Today is the official launch of Brenda’s novel, THE QUAKER CAFE. Congratulation her, and share your own stories, in the comment section!
Fill Your Cup With Inspiration and A Story From Author Brenda Bevan Remmes
Brenda: I’ve always figured you’re either a “small town” person or a “city” person. I’ve lived most of my life in small towns and love them. Everyone knows everyone. Gossip is the bread and butter of any exchange and it doesn’t take place on line. It happens daily in the local gathering spots: the restaurant, garage, post-office or an occasional antique shop where people gather in twos and fours to catch up. I’ve heard so many great stories. I started out by writing some of them down. The Quaker Café started out as short stories under the same title, however, as I began to attend conferences and have editors and agents review my work, I was hearing the same thing over and over again. They wanted a novel… a novel with tension, a lot more tension. The humor was entertaining, they told me, but there had to be a strong plot, you know, that ARC, in order to sell the book.
Amy: Your publishing journey – like so many – wasn’t what you expected it to be. I think that it’s filled with hope and determination. Can you share a little of what happened with you and THE QUAKER CAFE and how you came to be where you are now?
Brenda: I hit the jackpot right at the beginning…a writer’s fantasy. After spending three years writing and revising with a lot of help from other writers (by all means, find a good critique group), the first agent I contacted signed me and then sold my book within one week. I got a nice big contract and my first check. I was in heaven…had obviously been “discovered” and was on my way to greatness. Two years later, my manuscript still sat on a desk with nothing happening. I have a wonderful agent who pushed and pushed, but the sands were shifting under my feet as e-books bolted climbed in the market and cut profits. The recession hit. Publishing companies were rethinking fat contracts for debut novelists. They decided to cut their losses and drop me. It was a painful period…to be on the top one year and back on the bottom another. I cannot begin to tell you how supportive my agent and writing friends were. They reminded me that my initial turnaround on a book deal was highly unusual and now I’d begin to experience the real challenges of publication. I still had my agent and she went to the carpet for me. I was able to keep my initial advance and reclaim all rights to my book,(the importance of a tight contract) but afterwards only rejections poured in from other publishers. Last August, my agent suggested that I let her company publish my book in e-book format. Here’s what’s different about this: originally agent companies acted only as the negotiator. They made the deals between the writer and the publisher. Now, with e-book and no need to go through the print, distribution and warehouse costs and headaches, some agent companies have become annoyed at the limited access to the big five publishers and are simply by-passing them. They’re experimenting with setting-up their client’s manuscripts on e-book and helping with the marketing. Of course, in this day and age, any writer can publish their own book on create.space. What my agent adds to that is a one year exclusive with Amazon and a paperback, accompanied by their marketing contacts. The marketing is really the thing. How is all comes out…we’ll see.
Amy: Without any spoilers, what was your favorite scene to write in the novel? And was it an easy scene to write, or a difficult one?
Brenda: The Quaker Café is a story set in 1992. Chapter eight in my book is a funeral scene where a prominent white politician has requested a black minister and his choir for his funeral service in his previously segregated home church. I wrote about the conflict and consternation this creates in the community but then only made reference to the actual event in passing My critique group called me on it. They insisted I had to write the scene. I didn’t think I could make justice of it. I didn’t want to offend any race or make light of the sanctity of such a service. I have had the privilege to attend quite a few black funeral services and I have always appreciated the full participation of the congregations in contrast to the more subdued services in white Protestant churches. My heart wasn’t in it, but I sat down and tried to get the words on paper. I started to imagine bits and pieces I’d seen in other services and then I pushed the envelope a bit. Before long I was on a roll. It started just pouring out. Ultimately, it got too long and I had to start cutting, but I had a lot of fun with it. Many people have told me it is one of their favorite chapters.
Amy: There’s a lot of scuttlebutt online about the term women’s fiction. Does it bother you? Or better yet? What does that term evoke for you?
Brenda: You know, it doesn’t bother me. Since my book isn’t going to be shelved in a bookstore under “Women’s Fiction,” and isn’t classified as such on line, I haven’t really thought about it. When I’ve done a pitch, I’ve told editors and agents that it’s women’s fiction, because I personally believe it will have more appeal to women than men, but at the same time quite a few men have read my book and told me they liked it. I’m more concerned that since it has the word “Quaker” in the title that people will think it’s a book just about Quakers, or a book about religion. It’s none of that and all of that: Quakers, Methodists, Baptists, women, men, friendship, family, hardship and past transgressions that resurface to inflict the innocent.
Amy: What’s your best advice for aspiring authors?
Brenda: A couple of points have stuck with me that I’ve heard from agents and editors. The first was “Dig Deeper.” If your writing hasn’t yet made you laugh, cry, shiver in fear or cringe with pain, then you’re not there yet. Or as Robert Frost is so frequently quoted “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” I’m not there yet with my second novel. Nothing has made me cry and I haven’t heard anyone who’s read parts laugh out loud. It’s still a work in progress.
My second word of advice is standard stuff: Write rewrite and rewrite some more. Find good readers and listen. Even after publication, I see a chapter I’d like to go back and redo. It never ends.
I have quote from Thomas Edison stuck to the corner of my computer. It reads: “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” That’s my mantra.
Brenda Remmes lives near the Black River Swamp in South Carolina in an old family home filled with the history of generations past. Her stories and articles have appeared in Newsweek, The Petigru Review, The Southern Sampler, and academic journals. She spent her career conducting rural health programs for the Schools of Medicine at both The University of North Carolina and The University of South Carolina. Her debut novel, The Quaker Café, was published in March of 2014 by Inkwell Publishing out of New York. She is working on a sequel.
Find out more about Brenda on her website: http://brendaremmes.com/
Buy THE QUAKER CAFE by clicking HERE.