Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Novel Road Interview: Tawna Fenske

UPDATE: "Making Waves" by Tawna Fenske - Release Date Aug.2 2011 

 The Novel Road Interview: Tawna Fenske




  I found a blog not long ago that made me laugh. So I went back, over the next few days, and my laughing continued, so much so, the blog made my morning read (between you and me, to make my morning read it has to be special). The blog name: “Don’t Pet Me I’m Writing” is a great way to start the day.

  The thing is, I’m a guy and this blog is about Romantic Comedy. I’ve tried to shift the comments on the blog to Table Saws and Planers, but the women commenting act like I’m not there. They refused my insights into PVC and Duct Tape, though the author of the blog did seem to know her way around that magic, fix all tape. She even thought of uses that didn’t readily occur to me…

  My guest on The Novel Road is author Tawna Fenske and quite simply, she cracks me up. Add to this the fact that she’s intelligent and writes humor better (in my opinion) than anyone at “Saturday Night Live” tells me the book world has a new Romantic Comedy star coming it’s way. In the interview, I liken her humor to Janet Evanovich, and I could see Tawna and the Great Evanovich co-writing one day, like their male author counterparts are doing in ever increasing numbers.

  The problem will be: who will get the lead billing? Yes, Tawna is that good.

  Curious? Let me prove it, but first, a little background:

Don\

   A third-generation Oregonian who can peel and eat a banana with her toes, Tawna has traveled a winding career path from journalist to English teacher in Venezuela to marketing geek. She’s the author of the popular daily blog “Don’t Pet Me, I’m Writing” and a member of Romance Writers of America.




  
Go to fullsize image   Her debut novel, MAKING WAVES, hits shelves August 2011 as the first in a trio of quirky romantic comedies from Sourcebooks, Inc.
 Here’s a peek at her novel:
  Juli’s lost count of the number of jobs she’s held, but she definitely never applied to be a pirate. Or a stowaway on a pirate ship. But when fate lands her on boat captained by Alex—a man whose unscrupulous boss kicked him to the curb after 20 faithful years—Juli finds herself in the middle of a revenge-fueled Caribbean diamond heist with a crew more suited to the boardroom than the poop deck. Alex didn’t plan to be a pirate, either. He just wants to recover his dignity, pension, and something resembling a normal life. But normal flies out the window when Juli enters the picture—a twist Alex wishes he didn’t find so exhilarating. But the two soon discover that while normal is nice, weird can be wonderful.

Please welcome, author Tawna Fenske…


Tawna Fenske
 Me: Your comic sense is incredible. I see another Evanovich coming our way. What has had the greatest influence on your sense of humor? 

Tawna: I'm probably the least funny member of my family. I grew up with everyone around me cracking jokes at all times—graduations, weddings, funerals—you name it, some relative could find a way to make it funny. I just happen to be the one writing stuff down.

Go to fullsize imageMe: Favorite Stand-up comedian and why? 

Tawna: Television isn’t really my thing. I don’t mean that in the “only a couple hours a night” sense—I mean that while there is a television in my home, I have no idea how to operate it. I’ve caught the occasional standup comedy routine that made me laugh (Jerry Seinfeld, Ellen Degeneres, Steven Wright) but since I have the attention span of an ADD mongoose on speed, I just don’t spend much time watching movies or TV or—hey, look…the cat needs brushing.

What were we talking about?


View Image
Artwork by
Monica Carretero
 
Me: Publishing is going through an evolution at the moment. How has this or will this affect you? New authors?

Tawna: Once upon a time, an author could live in a cave eating roots and avoiding human contact and still expect to have a successful career. Those days are long gone. Authors now need to be visible, interacting with readers on Facebook and Twitter and blogs and book tours. It’s not enough to be an author who writes a decent book—readers want to know what sort of cereal you eat and whether you prefer boxers or briefs.

  I actually don’t mind this. My agent pushed me into the social media pool ten months ago, and I’m delighted with how quickly I’ve built a blog following that even includes a few people not related to me. I’m still a bit mystified by the whole thing—seriously, 1,000 strangers want to read about how I lost my rings in my underwear? But I’m happy about it (the blog following, not the rings) and I love interacting with readers and using that to gauge what they want. Social media helps me feel I can impact book sales in a small way without relying on my publisher to do everything. Don’t get me wrong, I love Sourcebooks and I’m thrilled they’re known for investing a lot to build authors’ careers. I just like the idea that I can contribute, too.


Go to fullsize imageMe: Life experience in the writing process. What advice can you give writers on its importance? 

Tawna: Er, I write romance, so is this a question about my sex life?

  I’m sure there are plenty of people imaginative enough to dream up elaborate plots without ever leaving their sofas. I’m not one of them. Sometimes I’ll gripe to my husband that my creative well has run dry. “It’s Tuesday,” he’ll say. “When did you last leave the house?” If I have to think about the answer, I know I need to get off my butt and go find people to laugh at in the mall.

  I travel a lot and have had tons of interesting life experiences, but I’ve found that just taking the dog for a walk gets my creative juices going. There’s something about fresh air and beautiful scenery and picking up poop in a little bag that stimulates me as a writer.

Stimulates. We’re back to the sex thing again, aren’t we?
View Image
They don't do Tupperware parties
in Oregon


Me: What was the first thing you ever wrote that told you “I can do this?”
Tawna: I’ve been writing for my supper my whole life—first for college scholarships, then for newspapers and post-college marketing jobs. I even won my wedding by writing about how I wanted to get married at center-court at a Portland Trail Blazer game (why yes, I did tie the knot in front of 21,000 screaming fans and sweaty athletes). Fiction was a big switch for me, and I didn’t really take a stab at it until about eight years ago. I knew right away I’d enjoy it, but there was that initial moment of terror where I realized, “wait—you mean I get to MAKE STUFF UP?!”

Me: In two sentences, describe your current book or work in progress.
Tawna: I attended an event several months ago where authors got to meet with librarians and persuade them to stock our books. I was surprised at how often writers struggled to describe their work. The one-paragraph blurb you use for a query letter or a book jacket is very different from a conversational pitch. If you and I were sitting down for a glass of wine and you said, “tell me about your debut novel,” I’d probably say something like:
  Alex’s sleazy boss kicks him to the curb and steals his pension, so he and three colleagues head to the Caribbean to intercept the boss’s illegal diamond shipment in the most dysfunctional pirate mission in history. Things get complicated when Juli – who’s supposed to be dumping her dead uncle’s ashes at sea—has an allergic reaction to seasickness pills and accidentally stows away on their boat.
  Is that what you’ll see on my book jacket or my Web site? Nope, those blurbs need more detail. But the point of a two-sentence pitch is to pique interest—to make someone ask, “and then what?”


Go to fullsize imageMe: How strict are you when it comes to staying true to your outline?
Tawna: Outline? What’s an outline?
  I’m not a plotter. I may have some faint idea where a story is headed before I start writing, but I generally like to be surprised along the way. I was on the phone with my editor a couple weeks ago when she praised the cleverness of a certain twist near the end of my debut novel, MAKING WAVES.
“I didn’t see that coming!” she said. 
“Me neither!” I replied.
  There was this long pause where I could tell she was trying to figure out if I was being funny. I wasn’t.
  I’m constantly figuring out plot points and character traits halfway through the book and then having to go back and layer them in so they feel like a natural part of the story instead of the product of too much Chianti.

Go to fullsize imageMe: I have been offering a piece of advice lately regarding the… Gulp!... Query Letters. I’m telling new authors to avoid even learning about a query letter till their manuscript is complete. I’ve gone so far as asking a new author not to even look the term up till he’s done with his book. Do you agree or not? Explain
Tawna: Every author is different, so I try never to stomp my feet on my soapbox and insist “THIS IS HOW IT SHOULD BE DONE!” (Unless I’m talking to my husband, in which case I’m all about the stomping).
  With that caveat out of the way, I’ll say that I’ve seen a lot of authors pour their heart and soul into a book without giving any thought to the big question, “what’s the book about?” or considering where it might fit in the marketplace. They type THE END and think their work is done—shouldn’t it be someone else’s job to sell the damn thing?
  It shouldn’t. An author is his or her own best advocate for a story at any stage in the game, whether pitching to agents, editors, readers, or the drunk guy in the elevator. You set yourself up for heartbreak if you don’t at least consider the sales side before pouring everything you’ve got into a book. I’m not saying you should tattoo your query blurb on your right arm and your dream agent’s name on your left before you’ve finished the first chapter, but I am saying it will help you in the long run if you give some thought to your “hook” in the early stages of the game. You don’t need to craft query letters and make daily visits to agentquery.com, but it helps to have those things simmering in the back of your mind.

Me: Tell us about your agent and why the match is perfect?
Michelle is a great agent
but she lost the election to
the snarky Linda Grimes
who kicks puppies
Tawna: You know that thing I said earlier about tattooing an agent’s name on your arm? If I weren’t terrified of needles, I’d have a great big “Wolfson Literary” on my right bicep. I adore my agent.
  Michelle Wolfson is actually my second agent, and in a way that’s what made me appreciate how amazing she is. She’s responsive. She’s smart. She’s ridiculously passionate about her authors’ careers. Even when we got socked with some of our toughest rejections, she always had a game plan and she never lost her enthusiasm for my writing.
  Now that she’s landed me this wonderful three-book deal for my romantic comedies, she’s thinking ahead to what comes next and where we can both take my career in the future. Having someone with that sort of zeal for your work is invaluable. Having someone with the industry knowledge to actually make it happen is just plain orgasmic.


Me (sort of): What’s the #1 question people ask you since your three-book deal was announced?

Tawna: How did you decide to write romance? Depending on the tone of voice, there are three possible translations:

Go to fullsize image1\ Have you always been a pervert?
               
2\ Couldn’t write a real book, eh?
              
3\ Ohmygod I love romance!

  I actually don’t mind the question, since it gives me a chance to be an ambassador for the genre. Romance fiction generated $1.36 million in sales in 2009 and was the largest share of the consumer market at 13.2%. It was the second top-performing category on the New York Times, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly best-seller lists (outpaced only by movie tie-ins). The genre runs the gamut from Christian inspirational to uber-hot erotica, from historical to paranormal. I think some people hear “romance” and think “Fabio with a greased chest.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but that’s like hearing “animal” and only thinking “dog” instead of “dolphin” or “platypus” or “sucker-footed bat” or…well, you get the idea.

  And yes—I have always been a pervert.

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I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Tawna for her time and to say “I told you so” to those who doubted my opinion about this truly funny lady.