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!
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!
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!