I can’t quite believe it but I haven’t posted an author interview since January. I guess that’s what happens when I’m writing a book. The reading, thinking, and researching time that it takes to conduct the kind of interviews I like to post, well, no time. No time for cooking or laundry either, for that matter. While I was thrilled with the quality of the WFW guest posts, and am having oodles of fun with my writing life posts, when I read Louise Miller’s debut novel, THE CITY BAKER’S GUIDE TO COUNTRY LIVING, I couldn’t wait to interview her and get back on my journalism horse. Plus, as you know, I turned in my novel. So there’s more time for EVERYTHING. (Including writing book four!)
THE CITY BAKER’S GUIDE TO COUNTRY LIVING has it all, in my opinion, including a fabulous cover, that says “Sit. Read. Eat Pie.” And now, we all get to know this story’s back story! What fun! And, what a great way to launch into a new season of author interviews (and I have quite a few coming up).
Please congratulate Louise on her book launch which is TODAY and click on her links! She’s a real life pastry chef. A pastry chef who writes! Why didn’t I think of that?
Author Interview: Louise Miller Cooks Up A Delightful Debut
Amy: Louise, thanks for joining us on the Women’s Fiction Writers blog, and congratulations on the release of your debut novel, THE CITY BAKER’S GUIDE TO COUNTRY LIVING. If I haven’t said it enough, I adored this book so much I even read it while pedaling away on the stationary bike. So tell us how the idea for this story was sparked for you? Is it a moment you remember?
Louise: Thank you so much, Amy! I’m so happy that you enjoyed it! And I am delighted to be on the Women’s Fiction Writers blog—I’m a longtime fan.
The first spark of the story came from a real-life experience. I entered an apple-pie baking contest at a county fair on a whim. After dropping the pie off, I went on to enjoy the fair. Hours later, when I returned to the craft hall to see who had won, I found scores of bakers silently watching the judges eat—there were so many entries that year that the judging went overtime. I had had no idea until that moment that the contest was so competitive. For years I couldn’t shake the image of all of those bakers staring through a glass wall and the feeling of tension in the room. During those years I also spent a lot of time contemplating whether or not I would be happy living in the country. The combination of those two things inspired me to write THE CITY BAKER’S GUIDE.
Amy: I know you’re a pastry chef, so (you are probably used to this question) how much of your real life was the springboard for your novel? If there are elements of you in here, tell us what it was like to separate fact from fiction.
Louise: The plot is entirely fictional—I promise, I have never lit any of my work places on fire or had any affairs with any of my bosses—but there are so many little details that I pulled from my real life experiences as a pastry chef working in a professional kitchen. Other than baking, there are a few other elements of me in the novel. I do play old-time banjo, and have a great love of traditional music. And I am in love with Vermont.
One of the things that I did to separate myself from Livvy was to make her a much more accomplished chef and a better banjo player than I am! But really, it was easy to separate fact from fiction because the characters and plot are entirely made up. There is as much of me in the elderly innkeeper Margaret or Tom the dairy farmer as there is in Livvy, the pastry chef.
Amy: What was the writing process like for you? Do you plan or do you “pants?”
Louise: Oh, I wish I were a planner. I want to be a planner. But I enjoy the process of discovery too much along the way. Every time I have made an outline my characters laugh and insist on a different path. I do start with a strong feeling of the main character, the “inciting incident” and what I think will be the end, so I know what direction to head in.
Amy: Can you share with us some of your “journey to publication” story?
Louise: My whole journey to publication is filled with kismet! Back in 2010 I signed up for my first writers’ conference—Grub Street’s Muse and the Marketplace conference in Boston. For an additional fee they offered the opportunity to have a manuscript consultation with an editor or an agent. I knew I wasn’t ready for an agent—I had only written around 25 pages—so I signed up with an editor, the amazing Pamela Dorman. To my surprise she liked the pages, and asked to keep in touch!
Fast-forward three years—the amount of time it took me to finish the first draft. During this time I would periodically make myself write to Pam and let her know how I was doing with the manuscript. Writing these notes was horribly embarrassing. There is nothing worse than writing to an editor you admire to let her know that Nope-still haven’t finished that novel… But I knew that I would never forgive myself if I just let the connection fade. Knowing that Pam had seen something in my pages spurred me on when I was tempted to give up writing and devote all of my free time to eating popcorn and watching Project Runway. I returned to her encouraging words again and again as I pushed myself to finally finish the damn draft.
Pam was the one of the first people I told when I was accepted into GrubStreet’s Novel Incubator program. Finally some real news to report! I had finished my first draft AND anticipated being finished revising by the end of the program. One year later, in the winter of 2014, the night I finished the final revision of THE CITY BAKER’S GUIDE–two hours after I hit “save” and closed my laptop, to be exact–I received an email from Pam. She had just finished editing a novel she had acquired from another Novel Incubator alum (Patty Park’s wonderful RE: JANE) and wondered how my revision was going, and said she would like to read it when it was ready…
In the meantime I started the agent querying process. Again, I went to the Muse and the Marketplace conference, this time to meet with agents. I had a consultation with an agent whose first words to me were “not my cup of tea…” But I had paid for a twenty-minute consultation, so I stayed put, and we ended up having a great conversation. At the end of our meeting she recommended I query a colleague of hers at ICM, Alexandra Machinist, who is now my agent!
So my advice to any writer in the pre-publication process is this: show up, take a chance, and be friendly, follow up—you never know who you are going to meet and how things will work out. Until the day of the sale I never imagined I would be publishing with Pamela Dorman Books—it truly is a dream come true.
Amy: What’s your best advice for aspiring authors of women’s fiction?
Louise: Write what you love. Write the story that fills you up—the story you want to read. Don’t worry about the market or genre or any of the business stuff. There will be plenty of time for all of that later. I know it can be so tempting to read all the publishing news and to follow agents on Twitter, and I highly recommend doing all of those things when you have a finished manuscript ready to shop, but until then let yourself be just a writer. That creative time where you can take risks and explore is so important. Don’t let the business voices in too early.
Amy: And if you’re game, tell us if the term “women’s fiction” bothers you. You won’t be surprised that it doesn’t bother me at all. 😉
Louise: I will be fine with the term women’s fiction as soon as I see the category men’s fiction! Seriously, I do wrestle with the term. I understand it is a helpful marketing tool. And I would say that many of the books I enjoy fall solidly under that category—although if you asked me right now to define women’s fiction I would have a hard time giving a clear answer. I do hope that women love my book, but I also hope that men love it too…anyway, here I am, wrestling with it. I will say that I didn’t write the book for women, I wrote it for readers. If the novel being labeled women’s fiction gets it into the hands of readers who love it, then I am all for it. That is what all authors wish for, right? Readers who love our books the way we love other author’s books. Loved is the only label I care about at the end of the day.
Louise Miller is a writer and pastry chef living in Boston, MA. She is the author of THE CITY BAKER’S GUIDE TO COUNTRY LIVING (Pamela Dorman Books/Viking). Louise is an art school dropout, an amateur flower gardener, an old-time banjo player, an obsessive moviegoer, and a champion of old dogs.