Today I am delighted to share an interview with Francine Garson. She gives out a lot of advice on publishing journeys, how catastrophe can serve as inspiration, and how writing definitely is not a solitary gig. I hope you enjoy this interview!
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
First off, I want to thank you for featuring me on your blog today. It’s a pleasure to chat with you. Whenever I’m asked to tell someone something about myself, I always wonder where to begin. So, I’ll start with the basics–I live about 25-30 minutes from the Atlantic Ocean. Although I’ve lived in a couple of other states, I’ve made my home not far from the small town where I grew up, and I have deep emotional ties to the area.
What has your writing journey looked like?
Like most writers, my writing journey began with the love of reading, and I was blessed with a mother who encouraged and supported that love. Every couple of weeks, with my sister and me in tow, she made the trek out of our semi-rural town to the county library. And from a very early age, I dreamed of becoming an author.
I won my first writing contest at the age of ten with an essay entitled “What Thrift Means to Me.” Although I’m no longer an expert on that particular subject, I guess budgeting my weekly allowance was enough to make me an authority back then.
But putting my writing dreams aside, I went to college, graduate school, and pursued a career in college administration. But I NEVER stopped reading. Then, eleven years ago, I began to write seriously. And surprising even myself, a number of my short pieces (both fiction and non) were published and even won awards.
Today, I realize that those first few years of serious writing as well as a lifetime of insatiable reading were...preparation…the preparation that I needed to do in order to finally realize my childhood dream of writing a novel.
I would like to talk about both of your novels, but let’s start with Things. Can you pitch us this book?
Things is the story of Jenny Gilbert, a successful young college advisor. But secretly, Jenny is also a hoarder and a collector, albeit a very neat one. As a former military brat, she is on a mission to find and reacquire the relics of her childhood she was forced to leave behind with each of her family’s moves.
When Things opens, Jenny has just rented a second apartment in order to accommodate her obsession. But as she tries to hide a complicated web of secrets from the man she’s falling in love with, she becomes enmeshed in a tangle of omissions and half-truths. When it becomes clear that Hurricane Sandy is headed directly for both of her apartments at the New Jersey shore, Jenny finds herself in a truly desperate situation.
Who would this book most appeal to?
I’d classify Things as character-driven contemporary fiction with a romantic element. It would appeal to readers interested in a the story of a likeable female protagonist with psychological issues rooted in her childhood coupled with a strong plot, a descriptive setting, a romance complicated by secrets, and a definite character arc.
What was the inspiration for Things?
Things grew out my own personal experience as a college advisor, my love for my home state of New Jersey (especially the Shore), and my feelings about the catastrophe that was Hurricane Sandy. After seeing firsthand the damage caused by Sandy––mountains of belongings lost and destroyed––and doing some volunteer work at the Shore, I began to wonder what that experience would have been like for someone who was inordinately attached to physical objects and what some of the possible psychological reasons for that attachment could have been.
Can you pitch us your other book, Follow the Leader?
High school freshman, Joanna, the undisputed leader of her group of friends, adores and emulates her aging hippie grandmother, Grace, even taking on her style of dress and tastes in music. But when a new girl arrives at her school, Joanna reveals a darker side.
Could it be possible that Joanna bears the mark of a single reckless mistake her grandmother had made fifty years earlier during San Francisco’s ‘Summer of Love’?
That question, along with the threat of blackmail from her past, has Grace fearing for Joanna’s well-being and agonizing over the hefty price she and her loved ones might pay for the fateful decision she made so many years ago.
Follow the Leader will leave readers asking, “What would I have done?”
Do you have a particular writing process or does it change with each project?
My process always begins with a character in a what-if situation. I believe that the most compelling books, and certainly my own favorites, are those in which the plot develops from the character. In other words, it is the main character’s unique vulnerabilities or emotional wounds that create and drive the plot. And of course, there must be conflict—internal, external, or both. I might have an idea of the end (which could and often does change). But it is the journey toward that end that is the fun, exciting, and oftentimes maddening experience of writing a novel.
What has your path to publication been like?
Before I attempted to write a novel, I’d had some success with the publication of short pieces in print and online magazines. In 2017, I received several partial and then full manuscript requests for Things. But ultimately, I wasn’t offered representation. Then, early the following year, Ant Colony Press, a small publisher in the Midwest, saw something in my book that made them decide to take a chance on this unknown writer from New Jersey, and Things was released in the fall of 2018.
The road to the publication of my second novel was a very different experience. Although Follow the Leader was accepted by Ant Colony Press back in February of 2019, due to the small size of their staff, they wouldn’t have been able to release it until early in 2020. I thought it over, and it was then that I decided to act as my own publisher this time around. I learned to format a manuscript, I hired a cover designer, and I am still educating myself about the intricacies of Amazon. It was certainly a ‘process’ and a learning curve. But ultimately, I love the control of acting as my own publisher. And in hindsight, this was an even better decision than I had realized since the original publisher of Things, in the way of many small presses, closed its doors at the end of 2019. It’s a tough business…
Any advice for fellow writers?
There’s so much writing advice out there, and some of it is contradictory. But over the years, I’ve learned that writing advice is not a universal one-size-fits-all garment that we can all slip into like some sort of magic cloak. Probably the only advice that I believe is absolutely crucial comes from Stephen King:
“If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that."
Anything else you’d like to add?
The path from the initial flicker of a story question to the creation of a novel is a long and solitary journey. I’ve been blessed to have traveled that road with a number of wise and talented writing, reading, and editing buddies. It truly does take a village, and I am deeply grateful for mine.
If you’d like to learn more, please connect with me on Twitter and/or Instagram (@francinegarson on both) and visit my website (www.francinegarson.com).
Thank you so very much, Lev, for your generous support and interest!
Follow Francine on Instagram: @francinegarson