Fresh Ink is a monthly series of interviews with debut novelists that focuses on the journey from first book contract to publication date. Please join me in welcoming Brandi Lynn Ryder, author of In Malice, Quite Close, to the blog. Brandi has an amazing publication story—just when her agent was ready to give up on the book, Brandi entered it in the 2009 Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest. Care to read what happened next?
Length of time from book’s start to pub date: 5-6 years (It sold in June, 2009!)
# of agents you queried before signing: 19
# of books written before this one: 1
# of revisions you went through: 3
We’re lucky that there are so many great resources for writers to learn about publishing these days. That being said, what’s the one aspect of the process you never could have predicted?
How unbelievably hard it is!! I recommend a very resilient heart and sheer stubbornness.
Your novel was a finalist in the 2009 Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest. Can you tell me what this process was like, starting from what made you decide to enter, to how it ended up playing out?
Wow… Well, that’s a long story. And so was mine! At one point, In Malice weighed in at over 184,000 words. But I’d just revised the book a final time, trimming close to 35,000 words from its length. I believed in it more than ever, but belief at my agency had started to wane. We’d been heartbreakingly close many times and then my original agent stopped representing fiction. (I like to think I had nothing to do with his decision!!) It is notoriously harder to sell than non-fiction, in which markets are easier to gauge. I remained with the agency, but my new agent was new to agenting and we had very different ideas about who to submit In Malice to… She actually sent it out to a few romance editors! Clearly, this novel doesn’t conform to genre, least of all romance.
So, after a lackluster reception she was ready to shelve it and I was looking at beginning another novel. And then I happened upon a publishing website and saw an advertisement for ABNA. It had literally opened for submissions that day. I was uncertain about entering my novel in a contest— a thing I’d never even considered before… but it seemed like fate, kismet and all the synonyms. Newly cut, my novel fit into the guidelines. I’d just attended my first writer’s conference ever: The Algonkian Writer’s Workshop Pitch Conference in NYC and gained confidence in my pitch… It seemed the perfect thing at the perfect time. I had a very positive feeling about it from the beginning.
It was tremendously gratifying and redeeming to be able to represent myself and my book, to reach out to friends and family and take the momentous journey from some 10,000 entrants to just three finalists. We were a merry trio in New York.
I should add that I was (and am) overwhelmed by the generosity and enthusiasm of everyone involved, both at Amazon and Penguin. I’d grown a bit jaded over the years, but on that trip to NYC I was able to see firsthand their passion for books and for writers— the thrill of discovering a new voice. As Tim McCall (VP of Marketing at Penguin) said, “This is the most fun I have all year… This is what you do it for.” The dream hasn’t died. It’s hindered by economic realities, but still very, very much alive.
In Malice, Quite Close, is such an evocative title. Can you tell me how it came about? Was this the original title or one that you came up with later in the process?
Thank you! My working title was actually Objet d’Art, but I worried the French would be alienating to some readers. I’m a huge fan of Rimbaud and love the intensity and daring of his work. I’d written the first draft before adding the poem, but knew Tristan would identify with Rimbaud. I was particularly struck by A.S. Kline’s beautiful translation of “First Evening” and in it I found not only my epigraph, but the title. The eerie, dark undercurrent of this seduction scene perfectly embodies my themes of objectification, sexual power dynamics and voyeurism…
The paintings from Impressionist masters seem to play a large role in your book. How did the characteristics of these paintings lend themselves to the story you wanted to tell?
I took my chapter titles from Tristan’s collection and think of it as a character in its own right… I hope readers will visit the gallery on my site, and experience the paintings for themselves. I chose Impressionism because the movement was revolutionary in its time for thwarting the conservative salons and focusing not only on secular subjects, but subjects captured in a lovely effusion of color and light. The focus was on feeling as opposed to visual accuracy. The paintings share an exquisite beauty and a yearning for ephemeral things: Degas and his dancers, Monet and his water lilies as they capture the fleeting light… The impossible quest to capture beauty—to possess it— before it slips through one’s fingers is at the heart of both art and obsession.
How much input did your publisher and agent have in your marketing plan? Did you hire any outside PR or marketing help?
I haven’t, as yet. I’ve been so fortunate in my experience with Viking/Penguin, from the editorial process to the art department (all of whom read my novel before undertaking cover art and design) to publicity… I could not be in more capable hands. Not to be a cheerleader, I can honestly say that it has been nothing short of a fairy tale— the embodiment of all of my fabled notions since I began writing at the age of 3 or 4.
That said, I think it’s crucial for an author to be proactive in this process, whether that means hiring an outside publicist or reaching out personally to booksellers and bloggers and making use of all the various social media. I love independent bookstores and they survive by making the experience very personal. I’m trying to reach out to as many as I can. I’m also trying my best to tweet, with far less success! I tend to be very private and prefer one-on-one communication. I don’t quite enjoy the process of texting the world…!
I’ve read you’re working on a “loose sequel.” In what ways is it a loose sequel, and why did you choose this direction (as opposed to a sequel)?
I suppose I feel each book should stand on its own. One may read In Malice, Quite Close and reach a satisfying end. Neither novel is dependent on the other, though readers will have a richer experience if they read them in order. The next novel, Like a Guilty Thing, picks up in Devon some years later and concerns Robin Dresden and his art students, to whom you’re introduced in this novel. The title is taken from Hamlet: “It started, like a guilty thing upon a fearful summons…” In this case, the “summons” is an anonymous invitation to an art exhibition for one of the students— a prodigious painter named Daniel Ekland— who died mysteriously before graduation. A private, heretofore unknown, collection of his work is unearthed and spells out events leading to his death, in which everyone is more than a little guilty. Marc Kreicek and other characters from In Malice play a role, and there is more art and seduction, murder and mayhem (with a bit of philosophy tossed in).
I think of Devon as a kind of dreamscape in which anything might happen. An illusory paradise. And I do think of fiction as building a world. I always intended to be the kind of writer whose protagonist in the fifth novel is someone we brushed shoulders with in the first. I definitely look forward to picking up Nicola’s story at some later date. After her experiences in In Malice, I think she’ll become a character to reckon with!
More about the book:
French ex-pat Tristan Mouralt is the wealthy, urbane heir to a world-renowned collection of art—and an insatiable voyeur enamored with Karen Miller, a fifteen-year-old girl from a working-class family in San Francisco. Deciding he must “rescue” Karen from her unhappy circumstances, Tristan kidnaps her and stages her death to mask his true crime.
Years later, Karen is now “Gisèle” and the pair lead an opulent life in idyllic and rarefied Devon, Washington. But when Nicola, Gisèle’s young daughter, stumbles upon a secret cache of paintings—all nudes of Gisèle—Tristan’s carefully constructed world begins to crumble. As Nicola grapples with the tragedy that follows, she crosses paths with Amanda Miller, who comes to Devon to investigate the portraits’ uncanny resemblance to her long-lost sister.
Set against a byzantine backdrop of greed, artifice, and dangerous manipulations, In Malice, Quite Close is an intoxicating debut that keeps its darkest secrets until the very last page.
Congratulations, Brandi! And thank you so much for sharing your stories and insights with us.