Welcome to my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, scriptwriters, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with women’s, family sagas and mainstream fiction author Rosemary O’Brien. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Rosemary. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Rosemary: I am a lot of things, as are we all! I am a mother of two sons, 12 and 8, wife, author and owner of A Word or Two LLC, a writing services business which includes coaching other writers. I realized I wanted to be a writer in college. I was an older student having returned to school at 26 after a career in musical theatre, a divorce, and time as an administrative assistant. While I was studying for my teacher certification in English, I had an epiphany of sorts. I realized I loved the English and writing part of my studies, but felt constricted by the thought of being in a classroom all day long teaching what I know rather than doing it. The long story short is I decided to follow what I loved and that was writing.
Flash forward to my job at a an organization for freelance writers in Washington, DC where I had another epiphany. If all of these people are making a living doing what they love as freelance writers, why was I sitting at this desk serving them and the organization? I spent the next month or so talking to every experience writer who came through the door about how they did it before submitting my resignation and doing it myself. My first novel was written over the following 4 or 5 months writing full-time from home and was published a couple of years later. The writing services business followed and has served me well. It’s allowed me to stay home with my children despite our many moves as a military family. I still teach, but on my own terms. I teach other writers through adult education classes, online classes and through email, and I also direct children’s theatre in my community.
Morgen: What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Rosemary: I primarily write women’s fiction, family sagas and mainstream fiction. With that said, I’ve been toying with a comic mystery based on a story idea given to me by a friend. The idea keeps rolling around my head and lines are constantly popping up, so I may have to sit down and write that one next. I am also writing a non-fiction book titled Pocket Parks in NYC about the privately owned public spaces dotting New York City.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Rosemary: I did not change my name when I remarried because I wanted to see my name on my books, so no pseudonym. My first novel, FIRST SATURDAY, was first published in 2002 by a small publisher. It can be found through Amazon as a paperback http://www.amazon.com/First-Saturday-Rosemary-OBrien/dp/1461128501 and as a Kindle book http://www.amazon.com/First-Saturday-ebook/dp/B00885EPPK My latest novel, SCRAPS, was recently published as an ebook in several platforms and can be found on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Scraps-ebook/dp/B00B5VXY3S) and Smashwords (http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/278737). The print version should be available by March, 2013.
Morgen: You’ve self-published, what lead to you going your own way? Are your books available as eBooks? How involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Rosemary: I decided to self-publish my first book after hearing readers ask for it over the years and after trying, and enjoying, reading ebooks. It was also good test in case self-publishing turns out to be the best option for POCKET PARKS OF NYC.
My latest novel, SCRAPS, was just published through a publisher who published primarily through ebook platforms. I actually enjoy reading books on my iPad despite my previous ambivalence to electronic publishing. I think it’s the wave of the future, though it still needs more of a filter.
Morgen: Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Rosemary: Since I just published SCRAPS, I don’t want to comment on it until I hear back from my readers. My opinion may change after I see it through their eyes!. So, with that said, I love Audrey in FIRST SATURDAY. She is so strong despite everything that happens to her. She deals with her treatments by remaining strong for her daughters, yet she also allows her friends to help her and lets them in to see her pain from time to time. I think that requires a lot of grace. As a friend, you want to help your friends if they are in, but you also have to allow yourself to be on the receiving end.
Morgen: Did you have any say in the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Rosemary: I had complete control over the title for FIRST SATURDAY. It fits perfectly with the theme of the book. The women met in a Catholic girls’ school where they celebrated mass the first Friday of every month. When they got older and moved back to the same area after college, careers, etc., they began having dinners on the first Saturday of each month. The title could not have been anything else. The cover was the publisher’s creation and I love it. As for SCRAPS, I created the cover myself after being dissatisfied with what the publisher’s artist came up with. I think the covers are very important. It’s what draws a reader to your book. It is the initial impression which is an important one. If the cover stinks, the reader will think the book follows suit.
Morgen: What are you working on at the moment / next?
Rosemary: I am superstitious about letting out information about new fiction projects, but one of my current non-fiction projects is POCKET PARKS OF NYC. It is a guidebook to all of the POPS (privately owned public spaces) that can actually be used in New York City. I have been fascinated by these free public spaces ever since I worked and lived in New York City years ago. Many of these spaces are on the city’s list of POPS, but are only widened sidewalks. I am going through that list and identifying comfortable spaces that are being used for the intended purpose: a comfortable place to sit and rest in the middle of New York City. The book also gives a history of the space as to how it was named, how it came to be, etc. I have plans for books on several other cities that have similar spaces. I will always, however, write my novels. They are one of the joys in my life and what I love doing most.
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Rosemary: I think writer’s block is contrived. Anna Quindlen once said something to the effect of she never had time for writer’s block. She had a column to write every day and deadlines to meet, so she wrote them and met them. She had to. I feel the same way. I write every day. If I miss a day, I feel guilty and unproductive. If I’m stuck on one area of a project, I just move to the next and come back to that part. It may require a major edit later, but it moves the story forward.
Morgen: Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Rosemary: I always plot my stories and even teach a class about how I write my novels. I tell students if you don’t know the ending of your book, how are you going to create foreshadowing and build the story to its climax? The class I teach came from a way that developed for me naturally as a reaction to my poor memory. It’s similar to what screenwriters do with index cards, which is something I may try with the next book. I think running with the idea promotes rambling and hardly accomplishes anything unless you have a superior memory. I don’t, so I plot.
Morgen: Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Rosemary: Good writing makes any characters believable. You have to observe people that are similar to your idea of your character and then try to copy some or all of their mannerisms, speech patterns, etc. Other than that, I don’t have a method for creating characters. They come to me with the idea of the story, more or less, or they present themselves as I’m writing.
Morgen: Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Rosemary: I do a lot of editing when I go back to read the first draft, especially at the beginning of the manuscript. After I get going, the ideas are more full-formed. It is a common idea that a good writer is really a good reviser or editor. I feel that’s true. You can write the worst dreck in your first draft, but that’s okay because you always have revisions. The important thing is to get your story down on the page first and then go back and fix it.
Morgen: Do you have to do much research?
Rosemary: I always do a lot of research. This happens mostly during the plotting stage when I’m developing the story, but can also happen while I’m writing. We are always learning and growing, so I’m always looking things up. Much of the time the information I learn finds its way into my books because I like to share what I know. (I guess I’m a teacher at heart.)
Morgen: What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Rosemary: I actually had to look up ‘second person’ to refresh my memory that’s how often I use it! I prefer third person, but have been considering trying first person with the next mystery I mentioned before. Third person gives me the chance to look into someone’s head without constantly saying, ‘I’ or ‘me’ constantly while also viewing the surrounding picture. With the first person you can’t do that as easily since the story is always from the point of view of the character doing the telling.
Morgen: Do you write any poetry, non-fiction or short stories?
Rosemary: I was first published as a poet. During my last leg of college (my education another story entirely), a friend said I should submit my poetry to a community journal the university she worked for was producing. It was a blind submission, so she was never going to see it and give me the upper hand if she liked it, so I went for it. Jane was the person who introduced me to poetry in high school and led me to find my voice. A few of my poems were published in that journal that year and the next. Since then, I’ve only published my poetry through a program called The Fiction Project. Facing Forward, my book of poetry, can be viewed digitally on their site http://www.arthousecoop.com/library as well as in person at the Brooklyn Art Library in Brooklyn, NY.
Morgen: Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Rosemary: YES! The first book I wrote was written right after I graduated from college. My husband was not due to transfer for a few months and the idea had been rambling around my head for months. It was way too autobiographically and poorly written. It sits in a box and on my computer, I believe, in case I ever figure out what to do with it. It doesn’t have legs, so I I don’t think I ever will.
Morgen: Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Rosemary: That first book was rejected at least 35 times. FIRST SATURDAY received about 17 rejections before the publisher requested a read, so I guess that’s progress. SCRAPS received 19 before I submitted it directly to a publisher. Being published is first about writing a good story and second, about perseverance.
Morgen: Do you enter competitions? Are there any you could recommend?
Rosemary: No. I would rather spend my time seeking paying work rather than paying for a contest.
Morgen: Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Rosemary: No, I don’t have an agent, but I’m still looking for one. I feel they are very helpful, though from my own experience, they do not seem vital. They are helpful because they know who is buying what therefore they can submit more judiciously. They can also keep track of the royalties while the writer can concentrate on what the writer does best which is writing the next book. Some also guide the author toward project ideas they think would be a good fit.
Morgen: How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Rosemary: A lot. An author’s work is not done once the book hits the shelves. Before I’m even finished with the editor’s revisions, I am looking for bloggers who might support the work, looking for bookstores that might host a reading, and generally stirring up buzz for my book. It’s exhausting which is why I would rather not self-publish if I can help it. Being a published novelist is a business albeit a creative one. The author has to comport herself (or himself) in a professional manner. No one is going to book a flighty person to read in their bookstore or to speak on their TV or radio show.
Morgen: What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Rosemary: Favorite: Making my own schedule around my family’s needs and devising my own projects.
Least favorite: I earn a lot less money than I would had I taken a corporate communications or even a writing job in someone else’s office.
Surprises: The amount of time I have to spend getting the word out astounds me.
Morgen: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Rosemary: Decide if you really want it before dedicating yourself to this business and then dedicate yourself full throttle. The lows are very low, but the highs can also be very high. Learn all you can about the publishing business, but stay true to your own voice when writing. There is no one else who will write like you. Hold on to that and give it a whirl. Just don’t quit your day job unless you have a financial backup. Many writers write when they are not at their day job.
Morgen: If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Rosemary: Of course, Shakespeare. I’d probably serve some sort of roast with potatoes for him. He seems like he was a roast kind of guy. Dessert would be some sort of berry pie with cream.
Anna Quindlen because she is my favorite contemporary author. She sees life similiarly to the way I see life and would be interesting to chat with. I would probably serve lasagna and salad with an antipasto to pick on while I cook. Ice water with lemon during dinner and coffee and chocolate cake afterward.
J.K. Rowling. I think she is brilliant to have infused so much history and mythology into such an amazing story. I have no idea what I would cook for her.
Morgen: If you had to choose a single day from your past to re-live over and over, what day would it be and why?
Rosemary: No day is that good! I would get bored at some point, wouldn’t you? Some of my more beautiful days were the day (the moment) I said the vows that made me a wife for the second time. The day I found out I was pregnant with my first son, my second son and the day each was born. The day I received my first hard copy of First Saturday in the mail. The day I got my first professional acting job.
Morgen: Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Rosemary: I like the word ‘sparkle’.
The quote I like the most is from Thoreau: ‘If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.’ I keep a card with this saying tacked to the side of my bookcase at my desk. It is so true.
Morgen: Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Rosemary: I teach a class on how to organize your information while writing a novel as well as one about the business of freelance writing. I also go into my sons’ schools during April, National Poetry Month, to read poetry and talk about its importance in our lives.
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks? 🙂
Rosemary: As a former musical theatre actress and trained vocalist, I love the theatre. I try to get to Broadway or off-Broadway as often as possible. I direct children’s theatre whenever I’m needed and can fit it into my schedule. I love to scrapbook and knit, and I make a mean chili.
Morgen: Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Rosemary: Robert McKee’s STORY as a companion to his fabulous intensive class he teaches all over the world. (I’ve taken it 3 times over the past 10 years.)
Annie Lamott’s BIRD BY BIRD.
Jeff Herman’s GUIDE TO BOOK PUBLISHERS, EDITORS, AND LITERARY AGENTS
There are so many I can’t think of them all.
Morgen: Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Rosemary: I have been a regular participant of a Yahoo! group called Momwriters since it began in 1998. They provide excellent advice on issues related to writing with small children underfoot to where to find the best virtual assistant. They have helped me numerous times over my years of writing and working from home with children.
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Rosemary: I hope it holds many very popular novels along with popular books about pocket parks. Beyond that, I do not want to speculate. (Again, it’s the superstition thing!)
Morgen: Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Rosemary: Go to the following websites to find out more about me and my writing:
Pocket Parks of NYC http://www.PocketParksNYC.com
Rosemary O’Brien http://www.RosemaryOBrien.net
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Rosemary: You have to do what you love and the rest will follow. Other than that, I think you have covered my career quite well with your questions. Thanks!
Morgen: You’re very welcome, Rosemary, thank you for answering them. Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Rosemary: Do you have any tips on keeping all the balls up in the air without dropping any?
Morgen: <laughs> I’d say to have the passion to want to do it and structure your day as best you can. I don’t waste a minute which sadly means very little play. The only time I sit and do nothing is watching a movie but I’m still noting characters, dialogue etc. When you’re a writer you never switch off… but then I wouldn’t want to. Thank you, Rosemary.
I then invited Rosemary to include an extract of her writing and this is from First Saturday…
Lifting her right arm, she felt for the spot with the tips of her fingers. There it was, a lump the size of a bb. Audrey had found it accidentally while showering a couple of mornings ago. It was in her right breast, and she was absolutely terrified. How long it had been there, she didn’t know. She had just had her yearly mammogram the day before she found it, but she knew that wasn’t enough. Audrey never gave herself a monthly breast exam, though she knew she should, and now she regretted her laziness. It might not have saved her from all of this agony , but maybe she would have found the lump when it was a little smaller. Perhaps if it were smaller, it would be easier to deal with, whatever it was.
How was she going to wait until Monday morning to find out? Immediately after she found it, Audrey called her doctor to make an appointment. It was set for Monday after her two daughters left for school. She would find out then what it was, and if it was anything to worry about. In the meantime, she had the rest of the weekend after everyone went home to imagine all of the terrifying possibilities.
Audrey forced herself away from the mirror and left the bathroom, leaving the light on, and continued to dress for her birthday party. She went over to the oak armoire and pulled out the simple black dress she planned to wear for the party. A perfect color for her mood tonight, she thought as she bought it over to the bed and carefully laid it down.
Up until a year ago, Audrey had led a charmed life. She and Mike married one week after college graduation in the church they had both attended while growing up. Both twenty-two years old, they thought they knew everything there was to know about love. Little did Audrey know that she would reach thirty-five, a divorced woman with two children, her husband and first and only love having taken up with his secretary.
And a synopsis…
ANGELA has been trying to reunite her feuding grandmother and older sister all of her adult life. When her unmarried older sister, LISA, announced she was pregnant at only 19, a stormy argument ensued between LISA and their traditional Italian grandmother who had raised the two girls ever since their parents died tragically six years earlier. In the end, MARIA threw LISA out of the house, or did she? That was over 20 years ago and Angela has been trying to unite her family ever since.
On the eve of DAVID’S 21st birthday, Angela finds herself full of nostalgia for her family. She makes one final attempt at reconciling the two most important people in her life next to her little family. To do this, she decides to create a scrapbook of all of the children, David and Lisa included. Her plan is to present the scrapbook to her grandmother at her surprise 85th birthday party complete with the actual people involved, if Lisa will agree to her plan.
With a bittersweet ending, we learn that family is everything and we should cherish every moment.
Rosemary O’Brien officially began her writer’s journey over 15 years ago after a career as an actress in musical theatre. Her first novel, First Saturday, was first published in 2002 and earned her a loyal readership, especially the people of West Haven, CT, the setting for the story. Her goal is to give her readers a ‘good read.’
“I want to give my readers a story that keeps them up at night, turning the pages to find out what’s going to happen next,” says O’Brien. “It doesn’t have to be full of blood and guts and car chases to be interesting.”
O’Brien’s next novel was recently signed with a publisher. She is currently working on a book about pocket parks of NYC. Read more about O’Brien at http://www.RosemaryOBrien.net or about Pocket Parks of NYC at http://www.PocketParksNYC.com.
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