated from Virginia Tech. My husband, who probably knows me better than anyone, would describe me as "endearingly clumsy" - which is just a nice way of saying it's only a matter of time before I trip up the stairs or back the car into something... again. I like to keep things interesting.

When and why did you begin writing?
Just today I was cleaning out a bunch of junk in the attic, and I came across some old comic strips I wrote in middle school. Not for an assignment or anything - but for fun. This was before Diary of a Wimpy Kid was a thing, so I like to think I was a bit ahead of my time. These comic strips are a perfect example of the fact that for my whole life, I've felt an itch to write. I can look back on certain moments in my life and recognize them as defining ones, sure, but for the most part, writing is simply who I am and who I've always been. The reality of being a writer is that it's not very exciting or glamorous at all. There's a lot of sitting alone in utter silence with your computer. When I really think about it, it's kind of weird that I love it so much, but I do. I can't stop telling stories or arranging words, even if it's just in my mind. So I guess the short answer to the question is: I started writing before I can remember, and I did it because it felt like breathing.

What inspired you to write your first book?
I had just finished school, and I had this realization that I wouldn't be turning in any more creative writing assignments. If I was going to write, it was time to set a real-life goal and work toward it. So I set a goal to write five hundred words a day until I was finished with the book. Some days I met that goal, some days I exceeded it, and some days I failed miserably. But the goal was there, and I didn't abandon it. I was more concerned with the process of actually writing a book than I was with the finished product - which was a good thing, because my first book was not a masterpiece. I like sharing that story though, because it's important to start somewhere. I've talked to quite a few people who want to write but are afraid to get started because they're afraid to fail. For me, it was freeing to let that fear of failure go and realize that sometimes, failure is a prerequisite to growth.

Are you a full-time writer or part-time, and how do you organize your writing time?
I stay home to care for my young kids, so the majority of my time goes to them. I adore being a mom, but I'm not one of those super-organized moms with color-coded labels on the pantry shelves. I wouldn't say my writing time is organized at all. I mostly write during stolen moments in the early morning hours or during nap time. On a typical day, I'll set my alarm for around four in the morning so I can get two or three hours of writing in. Then, I'll write during afternoon nap time, which is usually from about one until three. That's a typical day, but of course, moms of little kids rarely have typical days. So it varies depending on what we have going on (or how much peanut butter I need to scrape out of my hair). It's virtually impossible for me to write at night, because my brainpower decreases by seventy percent after eight o'clock. (True fact.)

Do you ever have writer’s block? If so, how do you get through it?
Oh, yeah. When I get writer's block, I let myself off the hook. If the words aren’t rattling their cages begging to be let out, I know it’s best to step away from the computer. I have a bit of a chaotic personality, so being overly structured and forcing myself to push through writer’s block doesn’t work for me. What does work is focusing on something else. So if I’m experiencing writer’s block, I’ll decide to… oh, I don’t know… clean out the pantry. Just when I’m starting to get into a groove on that task, I’ll find my mind wandering back to my writing. Soon, I can’t let another minute pass without getting back to my story. So I’ll abandon the pantry and fire up my laptop. It’s great for my creative process… it’s not so great for home organization. This method won’t work for everyone, but for me, I prefer to be distracted by my writing, as opposed to being distracted from my writing.

Who is your publisher and how did you connect with them?
I found my publisher, Anaiah Press, as a result of a Twitter pitch party. I had been querying my manuscript, Tess in Boots, for about four months when I entered the #AdPit contest on February 5, 2014. Kara Leigh Miller (who was a stranger at the time but is now my beloved editor who I rave about every chance I get) saw the pitch and requested my query and first ten pages. Anaiah Press was already on my list of publishers to query, so I happily sent the partial. Kara responded later that day with a request for the full manuscript. On February 28th, I received notification from Kara that Anaiah Press was offering me a contract for publication and I did the cabbage patch in my kitchen to celebrate. Twitter is such an important tool for writers. Did you hear that, writers? I can't stress enough how important it is to be on Twitter! (And I love the irony of the fact that some of the most verbose people on the planet communicate with one another in spurts of 140 characters. How great is that?)

How can we find you? Website, Facebook, Twitter, blog, etc.?
I adore hearing from my readers! I also love connecting with other writers. The easiest way to find me is to head to my blog: From there, you can follow me on Twitter, find my Facebook fan page, and get links to my books. Please say hi – you’ll make my day!

Tell us about the current book you’re promoting.
I’m currently promoting Tess in Boots, which was released on December 2, 2014. My main character, Tess, is a planner, but lately her life isn't going as planned. So she makes a new plan to disappear. She ends up leaving her city apartment for a remote vineyard in North Carolina, where she meets the insanely-dreamy Thatcher. As Tess gets comfortable on the vineyard, she finds herself falling for Thatcher, and falling in love with the simple life in a small Southern town. She even swaps her trademark heels for a pair of cowboy boots. But things aren't what they seem. There's a secret on the vineyard. When the truth comes to light, Tess is forced to reconsider every plan she's ever made.

Do you outline before you write?  If not, what’s your initial process?
Yes and no. If by outlining you mean scribbling notes on napkins or old receipts, then yes, I outline. But if you're talking about an organized chart that I could hand in to my eleventh-grade English teacher... then I'm not your girl. One thing I can't live without during my initial writing process is a calendar. I love having an empty calendar on hand, so I can write out plot points as if I were scheduling my dentist appointments or something. Using a calendar to plot my story helps me to get a feel for the way things are paced. It's messy and a bit haphazard at times, but that suits my writing style well.

What comes first: the plot or characters?
This question has me so stumped. It reminds me of the age-old nature verse nurture debate, only in literary form. I honestly can't answer it in one word, but I can say that my plot and my characters grow together as my stories progress, and especially during the editing process. The plot shapes the characters, and the characters shape the plot. I can't separate the two elements in my mind enough to determine which precedes which. I'll also say there are times when I'm writing and a character does something that surprises me. This happened a few times while writing Tess in Boots. It's almost like, as the writer, I have something planned and I think everything is going to go precisely according to my plan. But as I write the character, I realize in the moment that the character I've created would do or say something else entirely. Those are the coolest moments, when one of my characters takes over and develops a mind of their own. So I guess maybe I can answer the question. The characters come first, because they often end up driving the plot. But then again, the plot builds the characters and gets me walking around in their shoes so I have time to get to know them. Nope... I can't answer the question, after all. Do I sound crazy? I probably am. Writers are weird.

What was the process of creating this book from the first idea to the final published book?
Scribbling ideas on a napkin, several months of writing, several months of querying, a break from querying for another round of edits, and back to querying (more details on that below). Once I was contracted: more editing than I thought possible! It was a lot of work, but it was so worth it. Did I mention how much I love my editor?

How long does it take to write a book, and what is your process?
When I was a kid, there was this commercial on for Tootsie Roll Tootsie Pops. The big question was, "How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Tootsie Pop?" And the answer was, "The world may never know." It's hard to fit the process of writing a book into a neat little package within a defined timeframe. It completely depends on the book, external everyday-life factors, and a number of different variables. I started writing Tess in Boots in March of 2013, and I spent about two to four hours a day actually writing. I also spent a lot of time thinking about the story. So much of my writing happens when I'm not writing at all. If I feel constantly compelled to think about a story, I write at an accelerated pace when it's to time sit down and get the words on the page. That was the case with Tess in Boots, and the process went much faster than other projects I've worked on. I began querying the book in September of 2013.
I had a lot of interest, a lot of requests for my full manuscript, and a lot of rejection. I took every bit of professional feedback very seriously, and in December of 2013, I took a month off from querying to revise my manuscript based on the feedback I received. I am so grateful for every agent and editor who read my manuscript, rejected it, and gave me specific feedback as to why they rejected it. They helped make the story what it is today. I queried Anaiah Press with the revised (stronger than ever!) manuscript in February of 2014 and it resulted in my first official publishing contract. This whole process happened in slightly less than one year. From there, it took about ten months for the book to be published.

What seven words would you use to describe yourself?
Quirky, imaginative, optimistic, scatterbrained, well-meaning, early-riser, unpunctual. (Yep, unpunctual is a real word! And I realize it completely conflicts with the word early-riser. But I don't wake up so I can be early - I wake up so I can write. That makes me late a lot.)

Describe your writing space.
My writing space has evolved over the years, but most recently I've been writing in a big comfortable leather armchair in the corner of my children's playroom. The chair is catty-cornered between a window and a floor lamp. Since I often write very early in the morning, I usually have the lamp turned on to my right, and a cup of coffee on the windowsill to my left. To get to this chair, I have to step over (and sometimes on) a lot of toys. (Why are kids' toys so spiky, by the way?) But that chair is my sanctuary. I'm at total peace there, regardless of the mess on the playroom floor.

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