I’m thrilled to have Elizabeth Hein with me today for this edition of Behind The Scenes. Her latest novel, How to Climb the Eiffel Tower, follows the journey of Lara as she goes through cancer treatment, and in the process, learns how to live.
1. Tell us a bit about your writing journey. How did you get started, and how did you get to where you are now?
Before I ever sat down at my keyboard to write, I was a reader. I was that little girl that always had a book in her hand. It wasn’t until I had lived a little that I considered sharing the stories in my head with the world. When I first sat down to write, I intended to put together a series of essays based on my experiences as a cancer patient. It was awful – dry, maudlin, a bit academic. I couldn’t capture the human struggles of the people I met in essays, so I wrote the story of four women that meet in a hospital waiting room. That was the first draft of what would become How To Climb The Eiffel Tower.
The novel ended up taking eight years to write because I had to learn how to finish a novel, as well as gain confidence as an author. I played with changing points of view, cut one of the original four main characters, and rethought the structure several times. I was also reading every book on the craft of writing I could get my hands on during that time. I’m a reader, so I read — a lot.
In 2010, I had taken the manuscript as far as I could and started querying agents. I didn’t get anywhere, but I did learn quite a bit about resilience and the value of hard work. The querying process convinced me to put the manuscript aside for a while and write another book. For the next two years, I wrote Overlook, a snarky look at the underbelly of a snooty subdivision in the New South. That novel taught me how to work with beta readers and how to edit like a reader, as opposed to a writer. While I queried a few agents and eventually decided to self-publish that book, I returned to my first manuscript. After a break, I saw the story with new eyes. Over much of 2013, I stripped the story down and rewrote it.
This time around, I decided to only query a few agents and concentrate on finding a small press to publish Lara’s story. I met Elizabeth Turnbull of Light Messages Publishing at the North Carolina Writer’s Network Fall Conference. They are a family-owned business that publishes novels with thought provoking messages. I was immediately impressed with Light Messages and decided to send them a query. They liked the pages I sent them, asked to see the rest of the manuscript, and offered me a contract in early 2014. From there, it’s been a whirlwind of activity. I am very happy working with Light Messages. I have a great relationship with the editorial staff and I feel they are invested in the success of my book.
2. Anything you would’ve done differently if you could do it all over again?
Hindsight is a tricky thing. There are many things I would like to have done differently, yet I sense I needed to learn the lessons I learned, at the time I was learning them. I know it sounds a bit hippie-dippie, but there is something to be said for hanging on tight and trusting the process. That being said, I wish I had been more protective of my early work. In the first few years I was writing, I let too many people tell me what my stories were about and how my characters should act. I joined a few critique circles that left me feeling beat-up and discouraged. I didn’t have the skills yet to distinguish between frank constructive criticism and nastiness. If I could go back and do it over again, I would have left those groups earlier and found my candid, yet supportive, critique partners sooner. A good critique group can make your work sing; a bad critique group can make you never want to write another word.
3. What advice would you give to new and aspiring writers?
Don’t give up. Keep showing up at the keyboard every day and you will eventually get results. Writing is not a pursuit for the faint of heart. An author spends years tapping out draft after draft of a novel to invariably receive a multitude of rejections, before ever getting a positive result. You need a stubborn desire to succeed to sustain you along your journey.
4. Is there any book you’ve written that is particularly special to you? Which one and why?
All my projects hold a special place in my heart, either because they represent a time in my life or because they represent a chunk of hard work done well. So far, the book that is particularly special to me though is How To Climb The Eiffel Tower. It was the first novel I ever wrote and it is the novel that I labored over for eight long years. How To Climb The Eiffel Tower was difficult to write at times because I had to separate my own cancer experience from my characters’ experiences. I think the level of effort that went into writing this book makes it all the more special to me.
5. Who would you say is your favorite character(s) from your books, and why? What is it about this character that makes him/her tick?
My favorite character from any of my novels or short stories is Rose Sweeney in Overlook. Rose is the younger sister of the main character, Kitty, and a bit of a psychopath. She was a hoot to write because, as a minor character, she can be outrageous. Rose is judgmental. She drinks too much. She says wildly inappropriate things to Kitty, yet in a crisis, Rose is the first person Kitty would call.
6. Tell us about your new book. What can we expect from it?
In a nutshell, How To Climb The Eiffel Tower is a personal, sometimes snarky novel about life, friendship… and cancer.
Here is the blurb from the back of the book:
Lara Blaine believes that she can hide from her past by clinging to a rigid routine of work and exercise. She endures her self-imposed isolation until a cancer diagnosis cracks her hard exterior. Lara’s journey through cancer treatment should be the worst year of her life. Instead, it is the year that she learns how to live. She befriends Jane, another cancer patient who teaches her how to be powerful even in the face of death. Accepting help from the people around her allows Lara to confront the past and discover that she is not alone in the world. With the support of her new friends, Lara gains the courage to love and embrace life. Like climbing the Eiffel Tower, the year Lara meets Jane is tough, painful, and totally worth it.
7. Are you self-pubbed or traditionally published? What made you go for this model? What advice/tips can you share with writers working towards the same goal?
Like many authors these days, I am both self-published and traditionally published. I self-published my first book, Overlook, in 2013 under my imprint Winterfield Press. How To Climb The Eiffel Tower will be published by Light Messages Publishing (an up and coming small press) on October 1, 2014. I’ve enjoyed working with Light Messages because the small staff has made me feel like they are invested in both my book and me as an author. I’m not sure a large publishing house would give me this much individual attention.
It’s a great pleasure to have you over in my blog. Thank you!
Author Bio: Elizabeth Hein grew up in Massachusetts within an extended family of storytellers. Her childhood was filled with excellent food and people loudly talking over each other. After studying psychology at the College of the Holy Cross, she and her husband embarked on the adventure of parenting their two beautiful daughters. She and her husband now live in Durham, North Carolina.
In 2002, Elizabeth was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer of the blood. During her extensive treatment, she met dozens of other cancer patients and developed close relationships with several of them. These friendships were the inspiration for How To Climb The Eiffel Tower. She learned that a cancer diagnosis is a life changing experience, yet it does not necessarily change a life for the worse.
Elizabeth Hein writes women’s fiction with a bit of an edge. Her novels explore the role of friendship in the lives of adult women and themes of identity. She has published one other novel and several short stories. She is currently working on a novella and another novel. Elizabeth enjoys interacting with her readers and can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and her blog.
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