We’re pleased to bring you part 2 of my interview Sarah Addison Allen, author of “a quirky book of Southern-fried magical realism” called Garden Spells and her second mainstream novel (also quirky, Southern and possessing a rich wallop of magical realism), The Sugar Queen.
If you missed part one of my interview with the delightful Ms. Allen, click HERE, then come back. This week, we dish her next works, what she wishes she’d known about the industry, promotional efforts and more.
Interview with Sarah Addison Allen: Part 2
Q: How long do you take to write a first draft? How long do you take for editing? Have you noticed any changes to your process over the course of the last books?
SAA: The process has taken longer with my more recent books because I’ve had to juggle touring and promotion with writing. Garden Spells took about four months to write, with two more months to edit. The Sugar Queen took about nine months total to write. My third book is currently well past the year mark.
Q: How involved are you in the marketing of your work? What steps do you take? What promo efforts have you found to be the most successful?
SAA: I was very lucky with Garden Spells. It was chosen as a Barnes and Noble Recommends book, and received a great deal of exposure because of that. But I found, even after the B&N spotlight faded, the book still had legs. And word of mouth was the reason. Word of mouth is one of the greatest, but unfortunately one of the most mercurial, promotional tools out there.
Q: You must have had fun with the enchanted foods and drinks described in Garden Spells, like honeysuckle wine and its ability to help people see in the dark, and recognize things they hadn’t before. You also provide a “Waverley Kitchen Journal” at the end of your book, including certain garden flowers and herbs-like dandelion, lemon verbena, rose petals and squash blossoms-and describing their magical properties. Did you imagine all of these properties, or was there any research and folklore involved? Do you have any food stories of your own to share?
SAA: I come from a long line of great Appalachian mountain cooks. However, I can barely boil water. It’s disgraceful. But I make up for this shameful inability to prepare food with the unbounded joy of consuming it. I love food. I love the comforting nature of it. I love the sensual nature of it. And it always finds its way into what I write. For Garden Spells, I did a lot of research on edible flowers. What’s in the book is actually a combination of real and imaginary. Every flower I mention is edible, and some of the “magical” properties are based on real medicinal or folkloric uses of edible flowers. Such as, there’s a real French eye wash made from cornflowers (or bachelor buttons), so I took that use and made it magical. In the book, cooking with bachelor buttons will allow the eater to see things that were previously hidden — misplaced keys or hidden agendas.
Q: How does your second novel, The Sugar Queen, differ from Garden Spells? What challenges do you set before the characters in your second book? What is its theme? What unique challenges did the book pose for you, if any?
SAA: I put a tremendous amount of pressure on myself while writing The Sugar Queen. I wanted it to be its own story, while at the same time I wanted it to appeal to the readers of Garden Spells. Food, again, plays a big part in this story. Southern and rural candies, in particular (Moonpies, Goo-Goo Clusters, Cow Tales, Chick-O-Sticks, oh my!). One of the themes of The Sugar Queen is emotional eating and, being an emotional eater myself, I stress-ate my way through this book. I actually gained a lot of weight while writing it. The Sugar Queen taught me a lot about myself not only as a writer, but as an eater.
Q: You mentioned the pressure you put on yourself while writing The Sugar Queen. Now that you’re on your third book, do you sense this pressure lightening? I imagine second-book syndrome is a beast unto itself! How have things changed for you—confidence-wise—between books 1 and 2, books 2 and 3?
SAA: I think the pressure is the same — at least it feels the same. Anxiety is, unfortunately, a natural part of my creative process. But I’ve learned to recognize it for what it is…and not to eat my way through it.
Q: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received as a writer?
SAA: Amy Bloom once told me that the secret of successful writers is to wear comfortable shoes. Wise words I pass on to you now.
Q: Name one thing you’d like other writers to know, or a lesson you’d like to impart.
SAA: Don’t give up because of the dark days. Succeed in spite of them. The dark days make the bright days seem even brighter. So bright you can hardly stand it.
Q: What’s something you wish you’d known about the business end of things earlier?
SAA: How to write a better query letter. My early ones were CRAPTASTIC. I apologize to all the agents out there who were victims of them.
Q: What are you reading now?
SAA: The Keepsake by Tess Gerritsen. There are times when only a good serial killer book will do.
Q: What are you working on now?
SAA: I’m finishing up The Girl Who Chased the Moon, my third book, which will be out in May 2009. It has all the magic, romance, the quintessential Southern setting and the food readers have come to expect from a SAA book. I did a lot of delicious research on North Carolina barbeque for this book. It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it…
Q: Please tell us a bit more about The Girl Who Chased the Moon! (I love this title, by the way!) Who are the main characters and what do they want? What stands in their way? Any new themes?
SAA: The Girl Who Chased the Moon is about a seventeen year old who has lost her mother and is sent to live with her grandfather in a small barbeque town in North Carolina. There are lots of secrets and magical occurrences, and the theme centers on how we define home. I like to call this book my ode to the Southern man. My previous books had heroes who weren’t from the South. All the men in this book are purely Southern. Starched cotton, sexy drawls and all.
Thanks so much, Sarah, for a great interview, and best of luck with The Girl Who Chased the Moon!