It’s time for another debut author interview! Freelance contributor Gail Werner reached out to Amy Reichert, author of the women’s fiction novel THE COINCIDENCE OF COCONUT CAKE (July, 2015, Gallery Books) to talk about her entrance into the publishing world.
Amy earned her MA in literature from Marquette University and honed her writing and editing skills as a technical writer (which she shares is exactly as exciting as it sounds). She’s a life-long Wisconsin resident with (allegedly) a very noticeable accent, who’s represented by Rachel Ekstrom at the Irene Goodman Literary Agency.
Can you describe what your book (C3 for short) is about in one sentence?
C3 is You’ve Got Mail with a chef and a restaurant critic, set in Milwaukee.
Briefly, what led up to this book? What were you writing before breaking out with this book?
I started writing C3 in 2010 for NanoWriMo. It was the first time I’d written anything. I had this idea in my head for a story about two people whose jobs weren’t compatible. I’d worked in restaurants from the time I was 14 until I was 23, so making my protagonist a chef was a good place to start. Then I thought of a food critic—someone who makes a living critiquing other’s work—and bingo!—perfect match for romantic conflict.
What kind of research did you do for the book?
I read Dining Out, this amazing history of restaurant criticism. I also interviewed a local restaurant critic in Milwaukee. She didn’t want me to see her in person—which adds evidence to Al’s case in C3 of not wanting his readers in the city to know his real identity—and it wasn’t until much later that the two of us met in person.
You’ve gotten positive feedback about your book being set in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which is also where you live. How important was it for your story to take place there?
Very! So many books I read are set in New York, LA or a smattering of big cities in between. There’s something special about Milwaukee that I wanted my readers to take away from C3. I think Midwesterners are a special breed—they’re always there for you, and I wanted that warmth reflected in what I was writing. I didn’t realize quite how special or unique it was until readers starting asking about it after the book’s release, saying, “Hey, what are these cheese curds you’re writing about?”
Think you’ll quit writing to give food lovers a book-inspired tour of Milwaukee?
[Chuckles] If I had enough money, yes!
You also include the recipe for your main character, Lou’s, coconut cake in your book—are your readers letting you know if they’re making it?
Yes! Better yet, they’re sending me pictures!
It seems like there’s an ongoing debate about women’s fiction—how much respect it gets versus what some writers believe it deserves. Do you want to weigh in?
One of the things that gets me is when I see a list of beach reads and five of the picks are literary fiction written by men. Who wants to read a book like that on vacation?! If I’m being honest, I’m not a big fan of the term ‘women’s fiction’—I keep saying I’m going to stop using it and tell people I write “light commercial fiction’ instead. But it’s a label people in the industry understand. In one way, it’s annoying because the word cuts off half the reading population, but since it’s a useful describer of what you’re going to be reading about, it sticks around.
What are some books written by women you’ve read recently and loved?
I read Sonali Deb’s A Bollywood Affair, which I loved. I’ve been reading a lot of new writers lately, trying to support my friends in the industry. I just finished Karma Brown’s Come Away With Me. That book had sentences that just ripped my heart out. It was really exceptional.
You and Karma were both part of last year’s Debutant Ball—can you tell readers what that is?
Sure! The Deb Ball is a group of five debut authors, all women, writing about what’s happening during the year of their first book’s release. It’s amazing for all of us who get to come together at the same point in our careers—going to launch parties, getting reviewed, getting second contracts if we’re lucky—and that closeness we’ve built with one another in sharing those experiences has been great. It’s a way not just to be a single voice online, shouting about your book, but to have others as cheerleaders for what you’re writing.
What was your own journey to publishing like?
From the day I opened my first Word document for C3 to the day I got published, it was exactly 1782 days, so a long time! I worked and revised C3 several times, then it took me 88 queries to get my agent. After that, my book was on submission for 10 months and things got a little dark, I’m not gonna lie. (At one point, I watched the entire series of both Buffy and Angel… I’m telling you, it was a dark place but no regrets, because both of those were awesome.) After a while, my current editor, who’d read the book while she was at a different publisher, came back to Gallery Books and asked about C3 again. It was her first book acquired at Gallery, so in a lot of ways, it was like it was meant to be.
If you could do it again, what might you have done differently?
I should have spent more time learning about writing, however, I was impatient to start querying and didn’t realize how much I didn’t know about publishing. Ultimately, it worked out well for me, but I would encourage any new writers to take the time to learn about how the industry works, and how to fix common writing errors before they start querying. They’ll spare themselves a lot of rejection.
Best piece(s) of writing advice we haven’t discussed?
Neil Gaiman said, “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” I think this is some of the best writing advice out there. As the author, it’s my job to decide how to fix something, but I need my beta readers to help me identify those spots.
Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?
I used to be obsessed with The Little Mermaid. “Part of Your World” is the only song I know all the words to — though you’ll never hear me sing it (and you really don’t want me to — pitch is not my strong suit). It’s strictly a shower or car song.
Favorite movie? (or should that answer be obvious already!?!)
Oooh — I can’t pick just one! That’s like asking for a favorite book. My current favorite rom-com is Crazy, Stupid, Love. Goonies will forever have a place of honor in my heart, and the first 10 minutes of Pixar’s UP are some of the best filmmaking ever.
What are you working on now?
My next novel, Luck, Love & Lemon Pie, will be out next summer. It’s about a woman who’s worried she’s fallen out of love with her husband, and the crazy path she takes to try to save her marriage. It’s not a sequel to C3, but it’s a novel set in the same world (only this time, in the suburbs of Milwaukee). There are a few Easter eggs though, like the characters eating in one of the restaurants from C3. I love Easter eggs in fiction and it was really fun to write them!
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Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:
- Agent Spotlight: Paul Lamb (Howard Morhaim Literary Agency) seeks Nonfiction, Crime, Mystery and Literary Fiction.
- 5 Essential Tips For Writing Killer Fight Scenes.
- Begin Your Pages With Conflict.
- How I Found My Literary Agent: Cassandra Dunn (Fiction).
- Follow Chuck Sambuchino on Twitter or find him on Facebook. Learn all about his writing guides on how to get published, how to find a literary agent, and writing a query letter.
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