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Lori Oliva

by Susan Henderson on April 18, 2007

In my experience, one of the hardest transitions for writers to make is going from the elation and sense of accomplishment of finishing a novel to the confusing and discouraging process of trying to sell it. This is where writer and former copywriter-editor-p.r.-executive, Lori Oliva, is after completing her manuscript, SOUTHERN FRIED LATINA.

What is her book about? Well, in the prologue alone, there is 20-something Casi with her restless soul, still living at home with her large, Cuban family. There is the family cigar business, where she’s expected to continue working, and an offer to move away to a very different life. There is her loving abuela who reads Casi’s tarot cards and determines that her success will come at a price. And there is a lot of talk about the Nochebuena celebration, which is not to be missed.

Many of us have stood right at this juncture and know the mixture of hope and anxiety of moving from the private rooms where we type our stories to the wide world of agents and editors and the waiting game. I’m so glad Lori was willing to talk about this transition, and if any of you know of ways to make this process more efficient or less painful, you’ll be helping many! Here’s to SOUTHERN FRIED LATINA finding a quick home!

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What are some of the themes you wanted to communicate in your novel?

When I decided to write a novel, I wanted to create a story that emphasized the importance of family and inclusion. In Latin cultures, family is everything and there’s always room for one more. My family is Cuban and as a nod to the old country, we come together once a year and my father roasts a pig. (In Cuba, it’s not a party until you roast a pig!)

At our pig roasts, everyone is invited. We have parents, husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, nieces, nephews, friends and neighbors all converge under a large white tent that’s attached to the back of our garage. We play music, drink, smoke cigars and eat roast pork. That day, everyone is Cuban.

Is it frustrating trying to summarize something you worked on for so long in such a simple statement?

Surprisingly, no. I think it has something to do with being a copywriter and having written so many different messages that speak to multiple audiences. I’ve honed down many a corporate bio, company history and product fact sheet to a simple “elevator pitch.” When it came to creating my query and statements for my novel, I treated it like any other project (that was hard), but once I detached myself, it became fun. I visualized my book jacket and what it would say. With that as a guide, I wrote my query in the same tone. I became my own client and I must say that this has been, by far, the best project of my career.

Describe the feeling you had once you could see the finish line. How did you know the book was done? Did anything about finishing the book and the feelings you had about that surprise you?

Euphoria. I was trudging along at the keyboard, typing away at this long, drawn out conclusion, and all of a sudden, I realized the end was nearer than I thought. It was exhilarating. It was that moment when all the pieces came together. I got up and began rubbing my hands together and pacing the floor as I worked out exactly how I was going to put it on paper. I’m not one to stick to an outline or a synopsis. I do create one, but that’s just to get the ideas flowing. The magic for me is when the writing goes another way and the only time that happens for me is when I’m in the middle of the story.

So you have a finished book and you look at it and say, “Yes, it’s finished, and it’s good. Now what?”

Good question! I am focusing my energy into getting it published. Like every writer, I want to work with someone who is passionate about my project and who sees its potential. The process has just started for me and I’m still navigating through it. The process seems like a long and tedious one, but it’s one that I plan to stick out.

Tell me about the emotional transition and the switch from writing your book and now trying to sell it.

For me, the key and the challenge has been detachment. Now that it’s finished, I need to focus on the next phase, which is getting it published. In order to do that, I’ve had to switch gears. In my head, it’s gone from project to product. That may sound a bit too far removed, but I have to look at it in a different way now. I’ve created it and nurtured it, and now it’s time to let it go and see what happens.

What are you finding (the good and the bad) as you set out?

The good, is the amazing sense of community I have found with other writers who have either been through this process, are going through it now or who aspire to go through it. I have been very lucky to tap into the minds of so many writers who have been generous of their time, who have gone out of their way to answer my questions and point me in a direction to find resources such as Backspace that will help me with this sometimes overwhelming task of finding a good home for my novel. The bad has been learning to wait, and wait, and wait”¦

What questions do you have that – if they were answered – would make this process easier for you?

The query process is a bit befuddling. I would love other writers to chime in and discuss how they went about querying their first novel, how they handled exclusive requests and the time it took before someone (be it an agent or an editor) picked up the phone and said, “I like it! Let’s work together!”

What do you dream for yourself, with this book and beyond?

I dream this book will be published and I’ll continue to write more novels that address offbeat and quirky aspects of life. I know the second part of this statement is true. I believe that the first part will happen, and when it does, I’m going to throw a big Cuban pig roast and you’re all invited!

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Don’t forget to make Lori your MySpace friend! And if you have a tip on an agent who’d be well-suited to her story, don’t hesitate to drop Lori a note. Thanks!

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

LaurenBaratz-Logsted April 18, 2007 at 11:08 am

Hey, Lori! Email me if you’d like a referral.

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Jonathan Evison April 18, 2007 at 11:33 am

. . .congrats, lori, on the important part– that is, finishing your novel! . . . you know, as sick and masochistic as it sounds, i actually sort of miss the whole query process . . .keep visualizing your deal, it’ll happen!

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Carolyn Burns Bass April 18, 2007 at 11:37 am

Hey, Lori. Great to see you here. I think we’ve met at Backspace. Finishing your first novel is one of those pinnacle experiences. Here’s to a quick sale.

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Susan Henderson April 18, 2007 at 12:38 pm

Lauren – Wow, that’s very generous of you. (And Lauren’s referrals are gooood.)

Jonathan and Carolyn – Good reminder that the hardest part is done. Let the requests for that manuscript roll in!

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Lori Oliva April 18, 2007 at 12:39 pm

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I know this is just the beginning but having friends like you all make this process a bit less painful. Lauren, thanks! An email is on the way. Lauren, I was speaking about you and your endless encouragement to not only me but so many writers who are trying to make it happen. You are the one who introduced me to Backspace and it has been a valuable asset.

Jonathan, I appreciate it and your visualization advice. I’m doing it. And, by the way, YOU are the one who introduced me to the community of writers through your MS page. You opened the door to this amazing community.

Carolyn, thank you! I appreciate your comment and every comment you post here.

Susan, speaking on behalf of all writers out here trying to make it happen,and those who have and are just having a bad day, you are an earth angel.

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Lori Oliva April 18, 2007 at 12:41 pm

..or for writers having a great day!

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LaurenBaratz-Logsted April 18, 2007 at 1:35 pm

I’m afraid I’m a writer having a bad day, so if I can do you a good turn, that’ll make my day better.

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Lori Oliva April 18, 2007 at 4:12 pm

I’m sorry, Lauren. You deserve only the best days.

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Robin Slick April 18, 2007 at 4:43 pm

Ha ha – missing the querying aspect is like being depressed about not being pregnant anymore once the baby is born…you’re glamorizing, Jonathan.

Lori, I think your book will be published sooner rather than later, too, and ask Susan, I’m always right.

So save me some ribs, please, though my kids are working hard to turn me into a vegetarian. Misery apparently really does love company.

(and I would post my experiences about querying and publishing and all that but I’ve already jinxed myself by saying too much already in spite of what Susan says so I’ll get back to you on that another time…hopefully you won’t need to hear about it by then)

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Emily Martino April 18, 2007 at 6:23 pm

whoops – did that last message i sent get thru?
Anyway best of luck. I’ve always admired your commitment and passion for this project. what i’ve read so far was funny and fun to read and I could Really relate! love your cousin Emily

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Lori Oliva April 18, 2007 at 7:59 pm

Robin, HA! Thank you for your kind words and yes, the query process…
I will save you a big slab of marinated pork butt (the best!).

EMILY! I love you and it is so appropriate that you chime in. F-A-M-I-L-Y. That’s what I want to convey. No matter how wacky things get, you always have your family.

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Susan Henderson April 19, 2007 at 8:34 am

Lauren – I hope today is better.

Robin – I’ll see you for ribs at Lori’s. We can celebrate all three books!

Emily – Welcome!

Lori – If I were an editor, I would really welcome a chance to read a book like yours during such a depressing, hate-filled week.

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Julie Ann Shapiro April 19, 2007 at 12:48 pm

Lori,
Your books sounds like something the agent Kristen Nelson would like. I don’t know if you have queried her yet.

Julie

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Aurelio April 19, 2007 at 1:04 pm

Thanks for Sharing, Lori. I especially liked your thought about going from “process to product” and developing that certain degree of detachment. It’s hard to do, but I think it is sage advice. I will keep my fingers and toes crossed for your success!

Something I should have shared earlier when we were talking about “finishing” a book:

I recommend that when you think your manuscript is done, pass out copies to a select handful of willing (mostly) non-writers you know for a test read. I did this with EVE and found it to be a huge help. I chose a group of people of varied ages, tastes, and genders. The only thing all of them shared in common was the annoying habit of speaking their mind. (I wanted a book that would appeal to the broadest possible audience, but if you have a YA book or Chick Lit or something more specifically aimed, then I’d aim the testers.)

A few of my testers pointed out problems with the same parts or character moments, so I knew I needed to rework those. Some of the lone crits struck me as right immediately, so I reworked those too, and some just led me to new and fresher ideas. I listened to every criticism, even if I didn’t agree with it, but I didn’t necessarily do the solutions they suggested. It may be they’ve spotted a problem–that’s what you are after them to tell you–but you are the writer, so your own solutions to the problem will, in theory, be better than what they suggest. Ultimately it is your story to tell, and you don’t want to turn it into a market-researched New Coke.

I then did a final rewrite/polish, confident that what was working in the book would now work for most readers, and certain that my new draft was an vast improvement.

And don’t be easy on yourself! Resist the temptation to choose people who will stroke your ego, but choose ones that will be tough on you.

This process worked so well I plan to do the same thing with my new one.

(Note to Lauren: Sorry yesterday was a down day. I think you are amazing.)

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Carolyn Burns Bass April 19, 2007 at 2:08 pm

Karen~ The art show analogy is so apropros. Thanks. (Got a short story rejection today. )-:

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Lori Oliva April 19, 2007 at 5:46 pm

Susan, thank you for your kind words and yes, it’s so sad that this week has had such a disturbing turn of events.

Hi Julie! Thanks for your suggestion.

Aurelio,
That’s GREAT advice! A couple of people have read it and I’ll pass it out to a few more…

I guess if I can offer any advice from a copywriter’s perspective (following Susan’s advice earlier), is before you write a query, hop online or go to the bookstore and take a look at the book jackets that are out there. Their tone is usually a good indication of what work well in a query letter.

Thanks again everyone for sharing your processes and input. It’s been truly enlightening. I hope others found it equally as helpful.

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Johnny Oliva April 20, 2007 at 11:26 am

Way to go cuzz!!! I know this has been a passion of yours for some time and I’m glad to hear you reached the finish line. Viva la familia! See you at Nochebuena this year.

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Eve Respess April 24, 2007 at 3:31 pm

Lori, I know this is a labor of love. That makes it all the more fun. Keep plugging along. I enjoy your writing. It’s very visual and it brings me into the story quickly. Thanks.

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