Fresh Ink is a monthly series of interviews with debut novelists that focuses on the journey to publication. Please welcome Erika Marks, author of Little Gale Gumbo, the story of a single mother who moves from New Orleans to a small island off the coast of Maine in search of a fresh start. What she finds is a passionate romance that inspires her to open an authentic Creole café and a new family that, years later, will be tested by tragedy.
I’m especially excited about today’s Fresh Ink because Erika has offered to send a free copy of Little Gale Gumbo to one lucky commenter! Anyone can enter (even if you’re outside of the US), and the winner will be chosen randomly at noon EST this Friday, October 14. Good luck!
# of agents you queried before signing: I was very fortunate in that I found my agent through a referral from another agent I had developed a lovely relationship with over several years of querying; her list was full so she forwarded my manuscript to another agent and it was a perfect match!
# of books written before this one: 13
# of revisions you went through: 3 with my agent then 2 with my editor
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?
I would say the implementation of social media. I know I’m supposed to see it as an extension of the business of writing, but honestly, I can’t see it that way. The friends I have made on Twitter, other writers and readers, are truly people I’ve come to feel I know and want to check in with. I never would have imagined having that sense of genuine community through social media. I am so grateful for it and for everyone I’ve met through it. As you well know, Natalia, writing can be such an isolating endeavor. It has to be, somewhat, but I think that is the appeal of something like Twitter—that it allows for communication, even if it seems brief, it can provide some much needed interaction in the midst of so much quiet. That said, I know we all are aware that sometimes that temptation to check in can be prohibitive to keeping our focus, but for me, I think I have found a good balance. (Well, most days, anyway.)
Your road to publication is so inspiring. Can you share it here and tell us, what is it that kept you going despite the bumps along the way?
You are so kind, Natalia. I have been writing and pursuing publication for twenty years, if you can believe that! I sent off my first manuscript while I was still in college—a crushingly overwrought romance novel called Reasons of the Heart—and this was in the old days when you could submit unsolicited manuscripts to publishers AND receive personal letters in response. Mine were the most gracious rejections. I still have every single one. They kept me motivated, they really did. Every rejection seemed to promise (in my mind, anyway) that the next project could be the one. And so many agents were so generous—even the smallest tidbit of advice as to why it didn’t work was a gem and I savored every word. I also believe the key to staying motivated is to start something new. As tempting as it is to re-work and re-query a project, there comes a time when the best thing you can do for yourself and your writing is to move on. I am always comparing relationships to writing, and it’s true in this case, too. You can learn what is and isn’t working in a relationship and try to make those needed changes, but if it’s a fundamentally flawed relationship, I think it’s better to implement those revelations with someone new.
Little Gale Gumbo sold as part of a two-book deal; can you tell us a little about book number two? Had you already written it when it sold or is it something you began working on after?
I had a good chunk of a first draft written, so I essentially sold the second book with a proposal/outline. Since I’m a terribly superstitious person (as Little Gale Gumbo probably reveals!) and it’s still in draft form, I won’t get into too much detail but I will say the second book is set in a coastal Maine town renowned for its mermaid legend, and tells the story of how the mysterious arrival of two brothers to the town’s lighthouse sparks romance and revelations for its residents, including a young woman who can’t let go of a past heartbreak.
You mentioned that prior to launch of Book 1 you were on deadline for Book 2. What has it been like to work on two books at once, with each being in a different part of the process? How do you handle switching modes?
You’re so right that it requires switching modes. Even now as I am immersed in getting Little Gale Gumbo out into the world, my head is still very much jumping back to the characters of my second book. You do start to feel a little nervous, hoping you can give equal time to both endeavors. But I never feel as if the new story loses steam just because I have to be away from it for a while, and that helps.
How did you approach marketing yourself? How much of it is a collaborative process between you and the publisher, and how much of it is just you?
I am fortunate in that I have—and have had—incredibly talented people to work with on every aspect of this journey. But I think it’s so important for writers today to see the opportunity in marketing ourselves. Social media is such a gift, really. I feel I have a great deal of control in marketing myself through Twitter and through so many wonderful blogs—like yours!—and I never have that sinking feeling of: Oh, I should/could be doing more! As writers, we are so fortunate to have these resources.
What are you most looking forward to once your book launches? Oh, that’s an easy one: Talking to readers! And getting to reunite with these characters that I love so much and learning what readers think of them. I can’t wait to hear if they adored them, if they were frustrated by them, if they were anxious for them, happy for them, hurt for them, all of it!
About Little Gale Gumbo:
When Camille and her two teenage daughters fled New Orleans for the island of Little Gale off the coast of Maine, the islanders were initially more suspicious than welcoming. Twenty-five years later, Camille’s Creole restaurant, The Little Gale Gumbo Café, has become an island staple—as has the legacy of her romance with islander Ben Haskell. Camille and Ben, along with their children, created a new family unit with a seemingly unbreakable bond. But when Ben is found unconscious in his home, next to the body of Camille’s estranged husband, old secrets and suspicions reemerge, and the family must reunite to hope for Ben’s survival. But as revelations come to the surface, so do long-held secrets that will test the limits and definitions of family.
Congratulations, Erika, and thank you so much for your insights!
Readers, don’t forget to comment below for a chance to win a copy of Little Gale Gumbo.