Tomorrow there is going to be a really fun event taking place here in Denver called Brown-Bag Business Panel: I Want to Be a Debut Writer from Lighthouse Writers and I’m thrilled to be attending. The event will be a panel of authors talking about what it means to be an author who wants to be published and the various paths they took to get there. Panelists include Rebecca Snow (Glassmusic, Cunundrum), Tiffany Quay Tyson (Three Rivers, Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s), Cynthia Swanson (The Bookseller, Harper), Maura Weiler (Contrition, Simon & Schuster), and Stacy Robinson (Surface, Kensington Books). Today, I have brought together two of these authors for a little chat about life, living in Colorado, and of course, writing. Below is a conversation between Tiffany Quay Tyson and Stacy Robinson and I think you’ll find it fascinating. To learn more about the authors and to find them on social media, click here.
Tell me a little about yourself and your book.
Stacy: I was born and raised in Los Angeles, studied International Relations at Stanford, and satisfied a deep-seeded wanderlust after college with a 3-year stint working in Asia in marketing and teaching. I moved to Denver in ‘93, had kids, and after my youngest child went off to preschool full-time, I debated whether to go back to work or to pursue an MFA in creative writing. While I weighed my options, I took a writing class at the Lighthouse Writers Workshop here in Denver, and it was there that I started my first novel, “Surface,” around 2002-ish. It began as an in-class writing exercise, evolved into a short story and, ultimately, the book. “Surface” is the story of a seemingly perfect family’s secrets laid bare by a tragedy that the main character (Claire) sets into motion with one uncharacteristically impulsive act. It is a book about betrayal (of oneself and others), flawed choices and ripple effects, forgiveness, and the intriguing possibility of second acts. Claire’s journey to self-discovery and reinvention in middle age is a major theme of “Surface,” as is the power of female friendship. While it falls into the Women’s Fiction genre, there’s a good dash of humor and sex, so guys seem to enjoy it if someone puts it in their hands…
Tiffany: I grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, and attended college in the Mississippi Delta. I stayed in the Delta for another year working as a newspaper reporter for the Greenwood Commonwealth. Those years in the Delta really stuck with me and have influenced my writing. I find myself setting lots of stories there. In my early 20s, I moved to Austin, Texas, and worked for a time as the publicist for Austin City Limits. During that time, I determined to get serious about writing fiction. I found a small writing group there, but it wasn’t until I moved to Denver in 1999 and found Lighthouse that I really hit my stride. I was in some of those early workshops with Stacy at Lighthouse and I remember some of those early scenes from SURFACE. I was working on a different novel at the time, but having the feedback of other serious writers is what kept me going.Join @tqtyson from @StMartinsPress as she talks about writing, being published, and more! #authors Click To Tweet
When did you know you wanted to be a writer? What process did you undergo to get published?
Stacy: As an only child, I spent a lot of solitary time reading and creating little plays and stapled-together books (many of which I still have, thanks to my lovely parents who held onto just about everything I ever wrote, and boxed up for me to share with my own children who will likely never unpack the boxes). The creativity and the pull were there from a young age, but I never actually said I wanted to be a writer when I grew up – until I was about 40. Of course, that’s when I had finally grown up, and that’s when i’d started those classes at Lighthouse and came to understand that writing was my true passion. I had treated writing as a hobby for many years, but with more classes under my belt and encouragement from instructors and other writers, I finally found the courage to think of it in terms of a profession. Then in 2010 I attended the Aspen Summer Words festival where I had the opportunity to meet with visiting agents after they had read a portion of my novel. I signed with David Forrer of Inkwell Literary in NYC (my favorite of the 4 agents I’d met with) about a month later. The book was ¾ complete at that point, and so David gave me some notes and I set about finishing it. He then sent it out on submission to his top 12-15 editors at various publishing houses and imprints. And we waited. For months. We finally heard back from maybe 10 of the editors, and they all rejected the manuscript. But I have to say that they were the kindest rejection letters you could imagine, and most had extremely helpful feedback. So I took the most commonly commented upon issues, and went back to work essentially to rewrite the whole novel, upon David’s suggestion. He truly believed that he could sell it with some tweaks (that’s what I love about him – his belief and passion in my project). A year later, he sent the manuscript out on a 2nd round of submissions, and that’s when the book sold. I am actually grateful that we weren’t successful the first time around because it’s a much better story now. We ended up doing a 2-book deal with Kensington Books, and “Surface” came out at the end of February. It was a long gestation, but there’s really nothing quite so fabulous as seeing your baby on bookstore shelves! Currently I’m at work on Book 2.
Tiffany: I have always loved fiction. My greatest joy as a child was when my mother would take me to the library and I’d come home with a huge stack of books to read. As an adult, some of my best days have been spent just utterly lost in a great book. I admire the authors of those books so much. It just makes sense that I’d want to be one of them. I started out as a journalist, which is a very different type of writing but very valuable for the work ethic, I think. I never wait for the muse to strike. I set deadlines (or let other people set them for me), and I push forward. Sometimes it’s very hard and I often feel uninspired, but I keep going. I want so badly to be one of the authors who creates a story in which someone might get lost. That desire is what kept me writing through the many years when I wasn’t publishing. It’s what keeps me writing now when I’m not sure if the thing I’m working on is particularly good. As for the path to publishing this book, I met my agent, Sandra Bond, at a Lighthouse Lit Fest party several years ago. We connected right away over our shared love of the same types of books. When she called a few weeks later to offer representation, I was thrilled. I felt like she really understood me as a writer and as a person. She asked me to work on a few things before she submitted the manuscript and it took me more than a year to get the book up to snuff, but then it sold very quickly to Thomas Dunne Books, which is an imprint at St. Martin’s Press. I’ve been very happy with my experience there and I’m excited to see the book on the shelves July 21.
What tips do you have for aspiring writers?
Stacy: I think Tiffany and I are both poster children for perseverance when it comes to writing. She and I started out in the same novel workshop all those years ago at Lighthouse, and here we are today with debut novels coming out within 5 months of each other. The road to publication is long and can seem glacially slow, but belief in your work and tenacity can truly pay off! A like-minded and passionate agent is also crucial – you need someone who won’t give up on you or your project. And definitely attend writing conferences and festivals where there’s an opportunity to meet professionals in the literary world. Connections are very important.
Tiffany: I should just say “ditto.” Stacy’s exactly right. I think many people believe they can write a book, or that they have a book in them. Until they sit down and do the work, I don’t think they can understand how difficult the actual writing is. I certainly didn’t understand it at first. So, yes, perseverance is key. Also, I believe strongly in finding or creating a writing community. We’re very lucky to have Lighthouse here in Denver. Writing a novel is a long, solitary pursuit, and it’s made easier by having other working writers around who can provide feedback on the work and perspective on the writing life. For me, that community has been incredibly valuable.
Stacy: Yes! Tiffany and I were both so fortunate to have inspirational writing instructors, thoughtful and intelligent fellow workshoppers, and a place to engage with other writers at Lighthouse. I truly learned how to craft a novel from those folks, and I can’t emphasize enough how helpful it was to get objective feedback from others in the trenches.Join @stacymrobinson from @KensingtonBooks as she talks about life, books, and being published. #authors Click To Tweet
Tell us a little about Monday’s event – what are you most excited about?
Tiffany: The Debut Author panel is part of Lighthouse’s annual two-week Lit Fest event, so it’s a time when writers from all genres come together to study the craft of writing and celebrate the literary arts. Plus, there are these lunchtime business panels, like the one we’ll be doing Monday, where writers get the chance to ask very nuts-and-bolts questions of published authors, agents, and editors. Frankly, I’m excited to be a part of the larger festival. It’s such a wonderful celebration of the literary community. Also, I’m looking forward to speaking with the other panelists, all debut authors. In addition to Stacy and me, we have Cynthia Swanson (The Bookseller), Maura Weiler (Contrition), and Rebecca Snow (Glassmusic). The fact that five authors from the same writing community are all having books published in less than a year’s time is remarkable. I’m just thrilled to be one of them. I’m also looking forward to our reading event later that same day at Lit Fest. Starting at 4 p.m. in the Speakeasy Book Fair tent, we’ll each read an excerpt from our novel. The five novels are remarkably different in tone and subject matter. I think it’ll be great fun for the audience.
Stacy: I always feel reinvigorated as a writer at LitFest. Between the array of great classes and the opportunity to listen to and mingle with some very impressive authors, you can’t help but feel energized. And it’s just so cool to see how the festival has grown over the years and how many creative types we have in Denver! As for our upcoming event, I’m looking forward to learning more from the incredible women on the panel as we share our personal experiences. It’s also fun to field questions from other writers in the audience because by nature we’re a generally quirky and (sometimes unintentionally) humorous lot, and you never know where the conversation will go – but it will definitely be interesting. As for our readings later in the afternoon, I love to listen to authors share their work in their own voices – I think it lends a unique and sometimes surprising perspective – and hope our attendees will discover their next summer read amongst these five novels. Three Rivers is definitely on my list! (I’ve already had the pleasure of reading The Bookseller and Contrition, and am just starting Glassmusic).
What’s your favorite part about being a Colorado-based writer?
Tiffany: I think the best part about being a Colorado-based anything is living in Colorado. Also, as I’ve mentioned, there is such a strong and supportive writing community here. I just love it. That said, my writing is primarily set in the South, specifically in Mississippi. I actually find it helpful to be a little removed from the place I’m writing about. It gives me the luxury of perspective. I need a little distance. I do so admire writers like Stacy who can capture a city while they live in the midst of it. I think if I wrote about Mississippi while living there, it would just be one long complaint about the heat and the humidity and the mosquitoes, and no one wants to read that.
Stacy: I would agree that it’s the inspiring and active literary community here. In addition to places like Lighthouse, we have phenomenal indie bookstores that embrace and promote local writers – particularly The Tattered Cover (where I regularly write), The Book Bar in the Highlands, and The Bookworm in Edwards. There are events for writers and book lovers nearly every day of the week. Barnes & Noble also loves to feature Colorado authors in their stores. Coloradans are well-read and they support their writers. I am proud and grateful to live in such a vibrant place. And of course we’ve got some pretty impressive scenery…
Tiffany Quay Tyson is a writer living in Denver, Colorado. She was born and raised in Mississippi. Three Rivers, her debut novel, will be published July 21, 2015, by Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press. You can visit her website, follow her on Facebook and Twitter, enter to win her book on Goodreads, or purchase her book.
Stacy Robinson is a novelist and a former marketing and PR professional and teacher. She graduated with a BA degree in International Relations from Stanford University, and worked in Japan before returning to her hometown of Los Angeles to continue her career in international marketing. Presently she lives in Denver, where she serves on the Executive Board of the Children’s Diabetes Foundation and is a member of the Lighthouse Writers Workshop. She is an avid concertgoer and occasional cyclist, and enjoys the Mile‑High city and nearby mountains with her husband, three children and chocolate Labrador non‑Retriever. You can visit her website, follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, or purchase her book.