I recently had a chance to interview Tracy Ewens about her latest book, Premiere. I’ve always been very interested in how writers develop characters and plots and Tracy has graciously and openly answered all my detailed questions – so thanks, Tracy, for such a wonderful interview!
BCM: Congratulations on the publication of Premiere, your second novel! I really enjoyed reading the ARC you sent me. Tell me how readers can purchase your book.
TE: Thank you, Barb. Premiere: A Love Story is now available through amazon.com in both print and Kindle formats. It will be available in print through other retailers in a few weeks, and finally in NOOK format early next year.
BCM: And tell me about the Goodreads giveaway!
TE: I did this with Catalina Kiss and it was great fun. From 10/18 until 11/18, Goodreads members can enter to win one of five free copies of Premiere. Goodreads randomly selects five people and then I sign and send the books to them. I’ve opened it up to the UK and Australia for this book.
BCM: So, how was the process the second time around? Easier, more difficult? Were there different roadblocks?
TE: Premiere was more difficult than Catalina Kiss because when I wrote Catalina Kiss I really had no idea what I was doing. Sometimes ignorance is bliss. I was just happy to write and Catalina Kiss was such a simple story. Once I was finished with it, I wanted to do more, expand what I could write about and create characters with a bit more going on. That is easier said than done.
The story for Premiere came quickly, but the characters were challenging. There were periods when I didn’t like either one of them. I wanted them to grow up, or stop whining, but it took me a while to figure out how to fix them. I think Premiere was more difficult because I wanted more, more of a story, so it pushed me. I feel like each story does that, moves me forward as a writer. I’m enjoying that process.
BCM: And how long did it take you to get from the first page to today?
TE: I finished Premiere about 3 months after Catalina Kiss came out, so 2013. It was edited once and then I sat with it. No one wanted to publish it, so I reworked it here and there, gave up on it at least half a dozen times. About six months ago, I found Maya Rock and she was the editor I needed. She asked the hard questions and helped me find a story that was clear and that I was proud to tell.
Until the second edit, Premiere was…fuzzy. There were some parts that just lost me and I knew they would lose readers, but I wasn’t sure how to fix them. I was too close. Maya came in and said, “Yeah, you can delete this,” or “I don’t understand why he would do this. Make sure that’s clear.” She was a fantastic resource.
Steven King once said, “kill your darlings” in reference to being able to edit and slash things that, no matter how much you love them, are not working. I struggled with exactly that while writing Premiere. So, to answer your question Premiere took about four months to write and over a year to edit and publish.
BCM: I like how you linked Premiere to Catalina Kiss. You don’t have to read the first to enjoy the second, but it was nice for me to have that connection. Do you think you will continue to write stories which include a little bit of Samantha’s family history?
TE: Premiere is the first in a four book A Love Story Series. Candidate is Grady’s story. It will have bits of Sam and Peter and of course their families. The third book will about Grady’s bitchy sister, Kara, and Logan who is a chef. The final book in the series takes place in Pasadena and Bodega Bay, which is another area of California that I love. The last book will be about Logan’s brother.
So, not so much Sam’s family history, but there will be pieces and characters from other books throughout the series. None of them will need to be read in order, but as you mentioned, it will be fun to spot the references.
BCM: Premiere is a modern story about a romance that sparks between your two main characters, Samantha and Peter, great friends growing up, and then it gets complicated. Which was more fun to write about, the conflicts or the romance between these characters?
TE: Both. I really enjoy a great fight and the tender revealing parts of making up. There’s honesty on both sides. People tend to reveal things in anger and then stretch where they are willing to go for reconciliation.
Sam and Peter have a history that I love. I think it really grounds their relationship and maybe helps explain why they put up with each other during certain parts of the story. It also explains why certain things hit them harder than say, a couple just getting to know each other. The history also creates some lovely moments romantically for them too.
There’s a part in the book where Sam recognizes what a rare thing it is to know a man and also remember him as the boy getting his first bike. When two characters are that connected, I think it adds something to the romance. It allows for laughter and genuineness that I really enjoyed writing.
BCM: You mentioned in our last interview that when you were writing Premiere, you created Peter’s character first. I think readers often assume that modern romance stories are mostly about the female character, but Peter’s character is very developed, and really expresses the twenty-something male mind. Which character was easier to write about, Samantha or Peter?
TE: Peter and I had a really tough time in the beginning and throughout the first set of revisions. He’s a complicated character and his first incarnation was super angsty. He was annoying and hadn’t really come into himself. I found myself wondering why the hell he came back at all if he still couldn’t get his act together. So, he took time, but I loved him by the final draft. It’s important for me that my men have dimension, that they are human beings and not simply a set of rippling abs. Peter grew into a really lovely, fumbling, damaged soul.
Samantha took some time too. I needed her to have a backbone and something to lose if she let Peter back in. At the same time, I wanted her to be vulnerable and loving. She comes from a great home and being a failed actress is always a touch dramatic. My editor still thinks she “cries an awful lot.” She’s solid, weighted in her family and deeply in love with Peter.
BCM: And so for you as a writer, does the character idea come first and then the plot, or do you develop both at the same time?
TE: The characters and the general place come first. I’m inspired by places. So, for Premiere, I had Peter and Sam in the room with me and I knew we were talking about a second chance and most of it would take place in a theatre. I always knew that theatre would be the Pasadena Playhouse.
The conflict arrives once I put them in the space, or figure out their backstory. Before the actual plotting begins, I have my ending. I always need to have some idea how the story ends, so I know where I’m taking these people.
The middle is the adventure; I’m often not sure what will pop up in the middle because it’s really driven by the characters.
BCM: In Premiere, you raise a sticky question that applies to all fiction writers. As a playwright, Peter’s best material comes from his own painful and very personal experiences. And Samantha and the rest of Peter’s friends and family have to deal with their personal lives being put up on stage for all to see. I think all writers do this to varying extents. Is it easy to remove yourself from your characters and give them attributes that don’t directly reflect your own experiences? How do you deal with ideas that come from your own experiences and put them into fiction?
TE: That’s a great question. I don’t see my characters as any one person in his or her entirety, but there are pieces of people I know, or have known, in my characters. The characteristics are usually jumbled and often pop up in the weirdest places.
For example, Grady says, “Progress, not perfection.” That is a phrase my mom’s husband uses all the time. Grady is nothing like her husband, but that phrase, that life philosophy, fits Grady, so it worked for the character. Gil, her husband, will recognize the phrase, but he certainly won’t think Grady is modeled after him. Another one is the breakfast that Peter eats every morning. It’s a breakfast my friend used to eat. I liked it because it seems so over the top to add all of that to Raisin Bran. It’s a quirk that works for Peter, but again, he’s nothing like my friend.
I’m a bit of a quirk collector, so those are usually things people in my real life will recognize, but my characters are always fiction. I have some people that I would love to directly translate to fiction, but I’m not sure I could do that. Knowing people is a bit of a confidence that shouldn’t be violated. If people let you in on a level that you could develop a character, I think that’s sacred and should be protected.
It speaks to Peter’s self centeredness that he doesn’t work harder to mask his characters or thinks nothing of sharing Sam with an audience of strangers. In his defense, the love scene is abstract, but it’s still a violation. It’s the only way he knows how to relate, or communicate for that matter, so it works for the character.
BCM: In our last interview, you named An Affair to Remember as one of your favorite movies, so that made it fun for me when Samantha and Peter watch this and one of Peter’s favorites, Some Kind of Wonderful, on their special movie date. How do details like this make it into your writing? Is it planned or more spontaneous?
TE: They are spontaneous. I’m not always sure where they come from. I was writing that scene and I wanted something that reflected the difference between Sam and Peter. Those two movies and specifically the two scenes noted in the book came to mind. I think if I had tried to plan it I would have messed it up, over thought it. When I’m open and my writing is flowing, the details are there, they appear. It’s one of my favorite parts about being a writer. I sometimes feel as if I have this buried treasure of things, events, people, conversations that I discover each time I allow myself the creative space.
BCM: Tell me about the Pasadena Playhouse. As soon as my review of Premiere went online, they followed me on Twitter! How did you choose that playhouse to be Premiere’s venue?
TE: They followed you…Yay! I love Pasadena and the Playhouse has an energy, a history, which I have always found fascinating. It’s a gem and has not always had an easy run. It seemed the perfect place to put two people in need of strength. The Playhouse is a survivor. She adapts and moves forward.
I liked that structural image for this story. There’s also a connection to the community that I’m not sure many theatres have. Since Premiere is so centered around home and community, it seemed like the perfect place.
BCM: So, as you mentioned, your next book, Candidate, is about Grady, another major character in Premiere. Can you tell me a little bit about it?
TE: Yes, Candidate is Grady’s story. The first draft will be finished 11/21/14. I have to say that I love him. I mean, I always love the characters I’m working on, but Grady is something special. He’s the charmer, the smartass, in Premiere. I wanted to explore that and he certainly opens up into so much more in Candidate. Grady is the senator’s son. He’s the definition of privileged and a bit wild, at least on the surface. His father is running for re-election and hires a PR firm to help him with the youth vote, make him more relevant.
Kate works for the PR firm. She is from a cop’s family. Very grounded and two years divorced from a cop. Candidate is about appearances, keeping them up and discovering what often lies beneath. We see a little more of Grady’s bitchy sister, Kara, in Candidate as a lead into the third book, Al dente: A Love Story. Candidate travels to Washington DC and San Francisco with plenty of time in Pasadena and Los Angeles. There’s a definite clash of collars, blue and white, in Candidate.
BCM: I’d love to hear about what you do to give your writing polish. Do you go to writing workshops or trade ideas and advice with other writers?
TE: I’m super boring in this area. I write alone. I don’t have a writer’s group and I don’t really attend workshops yet. I have this weird sense that I’m always new, starting out, and not quite ready for “real writer” stuff. I’m not great at sharing my work before it’s done, or while I’m in the process. I don’t really want anyone’s opinion at that point.
Once I’ve finished the journey, I do ask for people to read and comment. I now work with two editors and a small group of people that I share my work with prior to publication. My advice to other writers is always, do what works for you. Writing feels very personal for me and I think processes can be, and should be, as unique as the people trying to share their stories.
BCM: Have you ever tried writing short fiction? Do you have any other projects in the works?
TE: I have never tried writing short fiction, but I do have a lot of fun on yeahwrite.me. They give a micro fiction prompt every week where the writer needs to tell a story in exactly 42 words. I tend to be very wordy, so these weekly exercises in brevity are great for me.
I’m currently finishing up Candidate before it goes to my editor for a first read through and I’m always blogging, although I’ve been in and out of the laundry room lately. It’s hard to keep both going when I’m trying to finish a manuscript.
BCM: Thank you so much, Tracy, for taking time to do this interview. Best wishes to you!
TE: It is always lovely to be asked. Thank you for everything, Barb.
Make sure you check out Tracy’s blog at http://fromthelaundryroom.com/
…and her website: http://tracyewens.com/
Thanks for visiting – come back soon!