Interview with Maryann McFadden

Jen: Tell us about So Happy Together and where it’s available.
Maryann: So Happy Together was released in hardcover on July 7 and is available in bookstores everywhere. It’s an Indie Next Pick (a great honor) and is also available as an e-book, and soon to be large-print. It was selected as an AARP “Hot Read” although it’s really a story for anyone from ages 20-90+.

So Happy Together is the story of Claire Noble, a 45 year-old woman who has lived a life of responsibility and is now about to spread her wings and pursue a dream of studying photography on Cape Cod under the magical Cape Cod light. When she returns at the end of the summer, she’ll be getting married and moving from the small town in NJ where she’s lived all her life, to Arizona. But just as Claire is packing her bags, her estranged daughter shows up, with some big troubles. Her father reveals a 50 year-old secret that threatens to unravel the family. And her mother decides that at 78, it’s not too late to find the love of her life.

Claire’s dreams come to a screeching halt as she confront the demands of her family, and ultimately must make the toughest decisions of her life.

So Happy Together is what I call a “sandwich generation” novel, highlighting the difficulties of life when children, or grandchildren, still need you and aging parents also require your care. That said, this is really a book that highlights the challenges of women at 3 different stages of life, Claire, her mother Fanny, and her daughter Amy. The beauty of it, I believe, is that it shows that love is possible at any age.

I use the fabled Cape Cod light, which has been luring artists for over a century, as a metaphor throughout the story. Because sometimes happiness, or even love, is right in front of us if only we’re able to see it.

Jen: At what age did you discover writing and when were you first published? Tell us your call story.
Maryann: I have wanted to be a writer ever since I was a little girl and began writing stories on my father’s old Underwood manual typewriter in the basement of our house. But like my characters, life eventually got in the way, and I lost sight of that dream, only to find again later on.

I became an English major in college, and began working for local newspapers, continuing this work as I graduated, got married and began having children. I turned to free-lancing so I could be a stay at home mom, and eventually broke into some national magazines. In addition, I did some corporate writing and even taught journalism at our local college. But after ten years, life got in the way. My husband was down-sized and I needed to make more money. With the kids now in school, and a desire to get out and be among people (writing can be very lonely at times), I got my real estate license. Within one year, I was the top agent in the office and went on to become a top agent in my county.

After a decade, a longing for writing returned. I went back to school for a Master’s degree and The Richest Season began as my thesis project, and went on to become a wild and crazy journey for me into publishing:

In April, 2007, my originally self-published novel, The Richest Season, sold at auction to Hyperion Books in a 2 book hardcover deal

A writers blog referred to it as “winning the literary lottery.” I had to laugh. Because it implied that getting published was as simple as buying a ticket and waiting for a number to be drawn. Hah! If only it were that easy. My ordeal to try to get my novel taken spanned 6 years in total. The Richest Season was shelved in a closet no less than 3 times, as I became frustrated and gave up on the publishing world again and again.

But I kept hearing the same refrain from people who’d read the manuscript in a fat 3 ring binder: Your book is better than anything I’ve read in months. Why isn’t it out there?

That question, which I heard over and over for several years, made me want to scream! Yes, I knew I had a wonderful book! I knew it was well written because I took years to carefully craft it. It began as my Master’s thesis. And NO, I had no blankety blank idea why it wasn’t taken!
But….as a big birthday approached I began to do some soul searching.

I wanted to keep writing. I didn’t want to give up. But what defined success to me as a writer? To be read! And to move people when they read my work. I wanted The Richest Season to be out there in reader land, for people to read about Joanna, Grace and Paul, three characters who I believed deserved to live in reader’s imaginations. I wanted them to fall in love with Pawleys Island, as I had more than 20 years ago.

And so I decided to take one of the biggest gambles in my life: to self-publish The Richest Season. After all, I reasoned, if I could sell houses, which I’d done very successfully for nearly 20 years by then, I could sell this book!!!

I found a small print on demand publisher in California which I’d never heard of, and I was hoping no one else had either. I wanted the book judged on its own merits, not with the stigma of it not being good enough for a “real” publisher.

The Richest Season debuted in May, 2006. I immediately orchestrated a book launch at a local college. Most people had no idea this book was self-published and I was now feeling like a bit of a fraud, as it got lots of hype in the local media. I had no idea how many would show up. I was scared to death. Despite a torrential downpour and with little parking nearby, I managed to fill the parlors. One of the first women who came in, who’d gotten the book from Amazon, the only place it was available then, hugged me and said, “I loved your book. I wanted to live it.” I went on to sell over 100 books that night.

I began pounding the pavement. Getting a bookseller to read a self-published book isn’t easy. The big stores and chains simply won’t. So I focused on the smaller, independents. I not only got them to read it, once they did, many asked me to come in for signings. Then it became a staff pick in a handful of stores. In one, The Richest Season went on to become their top selling trade paperback for 2006, outselling The Kite Runner.

The next eight months were exhausting as I continued to market my novel in any way I could, while still working. I racked up 25 signings, some library and senior talks, and met with nearly 40 book clubs. The reader feedback was unbelievable. And I sold more then 2,000 books, what some literary books do in a lifetime, I learned.

One night in November, I decided to search for an agent again. I sent out e-mail queries and the very next morning got a call from The Victoria Sanders Agency, asking me for an exclusive. I agreed. Eight weeks later they called, asking me to come in.

Meeting Victoria was almost as good as getting “the call.” After a harrowing trip into New York that included snow, ice and a train shut-down because of a terrorist alert, I was rewarded with a smile and these words from Victoria: “This is a wonderful book!” Validation! Finally! Well, almost.

But she was confident it would sell, and also told me she felt it would sell abroad, as well.

Victoria asked me to add a bit more material, something I’d already been thinking about. She then sent copies of the manuscript to major publishers in New York. Meeting some of them in their offices, hearing their compliments on my writing, character development, etc. well…it was surreal!

Shortly afterward, she decided to hold an auction for the rights to The Richest Season. It was an exciting and nerve racking afternoon, waiting for her call. When it came, I was thrilled to learn that Hyperion Books won, offering me a 2 book hardcover deal. This was it! After years of rejection, I was the real deal!

Within a few weeks, Random House in Germany bought German rights in a 5 way auction, and Mondadori took it in Italy in a preempt.

There are still days I can’t quite believe it’s true. I’m now at work on my third novel, with my second So Happy Together debuting on July 7! I am what I had always dreamed of becoming, a real author! And I’d nearly given up. My advice to anyone else out there with a dream is work hard, persevere, and BELIEVE!

Jen: How does your family feel about your career?
Maryann: My family is ecstatic for me. They know how long and hard I worked, and they love my writing. At the moment I’m touring, with a pretty tough schedule, and my husband is with me, “driving Miss Daisy” as he puts it. But it’s great to have someone by your side.

I have no bigger fan, however, than my mother, who is so proud and thrilled, and tells me she can’t read some of her former favorite authors because I’ve spoiled her with such beautiful writing! Okay, she’s my mother, but she’s usually brutally honest. Like at my book launch party everyone said my reading was fine, but she whispered in my ear that it was a bit too long! So I’ve shortened it, needless to say.

Jen: Describe your writing in 3 words.
Maryann: I hate this question! How hard! But here goes: Descriptive. Straightforward. Poetic.

I have to say poetic wasn’t my choice, I’ve heard it from several readers, in case it sounds a bit pretentious LOL!

Jen: Do you have a writing routine?
Maryann: Yes, I am a morning writer for the most part. I get up early, make a cup of tea, and then sit down immediately at my lap top until hunger calls. I stop for breakfast, then right back to it. I’ll write until about 9 or 10, then shower and get dressed, although it would be so easy to stay in pajamas and keep going. But usually by then I’m ready for a break.

I take my little recorder into the bathroom, because I frequently get great ideas while my mind is relaxing in the shower. Depending on how it’s going, I might then take a walk, again with my recorder, because the same thing happens when I walk, bits of dialogue, descriptions, or even future scenes, might begin to percolate as I walk and let my mind sort of rest, then wander.

And then it might be some marketing follows, or a family need, such as watching my granddaughters, or the business of life, before I get back to the writing. Frequently I don’t get back to it until the next morning. And that’s why I MUST write in the morning. Because my life has a way of taking over at times, with little or no warning!

Jen: What’s the most challenging aspect of writing? The easiest?
Maryann: The most challenging for me is time, as stated above. I am actually caught in that sandwich generation, which became the inspiration for So Happy Together. While, it’s not my story, Claire is very different than me, we share some of the same challenges. If a period of a few days or more go by and I don’t get to write, finding the thread of the story, the momentum, is a challenge. I often go right back to the beginning of the manuscript and begin reading the entire thing to jump start my imagination again.

The easiest part of this, for me, is the final draft or two. Layering on details, descriptions, those little bits and pieces of characters that take the sketch and make it a complete painting, so to speak, is what I love! Especially playing with words, choosing something that is so perfect that you just about clap your hands when you find it and it works.

Writing is a magical, mysterious process that I simply love!

Jen: What’s the most rewarding aspect?
Maryann: Without a doubt it’s meeting readers who love your work. I just did a sold out luncheon for more than 100 people and when readers came up to me beforehand, who already finished either of my books, to tell me how much they enjoyed a character, an event, or something in the book, sometimes having it bookmarked, or quoting it, well, there is nothing so thrilling as that moment. Knowing you have done what you’d hoped with all your heart you could do: move the reader, touch their heart or imagination.

Jen: What did you do to celebrate the sale of your first book?
Maryann: Actually, I celebrated AFTER the release of my first book, The Richest Season. The week it was launched, I had a huge party at my house for family and friends and it was just wonderful!

Jen: Do you become attached to your characters and have a hard time letting them go, or are you happy that their story is told and you can move on?
Maryann: While your characters do become like family to you, because you are so intimately involved with them, by the time I read the end of the story, I am ready to let them go. Not that I don’t still think about them, though. But if you’ve come to a conclusion that you’re happy with, that you think the reader will be satisfied with, then I think you know it is time to let them go. Kind of like when your kids are leaving the nest!

Jen: What has been the highlight of your career to this point?
Maryann: I think 2 things. Again, reader letters that just give me a high. To know that you have affected someone in such a profound way.

But also, to be an INDIE NEXT PICK for both of my books! These are recommendations by independent booksellers each month, and in this July brochure, both of my books were featured, which is very rare. So I carry one around with me wherever I go, in my purse. What a high!

Jen: What do you do in your free time?
Maryann: Free time? What’s that? Seriously, I have very little of it. When I’m not writing, or doing the family thing, I will be found marketing somehow. Doing a bookseller or reader outreach.

I haven’t had an unwriting related vacation in more than 10 years and I’m thinking of taking one, although my new book isn’t finished, so I’ll probably bring it and write. But you know what? To me, heaven is being away, preferably at a beach, and writing.

I do love to walk, ride my bike, spend time in the woods. Oh, and I play Texas Hold-em every Thursday night, which is my one big fun night out every week!

Jen: What’s next for you?
Maryann: I’m working on a novel about the book world. I won’t say much more than that, as I’m not allowed to! But I don’t think there’s anything quite like it out there and I’m veeeery excited by it.

Jen: Where can you be found on the web?
Maryann: Read all about me and my journey at maryannmcfadden.com

I love to meet with book clubs, so anyone can contact me at maryann@maryannmcfadden.com

Jen: Is there anything you’d like to ask our readers?
Maryann: Actually, besides word of mouth, I’d love to know how they find new authors. I’m always trying to find new ways to make my work known. Because I’m still building an audience, and I want to keep on writing!

Jen: Readers, Maryann is giving away a hardcover copy of So Happy Together to a random commenter. If you’d like to win a copy of this book, first leave a comment or question for Maryann. Then you must either leave your email address in your comment or send a message to admin.bookblog@gmail.com letting us know you want to be entered. Only people who complete both steps will be entered. The winner will be chosen on Sunday, July 26 around 5pm PST.