Tuesday

Kindle Author Interview: Pam Stucky

Pam Stucky, author of Letters from Wishing Rock, discusses her book, her journey as a writer, and self-publishing on Kindle.

DAVID WISEHART: What can you tell us about Letters from Wishing Rock?

PAM STUCKY: Here's the official spiel:

Pam Stucky's charming debut novel is already garnering rave reviews and demands for book two in the Wishing Rock series. This engaging, fun read is written in the format of letters/e-mails amongst characters. It combines the easy readability of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and the sassy, irreverent tone of Bridget Jones' Diary, with the slice-of-life sensibilities of Alexander McCall Smith's 44 Scotland Street or Ladies' Detective Agency series.

What would happen if everyone in town lived in the same building? Ruby Parker is about to find out. Her fiancĂ© 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. Letters between the neighbors and their friends chronicle the twists and turns of the characters’ daily lives. There’s Jake, a handsome and charming first-year medical student who catches Ruby’s eye from the start, despite his being over a decade younger. Millie, a Wishing Rock resident for forty years, runs the town’s library, post office, newsletter and grocery store, knows everyone and everything, and shares the history of the area with her playful wit. World traveler and psychic Alexandra bestows insight and wisdom with humor and compassion, and Ruby’s Gran heads to the United Kingdom, heeding her own advice to seize the day. And then there’s Ed; if something fun is going on, the grandson of the town’s founding father is likely at the center of it. Amidst all this action, Ruby manages to find passion and companionship, but will she be able to open her heart to love?

Online dating, a group trip to Scotland, a discussion about dogwinkles, a fateful hoedown, and friendships old and new, all 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.

DAVID WISEHART: How do you develop and differentiate your characters?

PAM STUCKY: Good question. When I first started writing a novel (not this one—another, that's unfinished), I was trying to develop characters from scratch. I had notebooks full of character maps; I spent ages trying to create quirks and traits and habits. It was impossible. Then I finally figured out to use real people as a foundation for my characters, and build from there. So much easier! In the process I learned that there's a difference between characters who are "inspired by" someone, and characters who are "based on" someone. None of my characters is based on anyone—meaning, I wasn't trying to recreate anyone in any of my characters. Most of my characters are inspired by people I know—taking some key characteristics from the people I know and then amplifying them in each person. I don't need to know much about a person for him/her to inspire a character; all I need is my sense of who that person is. It doesn't matter if I'm right or wrong. It just matters that I have a basis from which to build. I start to think about, "a person like this would probably...." and go from there.

Differentiating is a bigger challenge (for me). I won't say that I've mastered that by any means. However, I've read that if authors give characters "tags," that helps the reader keep everyone apart. For example, someone always is twisting her hair, chewing gum, always says "fab!", carries a cup of coffee with him everywhere, stuff like that.

DAVID WISEHART: Who do you imagine is your ideal reader?

PAM STUCKY: My ideal reader is someone who enjoys a smart, witty, and wise character-driven tale about community and relationships. I enjoy the deep, meaningful, insightful books that win all the awards, too, but my book is meant to give people an escape. It's not deep; it's not likely to change anyone's world. It's for people who just want a good read that will make them laugh and at the same time think a bit. I've had so many readers tell me that different parts of the book seemed to be written just for them, gave them wisdom for the challenges they're facing in their own lives. That tells me that I've connected to people on a very real and accessible and universal level. In my novel I wanted to create a community that readers would want to be a part of, a place they might even wish they could move to and people they would want to get to know, and the feedback I've received tells me I have accomplished that.

DAVID WISEHART: What was your journey as a writer?

PAM STUCKY: In grade school I got so many "second place" awards for my writing that I always assumed I wasn't quite good enough. That might by why I wasn't one of those authors who constantly wrote stories as a child. I was on the school newspaper in high school, and I still love the thrill of the interview—having the permission to ask deep questions and in return getting insight into how other people think. 

I started a novel in 2003 (still unfinished), but got bogged down in creating characters and in point-of-view. It's a fun mystery-sci fi-action-adventure YA novel, and I still love the premise, so I may tackle it again one day. Letters from Wishing Rock is my first complete work, and it came from a seed planted in my head in 2002. I worked at an environmental consulting firm from which scientists would go out into the field on assignments and come back with stories. One day a wetlands biologist (who already knew I liked to write) came back from Alaska and told me about a town there where almost everyone lives in the same building. “You should write a short story about that,” he said. The idea percolated in my mind for a lot of years—what would happen if everyone lived in the same building?—but I never did anything with it. Then in 2009 a series of deaths amongst people I knew had me looking at mortality and life. I’d always wanted to write a book. I didn’t want to get to the end of my life thinking “What if?” Could I have done it, if only I’d tried? So I quit my job and started writing.

Writing is how I think. If I'm on the phone with someone, or talking in front of a group of people, or skyping, who knows what will come out of my mouth. By brain doesn't work very well that way. Writing, though, the process of watching the letters appear on the page and form into words, helps me figure out what I'm trying to say. Even if I never wrote another novel, I could never stop writing.

The latest part of my journey as a writer involves learning not, to, use, so, many, commas, or exclamation points!!!! It's a work in progress.

DAVID WISEHART: What is your writing process?

PAM STUCKY: It's still in development. On different days I write in different ways. However, the one definitive is that I don't "think" well on the computer. When I need to figure out what's going to happen next in my writing I go somewhere without my laptop and scribble pages of notes. That's when the characters are most willing to talk to me. Once I've done that I get back on the computer (I use Scrivener—http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php—LOVE that writing program) and write it all out.

I'm usually not a morning writer, but sometimes if I get up very early, if my brain is still in that creative in-between stage, I can get some good stuff written early in the day. Most often I write in the afternoon or evening.

When I'm completely blocked I'll often lie down to take a nap. Invariably my brain relaxes enough that ideas start popping into my head. I'll get into a sort of trance-like zone (ha, okay, not totally trance-like; maybe it's just half-asleep) and then I'll wake myself up and go write it down before I forget.

Oh also, I keep pen and paper by my bed. I am a master of writing completely legibly in utter darkness. Ideas that come in the middle of the night don't reappear, ever, so I've learned to write them down when they come to me. Often in the morning I'll look at what I wrote and think "THIS was what I was afraid I'd lose if I didn't write it down?!" but on occasion the ideas will be gems.

DAVID WISEHART: What authors most inspire you?

PAM STUCKY: Authors who make me lose myself in the book, who create vivid worlds and characters that become almost real, inspire me. Authors who trust their creative instinct instead of following the rules inspire me. I strongly suspect that the best books I've read are by authors who wrote books they wanted to read themselves. I love Barbara Kingsolver, J.K. Rowling, Bryce Courtenay, John Steinbeck, Jodi Picoult, Mary Doria Russell. Ruiz Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind is so intricate that I had to put it down more than once to take a moment to appreciate the writing. Pam Houston writes stories that, especially earlier in my life, spoke to me so vividly that I was constantly dog-earring pages and sending people quotations from them.

The authors I like best are the ones who understand that good writing requires a willingness to say and expose the things that most people only think. I am inspired by authors who let themselves go to the raw places of the human condition, take us there with them, and let us see that even in our deepest secrets and fears, we are not alone.

DAVID WISEHART: What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you'd written yourself?

PAM STUCKY: One book?

Only one? Okay I'll give you two. :)

1. The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver. It's been quite a while since I read it so my memory has faded a good bit. But I remember it as being an beautifully woven tale, well researched, rich with history and complex relationships. I was terrible at history in school and still don't have a brain for it. Reading novels that incorporate history is one of my favorite ways to learn all that stuff I could never quite wrap my mind around. Barbara is a spectacular writer; I wish I'd written her books because that would mean I was a spectacular writer too!

2. The Harry Potter books. Not because of the millions of sales (though that would be nice too) but because J.K. Rowling created such an amazing, brilliant magical world, and she has complete control over it. I was in love with all Ruth Chew's books as a kid—many of them are about magic objects like magic buttons or magic boots, and the adventures they spark. One time when I was pretty young, I went to the library wanting to learn about magic. I found the right section of the shelves, pulled out books and started reading. I was so disappointed when I realized the books were all about magic *tricks*, not about *actually* making things happen by magic. If I'd written the HP books, I'd have that whole world inside my own head and I could make anything happen.

DAVID WISEHART: How have you marketed and promoted your work?

PAM STUCKY: Everything I can think of short of getting on a unicycle and riding around downtown carrying a banner! I thought once that I should get a t-shirt that said "I wrote a book—wanna read it?" I made bookmarks and hand them out to everyone I can (and give them stacks to hand out themselves), wrote a press release that I've distributed, have done Q&As, guest blog posts. I post a link to my book every week or two on the Kindle and other similar Facebook pages. I'll be doing an interview during the local TV news in a few weeks, and a book signing after that. My novel is in print too so I've sent my book, unsolicited, to people who I hope (wish) might pick it up and become advocates. (Come on, Ellen! Come on, Oprah!) I gave a copy to a woman in a library once, who was reading another book that made me think she might enjoy mine. I tweet, I have a Facebook fan page, I set up my author page at Amazon and goodreads.com. I have done book giveaways through my Facebook page, goodreads.com, and a couple other ways. I've contacted book groups. I've spoken at a writer's group. I'm trying to set up a few other events. My brain is non-stop in marketing mode these days. And I'm lucky that friends who have read the book have loved it so much that they're going out and advocating for me as well—I even have the family of some friends on board and spreading the word!

I have two huge pieces of paper taped to my wall at home, on which I've written all my marketing ideas. Many are crossed off but there are a few left. I'm still trying to think of new ideas. World domination is yet to come but I'll get there!

DAVID WISEHART: Why publish on Kindle?

PAM STUCKY: I think the bigger question would be why NOT publish on Kindle. If my goal is to be accessible to as many people as possible, then I would be insane not to. With the Kindle app, you don't even have to have a Kindle to read books published on Kindle (http://tinyurl.com/6yd32pq). Having my books available through Kindle means that anyone with a computer could read my books, if they want to. My book is available in as many formats as I could manage. I would hate for someone's life to be incomplete because she or he couldn't access my book. So in that way, it's purely selfless, really.

Also, my book is written largely in e-mails amongst the characters, so I think it would be almost a sin not to e-publish it. :)

DAVID WISEHART: What advice would you give to a first-time author thinking of self-publishing on Kindle?

PAM STUCKY: Be sure people realize they don't have to have a Kindle to read books published on Kindle. Give people direct links to your book and to the Kindle app—make it as easy as you can for them. Go with DRM-free. Don't get so eager to publish your book that you do it too quickly. Take the time needed to create or have someone create a cover that will grab people's attention. Get a professional editor to edit your work. The fancier you get with your formatting, the more opportunities there are for problems, so keep it simple. Know that it will take time (far more than you'd like) for your book to gain momentum, and don't be discouraged. Build an online presence early (Facebook, Twitter, blog, etc.) so you have a platform from which to tell people about your book. Read up on articles about pricing to help you decide your price point. Most importantly: Do it. There has never been a more exciting time for authors. Don't let someone else decide whether your dreams are good enough. Persevere, persevere, persevere. Believe in yourself, and give it a try.

DAVID WISEHART: Thanks, and best of luck with your books.




ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Pam Stucky writes, "In my family, we have those who are collectors and those who are not. Some of us gather things, and some of us find great joy in purging our houses of extraneous clutter. So it came as a surprise to me when one day a friend said to me, 'Pam, you ARE a collector. You collect words!'

"It's true. I adore words. And I adore stories. People and their stories fascinate me. We all struggle. We all want laughter and love, and we all have different ways of weaving through life in our efforts to achieve these things. Stories are what connect us and help us realize we are not alone. Keeping our stories to ourselves imprisons us but sharing them frees us - it shows us that our battles are universal, that our worries are ubiquitous.

"Letters from Wishing Rock is my first novel. If readers receive it well, I hope to continue the series and follow Ruby and all the others on their own journeys through life. I am also passionate about the ideas of happiness and following one's passion, and I hope to write a book on that topic one day as well."

Visit her website, go to her goodreads, find her on facebook, and follow her on twitter.

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