Sometimes I’m not sure how or where or when I met a particular author, but I am sure that it was meant to be. That’s how it is with debut author Andrea Lochen. Not only are our launch dates one week apart, but we live only about two hours apart. And Andrea lives right near where my daughter will be going to college in August. Can you say “mandatory new author get-together?”
But until that happens, I’m fortunate that Andrea agreed to answer my questions and join us here on WFW today to talk about books, writing, and what she would change if she could REPEAT this past year!
Please welcome Andrea Lochen to WFW!
Debut Author Andrea Lochen’s Good Advice: Read Good Books, Find Good Friends, Be Good To Yourself
Amy: It’s almost here! You’re just a week away from the launch of your debut novel THE REPEAT YEAR. (Hey, I can relate!) Now that your work is about to hit the bookshelves and e-readers, tell us when and how (and maybe why) the idea for THE REPEAT YEAR hit you!
Andrea: I’m a firm believer in keeping a notebook of ideas and images that strike my fancy. You may think you’re going to remember that fascinating idea you had, but chances are, life will intervene with more pressing demands, and you’ll forget it, so write it down! The premise of a character reliving a year of her life came to me while I was a college student at the University of Wisconsin in Madison (where my novel is set), so I dutifully jotted it down in my little notebook—thank goodness! It took me several years to come back to the idea because I needed to find the right character for the premise. I wanted an everyday heroine who readers could relate to, and someone whose experiences and career would really resonate with the concept of the repeat year. Finally, intensive care nurse, Olive Watson, was born!
As for the why, I find that most readers and writers are fascinated by the possibility of what might have been. What might have happened if I hadn’t turned down that job offer? What might have happened if my ex and I had met now instead of several years ago? I think readers love reading because it allows them to vicariously choose multiple paths, and writers especially appreciate the idea of rewriting history because it’s one of the perks we enjoy by writing.
Amy: Start to finish, how long did it take you to write THE REPEAT YEAR? And after you wrote it, what was your path to publication?
Andrea: I’m a fast drafter and a slow reviser. I wrote the draft in about six months while earning my MFA at the University of Michigan. I was lucky to be in a workshop environment with other writers who were super helpful and encouraging. After graduation, it took me about five years to revise the novel to the point where it felt “ready.” (It probably took me longer, too, because I teach full-time at a university for nine months of the year.) I queried several agents before I found The One, and the rejection was downright devastating at times. That being said, there were some kind, helpful agents along the way who may have ultimately passed on the book, but gave me suggestions that helped make it stronger. Once I signed with Stephany Evans, we made very few alterations to the book before selling it to Berkley, an imprint of Penguin. Huzzah!
Amy: When you’re writing a novel, what’s your game plan? Or, do you not have one? I’m working with a real outline for the first time. Do you use an outline, wing it, or is it a combo? And has the way you write changed since you started writing THE REPEAT YEAR?
Andrea: Oh, how I wish I’d had a game plan when I started THE REPEAT YEAR! I literally just dove in with very little thought about where my characters were going but intent on the joy of discovering their journeys as I went. It was a lot of fun, but when I finished the first (very) rough draft, I had some gentle suggestions from friends (bless them) that I wasn’t really using the magical premise to its full potential. And lo and behold—I realized that I wasn’t! So I embarked on a major overhaul in the second draft. (To see how truly different the first draft was, you can read the original, which will forever be enshrined in the Hopwood Room at the University of Michigan for winning a Hopwood Award for the Novel in 2008.) Several drafts later, it was finally ready to be published.
So with my second book, I feel like I’ve learned more about the novel writing process. Though I didn’t have a hard-and-fast outline when I started writing it, I did have a Word document full of character details, plot points, and other random ideas. I’m hoping that by doing more planning upfront, maybe I can reduce my number of drafts. I’ll let you know how that goes!
Amy: Since your novel is about “repeats”—if you could repeat this past year leading up to your launch, what would you change or do differently?
Andrea: Like my protagonist, Olive, I’m not sure what I would change right away. When you’re so close to your decisions and actions, it’s hard to take a step back and see the big picture and how certain choices will affect later events down the line. But I do know for certain that I wish I would’ve stumbled upon writer blogs like yours, Book Pregnant, Chick Lit is Not Dead, Writer Unboxed, and others much earlier than I did. They give such useful advice, recommend excellent books, allow you to network with other writers, and make you feel like a part of a much bigger writing community. So if I were to go back and do things differently, I would definitely start engaging with the blogosphere and social media outlets much sooner! I also have a sneaking suspicion that I should be trying to bask in the glow of my debut novel being published and enjoy every moment instead of stressing out and trying to micromanage things behind my control. Now that we’re T-minus one week to THE REPEAT YEAR’s launch, I feel like it’s high time for me to finally kick back and enjoy the fruits of my labor!
Amy: The term “women’s fiction” comes up against some harsh criticism. How do you feel about the genre or label of women’s fiction?
Andrea: I find it a problematic label only because there is no equivalent for “men’s fiction,” and as Gloria Steinem put it, “Just as there are ‘novelists’ and then ‘women novelists,’ there are ‘movies’ and then ‘chick flicks.’ Whoever is in power takes over the noun—and the norm—while the less powerful gets an adjective.” But I also understand that it’s a useful (though imperfect) categorizing tool for publishers, booksellers, and readers alike. And the more I read women’s fiction and meet women’s fiction authors and readers, the more I realize in what good company I am!
Amy: What’s your best advice for aspiring authors of women’s fiction (or whatever you choose to call it)?
Andrea: Read good books, the kind that remind you of the power that fiction can have, and that inspire you to write your absolute best. Surround yourself with good friends, the priceless kind that will read several incarnations of the same chapter, over and over again and believe in you and your book, but will tell it to you straight when you need that kick in the pants as well. And lastly, be good to yourself. Don’t define your self-worth just by your success as a writer, because your idea of success might keep changing, and there’s always bound to be someone more successful than you. Try not to compare yourself to others too much, but instead celebrate the unique writer that you are!
Andrea Lochen earned her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan. While there, she won a Hopwood Novel Award for a draft of The Repeat Year. She currently lives in suburban Milwaukee with her husband and teaches Creative Writing at the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha. For more information, visit www.andrealochen.com.
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Author Website: www.andrealochen.com