Laura: I am definitely more of a panster. I believe planning a book is easier with memoir than with fiction. Each of my “Grape” books covers approximately one year of our lives when we were buying and renovating a specific property in France so there is a very clear cut beginning and end point each time. Initially, I make a rough Excel spreadsheet of bare-boned scene ideas. Then I write a quick and dirty ESRD (Epically Sh!tty Rough Draft) based on these scenes. The more I write the more my memory is jogged so I add a lot of scenes en route. Then I do a BIG edit where I break the ESRD into chapters and add in new ones I realize are missing (usually about one third of the total scenes). I am lucky that I have a crazy-good long term memory. I can’t remember what I ate for breakfast this morning, but the taste of blackcurrant in that glass of wine I drank fifteen years ago? I TOTALLY remember every detail. My next project after My Grape Year (the third book in my “ Grape” series) is a paranormal romance trilogy involving mermaids and fishermen. I suspect I will have to dramatically tweak my writing processs and do a more detailed outline for fiction writing. However, the way I learn things is simply by doing them (verus reading about them or having someone teach them to me) and figuring out what works for me through trial and error. I know outlining will be something I will have to force myself to do though, as I am highly resistant to organization!
KC: How did you choose your titles?
Laura: The Grape Series all have “Grape" in the title I.e. My Grape Year, My Grape Escape, My Grape Village. The Grape is the emblem of all of our vacation rentals in Burgundy (which we call Grape Rentals www.graperentals.com). It is natural, authentic, honest, tied to the earth, and something humble that has the potential to be transformed into something sublime (wine). I liked the play on words with Grape / Great and also having “ My Grape…" repeated in my titles is a hommage to the wonderful “Little House” series that was my first exposure to memoir and one of the first series I fell for as a child. I love this quote which struck me so forcibly when my mother first read my sister and I the “The Little House in The Big Woods” when I was around seven:
When the fiddle had stopped singing Laura called out softly, “What are days of auld lang syne, Pa?”
“They are the days of a long time ago, Laura,” Pa said. “Go to sleep, now.”
But Laura lay awake a little while, listening to Pa’s fiddle softly playing and to the lonely sound of the wind in the Big Woods. She looked at Pa sitting on the bench by the hearth, the fire-light gleaming on his brown hair and beard and glistening on the honey-brown fiddle. She looked at Ma, gently rocking and knitting.
She thought to herself, “This is now.”
She was glad that the cosy house, and Pa and Ma and the fire-light and the music, were now. They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago.
This to me sums up the magic quality of memoir – when my mother read us that book I was Laura Ingalls. Books allow you to live so many additional lives.
KC: Do you have a favourite genre to read -- or write -- in? What draws you in that direction?
Laura: My “comfort” genre is probably Regency Romance at the moment. I love Georgette Heyer and Jo Beverly in particular. I avoid reading memoir when I am writing memoir as I always worry about absorbing someone else’s voice. As an English Literature undergrad I went through years of being incredibly snobby about my reading – I would only deign to read highbrow literary fiction that was shortlisted for the Booker, Orange, or the Giller. However, by my fourth year of my BA I actually stopped reading altogether. I just couldn’t handle one more obliquely drawn character that I couldn’t invest in emotionally (no matter how beautiful the language) or one more story about the holocaust or incest. Highbrow literature at that period was overwhelmingly depressing. I didn’t start reading again until my sister Suzanne insisted I read Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. I was so hooked that I am embarrassed to say I actually read Outlander and Dragonfly In Amber at stoplights on the way to taking my kids to preschool (NOT ADVISED). I still believe Diana’s books should come with some sort of FDA addiction warning like on cigarette packages. Thanks to Outlander, it finally hit me that what made me fall in love with books and reading in the first place was the craft of storytelling. I wanted to be transported to another place and often another time. I wanted to be invested in the lives of the characters. I wanted escape. I wanted emotion. I wanted imagination.
KC: This book is part of a series -- where do you plan to go next?
Laura: The “Grape” series will have six books in total (in order, the bold ones have already been published): My Grape Year, My Grape Paris, My Grape Escape, My Grape Village, My Grape Town, and My Grape Baby, plus a few of what I think of as “Memoir-ettes” (novella length memoirs): My Grape Wedding, My Grape Cellar (not akin to Twenty Shades of Grey, but rather about the 13th century wine cellar we renovated under the streets of Beaune), etc.. As you can see I do not write them in order. Whichever story is yelling at me the loudest is the one that gets written next. See above re: my visceral resistance to linear thinking.
My paranormal romance trilogy is definitely a trilogy and the first book is about 85% written, although it needs a serious overhaul. I will probably finish the first book in this series once I finish My Grape Year, although it will really depend on which story is shouting the loudest at me then! I have to say I am intimidated to turn from memoir to fiction, as I know it will be a steep learning curve. That terrifies me and thrills me in equal measure.
KC: Why Indie publishing instead of the traditional route?
Laura: I actually wrote a blog about exactly this topic and here is the list of reasons why self-publishing was the right choice for me:
- I am incurably impatient
- I like being my own boss and want to choose my collaborators
- I had several ideas re: how to launch / market my first book
- I actually enjoy marketing / social media
- I had a web presence already built up thanks to graperentals.com
- Aspects of my books (i.e. my struggles with panic attacks / anxiety) didn’t “fit” with mainstream publishing. Several agents were interested in taking on My Grape Escape but they all wanted me to remove any mention of my mental health struggles. I felt my story would be inauthentic without this honesty, and I also felt removing them would be a betrayal of myself and anyone out there who also lives with any mental health issue. I wanted to show how it is not necessary to eliminate or “cure” life’s many challenges in order to live a rich, incredible existence.
- I wasn’t prolific when I began, but definitely writing more and faster was a goal. I felt I had far more than one book in me - self–publishing doesn’t work as well for people who only want to publish one or two books – although like everything, there are exceptions.
- I am happiest when working on projects from beginning to end. I’m definitely a “project person”
- I have ongoing health issues (a rare auto-immune disease of the liver and bile ducts known as PSC which means I will need a liver transplant sooner rather than later) that meant I did not want / need stress of having to meet other people’s deadlines and expectations.
- I have an allergy to authority in any form
- I wanted to donate 10% of all my after-tax writing-related earnings to PSC Partners for researching PSC.
KC: What's your favourite part of the publishing process? Why?
Laura: Writing a book is a hell of a slog. Still, there is something epic in the feat of writing a book that appeals to me - a bit like climbing Everest or rowing across the Pacific. Most days I write because I force myself, but there are moments when my imagination takes flight or I come up with an evocative turn of phrase or the perfect tempo of dialogue and I feel as though I have been plugged into a force way bigger and more awe–inspiring than myself. I call this "communing with The Great Mysterious". These moments are generally fleeting, and I can also experience them when by the ocean, eating a particularly scrumptious cheese, spending time with my family, meditating, or doing other creative work – painting, making beach glass mobiles, etc. but I get them fairly regularly when writing and they always leave me with a sensation of grace and oneness with the universe. Who doesn’t need more of that?
Also when the box of paperbacks arrive for of latest book…holy moses is that ever satisfying! Worth every ounce of blood, sweat, and tears!
KC: Do you have a preferred format for your books? E-book vs paperback?
Laura: It is ironic that probably around 90% of my writing revenue comes from Ebooks (mainly Kindle) but I actually cannot stand reading books on any sort of screen. I am a diehard lover of paperbacks. For me, the tactile experience of reading an actual book - paperback or hardcover - is like a sacred ritual. Besides, I already spend a lot of time in front of the screen writing and doing my social media stuff. However, I have many girlfriends who are complete converts to ebooks and are permanently attached to their Ipad Kindle app or their Kindle. For them, the ebook thing actually has them reading way more. It’s a personal preference and I keep my mind open. I love my Kindle readers.
KC: What's your favourite review one of your stories has received? [Share it, if you like!]
Laura: Here is a nice one that was posted just a few days ago on Amazon.com for My Grape Escape: "As an avid reader of mainly non fiction I was thrilled to find this author. As the book started I thought ho hum - yet another story about France, renovating the dilapidated house, etc...... However, after a few pages I was hooked. I agonized and laughed with the author till the end. Found her to be refreshingly open about her state of mind. Has a unique gift of describing situations and people. Immediately got the follow up book.”
I especially love the ones where people tell me how my honesty about my struggles with anxiety disorder made them feel less alone with their own struggles in life – mental or otherwise. These always strike a chord with me and make me so glad I decided to stay true to myself, keep my book honest, and self-publish.
KC: Can you name a favourite Indy author or two, and recommend a book?
Well, I am VERY excited about KC Dyer’s upcoming “Finding Fraser”! I cannot wait to get my hands on the paperback of that. Martin Crosbie does lovely memoirs and his blogs about self-publishing are always so generous and helpful. I also love pretty much everything Chuck Wendig writes and he is a stellar advocate for writers everywhere. There are so many talented, insightful Indie authors out there…
KC: And to finish, can you give your best advice to someone starting out?
Laura: I would say the #1 piece of advice would be – FINISH! I kept writing and rewriting the first book in my paranormal romance trilogy for about a decade but could never finish. Then came the day I was diagnosed at age 39 with PSC and all of a sudden I was living with a rare, serious, and possibly terminal illness. My life completely changed in that instant. I started writing My Grape Escape the next morning and vowed to finish. I learned more in finishing and publishing My Grape Escape than I did in ten years of almost finishing my other writing projects. Resist the siren’s call of other projects until you finish your current one. It is as difficult as Odysseus and the Sirens at times, but put cotton balls in your ears, a huge sign beside your keyboard…whatever it takes - FINISH. My word-warrior motto is Write. Finish. Share. Repeat. Here is a printable of that if you need a reminder http://laurabradbury.com/2015/01/28/the-word-warrior-mantra/ .
Also, I try to give myself a word count goal every day whether writing or editing. Usually it is 2000 words. There are many days where I don’t hit it – days when I am hospitalized because of my PSC, days when my three kids have caught contagious diarrhea, days when it is sunny outside and I simply must go beachcombing…life happens, but having a goal is something to shoot for.
Holy crow. Didn't I tell you Laura was great? Forget a font -- she is a RESEVOIR of great information...and inspiration, too.